3 March 2008
HE Mr Jonas Gahr Støre
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ladies and gentlemen,
The realisation of human rights for all is the most important promise enshrined in the UN Charter.
The UN’s ability to deliver on this promise is crucial. It is crucial for its legitimacy. It is crucial for our ability to realise the other aspects of the UN mandate: freedom from fear and freedom from want.
Human dignity and good governance can only be achieved through the rule of law and legal frameworks that comply with international human rights norms and standards.
Improving human rights protection and access to justice must remain a top priority. Real achievements in these areas will help us to put an end to exclusion and violence.
There are encouraging signs. Billions are lifted out of poverty. In many countries democracy is gaining ground. But at the same time we are – once again – meeting against a backdrop of widespread human rights violations.
Billions are still affected by poverty and malnutrition. Civilians in the midst of conflict are suffering abuse and violations of fundamental rights.
People are being discriminated on grounds of gender, ethnicity, belief and sexual orientation.
People are being tortured. People are being kept in secret prisons without access to justice.
People are assembling in fear, striving to organise their meetings and trying to speak out under pressure.
When one man or one woman suffers, we are all suffering. We are appalled by the violence taking place as we speak, implicating suffering in Israel and in Gaza. People living in fear of striking rockets, people crying out their grief for the indiscriminate use of force. Our message has to be clear. Violence has to stop. Political negotiations must resume.
Human rights are indivisible and interdependent.
In places where 80% of the women are illiterate, the empowering potential of a free press is limited. In places where women and men are not allowed to speak out and participate in the governance of their country, a sustainable solution to food crisis is unlikely.
As nation states we are under legal and moral obligation to respect, promote and protect the human rights of all individuals. Everywhere.
As political leaders we are – I am – accountable for ensuring that international humanitarian and human rights law is fully respected. Everywhere.
Norway will continue to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. We remain committed to working actively through engagement and open dialogue with all partners.
We have presented our candidature to the Human Rights Council for the period 2009-2012. I believe that a well functioning human rights body – with a global mandate based on international norms – is vital in these efforts.
Furthermore, let me take this opportunity to focus on some key values and issues that I believe merit our full attention.
Firstly – on the death penalty. Last autumn, the General Assembly – in a landmark decision – called for a global moratorium on capital punishment.
Norway welcomes this decision. We consider the death penalty to be wholly inconsistent with the dignity of the individual and with the principle of humanity. It is a worrying trend that – while the number of states that have abolished the death penalty continues to raise – so does the number of people being executed. We remain deeply concerned about the widespread use of the death penalty in countries that retain this practice.
Secondly – on torture. It cannot be reiterated too often: the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute.
The use of secret prisons where detainees are kept in a legal vacuum is in contravention of international law. This practice may facilitate the use of torture. It may in itself constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Any person who perpetrates such acts must be brought to justice.
Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and inhumane treatment brutalise and demolish the social fabric of our societies.
These practices are illegal and go against all that makes us human.
Thirdly - on freedom of speech. Norway is deeply concerned about the increasing restrictions imposed by states on the freedom of association, opinion and expression, including freedom of the media.
Freedom of expression faces many challenges today: new anti-terrorist legislation and state secrecy laws, increasing use of defamation laws and media censorship. In situations of armed conflict, journalists are more important than ever, but they are also under more pressure than ever. Journalists are being killed while doing their job – witnessing world conflicts. We cannot accept that.
The right of assembly, the right of association, the right to receive information – from the internet and other sources – and the right to hold and express opinions, without fear, are core human rights. Through the free exercise of these rights, other rights – such as the right to food and the right to freedom from discrimination – are protected.
An active and critical public debate is always a sign of strength and free participation from the civil society.
Freedom of the media is not concerned with protecting the powerful, but with defending and protecting diversity.
How we balance freedom of expression with respect for the diversity of our multicultural world, will always be a challenge for all of us. Freedom of expression cannot be exercised in isolation without taking other human rights into account.
Let me turn to some of our vehicles for change.
Firstly: courageous human rights defenders – be they journalists, lawyers, NGOs or others – work tirelessly across the globe against racism, torture, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and all other forms of human rights violations. Their cause is to improve the lives and freedom of others. They are essential actors in promoting tolerance and in ensuring that human rights are implemented on the ground.
We need their eyes, ears and hearts. We should give them all our support. And we should stand ready to protect when needed.
Secondly: while the promotion of human rights is at the core of the entire UN system, some parts of it have a more crucial role to play than others. I would like to reaffirm our strong support for the work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Louise Arbour, and her office. Through your efforts and initiatives, Madame HC, the UN’s ability to prevent and respond to violations is strengthened.
We need your work more than ever.
Thirdly, I would commend the work of the special procedures. They are often a last resort for victims, but they can also serve as an early-warning mechanism to draw attention to human rights abuses. They are connecting the Council to the reality on the ground.
We need to preserve their independence and integrity.
Now, 60 years after the Universal Declaration the promotion of human rights is at the core of the UN mandate. It is a prerequisite for success in advancing peace and development.
This is a job that the UN – our only universal organisation – is well placed to do, and we must ensure that it does so successfully.
We already have a reasonably good legal framework. Our challenge today is the gap between norms and implementation, between words and action. This should be our main focus in this Council. (Thank you)