Isabel Rochat, member of the Council of the Geneva canton between 2009 and 2013 and member of the Federal Commission Against Racism until 2012, delivers opening remarks at the 2nd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Hillel Neuer: On behalf of the Geneva coalition, we are deeply grateful for the support of the Canton of Geneva for our human rights summit. And it is therefore our great honor to invite to the podium Madam Isabel Rochat, Conseil d’État of the Canton of Geneva, to say some words of welcome.
Isabel Rochat: Thank you very much. The honor is for me, definitely.
Mayor of Geneva, excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen. On the 19th of June 2006, we saw in Geneva the opening of the first ordinary session of the Human Rights Council. This was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the long tradition of a city which is dedicated to peace as well as its essential role in the humanitarian work done by the United Nations.
We call this the spirit of Geneva, and it is actually based on a rich and long experience of promoting peace and humanitarian law. That the spirit should reign on the second summit for human rights tolerance and democracy, and that it should be the forerunner of constructive and fruitful work. In the name of the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, I’d like to thank you for remaining faithful to our city and I’d like to reaffirm here, before you, our profound attachment to your cause, and our desire to contribute to it by providing the appropriate conditions for a proper dialogue which meets your expectations.
With this summit, you are continuing a struggle, which is becoming incessant, of the fight against or struggle against indifference, against forgetfulness, against cynicism, against the lassitude of the policy of slow steps. Thanks to the mobilization of the political authorities, international organizations and civil society, but also thanks to your mobilization, you will be able to contribute to ensuring that our western democracies have a responsibility; a responsibility vis-a-vis women and men throughout the world whose fundamental human rights are dramatically trodden underfoot.
Geneva is the place where the promotion of human rights has an essential role to play. There are so many different protagonists involved and who are present here. This is a crossroads of governmental organizations, NGOs and other defenders of human rights. Our city Geneva provides a tribute and a platform which is unique, allowing for dialogue where everybody can express their points of view, can gain from the experiences of others. And I think that we all have a desire to ensure that this cause can make progress.
Geneva will continue to deploy all its efforts in order to live up to its reputation as a capital of peace and human rights. We are fully aware of our responsibility. By mentioning violations of human rights, we are immediately affected by the images of bloody dictatorships, torture, and ancestral practices, which are close to barbarity. These images are, in fact, only too real. But they shouldn’t lead us to forget that the defense of human rights starts outside our doors, in our own country, in our own cities. And I’m fully aware of the fact that it would be remiss of me to give lessons to others. I know that racism, intolerance, domestic violence, inequality between men and women are not just the preserve of faraway countries and dictatorial regimes. We also experienced this in our own countries.
Our awareness as politicians should lead us to remain always watchful for any attacks against human dignity. And we should be constantly preoccupied by what is going on in front of our own doors. We need to be attached to the inalienable values and we’ve got to make sure that we can live up to the expectations placed in Geneva in this area.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are a number of people represented or present here who have come because they have had a personal experience, because they have the moral authority. And, who have come here to bear witness to show that they can surmount their own personal destiny to show us the solutions which could be mapped out for others, people who are victims today. Their work is to show that there are less victims in the future. It is important to denounce, to bear witness, to dialog, sometimes to forgive. But, we should never ever forget. That is in fact the best response to indifference. To all victims of the violations of human rights who are with us today and who have had the courage to come all the way here and who come to talk about their stories and to tell us about their sufferings, and to all these innocent persons, I’d like to say thank you. Victims of violence have become the actors for promoting human rights; symbols of dignity and respect for others.
We will be going up on the way [to] more humanity. Thank you very much.