Human Rights Council 12th session
General Debate item 3
Friday 18 September 2009
Statement by Norway,
Delivered by Minister Counsellor Beate Stirø
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that is essential for the realisation and protection of other fundamental rights and freedoms. Not only does it allow people to express themselves freely – it is also essential for fostering mutual understanding and tolerance, democratic processes, good governance and conflict resolution, as well as economic development. This is why Amartya Sen’s observation that there has never been a famine in a country with a free press and free elections is so often referred to.
With the exception of incitement to hatred, there is no longer any legal or other kind of limitation to freedom of speech in my country. We appreciate the fact that no law, no paragraph, should limit free thinking and free speech.
Yet, as citizens in a pluralistic society, we all know that words, expressions, articles, statements, images, photos and even political cartoons matter – that what is plain speaking to some may cause turmoil to others.
No law can guide us through this landscape; only moral decisions by individuals, neighbours, friends, colleagues, editors and ministers can do so.
The Durban Review Conference Outcome document reaffirms the importance of freedom of expression in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The document imposes no restriction on freedom of expression as defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The text confirms that rules and regulations are there in order to protect individuals.
The Norwegian Government has defined freedom of expression a first priority in its human rights policy. We have formed our strategy and action plan. Let me share some points.
First, we emphasise our support to independent media.
It is extremely worrying that governments shut out the media from conflict areas. It is highly regrettable that more and more are following this pattern, concluding that the burden of shutting out the press is less than letting the press in and having to carry what they perceive as the burden of media reports. We should not accept this cynical state of affairs and we must keep pressing for free access.
Second, we will continue to support the organisations that assist writers and journalists in prison and in exile.
We have increased our support to ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network. Now there are guest writers in more than 20 European cities and in Mexico City. There will soon be ICORN member cities hosting persecuted writers in Africa, Asia and the Americas as well.
Third, the Norwegian Government will continue to be a strong supporter of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.
Norway highly appreciates the initiative to table a resolution on the right to freedom of opinion and expression during this session of the HRC. We are committed to actively contribute towards a consensual outcome and strongly encourage an open, inclusive and transparent process on this important issue.