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Speech by the Hon. Minister at the “Magna Graecia”University of Catanzaro on the issue of “Human Rights and the Crisis of Tolerance”

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)

Catanzaro, 16 June 2017

Dear Rector, Dear Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to visit the “Magna Graceia” University of Catanzaro.

Uttering the name “Magna Graecia” evokes the exceptional influence of these lands, once tied to Athens, on Western thought and civilization, founded on dialogue, on democracy, on the primary of law over the violence of intolerance.

Zaleuco di Locri is considered to be the first legislator of the Western World and the norms he wrote for the people of Locri are believed to be the first Greek laws ever written. A Code of laws and penalties that was known in the ancient world also and above all by the Romans.

Later, it was up to the Romans to make progress with regard to rights and the day came when it was with pride that people could say “Civis Romanus sum”  namely “I am a Roman citizen” thus asserting the rights that were associated with Roman citizenship. Those norms – of “Roman law” – are the foundations of modern law.

With each new civilization, mankind became aware of what the generation before ours – the one that experienced the horror of war – wrote in Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

We will always be indebted to that generation for having conceived and produced the most wonderful institutional project of peace and prosperity in the world: the European Union.

It is truly extraordinary to recall that the Declaration of Human Rights, core of the European project, was written only three years after the savageness of war, in a climate of destruction and total poverty. Its strength lies in the great convergence of distinct religious and cultural traditions, all motivated by the common desire to put the dignity of the human being above all things.

Because human rights are rights that apply to each individual by virtue of our common origin. They are rights, to quote Pope Benedict, “based on the natural and universal law inscribed in the human being’s heart and present in all cultures and civilizations”.

As Foreign Affairs Minister, I can say that for us human rights are those rights that are inscribed in the “genetic makeup” of Italian foreign policy, of our institutions, of civil society, of the business world and of our cultural universe..

The protection and promotion of human rights is an essential and compelling component of foreign policy, that finds its strength in Article 11 of our Constitution, which lays down the ultimate aim of Italy’s projection abroad: “an order that ensures peace and justice among nations”.

Peace and full respect for human rights are closely intertwined. I included this concept in my first speech before the UN Security Council last January, in support of the “Sustaining Peace Agenda” because it links together the protection of human rights, security and sustainable development..

In all multilateral contexts – from the UN to the EU, from the OECD to the Council of Europe – Italy encourages a dialogue-based, transparent and inclusive approach, free from any form of condescendence. Our credibility and coherence derive from the full compliance of our internal order with the commitments taken on at the international level. Therefore, anyone wishing to be heard must implement the values they proclaim.

An emblematic case is the abolition of the death penalty. In 1786, for the first time in the world, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in Italy totally cancelled the death penalty from its legislation. That moment of our history demonstrates that a genuine, liberal and  supportive humanism is deeply rooted in Italian society.   

Still today, the abolition of the death penalty is a battle that characterizes Italian diplomacy, alongside other important challenges like: the rights of women and girls, in particular the campaigns against female genital mutilations, and early, forced marriages; the rights of children in war-stricken areas; the rights of the disabled; the freedom of religion and of creed; and the rights of religious minorities.

I have mentioned some human rights to which Italian diplomacy has dedicated a lot of energy, but let us not to classify human rights as “first” and “second class” rights. This is a mistake we must avoid.

Unfortunately it is a rather widespread misapprehension. But following priorities does not mean establishing a hierarchy of values. Human rights have an inherently universal nature and hence they constitute a unitary, compelling and indivisible corpus. For instance: the freedom or religion cannot be disjoined from the right to freedom of expression and of assembly.

The interdependence of human rights entails the need for a common strategy among the various actors who are interested in defending them and promoting them..

At national level this means encouraging an intense dialogue which holds together all viewpoints. I would like to recall the great commitments of the Interministerial Committee on Human Rights, based in the Farnesina whose tireless work with civil society has recently produced:

–       the First Italian Action Plan on Businesses and Human Rights.

–       the Third Italian Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Human rights are to be defended every day, and thanks to these two new widely shared strategies, Italian diplomacy has two extra instruments for being successful.

Defending, protecting and promoting human rights is in our interest with regard to security. I would like to point out that the trouble spots and the conflicts that threaten out security occur wherever human rights are macroscopically violated. 

Today, in the Mediterranean, almost all the crises that we experience are rooted in intolerance and in extremism, they exploit ethnic, cultural and religious differences which, on the contrary have ensured prosperity in this extraordinary sea for thousands of years.

And then there is terrorism that exploits religion to incite hatred and fuel instability. As I always tell my Muslim friends: the aim of Jihadists is not only to create a divide between West and Islam, but also to sow the seeds of discord within the Islamic community. The Muslims are the first victims of terrorism. 

The opposition is not between Christians and Muslims, or between lay people and religious, but between persons of peace and intolerant fanatics.

In various countries, of the Muslim and Christian worlds alike, what is at stake is the struggle between an open vision of society that respects minorities and the more vulnerable categories, and a closed fundamentalist and oppressive vision, centred on the hegemonic dominion of the majorities and on the rejection of heterogeneity.

The challenge is to separate those who pray from those who shoot. We must eradicate the roots that fuel the destructive fury of those who, far from professing a faith, intend to hold a religion hostage.

We need to focus on young people. The schools, the associations, the religious leaders of all faiths, each and everyone of us must do more to prevent radicalization, intolerance and violence. Wherever there are young people we need to spread a message that is consistent with the pluralist and democratic nature of our contemporary world.        

Human rights education, in particular, is an instrument of fundamental importance for people to become aware of their rights, from elementary school to secondary school.

Then there’s the great challenge of migrations, which are still an open work site for human rights and that will increasingly be under the “radar” of the United Nations, this year and next, with the negotiation and definition of the UN Compact on refugees and migrants.

Italy can have its say, because we have always pursued an approach that has harmonized solidarity and security. “Solidarity” because we have saved, and we will continue to save lives, in the Mediterranean. “Security” because we have never let down our guard in identifying and annihilating extremists and the traffickers of human beings.

The issue must always be considered with a long-term perspective and sharing of responsibilities because it will go on being on the European agenda for years and cannot be dealt with as an emergency by one or two Countries left to themselves. .

The current burden of responsibility of guarding the external borders, being shouldered by only one Country, is politically unfair and it is even legally controversial as is emerging in various cases brought before the EU Court of Justice.

And we’re not going to stand by and watch. In the meantime I have convened a meeting in Rome, on 6 July, a ministerial meeting with the Countries of transit of the migration crisis. The African countries involved will be present as well as the European Countries and the international specialized Organizations.

We want to discuss the issue with the spirit of cooperation and shared responsibility that is the basis of multilateralism. We will be asking Countries like Niger and Libya to do more, but we will encourage everyone also to support the organizations like UNHCR and OIM to defend the rights and dignity of the migrants who are kept in the African reception camps in dramatic conditions.

Our action to curb the flows while protecting rights is also essential to fight against the main threat against the soundness of our democratic institutions and of the European Union itself: the rhetoric of populists and nationalists who spread an atmosphere of fear among the people.

History teaches us that when fear takes hold the wheel of fanaticism starts turning again. We cannot remain idle. To stop it we need to take a stance and undertake brave actions.

Today with the nationalists and populists we share the same democracy, the same political arena, but not the same values and objectives. We live under the same sky, but we do not see the same horizon.

And there are risk factors: in recent years in Europe and in Italy we have witnessed a growth of racism, xenophobia, discriminations and anti-Semitism.

It is no coincidence that last year in Parliament we approved the Law on Denial, setting a penalty of up to six years imprisonment for anyone who denies the Holocaust. In addition, the law penalizes all forms of incitement based on religious, ethnic or racial discrimination.

As regards discrimination, I would like to conclude with a thought on Costantino Mortati, born in this region, in Corigliano Calabro, member of the Constituent Assembly, professor of Constitutional Law and Judge of the Constitutional Court.

We owe many principles and fundamental norms of our Constitution to this great man from Calabria, but I would like to remember him as “the jurist who supported women’s rights”.

In the late Fifties, in spite of the fact that gender equality was enshrined in the Constitution, Italian women were excluded from public careers and from leadership positions in the Public Administration, because of old laws that were still in force.

Rosa Oliva, a young woman holding a university degree in Political Science, with the help of Professor Mortati, who became her defence attorney, brought her case before the Constitutional Court that in May 1960 declared those laws to be illegitimate.

This was a fundamental step in the history of our Country and to accomplish it there was no need for demonstrations or battles, but only courage and intelligence. No weapons were needed, but only jurists, courtrooms and rulings. This is the beauty of human rights. 

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