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Tomáš Petříček
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Statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Human Rights Council, 40th Session


Geneva, 25 February 2019

Mr President,

Madam High Commissioner,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to address the Human Rights Council for the first time. I am pleased to highlight that my country has started this year as a member of this august body. I wish to thank all States that last autumn cast their vote in support of our candidature. Let me assure you that throughout the next three years, we will collaborate with all States and other stakeholders, including civil society, in a transparent manner and good will.

We attach great importance to supporting adequate and timely responses to human rights violations and abuses wherever they occur. We believe that it is the core business of the Council. Let me only state here, that all country situations should be treated on equal footing, without discrimination.

The Czech Republic will work hard to make the Council leaner, more effective and more oriented towards tangible improvements on the ground. We should strive to unfold the Council’s preventive potential. Investing in human rights is investing in prevention. And prevention is, as an old truth goes, better than cure. It is wiser to prevent through the Human Rights Council than to cure through the Security Council and its peacekeeping missions. I think it is not too simplistic to assert that the antidote to the scourge of war is ensuring human rights for all.  

This Council has powerful allies on its preventive mission. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as independent civil society amplify and complement the efforts of us, the States taking action in the Council.

Madam High Commissioner, rest assured that the Czech Republic fully supports your work and the work of your Office – we always have and we will continue to defend your independence and impartiality. The Czech Republic will also continue to support you through voluntary financial contributions. Similarly, civil society – brave human rights defenders, media workers and NGOs – can count on our steady support. And I believe that it is more urgent than ever to defend enabling space for civil society – here in the Council as well as in numerous countries around the world where reprisals, restrictive legislation and undue State interference attack civil society’s very existence.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Council alone cannot succeed in averting wars and conflicts. In tandem with the Office of the High Commissioner and civil society we can. Let’s work together.              

Mr President,

At this Council, the Czech Republic is a driving force behind the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs. In 2013, our initiative opened a debate on the key importance of civic participation for the full realization of all human rights as well as democracy, social cohesion and development. The debate has highlighted and reaffirmed that equal participation in political and public affairs is not optional; it is a human right anchored in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other treaties. Whenever are people left voiceless, whenever people’s voice is ignored or twisted, discontent and grievances grow.

Participation is also a development issue as much as a human rights issue. There is a clear reason why Agenda 2030 focuses in its Goal 16 on ensuring participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

I am pleased to point out that since last year, States can benefit from the new Guidelines for the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs. The Czech Republic, together with Botswana, the Netherlands and Peru presented a resolution, unanimously adopted by the Council, which encouraged the use of these Guidelines by States and other stakeholders. We are determined to promote the use of the guidelines and the wealth of useful and action-oriented recommendations contained therein.

Madam High Commissioner,

Unfortunately, examples of grave violations of the right to participate in public affairs abound. The Czech Republic is deeply worried about the plight of millions of Venezuelans deprived of the right to choose their representatives in free and fair elections or the right to take part in peaceful protests. The protracted crisis in Venezuela has led to shortages of food, medicine and the collapse of basic social services. We deplore the use of force and urge the authorities to allow for the entry of aid. The international community must unite to stop the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and assist the country in holding free and fair presidential elections reflecting the will of the Venezuelan people.

I have already mentioned the UN Sustainable Development Goals and in particular SDG 16. Let me in this regard mention Cambodia that is our Development Cooperation priority partner country. Good governance requires strong, effective, accountable and inclusive institutions based on human rights principles which include access to information or public participation in decision-making. We therefore welcome recent efforts to develop mechanisms to enhance public participation in law and policy decisions in Cambodia. At the same time, we believe that there is still need to do more for creating space for civil society and free press.

I would like to also emphasize that international cooperation and scrutiny in ensuring citizens’ participation in political affairs is vital. In about one month, Ukrainians will elect their President. Czech observers will monitor the Ukrainian presidential elections as part of the OSCE mission. I have no doubt that Ukraine will work hard to organize free and fair elections despite serious challenges such as the occupation of Crimea and separatist activities in the east of the country. We commend the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and call upon all parties to extend full cooperation to the monitors. The Czech Republic is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine is one of the priority countries of the Czech transition cooperation program supporting human rights, the rule of law and democracy through concrete projects at the grassroots level.

Mr President,

Unfolding the Council’s prevention potential and widening the space for civic participation require many ingredients. It requires dedication to multilateralism and a good deal of self-reflection and self-criticism to name a few of them. No country has a spotless human rights record. We all have issues to tackle and improve. Identifying the problem is the first step towards a positive change. The Human Rights Council represents a key forum in this regard. The Czech Republic is grateful for the recommendations received at its last Universal Periodic Review in 2017. We have accepted most of them and work on their early implementation. We are also grateful for the continuous guidance of the Treaty Bodies. We have our door wide open to the visit of any Special Procedure of the Council and call on all countries to adopt the same approach. We have our human rights homework and we offer our assistance to other countries in doing theirs. We stand ready to act through this august body to make human rights a tangible reality, everywhere and for all.                            

Thank you.