Koenders to press for legal same-sex marriage throughout the EU

Foreign minister Bert Koenders plans to press for the recognition of same-sex marriage throughout the European Union. He said this today in the House of Representatives during a debate on the Human Rights Report 2014, which was sent to the House last week. The report offers an overview of the government’s activities last year in support of human rights abroad.

Same-sex marriage is not permitted in 15 of the 28 member states of the EU. ‘In our European Union it is inconceivable that LGBTI people cannot marry each other,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘This is an example of blatant discrimination in a Union that prides itself on the equal treatment of its citizens. It would be a good thing if we can reach a consensus on moving ahead on this issue. I will be discussing this with my colleagues in the government.’

The minister also spoke to the House about freedom of the press, a cornerstone of his human rights policy, even in war-torn countries like Syria or Ukraine. ‘In war, truth is one of the first casualties. It’s important for people in conflict situations to have access to objective information,’ Mr Koenders remarked. This is why he supports organisations like RNW Media, one of the few bodies disseminating objective information in Syria.

In Ukraine Mr Koenders will support a project initiated by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting to train journalists from throughout Ukraine, including Crimea, with an emphasis on reporting on the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian government’s reform agenda. The goal of this two-year project is to increase the amount of accurate, objective and neutral reporting in Ukraine, so the population is better informed about politics and legislation and developments in the east of the country. ‘Good and reliable information is ultimately key to the emergence of an enduring and stable Ukraine,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘This is absolutely not about producing counterpropaganda. It is part of our human rights strategy, which emphasises freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. The importance of a healthy, independent journalistic sector in Ukraine should be self-evident.’

Another issue that arose arise during the debate was the working conditions for construction workers in Qatar, in the run-up to the World Cup. Mr Koenders said that the Netherlands would soon organise a conference on the safety and wellbeing of these workers with Dutch companies operating in Qatar and the organising committee for the 2022 World Cup. He also pledged to organise an event with the Qatari authorities for European companies during the Netherlands’ Presidency of the EU next year to discuss the need to sign the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The minister would also like to visit Qatar to engage in dialogue on this issue.