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Minister Erjavec at the launch of the Slovenian Human Rights Council Presidency

During the early days of independent Slovenia, a great deal of attention was devoted to setting up a political and legal system enabling citizens to enjoy full respect for, and protection of, human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is therefore not surprising that human rights have always been part of Slovenian foreign policy. Adopted in July 2016 by the Slovenian National Assembly, the Declaration on Foreign Policy of the Republic of Slovenia refers to human rights both as targets and priorities.
 
As observed on several occasions, activity within international organisations and other multilateral mechanisms is a valuable opportunity for Slovenia to assume a visible and more prominent role in the international community. Over the past 25 years, it has acquired a positive reputation in the field of human rights and is regarded as a traditional supporter of development, respect for, and the protection of, human rights within the UN system, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Slovenia regards its membership of the EU as a commitment to actively co-shaping European policies on this issue, both within the Union and in its common foreign and security policy.
 
It advocates comprehensive respect for human rights as provided for under treaties and acts or by customary international law, and the need to strengthen and modernise international legal mechanisms concerning human rights. It supports the principles of universality, co-dependence, indivisibility and inalienability of human rights for all, regardless of gender, race, nationality, language, age, sexual orientation or any other personal circumstance. The Slovenian national thematic priorities include children’s rights, gender equality and fighting all forms of discrimination, human rights and the environment, human rights education, whereby the rights of older persons, their protection, promotion and adequate regulation under international law remain high on the agenda.
 
The human rights dimension is reflected in projects implemented by Slovenian development cooperation and in its support for the system of international criminal justice which prevents impunity for perpetrators of the gravest atrocities and war crimes. Lying at the core of the ‘Responsibility to Protect' concept, respect for human rights is regarded as a vital element in conflict prevention. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are also the key components in addressing the roots of underdevelopment, migration and also efforts to prevent extremism and radicalisation.
 
Composed of 47 countries that are elected for three-year periods, the Human Rights Council in Geneva is the main international forum for strengthening, promoting and protecting human rights. It was established by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 to give adequate institutional weight to the issue of human rights – one of the three pillars of the UN in addition to peace and development – 60 years after the establishment of the Organization. Slovenia has also made efforts to set up an effective and responsive body in the field of human rights through its active engagement in shaping the mandate, responsibilities and mechanisms.
 
During its operations so far, the Human Rights Council has assumed the role of the leading international body on human rights. Despite certain disadvantages that are largely due to different policies and values in individual countries, the Council’s work is successful and yields positive results. Its key positive elements include the Universal Periodic Review, which enables all UN member states to present the situation of human rights in their respective countries and to receive questions and recommendations from other member states. Slovenia fully supports the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which compelled countries for the first time to allow the international community to assess the human rights situation in each of them, and participates actively in the review of every single country. To date, Slovenia has been reviewed twice, in 2010 and in 2014; the next review is scheduled for 2019. Regardless of the above, Slovenia drafted a voluntary interim report on the implementation of recommendations listed in the last review, which confirms its readiness for open dialogue and comprehensive cooperation with the international community with a view to strengthening human rights.
 
Slovenia was a member of the Council in the 2007–2010 period, holding the presidency during its last year of membership. In early 2016, Slovenia began its second mandate on the Human Rights Council, which will end in 2018. Its activities reflect the national thematic priorities, with the basic guideline of strengthening the international environment to help improve stability, universal sustainable development, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
 
During the present mandate, Slovenia decided to upgrade its activity, announcing in January 2016 its interest in HRC Presidency, which consolidated its active engagement in the international community in this area.  At the beginning of December 2017, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Slovenia to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Ambassador Vojislav Šuc, was formally elected President of the Council. His one-year term of office starts on 1 January 2018, and his efforts will focus on enhancing the Council’s efficiency, increasing its reputation and visibility, strengthening cooperation with other UN entities, creating a constructive atmosphere, fostering dialogue and instilling trust in the Council’s work.
 
The start of the Presidency coincides with the launch of the UN campaign to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No less topical today than upon its adoption in 1948, the Declaration is the first major achievement of the existing international legal framework on human rights. Its anniversary is also an opportunity to reconfirm the universal principles and standards on human rights enshrined in it, which the changing situation around the world has put to the test on several occasions and in many places. With this in mind, Slovenian foreign policy will continue to strive for a principled and consistent activity aimed at establishing and strengthening the protection of human rights for all. At the same time, it will focus on the broadest possible international consensus for the protection and further development of human rights norms and standards and for their implementation in practice.
 
By way of conclusion, two issues should be underlined. In the international community, only countries that follow the highest standards of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and freedoms can serve as legitimate human rights advocates and promoters. At the same time, no country in the world has a perfect system for human rights; there is always room for improvements, changes, and modernisation. Democratic countries are well aware of this fact, so the work in this area is never done. This is another reason why Slovenia continuously strives to fulfil its commitments, accepts well-meaning recommendations in various review mechanisms and fully recognises and implements the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. It is always possible to take a step forward concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms.