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Statement delivered by Minister for Justice at High-level Thematic Debate side event on How the Global South shaped the international human rights system

14.07.2016  17:09

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Thank you to the ambassadors of both Jamaica and Ghana for their insightful statements and to Steven Jensen for the important research you’ve done on this topic.

Understanding the evolution of human rights is important. It is important for our work here at the UN. But it is also important for our own every day understanding of who we are, and by whom and in which ways the modern world has been shaped.

You, Steven, put it best in your lecture at the Nobel Insti-tute in Oslo earlier this year when you – after having quoted Nigerian author Chinua Achebe - summarized as follows: “How we perceive, how we label, and how we narrate the stories of our fellow human beings shape our fates and is telling of who we really are.”

One of the main contentions today has been that most human rights work operates with a flawed account of its own historical evolution. If we pause on the consequences of such a flawed account for a moment, it becomes apparent why this work is so important and why it is es-sential for a country like Denmark to comprehend the full historical evolution of human rights as we know it today.

Human rights are universal. Human rights are rights held simply by virtue of being a human person. This is a core argument when we discuss their application and implementation.

Individuals everywhere want the same essential things: to have sufficient food and shelter; to be able to speak freely; to practice their own religion or to abstain from religious belief; to feel that their person is not threatened by the state; to know that they will not be tortured or de-tained without charge, and that, if charged, they will have a fair trial. None of these individual aspirations is dependent upon culture, religion or economic development.

It is aspirations that are keenly felt by everyone in Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe and by the good people living here on Manhattan. I have experienced this myself when visiting countries coming out of conflict and dictatorship. Everywhere I have seen the strong drive of people wanting to be able to freely decide on their lives, to freely enjoy the protection of human rights and to freely express their opinion of their leaders.

But if the narrative of the historical evolution of human rights only emphasizes the positive role of western countries. If the perception of the human rights is faulty from the outset. What does that do to the readiness of other countries to accept the notion of universality?

That is why we need dialogues like the one we have today, and research like the work of Steven and others.  There is no doubt that better common understanding can ensure progress on the normative international human rights framework. Renewed partnerships and alliances can be forged in this manner.

As the ultimate objective, it is my hope that such progress will boost the political will to respect and promote human rights. That it will turn the tide on the slow pace of implementation. And implementation is key if we want to see a real positive difference for our fellow human beings and their enjoyment of human rights in all parts of the world.

There can be no compromise on the universality of human rights.  This was also a main element and ambition behind the decision of the Government of Denmark to launch our candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council at the election to take place in 2018. And we will stand firm on this principle.

50 years of experience as a partner in international development assistance supporting protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance has taught us the value of partnerships and dialogue to ensure progress in implementing human rights. We must understand each other, listen to each other, learn from each other and ultimately build bridges to reach each other. If elected to the Council, we will proactively seek open, direct and honest dialogue. We hope for a chance to contribute to the profoundly important work of the Human Rights Council and a chance to bring some of the important findings of today into play.

Thank you.