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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Remarks on UN Human Rights Council

European Parliament

Strasbourg, 9 March

Mr President,

I am pleased we have the chance to debate the work of the UN Human Rights Council and how we can strengthen its overall impact.

As you know, I addressed the Council last week, together with many Foreign Ministers from around the world. For obvious reasons, the situation in Libya was at the heart of our discussions.

I am pleased the international community sent a strong and united political signal regarding the on-going human rights violations in Libya. Already before the High-Level Segment, the Council had called for an inquiry and recommended the suspension of Libya's membership of the Council – which has since been confirmed by the General Assembly in a unanimous decision.

All this is proof that multilateral institutions can live up to their mandate and act in real-time. As I stressed in my remarks, the UN Human Rights Council has a responsibility to ensure that stated intentions are translated into real action, real progress. I think that Ms Pillay, whom I met in Geneva, is giving exactly the right direction politically in order to make a difference on the ground. What matters in the end is not the number of resolutions passed, but results in the real world that make a difference to people in need.

I also emphasised that human rights are universal. We reject the accusation that the EU is somehow trying to "export" so-called European values to other countries.

The rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, justice and equality are not European rights: they are universal rights. And we must never fall into the trap of believing that people in Africa, Asia or Latin America are less passionate about their rights. That is why we speak out and act against human rights violations wherever they occur.

We also recognise that Europe's own path on human rights protection hasn’t been linear and that constant efforts, also inside Europe are needed. At the Human Rights Council we are ready to discuss our own challenges, share experiences and offer support to those working to improve respect for human rights around the world.

We have several priorities for the 16th session of the Human Rights Council and we have discussed these actively with our partners.

The EU will present an initiative on freedom of religion or belief. Faced in recent months with an increasing number of acts of religious discrimination and violence in different parts of the world, we need to send a strong, collective message against religious intolerance and in favour of the freedom of religion or belief for all people everywhere.

The EU will also table resolutions on Burma/Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We believe that in both cases the severity and number of human rights violations justify the extension of the mandates of the respective UN Special Rapporteurs.

The EU also supports the initiative to create a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran as proposed by several countries and regions. We are seriously concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran as was also highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay. A particular concern is the dramatically increasing number of death penalty cases – more than 100 so far this year – and the repression of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

We feel the Council should address the situation in Egypt in an appropriate manner, taking into account the rapidly evolving situation in that country. The EU welcomes Egypt’s invitation to Ms Pillay to send members of her Office to the country. We hope this mission will be dispatched without delay.

The EU also is engaging with the Tunisian authorities to jointly present a draft resolution on the subject of boosting UN technical assistance on human rights in the context of on-going transition.

Other key situations that need to be addressed by this session of the Human Rights Council are Belarus, where we are deeply concerned at the number of political prisoners; the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are distressing reports of continuing human rights violations, in particular widespread sexual violence; as well as Côte-d'Ivoire.

Let me conclude by stressing once again the importance of the Human Rights Council for the EU: the debates, the Resolutions, the Rapporteurs. But in the end, these are only inputs. What truly matter are the outputs. The real test is whether we make a difference on the ground. For this reason, the EU will work hard to strengthen the Human Rights Council and especially its ability to address urgent situations. This is a key objective of the on-going review process. We continue to push for an ambitious result.

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