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Good morning campaigners, activists and defenders!
Thank you Chairman. Thank you Andrew, and all your team in Front Line Defenders, for inviting me to present the 2019 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.
What an honour to join you on this morning – the start of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Together let’s celebrate Freedom and Love, demand Justice and Protection for All, and pay tribute to everyone who is, and who has been, part of that struggle.
We also gather as the world prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of modern day LGBTI+ equality movement.
The moment when lesbians, gays and drag queens of Stonewall, defied hatred and bigotry with courage and dignity launching a global movement of equality and pride.
Five decades on and next month I will be on those same streets in New York leading a delegation of 400 Irish Americans as we march in World Pride to honour beautiful young activists, of every accent, ability, colour and creed.
We are there not only to show the enormous transformation of our country but to let those who continue to face torment, abuse and prosecution know that we stand in solidarity with them.
During the celebrations Ireland will receive a Global Luminary Award in recognition of the achievement of Irish people in making our country fairer, equal and more just.
Being a recognised world leader on LGBTI rights is not just an honour, it also bestows on us responsibilities. We must stand with those who continue to fight injustice.
This is reflected in a foreign policy, which promotes and protects human rights globally.
Some recent examples of Ireland’s commitment to the rights of LGBTI+ persons and the protection of Human Rights Defenders include:
· Applying to join the Equal Rights Coalition – the intergovernmental body dedicated to the protection of LGBTI+ persons everywhere;
· Committing €750,000 over the next three years to ILGA – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association - to support national level advancements in LGBTI+ rights.
· And a new international development policy A Better World, which commits to supporting and protecting civil society space, and to ensuring that civil society has the safe and protected space it needs to operate.
That is not to say Ireland’s journey is over. In fact earlier this week I updated our politicians on the progress of our LGBTI – National Youth Strategy – a world first.
It is the result of consultations with 4,000 young people across the country. Of course they acknowledge the huge progress that has been made but sadly for some there is still loneliness, isolation and even discrimination and bullying.
As an Independent Minister, as a social justice campaigner and as a member of the LGBTI+ community I have responded and our youth services, clubs and organisations are being changed to make sure they are welcoming, safe and inclusive for all.
Equality is hard fought, it is precious and it must be nourished. Even in countries like our own where there have been big advances we cannot and must not be complacent.
This brings me to the reason we have gathered today.
We’ve just heard from Andrew of the courage of LGBTI+ Human Rights Defenders from Tunisia, the Dominican Republic, Russia, Indonesia and Malawi, who have been acknowledged in recognition of their powerful struggles for LGBTI+ rights in their countries.
They are demanding an end to the violence, intimidation, arrests and harassment they endure while defending their communities
They demand freedom, respect and dignity in rights – and we must stand with them.
Human Rights Defenders have the courage to stand up – often alone - and to speak out for what they believe in. They challenge power, confront the bullies and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Human Rights Defenders have the vision to appeal to our better selves and to show us that there is a different way - a better way.
Human Rights Defenders keep on going despite the risks, threats and dangers. Their commitment is absolute, it is uncompromising and it is fierce. Their vision is right and it is just.
They know that if they are to succeed they must seize the moment. Now is not the time to give up.
All 5 regional winners in this year’s Award have shown exceptional courage and determination in defending the rights of their communities, and each is a worthy recipient of their Award.
In the words of Shakespeare: “There is a tide in the affairs of men (and women), Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”.
One such defender who has seized the moment is Badr Baabou - founder and Co-chairman of the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality, and co-chair of the M-foundation - the only regional HIV/Aids Advocacy Network.
Despite the smears and the threats and the intimidation, Badr has steadfastly refused to abandon the struggle for the rights of the LGBTI+ community in Tunisia.
He is a most worthy winner of the 2019 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. I invite you now to watch a short video on the work of Badr Baabou.
Badr, I would like to invite you to the podium to receive the award in honour of your work, and your courage and the determination of your community.