Speech by Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas at the high-level side Event: “Advocating Human Rights in the 21st Century –bridging the gap between Geneva and New York”

28.02.2020 - Speech

(check against delivery)

Ladies and gentlemen,
“Push back the pushback” – this cry has been resonating from Geneva to New York and back because we all see the rising tide of human rights violations.
We have to work in Geneva and in New York to stop it – as the Secretary-General stressed again earlier this week.
And yet, New York and Geneva don’t always speak with one voice.
As a member of both the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, we are working to change that.
We aim to strengthen the institutional exchange between Geneva and New York – through mutual visits, regular briefings and meetings like ours here today.
Even more importantly, we follow a human-rights-based approach when dealing with peace and security.
Last week, for example, we invited the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to brief Security Council members here in New York. Because those in charge of peace and security must hear about the crimes committed against innocent civilians.
After all, human rights and the quest for peace are two sides of the same coin.
On Monday, many of your countries showed support for that idea at a meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism in Geneva. The Alliance already includes more than 60 countries that share one conviction: we do better when international rules are respected.
This applies to states. But for women, men and children it is a matter of dignity, of freedom, sometimes even of life and death. Therefore, human rights protection is a crucial pillar of our Alliance.
I’m delighted that we can further promote it today, together with a cross-regional group of co-sponsors.
In Geneva, we discussed new ways to fight impunity in conflict, building on the work of the investigative mechanisms on Syria, Venezuela, Burundi and Myanmar.
But defending the status quo is not enough. The 21st century holds new challenges for human rights.

I am thinking of climate change and the digital revolution.
And all of us are still lagging behind on gender equality.
Those three issues were at the centre of the debate at an international conference that I hosted in Berlin in December.
Today is a good opportunity to take this discussion forward.
We are witnessing a pushback on gender equality, especially on self-determination and sexual and reproductive rights.
The 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Women and the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325 are opportunities to reverse this dangerous development.
We have already begun to step up our support for women peacebuilders. And we are creating women’s networks in Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America to include civil society in our efforts.
Secondly, climate change. For too long, we have treated this as a purely environmental issue. But it affects the security, the rights, and the lives of millions of people.
That is why we will continue to raise the threat of climate change in the Security Council.
And as a signatory to the Geneva Pledge, we will ensure that climate change is addressed in the Human Rights Council next year.
My last point concerns the digital revolution.
Artificial intelligence bears great potential for humanity. But it is also becoming a tool to control and restrict civil society, and to keep certain groups from asserting their rights. I am also concerned about reports about the complete monitoring of the people in Xinjiang Province. Algorithms seem to determine how ethnic and religious groups are treated here.
We need an ethical approach – one that respects human rights and avoids discrimination.
This is the guiding principle of the European Union’s new digital strategy. And we will also ad-vocate for the right to privacy here, in the United Nations - including through resolutions in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Some of the challenges I just raised are relatively new. But our answers should be guided by a principle that all of us agreed on 71 years ago: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
It is this principle that compels us to work together to “push back the pushback”!
Thank you.

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