GA: High Level meeting on Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Last updated: 6/9/2014 // This statement was held by Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende on behalf of the Nordic Countries. The statement was held at the High Level meeting on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post 2015 Agenda.

President of the General Assembly, Secretary General, Her Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Human rights and the rule of law are central elements of good and democratic governance. They are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and are key drivers of countries’ social and economic development. They are crucial forces in improving the livelihoods of the poorest and most deprived and those who suffer discrimination and injustice. The link between development on the one hand and democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the other is widely recognised by the international community. The discussions related to the post-2015 processes in the Open Working Group and elsewhere, and also at the 2012 Summit on the Rule of Law, have highlighted the many facets of good governance. I would like to comment on the most important of these, which fall into four clusters.

Firstly, the Nordic countries wish to stress the paramount importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The question before us is not whether human rights should be included in the post-2015 agenda, but rather how they should be included. Human rights norms and standards must guide the choice and formulation of goals, targets and indicators across the post-2015 agenda. The new development framework must reflect the full range of international standards for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The full integration of human rights into the post-2015 agenda, taking a human rights based approach, would seem to be the best way to do this. 

Human rights provide a framework for identifying and addressing inequalities and thus ensuring that no one is left behind. This includes safeguarding the rights of those who are hardest to reach – the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, including indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. The Nordic countries have on several occasions emphasised the need for a separate goal on gender equality in view of the persistent discrimination of women and girls worldwide.

It is also of fundamental importance to ensure freedom of expression, assembly and association and the opportunity to protest against unfair treatment and seek redress without risking persecution. These fundamental rights are key to the promotion and protection of all other rights. Moreover, it is essential to ensure that the right of access to information through independent media and the internet is respected so that meaningful and effective participation is possible for everyone. Upholding these rights enables individuals and civil society to hold politicians and public servants accountable, for example for the effective implementation of public policies and the fight against corruption. They are also important for the establishment of mechanisms for peaceful cooperation within the labour market and for ensuring that labour standards are respected. More generally, these rights are crucial vehicles for the development of open and transparent societies built on mutual trust.

Secondly, societies must be based on the rule of law. A wealth of evidence suggests a clear correlation between the rule of law and development, including economic growth and prosperity. The General Assembly recognised this in its Declaration on the Rule of Law, which was adopted by consensus.  A well-functioning society is dependent on fair, stable and predictable institutional and legal frameworks that govern the activities of public institutions, citizens and the private sector and pave the way for a secure and positive investment climate. Property and tenure rights and the enforcement of contracts need to be regulated by adequate legislation which is properly implemented. The law must also guarantee everyone’s right to a legal identity, ensure that everyone has access to an efficient, independent judicial system and social services on a non-discriminatory basis, and safeguard the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups. There must be a firm response to all forms of discrimination. The judiciary must be capable of playing a key role in dispute resolution in all fields, including commercial matters and land tenure.

The rule of law, justice for all and an independent judiciary are an essential basis for ensuring that human rights are respected, for addressing inequalities and for the distribution of economic, social and political influence and opportunities. This requires access to independent and responsive judicial systems, where action is taken against all forms of injustice, impunity is eliminated and conflicts can be peacefully resolved. This leads me to my third point:

The need for effective, accountable and transparent institutions. This includes oversight institutions such as an independent auditor general and an efficient central bank. It also includes competent regulators tasked with ensuring prudent banking and business practices, encouraging corporate accountability, eliminating corruption and curbing illicit financial flows that drain valuable resources from developing countries. Institutions must effectively promote citizens’ rights in key fields like education and health and respond to people’s needs, including the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. Effective institutions are also needed to facilitate the smooth operation of energy services and rail, road and air transport, to ensure access to open and efficient telecom and internet services and to provide the necessary infrastructure to promote industrial development. All countries also need efficient tax authorities and effective and accountable law enforcement institutions to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth, job creation and sound management of natural resources. Predictable frameworks and institutions promoting private sector development, business investments and an efficient market economy are also a crucial component of good governance.

My fourth and final point is that in a well-governed society, politicians are accountable to citizens. The essence of democracy does not change: the people always have the right to decide who is to rule them. This means that at regular intervals politicians are obliged to ask citizens for a mandate to govern, citizens cast their votes in free and fair elections and those who lose their seats voluntarily hand them over to the winners. When this principle is adhered to, that is, when a government, legislature or president does not seek to prolong its term of office at will but submits to the will of the people, we have the basis for a well-governed society, as opposed to an autocracy. Giving people the opportunity to participate and make their voices heard in political processes at all levels, national and local, is a cornerstone of democratic governance.

On this basis, the Nordic countries would like to see a stand-alone goal for good governance and the rule of law in the post-2015 agenda. This should be separate from a stand-alone goal on peaceful and inclusive societies free from violence, which we also support. We believe that good governance, democracy, the rule of law, conflict prevention and resolution, peace and the absence of violence are all crucial elements in poverty eradication and sustainable development. However, they pose different challenges and the means of achieving them will also be different. To ensure that both areas are given due weight in the fight against poverty, we need to establish them as separate stand-alone goals in the post-2015 framework.

Experience shows that states that succeed in implementing these principles are more likely to be successful in eradicating poverty and in achieving sustainable development. The Nordic countries have experienced tremendous social development and economic growth and have benefited from prudent management of natural resources over a period of more than 60 years. This is explained by many factors, but in our view, the most important one is that our societies are based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and access to justice for all and on the principles of open, accountable and democratic governance. This builds trust between the state and the people and is thus a basis for prosperity, stability and peace and for sustainable development.

We have shown in our own countries that sound democratic governance fosters opportunities and spurs development. Many developing countries have experienced the same. We believe that if we make a concerted effort globally to strive for these ideals, we can unleash forces that will bring prosperity and development to all.

Finally, the post-2015 agenda must reflect the priorities of the people, and the concept of good governance based on the principles of democracy is clearly in tune with the voice of the people. According to the “World We Want” survey, “honest and responsive government” is one of the four top priorities for people of all ages in all countries.

Thank you, Mr. Chair


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