Ginevra 04/03/2011

President Napolitano's Address to the Human Rights Council

Mr. President
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

International legal protection of human rights lies at the heart and core of the United Nations system, witness the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948. Since then the world has undergone profound and repeated change, independence has flourished in all continents, radical shifts have occurred in distribution of power and wealth among nations. In a more crowded planet hundreds of millions are lifting themselves out of poverty. In the last six decades a powerful wind of liberty, human dignity and social justice has been blowing strong across the globe.
We live today in a better and more inclusive world. Largely we owe it to the United Nations. Human rights have progressively become a paramount pillar of international relations. Massive infringements of human rights make a regime illegitimate and place it out of the community of States.
It is a long and winding road. Human rights are still threatened. New emergencies are rising, also caused by economic hardships, such as increasing food prices. Today my thoughts go especially to the sufferings of the Libyan people. The message, that an Italian national just heard in Libya and brought back after being evacuated from Misurata, is clear: We stand for freedom and true democracy. We want the world to know the truth.
Italy is fully behind the UN Security Council unanimous call for a swift end to the Libyan tragedy. By consensus, the General Assembly has sent Tripoli a powerful message by suspending, Libya from this Body. We look forward to Libya resuming its place in the Human Rights Council as soon as its people and government will be able to establish the necessary standards and conditions.
First and foremost violence against the Libyan people cannot be tolerated. Colonel Gheddafi must stop any military action against his own people.
People's discontent, everywhere it occurs, must be dealt with through dialogue and political goodwill.

Mr. President

Just over twenty-one years ago, Nelson Mandela told a cheering multitude of South Africans, black and white:
Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.
The elimination of apartheid and the rejection of racism and discrimination rank among the highest peaks climbed by the United Nations in the long and hard advance toward fully achieving the goals of the 1948 Declaration.
But we can never rest on our laurels. Upholding human rights is not a status. It is a long and never ending journey, where we must be wary of relapses. The goals, we all share; yet no one can claim flawless enactment. We come together in this Council to support, to encourage, to monitor our own efforts in implementing and raising the national and international human rights standards in every field.
Recent, unfolding events, dispel the notion that stability, national, regional or international, can be maintained without respecting basic human rights and ensuring the rule of law.
In the new interdependent world no longer can anybody build walls, prevent the movement of people, restrain the circulation of ideas. The notion of respecting and protecting human rights is no exception. Fundamental standards are bound to rise and to be increasingly subject to international scrutiny. Easily available technology is already putting additional pressure on governments and authorities to perform and behave at internationally acceptable levels.
Persisting human rights abuses also require the UN system to work better. World globalization necessarily implies going beyond national remit and sovereignty.
Here the United Nations play the central role. There is no substitute for it.
Italy, together with the entire international community, has placed high expectations in the work of the Human Rights Council since its establishment. Each single State bears the primary responsibility for the success or failure of the Council in answering to these growing expectations.

Mr. President

Let me praise the outstanding work realized by the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Mrs. Navanethem Pillay, and by her Office. Let me praise all members of the Human Rights Council, who are entrusted a common responsibility above their single national assignments. We must resist the temptation to point the finger at each other. Differences should be rather overcome by building mutual confidence, by constant dialogue and positive actions.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In few days time, on March 17, Italy will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The upcoming anniversary makes it particularly appropriate my presence here today. The Human Rights Council is built on the same foundations of our Constitution: human rights and international peace, to be sought through dialogue among peoples of different cultures. The values which characterized the Italian Constitution are still fully valid today. It is no coincidence that, after the tragedy of World War Two, Italy's democratic Constitution entered into force in very same year as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Same time, same principles, same spirit.
Few years on, a great design would lead to the dawn of European integration, a most successful process that results in today's European Union. Italy has been one of its founding fathers and a consistently strong advocate since the beginning. European integration put the values of peace, solidarity, democracy and human rights in a continental perspective. First of all, the EU is a community of values, enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which encompasses in a single text the whole range of civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all persons residing in the EU.
Europe aims at becoming an ever stronger factor of stability and prosperity on the world scene. In the Italian vision, anchored on its Constitution, the international and supranational framework, based on the UN, on the EU and on regional organizations, is conducive to peace and development. If further transferring or sharing portions of national sovereignty within these bodies can lead us to a better and fairer world, Italy cannot but welcome such a trend.
The recent, sad events in the Mediterranean demonstrate that the EU has to complete the unfinished job of setting up a common space of freedom, security and justice, by, inter alia, defining rules on asylum seekers and refugees protection. The more effective management of the EU border cannot be left to individual member States: it is nor the border of one country, it is the border of Europe.

Fighting against all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances is not only an international obligation but also the best response in the common interest of mankind.
Italy - until recent times a country of emigration - has been exposed over the last years to massive inflows of migrants. In the past decade immigrant residents in Italy have increased by almost 250%, reaching now 7% of the total Italian population. They are a positive force in our society. The opportunity to fully participate to social, economic and cultural life, respecting the rules of the Italian State of law, represents the key to their successful integration. It is essential to mutually facilitate this process by promoting a comprehensive integration policy.

Mr. President

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some main priorities that, among others, have consistently inspired Italy's active engagement in enhancing human rights protection over the years.
As our societies and nations become intertwined, religious freedom becomes a beacon of hope and a powerful reassurance for all minorities. It guarantees identity and self-confidence. It eliminates the perception of hostility and threats. It is therefore essential to reject all forms of religious intolerance and discrimination. Attacks and violence against religious minorities have no place in our midst as civilized, law abiding nations. Unfortunately such atrocities continue to be perpetrated in several parts of the world.
I am profoundly shocked and dismayed by the recent assassination of Pakistan Minorities Minister Shabbaz Bhatti. Let me address my personal heartfelt condolences to the Pakistani people for the tragic loss of a strong minorities' advocate.
Vulnerable groups, such as Christian communities in some countries, need special protection.
Special protection is also needed for women and girls, as well as for all minors. Violence affects the lives of countless women, and it is a serious obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and female empowerment. Italy actively supports the implementation of Security Council's resolutions on Women, Peace and Security.
Italy also attaches the utmost priority to issues related to the Rights of the Child. We must eliminate the scourge of children involved in armed conflicts and of forced recruitment of children.
Finally, we remain committed to abolition of the death penalty. And we are glad to see a growing trend in this direction by the international community.

Upholding basic human rights is a continuing challenge.
We meet today against the backdrop of the Libyan tragedy and of intolerable repression and atrocities.
Restoring and maintaining respect of human rights, in Libya and elsewhere, falls under the watch of the Human Rights Council.
Firstly, while events on the ground are unfolding precipitously, the Council must remain vigilant and seized of the situation in all areas and countries where, due to political unrest and turmoil, violations of human rights occur.
Secondly, when - hopefully very soon - the countries affected by the current upheavals will undertake the path to recovery and reconstruction, there will be a need for justice and national reconciliation. A process of institution building will then await the liberated peoples and their new democratic governments. The aftermath may come in many shades, but it will always be crucial for all the countries concerned. It is imperative for the new governments to start on the right foot with regard to human rights and rule of law.
I trust this Council to play its indispensable role in ensuring and implementing legal protection of fundamental human rights also in this second phase.
This, Mr. President, Madame High Commissioner, Distinguished Delegates, this is our call for the coming weeks and months.
Thank you to you all.