Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of Norway, I am very pleased to open this side event on “The UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration after Ten Years: Protecting Rights in a Changing World”.
I am honoured to share the podium with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekkagya, and the two human rights defenders from Colombia and Egypt; Mr Oscar Pedraza and Ms Nora Younis.
Thank you, Ms Sekaggya, for the report presented today at the General Assembly. I am encouraged by the clear vision that you have shared with us, and by the strength with which you implement your mandate.
This year we commemorate the adoption 60 years ago of the magnificent words and values of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
The human rights defenders are the first line of defence of those fundamental rights and freedoms. We are gathered here today to acknowledge and to pay our respect to the extraordinary work they are doing to ensure that the Declaration is realised in the daily lives of us all.
Today, regretfully, we need the work of human rights defenders more than ever.
We need human rights defenders to speak out for basic rights and to influence government and community thinking. Without them democracy suffers and the rule of law is weakened.
We need lawyers to defend the marginalised and to challenge impunity.
We need community leaders who respond to the disadvantages of others.
We need journalists to warn us about abuses, to reveal injustices and bring us stories that challenge us, often at great risk to themselves and their families.
Supporting human rights defenders has been a priority for Norway for many years.
We chaired the working group that developed the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1o years ago after more than 13 years of negotiations
It was the first UN instrument to recognise the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection.
The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders has provided recognition of human rights defenders and increased their visibility.
It has promoted their protection.
Thanks to the work of the Special Rapporteur and of human rights defenders themselves, we now know more about their situation, such as the impact of security legislation, their role in emergencies and their role in peace processes and in countries in transition.
We also know more about how restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly affect their work.
Over the last ten years, we have seen the establishment and strengthening of networks and coalitions on human rights defenders and regional mechanisms.
We have been made aware of the situation of defenders who enjoy less protection or are more at risk. In particular defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, women defenders and those defending the rights of lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgender persons.
Still, today, the number of reported attacks on human rights defenders is increasing dramatically.
Defenders in many parts of the world continue to be victims of disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, death threats and assassinations.
The responsible of such attacks often enjoy complete impunity.
The task of our discussion here today is to address the dangers that defenders face.
This means going beyond descriptions of the situation, and identifying concrete steps to improve it. How can we enhance protection for defenders? How can we create or reinforce an enabling environment for their activities?
This year has brought home to us how one of the greatest human rights defenders, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. was assassinated 40 years ago..
The Nobel Peace Price he received was followed by the Peace Price awards to other prominent Human rights defenders such as Aung Nan Suu Kyi, Rigoberta Michu, Nelson Mandela, Shirin Ebadi,
But the essence of our work here today is focussed on the many human right defender who do not enjoy name recognition or celebrity status.
This is part of the background against which our work here at the UN must be esteemed.
And a reminder of the values at stake.
So let us continue to support Ms Sekkagya.
When she fights impunity.
And when she points out, n the report, how public recognition and support of human rights defenders can transform a situation of vulnerability for defenders into empowerment.
We still have a long way to go – both within the United Nations and in the world at large – before the ideals in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are realised. Truly, cooperation between governments, civil society and the UN system is crucial for bringing these ideals closer to reality.