Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib (MR) has issued a scathing condemnation of Russian human rights violations, and called for Western states to step up their efforts to protect human "dignity and rights" wherever they are undermined around the world.
Speaking at the 52nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lahbib further claimed that respect for human rights is a "cardinal principle" which "guides" Belgium's domestic and foreign policy.
"This universality [of human rights] is today too often undermined, in words as in deeds," Lahbib said. "More than ever, we must reaffirm that human rights are not a favour granted by states. They are an obligation to everyone, in all circumstances."
At the UN 🇺🇳 in Geneva, I reaffirmed that respect for human rights is an imperative in all circumstances, and even more so in war-torn areas such as #Ukraine. That’s why Belgium relentlessly advocates for the respect of international humanitarian law. 🇧🇪🇺🇳 @UN_HRC pic.twitter.com/7LI7yXz9qF— Hadja Lahbib (@hadjalahbib) February 27, 2023
Lahbib drew particular attention to the "devastating consequences" of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, and suggested that Belgium will continue to "fight against [the] impunity" enjoyed by Russian military officials. She also noted that Belgium "welcomes the work" conducted so far by the UN's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, and that she "looks forward to its latest findings".
Other countries in the firing line
In addition to Russia, Lahbib explicitly condemned Afghanistan's human rights violations, and in particular criticised "the virtual exclusion of Afghan women and girls from all spheres of public life".
She also denounced Iran's "persistent discrimination against women and girls", and noted that the Iranian protest movement is "an indicator both of the need for freedom of expression and of the feeling of injustice felt by the population". She also affirmed that Belgium "condemn[s] the imprisonments, the capital sentences pronounced and executed against the protesters" by the Iranian authorities.
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One notable omission from the list of countries condemned by Lahbib was China, a country which is a well-documented violator of human rights. Belgium has adopted an increasingly hawkish stance on China in recent years.
Indeed, in October last year Lahbib herself deeply angered Beijing when she suggested in an interview with Belgian media that Chinese trading vessels might be repurposed as military warships. A month later, the Belgian Federal Parliament denounced China's "aggressiveness" towards Taiwan and called for the Belgian Government to "strengthen" its ties with Taipei.
Belgium's economy is heavily dependent upon trade with China: a recent report published by the Chinese Embassy in Belgium estimated that in the first eight months of 2022 bilateral trade between the two countries exceeded $28.7 billion dollars — a 14% increase compared to the year before.