Very pleased, along with my European colleagues from the German, French, UK and Luxemburg Embassies, to welcome you at the EU House to celebrate today the Human Rights Day… which is officially observed every year on 10 December (slightly early – a day ahead).
Tomorrow, 10 December, will mark the 68th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. The Declaration is a landmark expression of global commitment by every State Party to provide its entire people with universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The European Union and its Member States are fully committed to those universal values laid down in the Declaration and translated in 1950 as part of the European Convention on Human Rights. Promoting them is high on the European agenda because they concern every single individual and their fulfilment provides the assurance of peaceful, inclusive and resilient societies. Considering the increasing challenges to human rights we can observe nowadays around the globe, whether they refer to wars, economic crises, growing inequalities or poverty, it is all the more important that we redouble our efforts to defend the rights of all people, and not only of a few.
Human rights underpin poverty eradication but also constitute the cement that connects individuals and ensures equal and sustainable development. The EU as a development partner believes in the complementarity and mutual reinforcement between human rights and development policies in Laos in that it allows empowering citizens and creating more solidarity.
This year we join the United Nations in calling upon people to "stand up for someone's rights". Who’s “someone”? Someone may be every one of us; someone may be a person who needs you or me to defend his or her individual rights because they’ve been neglected for too long. Someone may be vulnerable; someone may be a child, a woman, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a person coming from a minority group, or anyone else who risks discrimination or violence.
tanding up for someone’s rights may mean for a man to defend women’s rights and to condemn violence against women, for a heterosexual person to speak out for LGBTI rights or to participate in a Pride, for a valid person to assist and take time for a person suffering from a disability. Each of us has an individual responsibility to stand up for the rights of others, in their vulnerability or in their difference.
Of course, standing up for someone’s rights is made possible by a solid legal basis in which they are clearly stated and guaranteed. In this regard, the Lao PDR has ratified the main core international Human Rights conventions that protect and defend the rights of the most vulnerable individuals (from both ICCPR/ICSECR to CRC, CEDAW, CRPD, CERD, etc.), accepted most of the recommendations made through the Universal Periodic review and established Human Rights mechanisms such as the National Steering Committee for Human Rights and various specialised Commissions (Children and Women, Disabled People and Elderly, etc.) in charge of overseeing reporting processes. These are significant achievements. However, stronger attention needs to be paid to ‘localising’ these commitments so that the country fully observes its international obligations and shows progress in implementing them.
Beyond individual actions, the European Union and its Member States believe that promoting the role of those whose work consists in making voiceless people’s voices heard is crucial for a sound implementation.
Role of the lawyer and the judiciaries in defending and ensuring enjoyment of someone’s rights
Lawyers play a critical role in ensuring that human rights are effectively protected at the domestic level and this role strongly needs to be acknowledged and strengthened. In Laos, less than 120 practicing Lawyers have been recognised as such nationwide. The European Union and its MS call on the Government to promote and guarantee access to an independent justice system as well as access to a lawyer (as recommended in the article 96 of the new Constitution) and to a fair and transparent trial as fundamental principles and sine qua none conditions for establishing the rule of Law (as a national objective). This is amongst lawyers’ competences to ensure that the rule of law prevails, including respect for human rights. Without legal professions – lawyers but also judges and prosecutors – there can be no fully effective protection of human rights and implementation of international human rights law.
Role of the National Assembly members in fostering people’s participation
The National Assembly is the "organisation representing rights, powers and interests of the multi-ethnic people" (article 52, Lao Constitution, 2015). People trust in the Lao National Assembly when it comes to adapting to new global challenges and when the future of the Lao society is at stake. Therefore, the NA can well be considered as a key driver of change. With the creation of People's Provincial Assemblies in 2016, the Lao parliamentary system has better chances than ever to outreach to the sub-national level. Members of the NA and People's Provincial Assemblies can now act closer to their constituencies, can take up citizens' voices in the provinces and bring people’s concerns up to the highest level. It is our understanding that there is a responsibility to do so, that Assembly or Council Members have indeed for mandate to stand up for the rights of people from their constituency. Citizens' participation is needed for successful development and Human rights protection. Parliamentary institutions can promote participatory tools in everyday political life, the NA already set up some in its own realm, like the NA hotline or a petition system.
Role of civil society in promoting and materialising someone’s rights
We promote the role of members of civil society organisations as key actors in the development debate, for ensuring sustainable and inclusive social and economic development through service delivery and as a result, for materialising and disseminating someone's rights - children's right to education, disabled persons' right to access to healthcare, gender equality for both women and men, access to legal assistance for victims of trafficking, etc. We note a joint commitment to improving an enabling environment for civil society. Especially, restricting the freedom of individuals to act collectively can trigger detrimental impacts on social and economic development for the most vulnerable people. We highly value the freedom of assembly and association as guaranteed in the constitution (article 44) and the UDHR (article 20) and condemn every attempt to deprive defenders of human rights of their liberty by arresting and detaining them or letting them fear they could disappear. We also encourage Lao civil society organisations to seize opportunities for dialogue that ASEAN can provide in regional fora.
Role of the press and the media in telling someone’s stories
European countries also promote the freedom of expression and of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution (article 44) and UDHR (article 19). Your work, as journalists and media professionals is critical for publicising and highlighting people's stories but also for ensuring access to and dissemination of information.
Promoting the role of people who stand up for human rights is at the core of the EU Action Plan for Democracy and Human Rights (adopted in July 2015) but also of the EU support to Good Governance and the rule of law in Laos (CEGGA programme/EIDHR/7th Human Rights Dialogue to come).
The Human Rights Day presents an occasion for each of us, as human beings and citizens of our respective countries, to reflect, in Laos as well as in Europe, on “what we can do for someone else”, “how far we are ready to go for someone else”. We all have a responsibility, individual and collective, to stand up for these rights. Our very humanity is at stake. This year, the EU will amplify every voice that would like to be heard and will commit its full support to every individual who does stand up for human rights.