Welcome speech Han Polman

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Esteemed Laureates, members of the Roosevelt family, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As King's Commissioner in Zeeland, and as President of the Roosevelt Foundation, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome you to the nineteenth Four Freedoms Awards ceremony in Middelburg. 

We are here today to honor those individuals and organizations ho fearlessly and steadfastly are dedicated to bring about human rights for everyone, everywhere in the world. 

In his 1941 State of the Union before Congress President Franklin Delano Roosevelt formulated four freedoms as pre-conditions for a sustainable democracy and a dignified human existence: the freedoms of speech and worship, the freedoms from want and fear.

In the years after the Second World War Eleanor Roosevelt worked hard to include these four freedoms, these fundamental rights of all members of the human family, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This milestone document in the history of human rights was proclaimed seventy years ago as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these freedoms and to secure their universal recognition.

A lot of good things have happened since 1948 that should give us a sense of optimism. But the challenge remains. The challenge to ensure that all men and women will enjoy the Four Freedoms in their lifetime.

Conflict and war still destroy peoples’ lives, people are still starving, millions are still seeking refuge from violence and oppression and the effects of climate change are affecting the well-being of an increasing number of people.

We all bear a responsibility to address these challenges. We all have the obligation to use our own capabilities to contribute to the cause of the four freedoms.

The Laureates we honor here today, show us that we can make a difference, they remind us of our responsibilities and they show us the way forward, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt did more than seventy years ago.

Their example and the shared values that the four freedoms represent inspire us and give us the resilience we need to continue in our own efforts to observe and promote the respect for human rights.

Mr. Erol Önderoglu, who so persistently defends the freedom of speech and expression for men and women in Turkey and abroad;

His Excellency Bishop Paride Taban, who keeps the flame of hope for peace alive, not only by preaching the word of God but by living it;

Ms. Urmila Chaudhary, who tirelessly speaks out in public for the rights of former child slaves and for girl’s rights;

Mrs. Christiana Figueres, as a representative of all those whose hard work and dedication contributed to the realization of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The perseverance of Ms. Figueres was an example and inspiration for them all.

And Mr. Emmanuel de Merode and the team of the Virunga Alliance, who are dedicated to protect the flora and fauna of the Virunga National Park and the local communities that live nearby.

Unfortunately Mr. De Merode could not join us here today. He had to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo because only a few days ago a 25 year young ranger of Virunga National Park, Ms. Rachel Mariska Baraka, was killed while protecting a group of persons when they were attacked by armed assailants. Since the start of this year Virunga has already lost eight rangers protecting the Park’s wildlife and its local communities.

These terrible incidents show us the danger of their efforts to de-militarize the national park, to re-establish the rule of law and to start local development. It shows us and it reminds us also of the enormous courage and commitment of De Merode and his rangers to foster peace and prosperity.

(Mr. De Merode has send us a video message, which we will show during the ceremony.)

We are happy that Ms. Chantal Marijnissen, Head of Unit for Environment, Biodiversity, Natural Resources and Wildlife in the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development at the European Commission, is with us today to receive the Freedom from Want award on behalf of Mr. De Merode and the team of the Virunga Alliance. Ms. Marijnissen has worked closely with the Virunga Alliance for a number of years.

We - old, young and future generations - are connected in our responsibility to address the challenges we face, irrespective of our religion, political beliefs or cultural background, so we can live the healthy peacetime life President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of in 1941.

On behalf of the Roosevelt Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute in New York and the members of the Roosevelt family who, I am proud to say, always join us here in Middelburg, I want to thank you for being here today, and for committing to dedicate yourself to the four freedoms.  

This year the Roosevelt Foundation, in cooperation with University College Roosevelt, has invited students from all University Colleges in the Netherlands to write a column on the theme “What does it mean to be free”. The challenge of this contest is to impress and move the audience in no more than 300 words. We received almost sixty outstanding columns from students all over the Netherlands. We had a difficult job to select the best column, but we succeeded.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish you all an inspiring ceremony and it is my pleasure to give the floor now to the winner of the 2018 Four Freedoms columns contest: Ms. Cecilia Uitermark.

Thank you very much.