The council’s 47 member countries are divided into five categories, with seven seats reserved for Western Europe & Other countries which, for example, also include Australia, New Zealand and North America.
“Promoting and defending human rights is a priority for our government at national level and in our foreign policy,” said foreign minister Jean Asselborn (LSAP) at the launch. “Luxembourg wants to take responsibility in a multilateral context.”
There are currently three countries--Finland, Italy and the grand duchy--running for the three seats becoming vacant.
“We have proven our commitment to human rights,” Asselborn said, citing the rule of law, sustainable development, gender equality and children’s rights as four priorities for Luxembourg’s council candidacy.
Asselborn spoke a day after Luxembourg endorsed the Hague Commitment to Increase the Safety of Journalists at the 2020 World Press Freedom Conference. The foreign minister said Luxembourg was working with Reporters Without Borders to offer asylum to persecuted reporters but added he could reveal no further details on this programme for the safety of the participants.
“Human rights defenders are being persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed” in increasingly systematic fashion, Asselborn said. “In many places in the world--and unfortunately also in some European countries--the rule of law is being challenged.”
The foreign minister acknowledged that the council also includes countries widely criticised for human rights abuses, such as China, Eritrea, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia or Qatar. “That’s the UN,” he said, explaining that countries only vote for the seats within their regions.
But Asselborn also advocated for multilateralism. “If you have no contact, then it’s difficult to change anything,” he said.
Luxembourg launched its campaign on Human Rights Day, which also marked the end of Orange Week this year, a campaign to raise awareness against gender-based violence.
Asselborn said that the pandemic had shown how fragile women’s rights achievements are and that the health crisis risked setting society back. UN Women has estimated that 25 years of gender equality could be wiped out as a result of the crisis with women forced back into outdated roles.
Business and human rights
While not a campaign target, Asselborn also addressed human rights obligations for businesses. Activists are pushing the government to take action, saying the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council lacked credibility if it did not make companies in the country ensure human rights protections along their supply chains.
“The coalition programme is clear. We’re pushing in Brussels for EU legislation,” Asselborn said. At the same time, the University of Luxembourg is analysing the option of introducing national legislation, he said.
Without a harmonisation of rules across the EU, companies would simply leave Luxembourg for a less-regulated country, he said.
Earlier in the year, online travel agency eDreams moved its headquarter from Luxembourg to Spain. The company had been cited in a UN report over human rights concerns for its activities in the Palestinian occupied territories. Asselborn sent a letter to the company demanding an explanation. EDreams cited cost cutting for its move to Spain.
Asselborn also said he was “extremely shocked” by the allegations against Mindgeek of featuring rape and child sexual abuse videos as well as racist content on its Pornhub platform.
Mindgeek has offices in Boulevard Royal in Luxembourg City, but operated mainly from its headquarters in Canada. “If this link with Luxembourg is established, then there is a responsibility” to investigate, Asselborn said.