Int'l human rights day Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The annual celebration of human rights on December 10 falls on the same day that
the EU will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The coincidence is serendipitous. The
EU is being honored for promoting democracy, human rights and reconciliation,
and for spreading peace and stability across the continent. This is a great
recognition of our past achievements. Yet it also focuses the spotlight on all
of us – EU institutions, member states, and 500 million citizens – to work
together and redouble our efforts to promote and protect human rights not just
within our borders, but worldwide.
Indeed, this past July, the EU adopted
a Human Rights Strategy and appointed the first EU Special Representative for
human rights. Human rights are the silver thread that runs through the EU’s
external action: from trade to the environment, aid to security. It is
recognition of the fact that in almost every human suffering and conflict in the
world today, respect for human rights is a vital part of the
But we can only advance human rights effectively if we work
together and share the responsibility of promoting and protecting them.
Advancing rights demands that the EU forge broad alliances – with other
governments, with international organizations, with the private sector, and
above all with civil society. Today the EU works closely with partners around
the globe, such as the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the African
We also aspire to a full partnership with hundreds of NGOs from
all over the world to seek their advice and amplify the human rights
The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day – inclusion and
participation in public life – could not be timelier. The desire to embed these
principles in society is the driving force behind what we are witnessing in the
Arab world today. The recent steps taken toward democratic transition by several
countries in the region and beyond are a beacon of hope for peoples
But such progress cannot be taken for granted. Even in
countries where democratic transition has taken place, it takes more than one
election for deep democracy to take hold. In celebrating the right to public
participation we want to honor the work of all human rights defenders who fight
for the right to express their views, participate in elections and hold public
We also want to highlight the important work of civil society in
enshrining this right deeply in the social fabric of more and more
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A vibrant civil society and enhanced dialogue between NGOs and
governments, regional and international organizations is the key to protecting
human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Last week, the 14th Annual EU NGO
Forum brought together over 200 committed human rights defenders, activists and
policy makers in Brussels. At home, they are often lonely voices; together, they
form a virtual chorus of freedom. The EU will throw its full weight behind such
advocates of liberty around the world.
This is because exclusion is more
the rule than the exception in too many places. In many countries, citizens are
denied the opportunity to have a say in central decisions affecting their lives.
Some are even tortured or imprisoned for expressing their views.
the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize winners, Nasrin Sotoudeh, knows
this only to well. She has displayed immense courage by putting her life on the
line to remonstrate against the restrictions on her family’s rights. In doing so
she has sent a strong message to Iran and the rest of the world that inspires
human rights defenders around the globe. Meanwhile, in China, the 2010 Nobel
Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo continues to serve an 11-year prison sentence
imposed for his writings, in clear violation of his right to freedom of
All the while excessive restrictions are being placed on
NGOs’ freedoms of expression and association. These tactics are often used under
the false guise of the protection of other rights, such as the fight against
terrorism. NGO workers and human rights defenders frequently face persecution
and outright prosecution on a daily basis, or are simply labelled “traitors” to
their countries to intimidate them into silence.
The denial of access to
funding, essential to the existence of many NGOs, is on the rise and must be
The human rights movement will have truly succeeded when every
person feels a shared responsibility to respond to the urgent need to fight for
the rights of others.
We should look to 10 December this year as a new
start for this profound universal challenge.
So on human rights day let
us not point fingers, but join hands for a common effort to ensure that every
woman and every man has the opportunity to have their say in shaping their
personal lives, and the lives of their communities and their
societies.The writer is the European Union Special Representative for
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