Statement by Sweden delivered by H.E. Ms Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ladies and gentlemen,
In these challenging times, universal human rights, supported by a rules-based international order and a strong multilateral system, are more important than ever.
If we needed a reminder why these principles matter, the past weeks and days have made it abundantly clear.
A new and dark chapter in European history has started.
What many of us thought was unthinkable – a full-scale war in Europe – has begun.
Russia’s military attack against Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law, including the UN Charter, and of the European and global security order.
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the invasion of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.
It is unprovoked, illegal and indefensible. There is no justification for Russia’s unlawful use of force.
Russia bears full responsibility for this act of aggression, and for the destruction and loss of life.
We also condemn the involvement of Belarus in the aggression against Ukraine. By allowing Russian aggression from its territory, Belarus itself has violated international law.
We stand in full solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who are fighting this very moment to preserve their freedom, their democracy and their independence.
We demand that Russia immediately ceases military actions, unconditionally withdraws all forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine and fully respects Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
Let us also remember that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine did not start last week. During the past eight years Russia’s aggression has resulted in almost 15 000 Ukrainians losing their lives. The respect for international law, including human rights and international humanitarian law, in the non-government controlled areas of in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and in Crimea has continuously deteriorated.
The impact on the civilian population - innocent men, women and children - has been immense. This nightmare is unfolding all over Ukraine.
I welcome the decision by this Council to hold an urgent debate on the situation in Ukraine later this week.
Today, when human rights are under increasing pressure in many parts of the world, it is crucial that the Human Rights Council can live up to its role as the global body charged with protecting and promoting human rights. By promoting international cooperation and developing the normative framework. But also by addressing the worst violations and demanding accountability from those responsible.
Let me underline how important it is that members of this Council themselves meet the highest human rights standards. That civil society and victims of human rights violations can make themselves heard, without fear of reprisals. That the High Commissioner and her Office are empowered and financed to carry out their work with full independence.
With the rest of the EU, Sweden will continue to work closely with other Member States, across regions, to ensure that the multilateral human rights system delivers. We will strengthen our support for human rights defenders everywhere.
Because, in many parts of the world, defending human rights comes with great and unacceptable risks.
Independent judiciaries, civil society and free media are increasingly under attack from authoritarian leaders. LGBTIQ persons and trade union representatives are being denied their rights, arrested or even killed. With the accelerating climate crisis, we also see attacks against those who fight the unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources. During this session, Sweden will host a high-level event together with the OHCHR on how increased efforts are required from states to support environmental human rights defenders. We hope that many of you will join us there.
According to International IDEA and Varieties of Democracy’s latest report there are now more autocracies than democracies in the world. I am deeply concerned over these developments, that also impact my own continent.
This is why Sweden continues to mobilize through our Drive for Democracy – a global initiative spanning all aspects of foreign policy, aiming to promote and strengthen human rights, democracy and the rule of law, worldwide.
Time and again, democracy has proved itself the superior form of government. It allows us to debate and resolve our differences though peaceful means - through institutions, elections, free speech, the rule of law and legislation that ensures human rights. It provides the transparency, accountability, stability and prosperity we need to meet the challenges we face. The alternative offered by authoritarian regimes – blind obedience, corruption or brute repression – is not the future, but the past.
It is not a coincidence that women’s enjoyment of human rights is being challenged when authoritarianism is on the rise. The same authoritarian leaders who undermine democracy also go to great lengths to roll back women’s autonomy and empowerment. Let me underline that human rights are universal and should be fully enjoyed by all, irrespective of gender, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before I end, let me say how pleased I am to address all of you today in person, and not just on a screen. The pandemic has reminded us of how much we appreciate our freedom, and the opportunity to meet and discuss.
It has also reminded us of another thing: that there are many challenges that we can only hope to meet if we work together, as one world. Even if some parts of the world are now starting to emerge from under the shadow of the pandemic, it will not fully be over for any of us, until it is over for all.
The same is true for human rights. Anyone who has followed the work of this Council – or world affairs - knows that violations and suffering in one part of the world invariably spill over. As has been made all too clear over the past weeks and days authoritarian regimes are a threat, not just to their own citizens, but to their surroundings as well. In the end, I will not be fully free, or fully safe, unless you are too. We are in this world together, and we are each other’s’ business.
Hence the importance of the work of this Council. I hope the coming weeks will prove its relevance and its impact. I wish you boldness, and I wish you judgement. The world will be watching.