Human Rights Day 2019

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,…” Ambassador Gonggrijp was honored to have the opportunity to speak at a Human Rights Day event organized by Equal Grounds Sri Lanka. Here is what she had to say...

Dear ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,…”

Recognize this?

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Preamble and article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.The declaration was proclaimed at 10 December 1948. 71 years later we have made huge progress, but we are also still struggling.

When I was a little girl I had difficulties understanding the concept of deep conflict. I understood why people argued, I did this regularly with my sister. But I could not understand why people were not willing to make up in the end. Why people made each other’s lives miserable or much worse, why people were at war with each other.

I realize very much that this is the privilege of growing up in a country and a time frame without war. When I was around 9 years old I interviewed my grandfather for a school assignment. During the Second World War my grandfather fled from the German occupying forces as he was on their death list. I remember sitting next to him and trying to make sense of his story. Not just in chronological sense, but also in common sense. I remember asking the why question a few times. Why things happened the way they did during the war. And he could give me the technical course of events, the bigger strategy behind this. But my why question was not really answered.

It was shortly after the ending of the Second World War that this declaration was proclaimed. And while reading through it again last night, I could not help but think: yes indeed, yes of course, Yes Yes Yes! It is just so true and clear.

Respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms are the foundation of democracies in which every person counts. They are also the basis for sustainable economic growth. Sri Lanka is dedicated to reaching the Sustainable Developments Goals. Human rights are at the heart of these goals. In the absence of human dignity we cannot drive sustainable development.

Sri Lanka has recently known a long period of conflict, during which human rights were under pressure. The reconciliation process after the end of the war has been slow. And I hear people say: what is the point of looking back, let’s move forward. To my opinion it is about recognition and human dignity.

To that respect we should also recognize the progress that has been made: the Office on Missing Persons has been mandated to restore the rights of every Sri Lankan of any background, language or religion, to know what happened to their loved ones. And the work of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, as an independent entity, mirrors the country’s commitment to uphold human rights and civil freedoms. The Netherlands supports this and stands ready to help Sri Lankan institutions like these with capacity building and technical expertise.

Promoting and protecting human rights worldwide is a priority in the foreign policy of the Netherlands. We give priority to protecting and supporting human rights defenders, promoting equal rights for women and promoting equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

Our government introduced our national human rights policy regarding the LGBTI community through a quote from Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General. Today I like to share this same quote with you:

“To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, let me say, you are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you, is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold.”

Violence against LGBTI people occurs throughout the world. Those affected often fail to report attacks to the police, fearful of being recognized as LGBTI and of attracting further violence. And moreover homosexuality is still a criminal offense in 76 countries.

Already early in my career in Africa I experienced what criminalization does to a community and to its individuals. It justifies discrimination and seriously hampers acceptance. To live in fear because of your sexual orientation, because of whom you love, affects your dignity.  

And even though I am no longer a little girl, I often still wonder why. Why we cannot respect each other’s choices and preferences. Why we cannot accept each other the way we are.  

The policy of Netherlands is aimed at 1) abolishing the criminalization of homosexuality, 2) opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and 3) achieving wider social acceptance of gay people. In the Netherlands we have taken the first step of decriminalization a long time ago, but we are also still working on stopping discrimination and promoting acceptance. 

As I hope Sri Lanka will also take this first step in the near future, I also recognize that this will not solve all issues the LGBTI community is facing. It is key to inform people about the rights they have, regardless of their sexual orientation. To empower them to take responsibility, stand up or seek justice. It is also key to educate and make people from outside the community aware of the harassment and discrimination that people from the LGBTI community face. In order to also empower them to show solidarity and to take action if necessary.

Every form of emancipation has been and still is a struggle. It starts with a ‘fight for your rights’. This is why this initiative of Equal Ground is so important, because – and allow me to quote again: 

“ Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I am on your side

We are on your side