Human rights and failure to unite over Syria addressed by European ministers at UN debate

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of Croatia addresses General Assembly. UN Photo/J Carrier

28 September 2012 – Croatia’s Prime Minister, Austria’s Vice-Chancellor and Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister lamented the lack of unity in the United Nations Security Council over the conflict in Syria as they addressed the UN General Assembly today, while Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister joined those speakers in speaking out on the need for strong human rights protections.

Differences between the Council’s members over what steps to take amid Syria’s unfolding violence formed the backdrop to the speakers’ remarks at the 67th Assembly’s General Debate.

“The lack of univocal action against the most severe violations of the UN Charter is deeply troubling,” said the Prime Minister of Croatia, Zoran Milanovic. “We must resolutely counter this obsession with violence and repression. We should not shy away from our responsibilities.”

Michael Spindelegger, Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria.

Austria’s Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Michael Spindelegger, described the victims of Syria’s violence, and its 2.5 million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, as being a “stark reminder” for the United Nations to act.

“The Security Council in particular must assume its responsibility for the ever aggravating situation in the country,” he said.

For the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Carl Bildt, the Syrian conflict reminded the world of a simple truth: “Violence is easy to start, but difficult to stop.” He said the “divided” Security Council needed to put “global responsibilities above narrow national interests.”

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, spoke extensively on the issue of human rights, while his colleagues from Croatia, Austria and Sweden also addressed that subject.

Eamon Gilmore, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland.

“Ireland’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights has been shaped by our history,” he said. “As a small island nation, which has experienced the impact of colonialism, civil war and conflict, we learned the hard way that human rights can never be taken for granted.”

Ireland is seeking election for the first time to the UN Human Rights Council, in accordance with the country’s pledge to do so this year at the Council’s 2006 launch.

“We want to see a principled Council that provides real leadership,” said Deputy Prime Minister Gilmore. “We also value and support the full participation of small states in the work of the Council.”

Croatia’s Prime Minister Milanovic spoke of the promotion of human rights internationally as being “one of the cornerstones of the UN role in the world.”

Noting Austria became an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2011, Vice-Chancellor Spindelegger said the body was best placed to react swiftly in case of human rights emergencies. “Its special sessions on Syria and Libya illustrated that the international community will not turn a blind eye on gross human rights violations and indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bildt, who highlighted that Sweden was the largest financial contributor to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), spoke of his country’s upcoming candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council – and pledged it would take every opportunity to champion online freedom of expression.

“The fight for freedom on the Net is the new frontline in the fight for freedom in the world,” he said.

Though Foreign Affairs Minister Bildt did not make direct reference to the presence on the Internet and elsewhere of the anti-Islam video made in the United States which led to violent reactions in various cities around the world, both Prime Minister Milanovic and Vice-Chancellor Spindelegger addressed the violence that erupted around the production.

The two spoke specifically of the killing of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in the eastern Libya city of Benghazi in violence believed to be linked to the anti-Islam video.

“People come from different cultures, legal traditions, historical backgrounds and forms of government,” said Croatia’s Prime Minister Milanovic. “But violence can never be an acceptable response to the freedom of speech.”

Vice-Chancellor Spindelegger expressed Austria’s “strongest” condemnation of all the attacks that occurred against diplomatic missions and personnel. “To attack an embassy and its personnel is not only contrary to international law, but an attack on the very idea the United Nations stands for, namely, the peaceful cooperation of member states to jointly build a better future,” he said.

All four speakers addressed an array of additional topics. Topics covered in their remarks included justice and the rule-of-law by Croatia’s Prime Minister Milanovic; Vice-Chancellor Spindelegger’s expression of Austria’s concern about weapons of mass destruction; and development issues addressed by both Foreign Affairs Minister Bildt of Sweden and Deputy Prime Minister Gilmore of Ireland.

The four European government officials are among of scores of world leaders and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual, national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends Oct. 1.


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