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Mr President, High Commissioner, distinguished colleagues,
It is my honour to address you today on behalf of the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. Federica Mogherini regrets that she cannot attend this high-level segment of the Human Rights Council.
This Council, together with the Third Committee of the General Assembly, is where the human rights situation in the world is debated. The EU does not see these sessions as moments where some countries give lessons to others, and where the world is divided into the good and the wicked, the wise and the foolish. We gather here with the ambition to make small steps towards a more dignified humanity. But we must guard against a danger: the effort to portray all countries as equally flawed and, consequently, to cultivate a sense of relativism and futility surrounding the pursuit of human rights. Indeed, while no State has a "perfect" human rights record, there is a fundamental difference between States, that have a minimum safeguards in place to ensure that their imperfections cannot be swept under the carpet, and those that do not. The Litmus test is not "perfection", but whether credible institutions that can help reveal an address violations are allowed to exist and function unhindered; institutions such as independent judiciaries, free and pluralistic media, parliaments, national human rights institutions, and civil society.
Do we achieve something? For sure, human rights abuses and violations are not going to be removed from the surface of the earth thanks to HRC and UNGA resolutions. But if our work here leads to any public authority stopping the use of torture, to less child soldiers, to a successful national reconciliation after a bloody conflict, then we are useful for something. At the Human Rights Council and UNGA, the international community asks governments to respect human rights as universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated values. Sovereignty should not be confused with impunity to violate human rights and trample fundamental freedoms underfoot.
During the 34th session of the HRC, the EU will draw the urgent attention of this Council to two situations long-standing on its agenda. Firstly the DRPK, on which we will again be presenting, together with Japan, a resolution calling for an end to large-scale, multiple, and serious human rights violations. It will reiterate its support to the work of the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR Seoul Office, while continue to seek credible engagement with the DPRK authorities.
Regarding Syria we will support a further extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, and call for a close cooperation of the Commission with the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism. The Council must firmly call for ending of impunity and ensuring accountability for violations and abuses, and stress the need to provide the necessary access to the Commission of Inquiry as well as unhindered humanitarian access.
The EU remains seriously concerned by the situation of human rights in Myanmar / Burma. We will present a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, taking note of positive steps and recommending actions to address ongoing concerns.
At this session, the HRC will receive the first update on the situation of human rights in Burundi from the Commission of Inquiry created at HRC33, and notably assess the cooperation between Burundi and the international human rights mechanisms. The EU will follow these developments closely. In South Sudan, we are particularly concerned about continuing reports of sexual and gender-based violence and ethnically motivated killings and will support the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights and its expansion to include investigation on all alleged violations of human rights. The EU will engage with the wider UN membership and the governments concerned as regards the situation of human rights in the DRC and Iran.
Attention to these country situations goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to advancing the rights, dignity, freedom and safety of each and every human being. We will present a resolution on freedom of religion or belief, updating previous resolutions and expressing deep concern over the acts of intolerance and violence against the persons belonging to religious minorities. In that respect, the EU reiterates its strong condemnation of the atrocities, mass killings, use of sexual violence and other human rights abuses which Da’esh and other terrorist groups, using religion as a pretext, perpetrate against civilians, and call on States and religious leaders to do all in their power to prevent the hijacking of any religion to justify terrorism and human right abuses. Even when confronting the gravest violence, there can be no trade-off between security and human rights; on the contrary, the EU promotes sustainable security, as solutions and policies firmly based on the rule of law and rooted in respect for human rights are more effective and sustainable.
The EU / GRULAC resolution on the Rights of the child at HRC34 will focus on rights of the child in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. At the HRC and UNGA sessions this year, we will also pay particular attention to promoting gender equality, women's empowerment and the advancement of women's rights. The EU will pursue further efforts to implement effectively UN Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace, and Security. Moreover, we will step up and support efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls around the world. The EU will also actively participate in the Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights of migrants, underlining the importance of a comprehensive approach to migration crises.
The EU remains dedicated to working with all Governments and people to support the rule of law and the ICC as the key institution in the fight against impunity of the most serious crimes. The work and functioning of the ICC is neither beyond scrutiny nor improvement, and we must strengthen dialogue and communication among all of us. Yet, it is essential that concerns about the Court and its proceedings are presented and discussed within the framework of the Rome Statute. Withdrawing from the Rome Statute system is not the right way to address such concerns.
The EU stands firm in the fight against the death penalty, calls on more countries to join the abolitionist majority of countries world-wide, and will therefore actively participate in the high-level panel discussion.
Likewise, the EU will do its utmost to help advance the fight against torture, raising awareness of the dire consequences to society of accepting torture and ill-treatment. Sustainable security cannot be built on silent acceptance of this scourge. The importance of this fight became abundantly clear during last year's EU-NGO Forum which focused on the need to tackle torture from a more cross-cutting perspective. We will continue to work with UN and all our partners in this endeavour.
The EU continues to give high priority to a safe environment for human rights NGOs and human rights defenders and to oppose the imposition of unjustified restrictions on their activities. To give you a recent example of my activities, when I visited Belarus, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Myanmar and Egypt I met with numerous human rights defenders and NGOs as well as government representatives to discuss the current challenges. The free functioning of civil society is fundamental for democracy, prosperity and sustainable security, helping build political stability.
Beyond these initiatives, I want to stress that the EU continues to attach the utmost importance to preserving the independence of the OHCHR, which performs the vital tasks of servicing human rights mechanisms and providing assistance for the implementation of international standards. We will also continue to promote strong NGO participation in the work of the HRC and to underline the need for a safe environment for human rights defenders. Reprisals against those who attend the HRC sessions or cooperate with the UN system are never tolerable.
This Council carries a major responsibility in the eyes of the citizens of the world. It is the shared duty of the international community to keep the work of this Council rooted in facts, in the situations on the ground, and to reject any attempt to divert or weaken its work. The EU remains committed to engaging in the spirit of partnership and cooperation with partners from all regions to reach lasting solutions that advance human rights.
Thank you, Mr President.