Norway is increasingly becoming a culturally diverse society. Of course this poses challenges. But it also enriches the Norwegian society and creates new opportunities. It is therefore a key priority for the Norwegian Government to promote integration and tolerance and to combat hatred, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination.
Racism and xenophobia remains one of the most dangerous forms of discrimination. It is often directed towards individuals, but it can also pose a challenge to democracy and democratic institutions. It can easily lead to hatred, violence, and – in the worst cases – full-blown conflict, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Now, more than ever, it is important to confront extremist ideologies, prejudices and stereotypes of cultural and religious intolerance in the public debate and to bring out the counter-arguments.
We must continuously fight misperceptions and stigmas attached to minorities of any kind, be it ethnic, religious or sexual minorities, and spare no efforts in empowering each individual to make his or her own choices as to how to live their lives.
We must strengthen our efforts to ensure that terms like cultural diversity and multiculturalism are associated with mutual respect, tolerance and the freedom of the individual to make his or her own choices – independent of ethnicity, religion and cultural heritage.
Interpretations of what is discriminatory will differ depending on who you ask. In some cases it can be extremely difficult to decide in concrete cases whether one’s freedom of expression has violated the rights of others (ICCPR art. 19 para 3 litra a), or amounts to advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence (ICCPR art. 20 para. 2).
In these concrete situations recommendations from international human rights mechanisms play a crucial role in helping us upholding the universality of human rights norms.
Norway is a strong supporter of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. We engaged actively to secure a good follow-up of the decisions made in Durban through the outcome document adopted at the Review Conference in Geneva in 2009, which further stresses the need to increase appropriate preventive measures.
The main battle against racism and racial discrimination has to be fought at the national level. Norway’s national action plan to promote equality and prevent ethnic discrimination (2009-2012) has 66 different measures with the involvement of eight government ministries. Norway’s first action plan for the prevention of radicalization and violent extremism was presented in 2010.
Racism and discrimination cannot be eliminated without focused long-term efforts by national authorities. Such efforts must include adoption - and implementation - of administrative and legislative measures, including the establishment of independent national institutions specialised in combating discrimination and promoting equality.
At the same time, co-ordinated international efforts to combat racism and discrimination are vital. History holds too many examples of mistrust and conflict based on religious discrimination and intolerance. Such discrimination is often based on ignorance and fear of the unknown. We must counter it through increased knowledge, tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue. It is therefore crucial that the international community continues to find common approaches to address discrimination based on religion or belief, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Let me conclude by reiterating our strong conviction that the only effective way to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is to constantly insist on and require unconditional respect for the human dignity and the human rights of everyone, by everyone, everywhere and at all times.