Speech Minister Zijlstra - Uitreiking Mensenrechtentulp 2017

Weblogbericht | 11-12-2017

Geschreven door de redactie.

Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halbe Zijlstra, at the presentation of the 2017 Human Rights Tulip.

Excellency, Embajador,
Licenciada Perez Rodriguez, Graciela (si me permite),
Ladies and gentlemen,

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Today, that saying feels more true to me than ever. What words could equal the visual impact of this space?

Above our heads hang eighty pairs of worn-out shoes. Shoes worn by desperate relatives: fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters - 
all searching for their missing loved ones.

These shoes embody their grief and despair. Their agony of ‘not knowing’. But they also embody their determination. Determination to find their loved ones –
some have been missing for half a lifetime.

In this impressive setting, we are gathered here today
for the 10th (tenth) annual Human Rights Tulip award ceremony.
Always a ceremonial occasion. A recognition of great achievement.

But not a cause for celebration.

I am sure that this year’s winner, Senora Graciela Pérez Rodriguez,
feels that more keenly than anyone. It’s no accident that she has described herself as ‘a mother who is dead in life’.

Senora Perez Rodriguez, I too have a child. What you are going through is unimaginable. It only makes your work more admirable. I will talk about that in a moment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Like I just said, this ceremony is not a cause for celebration.

Also, because the global context is an alarming one. The trends aren’t pointing in the right direction. Fundamental values and human rights are under pressure. All the reports agree: the space for civil society is shrinking. One hundred and six countries are not free. That’s more than half the members of the UN. Lack of freedom is not the exception. It’s the rule.

Even in Europe, we must take care that hard-won democratic freedoms
are not unduly restricted. This is essential, because many of our democratic achievements are founded on the rule of law.

This is why Dutch foreign policy consistently invests in the international legal order and the rule of law. By supporting governments, international organisations, and civil society. And also: by supporting individual human rights defenders. They play a crucial role.

And it’s them I want to talk about today.

Ladies and gentlemen, Senora Perez Rodriguez,

In my first week as foreign minister, I made a little mistake. In parliament, I talked about ‘human rights fighters’ instead of ‘human rights defenders’. But the more I learn about the subject - the more convinced I am that ‘fighters’ is indeed the best word to use. They risk their necks - for themselves and for others. They are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. And they deserve our full support. Especially now, when the oxygen in the mine is running low. The Netherlands provides that support.

Take the ‘Shelter City’ programme. It now includes ten Dutch cities. Ten cities that are giving oxygen to brave individuals. Ten cities that are supporting their important work.

Licenciada Perez Rodriguez, Graciela (si me permite),

If anyone deserves the title of ‘human rights fighter’ - it is you. Despite the dangerous conditions in Tamaulipas, in Mexico, you decided to take up the fight.

Since the disappearance of your daughter, brother and three nephews,
you have not stopped searching. Your search brought you into contact
with hundreds of people in the same situation. Hundreds of unsolved tragedies.

You decided to join forces. And in a highly complex environment of corruption, impunity, organised crime and drug trafficking, you started the Forensic Citizen Science project. Forensic Citizen Science is an important source of knowledge and support. Especially in a region where people are often too afraid to go to the police. The project helps ensure that disappearances are investigated more effectively.

And this is badly needed. In Tamaulipas alone, thousands of people are missing.
In Mexico as a whole, the figure is many times that. The numbers are staggering.

The shoes above our heads are only the tip of the iceberg.

Graciela, that makes your work all the more important. Not least, because it can help spur the government to fulfil its responsibility to act.

Right now, Forensic Citizen Science is still a regional project. I understand there are plans to expand to other regions. Regions with similar problems. We hope that the Human Rights Tulip will help make this possible. So that you can give more despairing people new hope. Hope of obtaining certainty about the fate of their loved ones.
Including your own daughter. Including your other family members.

Graciela, we wish you strength and courage to continue your important work.
You are an inspiration for many people, including here in the Netherlands.

And so it is my honour to present you with the Tenth Human Rights Tulip.
Licenciada Perez Rodriguez, le felicito con el Premio Tulipan de Derechos Humanos.

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