Morten Kjaerum Receives High Honour from Austria

Morten Kjaerum receives high honour
From left: Morten Kjaerum, Mogens Lykketoft, Speaker of the Danish Parliament and the newly appointed President of the 70th UN General Assembly, and the Austrian ambassador to Denmark, Dr. Ernst-Peter Brezovszky.

RWI’s director Morten Kjaerum received the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Star for Services to the Republic of Austria on Monday at the Austrian embassy in Copenhagen.

Kjaerum received the award for his work while heading the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna.

Speaking at the ceremony in the Austrian embassy in Copenhagen on Monday, the Austrian ambassador to Denmark, Dr. Ernst-Peter Brezovszky, said: “Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer has awarded this very high Austrian Decoration to Morten Kjaerum in respect of Mr. Kjaerum’s outstanding achievements for Human Rights in Europe and in the world. By making the EU Fundamental Rights Agency Vienna a strong and respected institution, he has also contributed to further strengthening Vienna as an international headquarters for 40 institutions and more than 6,000 international civil servants.”

Mogens Lykketoft, Speaker of the Danish Parliament and the newly appointed President of the 70th UN General Assembly, held the laudation.

Below you can read Morten Kjaerum’s complete speech from the ceremony

Speech by Morten Kjaerum at the ceremony at the Austrian Residence where Morten Kjærum, former Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Vienna
, and now current Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Lund, Sweden received the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Star for Services to the Republic of Austria on Monday, June 22nd 2015 at 5.00 p.m.

Your Excellency, Ambassador Peter Brezovszky, Your Excellency, Speaker of The Danish Parliament and Elect Chair of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to receive this decoration and recognition from the President of the Republic of Austria.

It is also a great privilege that this ceremony takes place under the patronage of Ambassador Brezovszky, who has contributed so much to the development of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. I recall my first days in Vienna in 2008 sitting in Ambassador Brezovszky’s office discussing ideas for the future of this new agency.

And what a fantastic treat to have Mogens Lykketoft presenting the Laudation. For any Dane, Mogens Lykketoft is an icon when it comes to the core values of democracy and human rights.

Thank you very much.

Who could have imagined when the Fundamental Rights Agency was set up only eight years ago that we would receive such recognition for our work?

This is first and foremost thanks to the fabulous team that we put together in Vienna at the Agency. Their tireless dedication, commitment and expertise allowed us to produce more than 100 reports on issues ranging from data-protection, LGBTI rights, Roma inclusion, access to justice, violence against women, anti-Semitism, the rights of the child, and so on. Some of these reports have already been distributed in more than 150,000 copies.

More importantly, they were read – and they influenced – policy and decision makers in national capitals and in Brussels helping to shape policies in a way that respect human rights.

In this way, many of the findings and opinions of these reports led to new legislation, new policies and concrete action by national as well as local authorities, by police and health officials and by many others. In the end, they contributed in improving better human rights protection for many people across the 28 EU Member States.

Let me single out the FRA’s most recent survey on violence against women. The results were presented and discussed in more than 15 Parliaments across the Union leading to numerous changes in legislation and policies on issues such as rape, sexual harassment at work and cyber stalking. And the EU Commission is now elaborating an EU wide strategy on combatting Violence Against Women.

The evidence that the work of FRA has brought into the legislative and policy processes has also led to a new concept: ‘human rights by design’.

Very often human rights are seen as just nice words, last moment additions to preambles, and then quickly forgotten. Human rights by design on the other hand is when lawmakers and policy makers consider the human rights dimensions of their work from the very beginning and drafts laws and policies accordingly. This approach had already a pronounced impact on the European Agenda on Security just adopted by the EU. The Austrian government, in particular, supported this new approach.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We should not ignore the obvious progress in the human rights field during the last eight years, but this is no time for complacency. The work needs not only to continue, but to be scaled up. Let me mention a few important trends:

The pressures on our Union’s borders continue to increase, especially after the escalation of the civil war in Syria. This year more than 4,000 people have died already in the Mediterranean Sea. This weekend, two persons fell from a plane over London. They had been hiding in the wheel box on a flight from somewhere in Africa.
What pushes or pull them in our direction? Is it our welfare systems? Is it a promise of work? No, they first and foremost flee torture and other severe human rights violations; they flee wars and armed conflicts; they flee hunger and extreme poverty; or a well-founded sense of “no-future”. How many of us would not do the same?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

European solidarity and cooperation is now tested. And let’s face reality: fences and bombarding fishing boats are no solution. Europe needs to find solutions based on basic humanitarian principles. Such solutions can be opening more legal avenues to enter Europe; this would save lives and diminish the cynical business of the smugglers; it can be to develop internal redistribution mechanisms for asylum seekers; and increase the development assistance to address the root causes.

And to achieve this we need a true paradigm shift.

The dramatic scenes at land borders and images of people drowning in the sea enter our living rooms every night adding to fears and anxieties.

The results of elections throughout Europe speak clearly about a political momentum that uses these fears and anxieties to stir up hatred and intolerance against others, be it Muslims, Jews, Roma, Gay and Lesbians or transgender people or anyone else who can easily become a scapegoat in the neighbourhood.

The ethno-political entrepreneurs in politics and the media are slowly but surely eroding social cohesion in a very dangerous manner. They need to be actively contradicted; and it is the responsibility of everybody. Europe knows what is at risk and that’s why the Commission has devoted its very first high-level colloquium to discuss how to tackle Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This leads me to the last issue I would like to touch – namely the so-called ‘illiberal tendencies’ that are gaining momentum in Europe and elsewhere challenging human rights and democratic values. These tendencies include disrespecting the independence of judges, ombud institutions, making work extremely difficult for civil society and not least disregarding human rights as a core value. Widespread corruption is often a key element in this, which is not often addressed.

The Council of the EU has decided to engage in dialogue with Member States on the Rule of Law. This is the outcome of lengthy discussions between member states and evidence produced by FRA and others. It is positive that Members States will open the discussions and hopefully revert these trends, or take the necessary action.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For seven years I have travelled across Europe and met with Ministers, high level officials, civil society organisations as well as those in the margins of our societies. Let me tell you: we live in a fantastic continent and I can assure you that we have come a long way, but there are also severe challenges ahead, which should not be underestimated.

I am hopeful that we shall be successful as long as we recall the very basic. The basic is what Papageno reminds us about in the Mozart Opera Die Zauberflöte. When asked by the prince “who are you?” the prince thinking about rank and position. Papageno replies: Ich bin ein Mench – wie Du. That is in the end what counts and what human rights are all about. Respecting the individual human being.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the coming years there will be a need for a strong Fundamental Rights Agency and many others to support human rights. I have contributed to building the base and a new director will soon take over and take this institution forward.

She or he will be fortunate to be based in Vienna. Not only because of the beauty of the city, but first and foremost because of all the support from the Austrian President, Ministers, Ministries, civil society and many more.


Once again I want to ask you to convey to the President of the Republic of Austria my deepest gratitude for the great honour of this high decoration. This is a strong motivation for me to continue the work in my new position as director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

Thank you very much for your attention

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