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Thank you Mr President.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated together the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the European Parliament, in the Hemicycle in Brussels. We decided to celebrate it with human rights defenders and civil society organisations, who are working every single day to turn the principles of the Declaration into action, because we know that too many people around the world do not enjoy all the rights that are recognised by the Universal Declaration – that this is still work in progress. The Report [on human rights and democracy in the world 2017 ] that we discuss today describes “a global pushback against democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
I would like to thank the rapporteur - Petras [Austrevicius], thank you - for this work, which is excellent. I am glad to see that, once again, the Report by the European Parliament resonates with the one adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council last spring. We agree that we face new challenges in our work to protect and advance human rights. And against new challenges, you are right to discuss new ways and new instruments to make our action even more effective.
The European Union, you said it well, is and will continue to be the leading global actor in the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy. Already today, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is the largest financial instrument in the world with this focus. With these resources we address violations, we provide a lifeline to human rights defenders, we empower those who are at the margins of societies. Every day, we try to take a little step further, to turn the Universal Declaration into reality. Because we know that a little step further makes a lot of difference for the people involved.
Let me give you a concrete example: In your report you highlight the need to combat violence against women. And just a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting again and welcome in Brussels the Nobel Peace Prize laureates Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. I had already met both of them here in Strasbourg where you awarded them with the Sakharov Prize – so let me say this is yet another demonstration that the Sakharov Prize is truly shaping the global conversation about human rights. This years' prize to Oleg Sentsov is also important to keep a strong focus on the illegal annexation of Crimea and its consequences.
We had worked with Denis [Mukwege] and Nadia [Murad] since they received the Sakharov Prize. Last month, I invited them to join our meeting with the Development Ministers of the European Union. Together, we decided to invest €1 million in Nadia's initiative for stabilisation and reconstruction in Iraq, and additional €4 million to support Denis' hospital for victims of sexual violence. It is a small gesture to support two powerful symbols of the fight for women's rights.
On top of this, let me remind everyone about our broader commitment: with the Spotlight Initiative we have launched the largest-ever programme to stop violence against women in the world, with €500 million invested.
But working on human rights is not just a matter of financial resources. Human rights are an essential component of all our policies, as you said – from trade policies to our engagement on security and defence, from our human rights dialogues - including with difficult countries - to the work with do at the United Nations and with other regional organisations.
Electoral Observation is also a vital part of this work – with the crucial engagement of this Parliament, because we all know that democracy is never achieved once and for all, and it has to be invested into constantly, through every election as well as in the time between elections.
I am particularly glad that the Report acknowledges the excellent work done in these years by our Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, who is sitting next to me now. His mandate will soon come to an end – so let me thank him once again for his relentless engagement with governments and civil society organisations all around the world, as well as his role in shaping the Good Human Rights Stories initiative. Efkharisto, Stavros.
And since I mentioned the Good Human Rights Stories initiative, which you also praise in the Report, let me add that one of our most important tasks in the years to come will be to reclaim the human rights narrative. Some around the world - you pointed that out very clearly - are arguing that human rights are somehow outdated or not relevant to foreign policy anymore. This is not and this will never be our position.
Some argue that national interest is more important or even contrary to human dignity. I think we have a responsibility to continue showing that there is no way to achieve national interests if human rights are violated. No country can be strong, secure and resilient, when human rights are not protected and promoted. A country, I believe, is as strong and as secure as the weakest link of the chain of its society.
In this work, the United Nations and all multilateral institutions are our greatest ally. Most of the initiatives I mentioned now were established in close cooperation with the United Nations. And I am glad that the Report confirms the European Parliament’s support for the International Criminal Court, we will always invest in its work.
Multilateral institutions are for us the best guarantee that we collectively continue the journey that started 70 years ago – a journey that is not finished yet - towards greater justice, greater opportunities, and greater dignity for all human beings.