Czech foreign minister: Civil society is key to human rights

Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry

Czech foreign minister Tomáš Petříček on Monday addressed a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, his first address to the assembly since the Czech Republic became a member of the Council in January of this year.

Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva,  photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry
The Czech foreign minister, who has made human rights a cornerstone of Czech foreign policy, said his country greatly valued the work of the Council and would strive to be active in furthering its efforts.

“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 a cure.”

The Czech foreign minister said his country was the driving force behind the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs and he encouraged member states to use the new guidelines. He said a healthy civil society was crucial to human rights and brave human rights defenders, media workers and NGOs could count on the Czech Republic’s support.

In his speech the Czech foreign minister mentioned several hotbeds of tension that call for international involvement.

Photo: ČTK/AP/Eduardo Verdugo
“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, medicines and the collapse of basic social services. We deplore the use of force and urge the authorities to allow 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.”

Another country which has received staunch support from the Czech Republic is Ukraine, which Minister Petříček recently visited in person to assure officials of his country’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“In about one month, Ukrainians will elect their president. Czech observers will monitor the Ukrainian presidential elections as part of an 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. 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.”

Tomáš Petříček with representatives of several NGOs in Geneva,  photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry
And, last but not least, the Czech foreign minister thanked the Council for its recommendations during the last periodic review, saying the Czech Republic was working to put its own house in order as far as human rights go.

“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 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 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.”