FM Margot Wallstöm's Address to the UN Human Rights Council

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    Margot Wallström Photo: Regeringen.se

Geneva, March 2, 2015

Thank you Mr President. High Commissioner, Excellencies.

My friend and predecessor Anna Lindh once said: "Human rights are praised more than ever, and violated as much as ever." We truly live in troubled times of unrest where good news are too rare, and reports of human rights violations are too many.

When Boris Nemtsov was shot in Moscow two days ago - those bullets also hit the Russian people and affected the rest of the world.

All human rights are indivisible and mutually reinforcing. It is through cooperation, dialogue and with mutual respect that we can ensure compliance with human rights law.

We stand up for the human dignity, integrity, freedom and inviolability of the individual. That includes taking a stand against states claiming the right to execute, torture or imprison people in contravention of international norms. We are deeply concerned over the excessive application of the death penalty and call on governments to halt executions and introduce a moratorium on capital punishment.

It is true that women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights. These can never be set aside with reference to culture, tradition or religion. The Swedish Government wants to strengthen gender equality, improve women's access to resources and increase women's representation - we call it a feminist foreign policy. Furthermore, a key focus is to help protect female human rights defenders - "femdefenders" who often are particularly at risk.

All discriminatory barriers to women's economic empowerment must be removed. Equal right to inheritance is crucial in this context. Likewise, women must be allowed to control their own bodies. Sweden will continue to increase respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights and strive for their inclusion on the new global development agenda.

We must increase our efforts both to take preventive measures and to combat impunity for gender-based violence. This is true both in times of peace and in connection with armed conflicts such as in Syria and Iraq. Gender-based violence can also be part of atrocity crimes. Let us make our most to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious international crimes, and make sure that the perpetrators are held accountable.

The economic, social and cultural rights are crucial for the survival and health of millions of people and for their working conditions. Sweden will fight different forms of forced labor and child labor, and defend a person's right to form and join trade unions, negotiate and take industrial action.

Safeguarding human rights also implies a responsibility to fight racism and discrimination. Building sustainable societies requires inclusive participation of all individuals, regardless of their origin, religious beliefs, political opinion or sexual orientation. This remains a challenge and priority also in Sweden. Our experience is that civil society often plays a key role in promoting and protecting human rights.

Free speech, free media and active journalists play a key role in ensuring human rights. We cannot stand idly by while freedom of speech is threatened. We cannot stand idly by while journalists are imprisoned, kidnapped and killed. Last year at least 60 journalists were killed. We must ensure a stronger protection of these vital voices.

We witness the barbaric offensive by ISIL. Events such as those in Nigeria, Middle East, Paris and Copenhagen prove that we all face the challenge of violent extremism. However, efforts to counter extremism must be in line with our democratic values and our conviction that we can all live side by side regardless of religion and ethnicity. The fight against terrorism must always fully respect human rights.

The new challenges show that it is time for us to sharpen our work. Sweden will present a new strategy on human rights, democracy and rule of law which will guide our efforts in these fields.

Sweden attaches great importance to the work of the Human Rights Council, including the Special Procedures, to address specific country and thematic situations. Sweden will continue with our strong support for the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. The EU continues to follow the situation in Palestine with close attention and we call on Israel to fully cooperate with the Human Rights Council, including through issuing a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures.

In conclusion, we need to work together and ensure that the UN delivers. 2015 is a key year for global efforts. Through the UN we can take concrete steps for human rights and democracy, to achieve peace and security, gender equality and sustainable development.

I repeat "Human rights are praised more than ever, and violated as much as ever."

Let us rise to that challenge.

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