Mr President of the Republic of Portugal,
Ms President of the Assembly of the Republic,
Ms President of the Executive Council of the North-South Centre,
Esteemed winners of the North-South Prize,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to pay tribute to the courage and exemplary achievements of the two distinguished laureates of the North-South Prize for 2012.
Asma Jahangir and Monika Hauser have shown outstanding and extraordinary commitment to humanity.
Under the most difficult conditions they have stood firm to protect human dignity, in particular the dignity of women.
Both have risked their lives to improve the condition of women, irrespective of ethnic or religious origin. And at the centre of their battle stands the eradication of violence against women.
Millions of women across the world suffer from violence and are obliged to live in fear. Just because they are women. We cannot accept this. Violence against women is a violation of human rights. And it is a brutal, sometimes deadly, reflection of the inequality that persists between women and men.
It is the largest form of abuse of women worldwide, irrespective of country, culture, ethnicity, education, class and religion.
Also their family members, friends, colleagues and, ultimately, our societies as a whole suffer from violence against women.
Children who are exposed to domestic violence are taught that violence is a normal way of life and will be marked for life. They frequently become the next generation of victims and abusers.
The sheer scale of violence against women is just being uncovered. Most incidents of violence against women never make it into the headlines.
For too long, the history of violence against women has been a history of silence. Women are not only victims of their abuse; they are also victims of this silence, victims of indifference and victims of neglect. Asma Jahangir and Monika Hauser have provided a voice to the women of the world whose ordeals have gone unnoticed, to those who have suffered in silence.
They have made it clear that we cannot accept this human rights violation affecting half of the world's population.
They have spelled out in an unambiguous way that there is no acceptable excuse for this fundamental threat to women and our societies as a whole.
We should all join them and demand zero tolerance for violence against women.
At the Council of Europe, the protection of women against violence has steadily gained in political importance.
The prevention and effective combating of sexual violence against women in armed conflict was addressed in a recommendation by our Committee of Ministers in 2010.
In 2011, in Istanbul, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence - the most far-reaching international legally-binding instrument to address this form of violence.
Our Convention aims at a profound attitude change. It is a renewed call for greater equality between women and men, addressing the deeply-rooted gender inequality in our societies, and the rampant culture of denial.
I seize this opportunity to call upon our member states - and to invite the non-member states present here today - to sign and ratify this important legal instrument as quickly as possible. Portugal has shown the way in this respect, having ratified the Convention in February this year.
This would be a forceful way to pay tribute to the work of our distinguished laureates.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the President of the Republic, Mr Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and the President of the Assembly of the Republic, Ms Assunção Esteves.
We are privileged to have the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe awarded every year in this marvellous, honourable setting and atmosphere.
For centuries, the city of Lisbon has been a powerful symbol of openness and intercultural exchange, linking Europe to other continents.
What better place to locate our North-South Centre, which brings together European countries with neighbours beyond our shores.
The Centre serves as a Council of Europe window to the South and our member states are currently reforming the Centre to focus its activities on supporting democratisation processes, in particular in the South-Mediterranean region.
I am confident the Centre - with its multi-stakeholder approach and its outreach to civil society - will continue to be recognised as an indispensable tool for all relevant sectors of the Council of Europe, especially in the new framework and perspectives which our neighbourhood policy has set.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our laureates are outstanding examples of human rights defenders. Their commitment, their practical action is a perfect embodiment of the universal values which we want to honour through the North-South Prize.
On behalf of the Council of Europe, I am proud and very happy to celebrate today the 2012 Prize awarded to Monika Hauser and Asma Jahangir.
Thank you very much.