Six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women and girls are still regarded as lesser beings in many corners of the world. Women’s equal value and dignity are being ignored and denied.
Our experience is that the greatest gains countries can make, economically as well as politically, come with empowering women, ensuring equal opportunities, equal access to health and increasing women’s active participation in working life.
Increasing women’s participation is an act of political will. It comes as a result of systematic policies to empower women legally, economically and politically.
One glance at the Human Development Report says it clearly: there is a strong correlation between the level of gender equality and the growth and prosperity of our countries.
Sexual violence has been an ugly feature of war since time immemorial. We have only recently recognised that such violence is punishable by law as a war crime, a crime against humanity and indeed, at times, an act of genocide.
International enforcement of that law represents a vital step forward. As we continue to address sexual violence in conflict, we must also maintain our struggle against pervasive forms of violence that befall countless women. These violations include rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, crimes committed in the name of “honour”, domestic violence.
These acts may be prohibited by law, but legal protection is bound to have little impact if victims lack the means to seek justice or are too scared to expose perpetrators. Laws are of even less consequence when those responsible for their enforcement refuse or fail to do so. Bringing perpetrators of violence against women to account must be a priority for all governments. History reminds us that a failure to do so emboldens perpetrators and encourages others to join their ranks.
Whether perpetrated in conflict or in peace, violence against women is deeply rooted in inequality and discrimination. Whether in law or in practice, discrimination against women and girls is still the rule rather than the exception. Laws that restrict women’s freedom of movement, property and inheritance, and practices such as male guardianship put women at the risk of being subjected to abuse, violence and oppression, both inside and outside of their homes.
Inequality and denial of basic rights, such as access to health services, housing, education, food and water, overwhelmingly affect women, condemning them and, in turn, their children to unnecessary suffering.
To promote the equal participation of women and men – in both peace and post- conflict situations – is among the highest priorities of my Government. Women should be recognised as key contributors to economic and social development both in peace and in conflict resolution, reconciliation and reconstruction.
It is encouraging that several states made commitments with respect to women’s rights in the context of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism. In December this year Norway’s UPR reports will be examined. In Norway’s national report we have taken a self-critical view on our human rights performance. This also includes challenges we have with domestic violence and gender inequality.
I want to turn to another topic of fundamental importance to the promotion and protection of human rights – the freedom of expression. Without this freedom, our efforts to promote human rights and individual freedoms more broadly will be virtually impossible. The free flow of information and ideas is a cornerstone of any truly democratic society. This is no less true in our increasingly diverse societies. Ensuring the opportunity and ability for all citizens to be heard in the public exchange of ideas remains a tremendous challenge. Against this backdrop we will not aid marginalised communities by stifling debate in the name of cultural sensitivity.
Norway will during this session present its biennial resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights defenders as well as on the protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons.
Across the globe courageous human rights defenders work tirelessly to promote democracy, development and human rights. They fight against racism, torture, arbitrary detentions, hunger, enforced disappearances and other forms of human rights violations. Their cause is to improve the lives and freedoms of others. They are essential in promoting tolerance and human dignity. And they are essential in ensuring that human rights – economic, social and cultural, as well as civil and political rights – d are implemented on the ground. Indeed, the idealism and persistence of such individuals and groups have many times changed the course of history.
They deserve our greatest possible attention and support. The promotion and protection of human rights defenders is strongly supported by a large number of states. We are thus confident that this committee will be able to find strong and comprehensive common ground on this issue.
Norway also looks forward to constructive co-operation with all to reach a consensus text on the draft resolution on protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons. We are deeply disturbed by the alarming high numbers of IDP’s, estimated at approximately 26 million worldwide. We agree with the Representative of Secretary-General’s conclusion that the plight of persons displaced by conflict and natural and human-made disasters continue to be one of the world’s major humanitarian and human rights challenges. He points out that many IDP’s experience serious violations of their human rights, and that more needs to be done to mobilize political will and improve national frameworks to prevent internal displacement and protect the human rights of IDP’s.
Against this backdrop, Norway welcomes the adoption last Friday of the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. The new convention is a milestone in protecting the rights of millions uprooted from their homes across the continent.
Finally, Mr. Chair,
The community of states has for more than half a century developed a legally binding human rights framework. Yet no country can claim to be free of human rights violations. To uphold the legitimacy of this universal framework we have a duty to recognise the gap between our aspirations and achievements. Only critical reflection on our own records and willingness to listen to constructive criticism will allow us to close the gap between our human rights aspirations and realities on the ground.