The struggle for human rights is becoming increasingly prominent on the international agenda. For some people, engaging in this struggle comes at an intolerably high price.
Recently, a 14-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head on a school bus. Her dream was that all girls should be allowed to go to school and to speak freely. The Taliban extremists thought they could silence her message. Instead, they achieved the exact opposite.
The immense support for Malala both in Pakistan and internationally, is tremendously encouraging. It demonstrates that the fight against discrimination and for equal rights for girls and boys, as well as the freedom of expression is gaining momentum in all parts of the world.
Recently, we also experienced a wave of protests over a crude and tasteless film. Regrettably the protests were in some cases violent and lives were lost. In most cases, however, the protests were peaceful, and the message of tolerance and freedom of religion was heard, loud and clear.
In his opening statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the film that triggered the protests “a disgraceful act of great insensitivity”. While endorsing freedom of speech as a fundamental right, he said it should not be used as a licence to incite or commit violence. Norway fully subscribes to these important words.
We would like to underline very clearly that we do not compromise on freedom of expression. At the same time we call for the use of common sense and emphasise the need for respect. To repeat the words of the Secretary-General: “too many people are tolerant of intolerance”.
In country after country, people are risking their lives to call for free elections, democratic accountability, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
We have been inspired by the courage and strength of the people of Syria and Egypt, and of Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya. They have shown us that only processes of reform that promote accountable governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law will bring long-term stability.
In far too many cases, peaceful protesters and human rights defenders have been met with brutal repression. Journalists have been targeted. New and restrictive laws are being justified by the authorities in the name of security.
In Syria, the demands for dignity, freedom and human rights have been met with the killing of thousands of innocent people, including women and children. The continued violence and atrocities in Syria are entirely unacceptable.
Norway calls for a strengthened UN engagement to facilitate a political solution to the crisis. A new Syria must be a home for all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or belief. Those responsible for grave and systematic human rights abuses must be held accountable.
Norway is pleased that the UN Human Rights Council is increasingly demonstrating its ability to address serious human rights situations in a timely and effective manner.
We continue to be concerned by the situation in Iran, where repression of political dissent, unlawful detentions, torture, and discrimination against religious and other minorities is on-going. The widespread use of the death penalty in Iran, including mass executions, raises serious questions about the right of each individual to a fair trial.
Norway is also concerned by the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus. We welcome the establishment of a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus. It is high time that the human rights situation in Belarus is addressed, and we hope the Government of Belarus will see the benefit of cooperating with the new special rapporteur.
In Myanmar, we have seen a number of positive developments. Most political prisoners have now been released, restrictions on the media have been lifted, pre-censorship has been abolished, and a national human rights commission has been established.
We welcome these developments. In sum, they constitute a monumental leap forward for human rights in Myanmar. We believe President Thein Sein is genuine in his efforts to bring about positive change. Norway’s view is that the international community should engage in capacity-building efforts to further support and promote human rights in Myanmar.
There are still human rights issues in Myanmar that require our attention. The tensions in Rakhine State and reports of human rights violations in conflict-affected areas give particular cause for concern. We also urge the Government to release any remaining political prisoners.
Religious minorities, whether Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baha’is or other, are under immense pressure in various regions of the world. So are humanists and non-believers. We all have a job to do, at the national level by strengthening the protection of religious minorities through the rule of law, and at the international level through dialogue and multilateral mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). We must hold governments accountable and support civil society’s efforts to promote fundamental freedoms and human rights. The legitimacy of any Government depends on its ability and willingness to uphold human rights for all citizens.
Norway is also concerned about violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We encourage member states to follow up Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for all states to decriminalise homosexuality. This is not a question of creating new rights, but of recognising the fact that human rights apply to all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Norway opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. The death penalty is incompatible with the principles of human dignity and humane treatment. There is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and we know that in a number of cases innocent people have been executed. We urge all States that have not yet done so to immediately halt all executions and introduce an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with the aim of abolishing it.
In 2011, the Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles provide both states and business enterprises with concrete guidance on how to prevent and address the risk of adverse human rights impacts linked to business activity.
The issue of business and human rights is still an emerging field and the magnitude of this task should not be underestimated. We would like to underline the importance of the engagement of all relevant stakeholders, including UN programmes, agencies and funds in disseminating and advancing the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles.
In order to respond to human rights issues worldwide, it is becoming increasingly important for the international community to ensure that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) can fulfil its mandate.
OHCHR is experiencing a growing number of requests for support, increasing calls to support the secretariats of the various human rights treaty bodies, and an unprecedented number of new and expanded mandates from the Human Rights Council (HRC). The financial challenges OHCHR faces are exacerbated by its reliance on voluntary contributions.
Norway therefore strongly supports the High Commissioner’s call for sustainable funding for OHCHR. Coordinated efforts are needed in the 5th committee and other relevant UN bodies, such as the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), to secure a substantial strengthening of the regular budget for OHCHR over the coming years, and to secure the timely provision of funding for urgent mandates.
Experience from the field has demonstrated that by strengthening the third pillar we can improve the effectiveness and credibility of the UN as a whole.
Furthermore, development is more sustainable if the principles of participation, non-discrimination and accountability are adhered to in practice.
If international human rights law is to become the common normative framework it is intended to be, UN personnel, both at Headquarters level and in the field, must have a greater awareness of relevant human rights norms and standards. They must know how to assist States in applying the standards of international human rights law in a meaningful way.
The human rights perspective needs to be more effectively integrated into all relevant UN funds and programmes.
We urge leaders at the highest level of the United Nations system to engage in concerted efforts to achieve this goal.