The statement was held on October 26th under item 105 (b): Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This year, as in previous years, we have heard and will hear about widespread and serious human rights abuses from many parts of the world. We have seen the reports from the Special Rapporteurs and the Special Representatives, and we have noted their strong concern about the multitude of policies, laws and practices that are being adopted and implemented to the detriment of the human rights situation in many countries. Many of these measures are being taken in the name of combating terrorism. Human rights challenges have changed over the past few years. We all agree that preventing acts of terror remain necessary in order to secure the civilian population from potential random violence. The right to life is the single most important human right. But the fight against terrorism must not become a pretext for deviating from the fundamental principles of rule of law and fair trial guarantees. If we disregard these fundamental principles and descend to totalitarian methods, the terrorists can truly claim ideological victory.
As human rights standards are being ignored in an increasing number of cases, the situation for those leading the battle for human rights has become increasingly difficult. Also this year’s report from the Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders shows the harsh reality for those who have the courage to speak up. Human rights defenders are often the first to fall victim to government measures that set rule of law principles aside.
My government has given priority to the cause of human rights defenders for many years. Next month it will be six years since the Declaration was adopted, and we consider it imperative to look harder for better ways of implementing it. In her report, Special Representative Hina Jilani focuses on human rights violations against human rights defenders, and she pays special attention to the right to freedom of association, which of course is a necessary precondition for human rights groups to be able do their work. In order to build and sustain democratic structures it is necessary to secure every citizen’s right to freedom of expression and association. Securing these rights can in some instances be a long-term investment in sustainable security – the suppression of political opposition groups tends to lead to the exclusion and marginalisation of such groups, and in some cases this generates violence.
The Special Representative reports that the most common violations recorded against human rights defenders include arbitrary arrest and detention, violations of physical integrity and harassment. One might argue that the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is not in itself a legally binding instrument. However, those human rights standards that are being violated vis á vis human rights defenders are usually standards that are legally binding. The problem is not a lack of standards or binding rules, but a lack of compliance with these rules.
Of particular concern to my Government is the general tendency to focus on the development of new norms as a means of addressing human rights problems. In our view there is no lack of applicable norms. We are confident that if all human rights norms were loyally implemented in all parts of the world, serious human rights violations would be very rare. A few years ago, the Secretary General called for an "era of application". We continue to support this notion; finding ways of ensuring that existing norms are implemented would make a lot more of a difference than creating new norms.
In a few areas however, there seems to be a need to emphasise rights of especially vulnerable groups. My government is supporting the process of negotiating a convention on human rights and the disabled. This is a recognition of the fact that without a separate legal framework, the disabled will find it more difficult to claim their rights. My government is also participating actively in the discussions on other sets of norms, such as the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as in the working group on forced disappearances. However, we maintain the view, that, to a large extent, these instruments will reflect existing human rights norms.
One important factor for enhanced implementation is the aim of universal adherence to the various instruments. Many of the core human rights treaties are adhered to by a majority of the UN Member States, but some important instruments still lack such adherence. We believe it is vitally important to continue to work for universal adherence to all the core human rights treaties and their additional protocols. Even though many of the core human rights standards clearly constitute norms of international customary law, universal adherence to these instruments would mean that the treaty bodies and other mechanisms could be used more effectively to enhance their implementation.
Another important element in the efforts to promote implementation is to work for the withdrawal of reservations to the core human rights treaties. Many states have made reservations and declarations with varying contents, and some states have made comprehensive reservations that in our view are sometimes contrary to the object and purpose of the treaty itself. Sometimes such reservations are even inconsistent with international customary law. My government encourages all states to assess carefully whether they can withdraw their reservations to the major human rights instruments.
A further stumbling block to the implementation of human rights is the right of derogation. While this is a legitimate and necessary legal regime that enables states to balance the need for national security against the need for individual protection, the criteria for derogating from human rights are very strict. Abuse of the derogation rules amounts to failure of human rights implementation.
It is particularly in situations of conflict and unrest that individuals risk non-implementation of their human rights. Some of these situations are so grave that the regime of international humanitarian law is applicable. In my government’s view it has been a very positive trend over the past few years that significant international law bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Committee and other judicial bodies, have made it clear that in situations of conflict, both human rights law and international humanitarian law are applicable, and that in certain conflict situations States may even have human rights responsibilities outside their own territory.
In times of conflict, the plight of the civilian population is terrible. There are still about 25 million internally displaced persons in the world today, and most of them have been displaced because of conflict and internal strife. We thank the former Special Representative of the Secretary General, Dr Francis Deng, for his dedication and hard work during the last decade and welcome the appointment by the Secretary-General of Mr. Walter Kälin as the new Special Representative on internally displaced persons.
Let it me underline that although if this statement has focused on the implementation of human rights, Norway’s commitment to core human rights causes remains firm. My government is strongly opposed to the death penalty, and we would particularly like to stress that we consider the execution of persons who were under the age of 18, pregnant or mentally disabled at the time of the crime, to be inconsistent with fundamental principles of international customary law. We also remain committed to the struggle against all forms of torture, racial discrimination, discrimination of women, suppression of freedom of speech, religion and assembly, as well as all other violations of human rights. And we want to emphasise that promoting implementation of the human rights instruments is the best way of securing these rights for all individuals.
Effective functioning of the human rights mechanisms is a cornerstone of the United Nations’ efforts to promote and protect human rights. Strengthened support for the treaty bodies as well as the Charter-based mechanisms may help to prevent human rights violations before they reach large-scale proportions, and may also help to de-politicise the way in which the UN deals with human rights problems. A well-functioning framework for the treaty bodies and the other mechanisms is also a good basis on which to build a sound human rights culture around the world. We must therefore redouble our efforts to improve the effectiveness of the human rights system, including by ensuring funding and adequate staff and information resources for its operation.
Thank you Mr Chairman.