Human rights for sustainable development.
By Annika Ben David
Ambassador for Human Rights,
Democracy and the Rule of Law
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
(Protecting and promoting human rights is a cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy. Sweden strives to be a strong voice and a global leader that stands up for and defends human rights, democracy, and the principles of the rule of law throughout foreign policy. The Swedish government wishes to work together with the Philippines in these efforts.)
This week, I am visiting Manila with a view to further strengthening the relations between Sweden and the Philippines in the area of human rights. I look forward to discuss with government representatives, civil society and international organizations how we together can seek to realize the human rights for all.
A hundred and fifty years ago, my country was poor. A quarter of our population fled hunger and religious oppression and went on to build new lives in North America. Since then, we have built a strong democracy with transparent institutions and a vibrant civil society, based on human rights and gender equality. This has been right and fair, but also smart – in macro-economic terms. Our Swedish experience tells us that for development to be sustainable, a human rights perspective need to be applied.
Many countries have indeed associated development with human rights in building their societies. But despite progress in international poverty alleviation, today we are seeing human rights, democracy, and the principles of the rule of law beginning to wane across the globe. This is also noted in international fora, in which international human rights commitments are being called into question more frequently than before.
Democracy is pushed back and human rights are questioned and challenged. It becomes more difficult for civil society to organize. Shrinking space for civil society engagement makes groups of people that are already vulnerable twice as vulnerable. Women, for example, who face discrimination and attacks purely for being women and also for being representatives of civil society. When freedom of expression is restricted despite international commitments to the contrary, and those who defend and promote human rights or openly voice criticism are threatened, harassed, and persecuted, society – and states – weaken.
Internet and new technology are sometimes used in order to constrain rather than promote people’s freedoms and rights by illegal means, often through extensive surveillance and restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and the right to information. This not only affects organized civil society, but also individual citizens. Therefore, Sweden is increasing its support to human rights defenders globally – offline and online – to curb this trend.
Gender equality has benefited our society as a whole. But globally it remains a vision rather than a reality. Violence, oppression and systematic subjugation continues to be part of the daily lives of countless women and girls.
States questioning international norms also has an impact on working life. Employees are prevented from joining unions and working for better working conditions. Anti-union discrimination, harassment, violence and threats are common in many places. Many people, sometimes including children, are working in inhumane conditions.
The position Sweden enjoys, by virtue of long-term bilateral relations and a tradition of a clear policy to defend human rights, democracy and the principles of the rule of law, also facilitates cooperation in sensitive areas. Sweden’s lasting and long-term engagement on these issues and its reputation as an inclusive and gender-equal country has seen us inspire considerable trust among many states and actors.
Sweden is and will continue to be a strong voice that stands up for, defends, and promotes human rights, democracy, and the principles of the rule of law. For many years, my country has often worked together with the Philippines in this endeavour. During my stay in Manila, I will offer my government´s hope that this partnership will continue.