Wien, 9. December 2006 Press release

Plassnik: "Protection of human rights is a standing order for all of us"

09.12.2006

Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on the Human Rights Day

Vienna, 9 December 2006 - "Human rights are not something abstract. The fate of people is at stake. In my work I am therefore committed to the practical implementation and observance of existing human right standards", stressed Foreign Minister Plassnik on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day. "The consistent commitment to improving the protection of human rights is a standing order for all of us and a key objective of Austria’s foreign policy", said Plassnik.

Together with its partners in the EU, Austria would remain an advocate for people in need and exposed to threat, continued the Foreign Minister. At the same time the aim was to strengthen the human rights culture and thus the respect for human rights by means of targeted measures such as educational programmes.

Also during its EU Presidency in the first half of 2006 Austria made an active contribution to the global promotion of human rights. More than 100 interventions were made in favour of individuals and submitted to governments, among them in Iran, China, Nepal, Uzbekhistan, Zimbabwe or Columbia. The main concern focused on the support of female human rights defenders, who often suffered double discrimination. Other priorities included the protection of children in armed conflicts, the worldwide abolition of death penalty, and the compliance with the absolute ban on torture.

"Austria has also consistently spoken in favour of strengthening international institutions for the protection of human rights. In addition to the successful establishment of the UN Human Rights Council during Austria’s Presidency significant progress was made in the negotiations on the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. I am pleased that this agency, which will focus specifically on the compliance with fundamental rights by the EU, will start its work in Vienna on 1 January 2007", said the Foreign Minister. Plassnik affirmed that Austria would actively support the Agency to enable it to fulfill the expectations placed in it.

Combating human rights violations against women is a special concern of Plassnik’s. The support of the rights of women has therefore been integrated in all areas of foreign policy, in peace missions, and development cooperation alike. Some progress has been made but there still enormous problems: even in Europe one in four women becomes a victim of violence which results sometimes in lifelong damages. In this context Plassnik referred to a UN study on violence against women published in October and co-funded by Austria. A special challenge was the "traditional" violence against women - as it is euphemistically referred to, and in particular the practice of female genital mutilation. The consistent ostracism of female genital mutilation must, of course, first occur in the communities and countries concerned, emphasised Plassnik, citing as a positive example the legal opinion recently adopted by high-ranking Islamic leaders in Cairo condemning female genital mutilation. "We therefore support concrete initiatives in the countries concerned and thus help to raise awareness", said Plassnik.

Women are also particularly affected by poverty. Reducing worldwide poverty, which was identified as the main theme for this year’s Human Rights Day by the UN, was named a priority by Plassnik. Being poor meant being hungry, homeless, not being able to send your children to school, and not being able to see a doctor when you were ill. A life in absolute poverty not only violated human rights but also deprived people of their chance of a self-determined, dignified life. Poverty reduction was therefore a priority goal of Austrian development cooperation and an important concern of foreign policy, concluded Plassnik.

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