EMBARGO UNTIL DELIVERY D26(010)
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY 04.10.2010
(Extract of the verbatim records)
Mr WESTERWELLE (Deputy Federal Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany) thanked the President and members of the Assembly for inviting him to address them. Five years after the Second World War and one year after the foundation of the Council of Europe, Germany had become a member state. This had required a great commitment to reconciliation from the Council of Europe. Germany had promised that the newly created Federal Republic would be committed to peace. When Germany signed the European Convention on Human Rights this promise had been repeated. The European Convention on Human Rights was a mutual promise to uphold human rights.
Commemorative events to celebrate the reunification of Germany had take place this past weekend. In 1989, brave citizens of the German Democratic Republic had undertaken a peaceful revolution against the state of the country. This had set great changes in motion across Europe. People often spoke of the fall of the Berlin Wall but this was in fact a misinterpretation. The Wall did not just fall, it was pushed. Freedom had to be fought for, and he wanted to thank all the citizens and members of parliament in countries that had supported Germany. German unity would not have been possible without the support of citizens of Europe and beyond. Germany had not forgotten this.
It was a great day to address the Assembly because it came just after the anniversary of the reunification of Germany. German integration was also European integration and European integration was the way forward. When some people looked at the political processes in Strasbourg and Luxembourg they said that the meetings were boring and drawn out, but this was part of the model of European co-operation. It was much better to invest energy in co-operation than to have to deal with the fall-out from non co-operation at a later stage. He wanted to warn against any attempt to re-nationalise politics; such moves might attract applause at home but it was not worthy. A historic responsibility was owed to the people.
Human rights were inalienable but they needed to be defended on a daily basis. A commitment to human rights was never complete and was always a work in progress. This was clear when looking at communication. When the European Convention on Human Rights was signed, there were laws in Germany which protected the peoples’ mail and so protected their privacy, but 30 years on, phone tapping was practised. The advances in technology had produced new and greater challenges for the protection of privacy. The Internet now threatened citizens in some ways. For example, people were threatened by credit card fraud and the actions of terrorists who used the Internet to organise themselves. The state had a duty to protect citizens, but it needed to ensure it did not encroach on their privacy. The level of protection was now unequalled, but there was no scope for resting on one’s laurels. Across Europe, people turned to Strasbourg to protect their rights. Judgments against Germany had even been handed down. This did not, however, mean that Germany had lost, because German citizens had gained greater protection of their rights as a result of these rulings.
In countries which had undergone significant social change, justice and the entire legal system had had to learn how to be independent. It was important that politicians were keenly aware of their responsibilities to protect human rights and made use of Strasbourg to this end. For Germany, the rule of law and the protection of individuals’ rights was very important. There was no alternative. Respect for human rights was a cornerstone of German foreign policy
Germany’s support for human rights was in its own interest, and Germany would work together with all countries that respected the rule of law. Interests and values were not contradictory: they were the cornerstone of responsible foreign policy. It was vital to combat human trafficking. Countries of origin, transition and destination must all work together. For example, Germany was working together with the Philippines to prevent human trafficking and protect the rights of those affected by it. Other human rights must also be properly monitored, for example the rights of children, especially in armed conflicts, and the rights to freedom of sexual orientation. It was also important to take action to provide for the future of the Roma communities by ensuring that Roma children received proper education and that Roma communities were integrated with the rest of society.
The international human rights debate had developed to cover not only the classical freedoms of citizenship and political rights, but also social, economic and cultural rights. All of these rights were equally valid and Europe must work to support them through its policy. Since 2006, Germany and Spain had been working together to promote the right to clean water and last year this had been accepted by the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. It would be important to continue fighting for these fundamental rights to commodities.
The accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights would strengthen both the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It should not be seen as a lack of confidence in the Council of Europe. The European Court of Human Rights had been very successful and as a consequence had received a flood of applications. It was important to clear the backlog as soon as possible.
The Council of Europe should focus its future activities on the protection of human rights. Although it was tempting to discuss a wider range of subjects, a clear focus on human rights would lead to a stronger Council of Europe and a brighter future for human rights in Europe. The countries of Europe could count on Germany as a strong partner in the fight for human rights.
Some of the most effective actions to support human rights could be carried out behind the scenes, but it was also vital to promote the human rights agenda in public and maintain its profile.