Today is the International Human Rights Day. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès and Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir underline that Belgium remains committed to the protection and promotion of all human rights for all.
This is more necessary than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a worldwide stress test for human rights. Unfortunately, the past year had a negative impact on economic and social rights as well as civil and political rights. According to the UN, women and people who were already vulnerable before the pandemic, were particularly affected. However, like any crisis, this one also offers opportunities. Both ministers share the view of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet: “we can recover better“.
Belgium’s commitment to human rights is firm. Not only bilaterally, but also in the EU and in international forums, our country continues to fight for rights that are inherent to all people, regardless of race, gender, nationality, language, religion or any other status.
Our country will contribute to the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) recently adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council. 2021 will also be marked by the 20th anniversary of the World Conference against Racism (Durban).
This commitment is reflected in the choice of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as a partner of the Belgian development cooperation, with a contribution to its core budget of 2 million euros per year. With additional financial support in 2020 for OHCHR (500,000 euros) and the Council of Europe to strengthen the rule of law (2 million euros), Belgium follows up words with action.
Moreover, in order to be internationally credible, it is crucial that each country fulfils its commitments within its own borders. This also applies to Belgium. Something Minister Wilmès values particularly: “It is important that an impartial outsider regularly reviews our policy with regard to the universal fundamental principles of the rule of law and human rights. Just over a month ago, Belgium passed its first peer review during the annual dialogue on the rule of law at the General Affairs Council of the European Union. Within the framework of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Belgium is currently preparing its third universal periodic review, which will take place in May next year“. Our country will continue to follow the recommendations we receive through these various international mechanisms.
In the partner countries of the Belgian development cooperation, we are continuing to work to strengthen human rights. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we are providing additional funding for several human rights projects. And we will continue to do so. Because as Minister Kitir says: “human rights are more than just a Western invention to bully states. For us they are the basis of a well-functioning society. Without them our interventions lose their impact. Why would the Belgian taxpayer invest heavily in a qualitative schooling system in country x, when girls are not given the right to take part? So, it is crucial to use that special relationship we have with our partner countries to take concrete steps forward, be it on gender equality, the right to education or social protection. It is this dialogue and cooperation on human rights that I want to give a stronger place in our development cooperation. Again this is no power game. It means bringing human rights down to the lives of people. To empower them.”