GANHRI 14th International Conference of National Human Rights Institutions, “Torture and other ill-treatment: The role of National Human Rights Institutions” – Opening Remarks

GANHRI 14th International Conference of National Human Rights Institutions,

Torture and other ill-treatment: The role of National Human Rights Institutions”,

Copenhagen, 6 to 8 November 2023

Opening remarks by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore



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Thank you very much moderator Louise [Holck, DIHR Executive Director], Chairperson of GANHRI Maryam Abdullah Al Attiyah, Dmytro Lubinets the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Ulf Melgaard the Director of the International Law and Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and the representatives of the DNB (Danish Institute for HR), OHCHR, UNDP, and national human rights institutions. Thank you for inviting me on behalf of the European Union to address the opening of the 14th International Conference of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), it is indeed an honour.

National Human Rights Institutions have a central role in the promotion and protection of human rights all across the world. Firstly, through the fearless independent work that you do in your own countries, you are the bridges between the people and the state. You are also the bridges between the international and domestic human rights systems. That is why the European Union pays special attention and engages with National Human Rights Institutions in a large number of countries.

It is for example why when I visit countries; I regularly meet with the national human rights institutions and value its assessment. Indeed, I am pleased to see a number of people here today that I have met on those country visits. It is also why we call on all countries to ensure that National Human Rights Institutions can function independently and why we pay particular attention to National Human Rights Institutions who operate in restrictive environments and where their members and staff are often under pressure.

Our support to National Human Rights Institutions is diplomatic and political, and sometimes financial. Here, I would like to mention that in partnership with GANHRI and its regional network partners, we started in April 2022 the implementation of phase 3 of our NHRI.EU project (Strong NHRIs. Strong Communities), which will provide financial support of 5 million euros for a wide range of capacities building actions.

I especially welcome the opportunity to join you today, as you discuss the role of NHRIs on torture and other ill treatment. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’’. That is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago. The fight against torture is a top priority for the European Union, both in Europe and beyond. We are committed to the absolute prohibition of torture in times of peace and war. We discuss with our partners the need for universal ratification and effective implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocols. We invite governments to join the Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade.

This year, the European Union has joined forces with a consortium of civil society organizations to launch a new initiative, called ‘United Against Torture’, to push for change in over 100 countries. The European Union also sees the potential in joining forces with GANHRI and National Human Rights Institutions to advance the anti-torture efforts internationally. To this end, the EU is always ready to support and provide technical assistance to NHRIs in your important mission of bringing national legislation in line with international law standards and to ensure compliance with those obligations afterwards. I hope that following this 14th International Conference we can explore further such collaborations.

I am very conscious that we meet here in Copenhagen, in the 75th anniversary year of the UDHR, and the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Principles relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions. Our commemoration of these anniversaries takes place at a time and environment of enormous challenge to the principles of human rights and adherence to international law and international humanitarian law. Human rights are rarely more violated than at times of conflict and war. It is appropriate that we should recall the founding principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence, of human rights in this occasion.

Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, you know better than anyone in this room, and indeed you have reminded us, what happens to the rights of people when an aggressor disrespects IHL and commits war crimes, we in turn are collectively committed to ensure that there is accountability for these crimes.

The principle of universality requires us to insist on the same standard everywhere where there is a conflict, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sudan, to mention but a few of the many conflicts that are taking place in the world today. As the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, has been saying consistently for the last four weeks, those principles also apply in Israel and in Palestine. The innocent Israeli victims of Hamas terrorism and the innocent victims of Israel’s actions in Gaza, where now 10000 civilians are among the dead, and among those over 4000 children. They are entitled to the same protection of IHL and the same justice and accountability when IHL is violated.

We are indeed meeting at a terrible juncture in human history; across the world, we have experienced an avalanche of crises in recent years. Together, we have a daunting but not insurmountable challenge. I know that this conference will bring to bear the collective wisdom and energy of the NHRIs who are at the frontline of a battle, which rarely attracts the headlines, the battle for human rights. And particularly, in the context of this Conference, the battle against torture and ill treatment, for which there is no justification and indeed for which rarely, if ever, is there a defense offered.

Thank you very much.