Kees van Baar was appointed the Dutch Human Rights ambassador in 2014. He previously spent time as the Dutch Ambassador in South Sudan, being part of the team that set up the embassy in the then newly-established country. He shared his thoughts on Human Rights, what justice is to him and the ongoing situation in South Sudan with Justice Hub.
“For me the essence of human rights is human dignity. Every human beings right to human dignity. And of course for me living in the Netherlands there are so many things you take for granted. But when travelling around the world and living in different parts of the world you find out that it’s nothing to take for granted.
“You should have human rights for every person, not just for the whole community, but for each person so that you are not being crushed by the state or by other more powerful people.
“For us, human rights are for everybody. That’s why, in the Netherlands, we talk about our human rights policy. The top priorities are human rights defenders, it is women rights and it is LGBT rights. I would like to stress, it’s not a policy that works towards extra women rights and LGBT rights – it’s to make clear to the world that human rights are for all human beings.
“These are the top three priorities, but I would also like to stress that we have freedom of expression, and protection of journalists goes with it. It is freedom of religion, right to development, freedom online, business and human rights and the most gross violations of human rights, such as mass atrocities.
“One of the biggest challenges right now is that human rights are universal but is in a lot of countries being considered as being western. But why is that? A lot of western countries took the initiative and were very key in it – after the Second World War. We try to make clear that it is not western, it’s universal.
“We [The Netherlands] try to lead by example. I think that wherever you are, whichever country, you always have human rights issues. They are always being discussed. I think that the good thing is, especially what was introduced eight years ago in the human rights council, that there are human rights exams – the universal periodic review. Every country is being scrutinized, it has to report and it is being scrutinized by other countries, they have to answer questions, they have to take recommendations, and that makes it much more on an equal position. Every country goes through it, every country has issues on human rights.
“Justice is justice for all. I think it was Martin Luther King that said that when injustice is done to one person, then it concerns us all because then you are on a sliding scale. I think that this is what you should prevent. That is why it’s important that justice is independent as such. Justice is to uphold human rights as such, as well. The whole judicial system should make it possible that human rights are upheld.
“When something happens like that, like the violence we have seen in South Sudan and Juba as well, when that starts it’s really confrontational and what you see is people you know yourself – they are victims. That affects you. It makes you more aware of how vulnerable people are and also a society can be. That is of course what we would like to prevent.
“It’s a mass atrocity what has happened in South Sudan, and I think, and I’m even more convinced, that we as the Netherlands should say what we would like to see is a three P policy. Prevention of it. If you cannot prevent it, then make sure that people are protected. If even that fails then it’s prosecution. Hold people accountable. I think that like in the case of South Sudan, I’m very pleased that the African Union took the initiative to set up a commission of enquiry.”
(Photo: Michiel Bles / Justice Hub)