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Geneva, 02 March 2015

Address by First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusić at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Dear Mr. Commissioner, Excellences, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to address the Human Rights Council on behalf of Croatia and to inform you on what we are doing and what we have done in our country and also on some of the issues that we see as key in today’s changing and sometimes extremely confusing world.

I would like to congratulate Mr. Zeid Al-Hussein on his appointment and wish him courage and success in fulfillment of his mandate. You have been given this job at a difficult and complicated time. And your success is our success, so we wish you all the luck. Let me also say here that Croatia aligns itself with the statement of the European Union.

Over the past year or so, we have seen astonishing changes in the international landscape. Across the world, there have been challenges as people have stood up and stood together to assert their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In the unstable political environment accompanied by challenges, human rights need to be fully protected to set the basis for the development of peaceful and democratic societies.

Tragically, armed conflicts continue to occur in various parts of the world – Syria and Iraq, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Ukraine, to name but a few, where international human rights law and international humanitarian law are being trampled on daily. We are witnessing large-scale and systematic atrocities committed by groups such as Da’esh or ISIL, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and the Al-Nusra Front. These groups have denied and negated all universal values of humanity. They aim to achieve their goals through systematic violation of international human rights norms and international humanitarian law. These groups pose a major threat not only to countries and populations they terrorize, but also to all societies.

However, without denying the importance of all the violations of human rights that are taking place as we speak here today, I would like to emphasize three forms, elements or areas of violation of human rights that we see as crucial. I will try to explain why we see them as having pertinence to all the other aspects of human rights violations.

The first group is the right of women in fighting sexual violence. Many years ago, when I was a young sociologist, I thought we were in the middle of winning that fight. Thirty-five years later it seems we are no closer. It seems that the violation of women’s rights and sexual violence – which is not aimed only at women but women make between 80 and 90 percent of victims – is unfortunately as alive and as widespread as it ever was. I think that might mean that we might have to change our tactics. We were fighting it in different ways; we have to fight it in a more effective way.

One thing that I’ve noticed around the world is, for instance, when we test countries, when we examine the functioning of countries’ judiciaries, we look at how well they fight corruption, which is right. We look at how well they fight white-collar crimes. But never ever have I seen an evaluation of a country’s judiciary [based on] how well it fights sexual violence, how well it prosecutes rape cases, how effective it is in fighting sexual violence through its courts and its judiciary system, how well it prosecutes the perpetrators, how well it fights impunity for sexual violence in peacetime, let alone in times of war. And make no mistake – not fighting sexual violence in peacetime is directly related to widespread sexual violence in times of war.

I would say that this is one area which in a way explains and demonstrates that, however long we might have been aware of a problem, without fighting and finding efficient ways of addressing the problem in a way in which it will go away, in which it will become a center stage problem and not just one of those things, it will stay and it will spread.

So I think we need a new onslaught, a new crusade against sexual violence and impunity for crimes of this kind, committed either in war or in peace.

The other topic I want to bring to your attention, which was done to some extent by the Belgian foreign minister before me, is the situation in the Ukraine. As we speak, there are mass violations of human rights in the Ukraine. They are happening not because we do not know about them and not because we do not have information. We actually do have information. One thing that, I would say, makes that situation different from a number of other situations where the same things are happening is that we actually can do something about it, which is my strong belief.

All of us here in this hall need to sit down, discuss this situation, talk about it, talk to each other and find ways to stop the human rights abuses and stop the conflict in the Ukraine. There are no representatives of some other organizations, institutions or would-be organizations that are involved in human rights violations in some other parts of the world. We are fighting and have to fight the human rights violations there, too. But in the case of the Ukraine, we are all here and we can prevent it. We should be able to prevent it and we should sit down and prevent it. This is why I think this is an example where we need to focus and we need to do something about it, because we actually can.

And the third thing I want to draw your attention to is something that sounds almost old-fashioned. This is the freedom of speech, and especially the freedom of speech versus hate speech. Freedom of opinion, the freedom to be able to say what you think – this is taken as a very dangerous term in today’s world, I would say. A number of things that are happening, including recruiting little girls to war and beheading people who are caught in that war has to do with hate speech and a new form of mobilizing global lynch mobs – people who decide they have the right to hate other people so much that they take off their heads and entice young people to go and join extremist wars and kill in the streets of our cities people who think differently and have a different political opinion.

Hate speech has been extremely effective. I don’t remember in my long life seeing it as effective as it is today. To mobilize people, to kill other people, to violate their human rights – love speech or any other form of speech has never been that effective. And I would say that things like Charlie Hebdo, like anti-Semitism, like anti-Islamism, like enticing young people to go and join terrorist groups, like the huge atrocities that happen at the hands of Da’esh or Isil and like shooting Boris Nemtsov in the street are related to hate speech, all of them. It is my deep conviction that we have to address hate speech as what it is. And it is a form of modern-day lynching, an enticement to lynching, and we have to stand in the way of hate speech as an important instrument of denying people their basic human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. President, Mr. Commissioner, Croatia stands as a candidate for the Human Rights Council in the period of 2017-2019. I hope we will find support and I also hope we will find new ways of promoting human rights and fighting what we see as the key instruments of their violation today. I thank you very much for your attention.

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