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Speech at the 43th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 24 February 2020

[check against delivery]

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Perhaps we can measure our humanity by our indifference to suffering. Indifference is never an answer. Indifference is never a beginning. Indifference is an ending.

And therefore, as it has famously been said, indifference is a friend of the aggressor. Indifference is never a friend of the victims.

Denmark has now served as a Council member for one year. We take this responsibility very seriously. Human rights and democracy are core pillars of our foreign policy.

"The inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

So goes the opening part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It holds as true today as it did in 1948.


For Denmark, Council membership comes with responsibilities of promoting and protecting human rights. Not with a right to pursue national agendas or to protect oneself from criticism.

Credibility also comes with addressing all country situations equally. This means raising all human rights situations requiring the Council’s attention under agenda item 4. Singling out one country with its own agenda item 7 is unbalanced and does not lend legitimacy to the workings of the council.

The Council holds promise of giving a stronger voice for human rights in the UN. But it needs improvements if it is to fulfil its potential.

We have taken steps in the right direction. Let me highlight the creation of an international independent fact-finding mission to Venezuela.

The renewal of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen. And the mechanisms established on Syria and Myanmar at earlier Council sessions.


I believe it´s true that we can measure our humanity by our indifference to suffering.

It has also been said that indifference is not only a sin. That it is a punishment. And that we not only punish the victims a second time but ourselves.

It´s a punishment to ourselves because being indifferent to suffering is to betray our own humanity. Is there a harder punishment than that, ladies and gentlemen, than to be inhuman?

There is a need for this Council. We continuously see serious threats to human rights, which call for the Council’s attention, such as in Bahrain, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, the Russian Federation and the separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine as well as in the illegally annexed Crimea.

We will address these and other situations under the relevant Council agenda items. Our answer will not be an indifferent silence.


The Council has come a long way in the normative field of human rights. We are however concerned by attempts of establishing a hierarchy between human rights.

Denmark strongly believes that human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. Human rights cannot be qualified or ranked.

Women and girls’ rights and their right to decide fully and unconditionally over their own body has been a Danish priority for decades. Jointly with likeminded countries, we have achieved noticeable progress and the year 2020 marks significant anniversaries for women and girls’ rights. The 25-year anniversary for the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is just one of them.

However, we currently see worrying pushbacks against women and girls’ rights, especially sexual reproductive health and rights. Therefore, we must continue the work to advance the rights of women and girls.

Denmark will not accept rolling back on the progress made. "It is not only what we do - but also what we do not do - for which we are accountable," as Moliere the French author and play writer so rightly stated.

We are proud to support the focus on the nexus between gender equality and freedom of religion or belief at this session. For Denmark, it is a key priority to counter the tendency to misuse religions to suppress women’s rights.

We are very pleased to present and discuss recommendations on how the freedom of thought, consciousness and religion might create positive synergies when combined with gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Prohibition of torture is another priority for Denmark. We have reached a record high number of 169 ratifications of the Convention against Torture. However, torture is still applied in many countries. We have to tackle the challenge of moving from global normative standards to actual implementation on the ground.

To Denmark the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples is also a longstanding priority. We strongly support the right to self-determination, which is key to the effective enjoyment of the collective and individual rights of indigenous peoples.


I am encouraged by the fact that citizens all over the world make use of their freedom of assembly and of expression. So many people are not indifferent out there!

However, we also do see a very worrying trend of shrinking civic space. This is not something we can overlook. My government has increased our engagement to support civil society organizations and human rights defenders. We see it as an important issue on the Council’s agenda.

Digitalization is the new platform for freedom of expression. However, as we saw in Myanmar, it can also be used for distribution of incitement and hate speech that ignite conflicts and human rights violations.

Denmark has engaged with the tech and human rights agenda. Through a resolution in this Council and through dialogues with the big tech companies. Our common challenge is to shape a safe and open internet based on the respect for human rights, democracy and international law. You can count on Denmark in this endeavor.


Denmark greatly welcomes the Secretary-General’s new "Vision on Human Dignity and Rights". It reignites human rights as a cross-cutting focus area in the UN as a whole, and makes safeguarding human rights everyone’s business.

The UN must develop a lasting human rights culture that can deliver real impact for citizens across the world. The Secretary-General can count on Denmark’s continued efforts in making this a reality.

Denmark strongly supports the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her indispensable work. Even under tight financial constraints, she manages to deliver an independent voice for human rights. Naturally, the High Commissioner can only do her work if she is granted the necessary access. Unfortunately, this premise has proven ever more difficult.


Being indifferent to suffering is condemning ourselves. Let us not be passive spectators to the suffering of victims. In this forum, we are given the opportunity to act. To speak out and to address human suffering.

To choose not to be indifferent. Let us do just that.

Thank you very much.