Norway welcomes this opportunity to discuss tolerance and reconciliation in the spirit of Nelson Mandela. We thank the panelists for their contributions to exploring the role of individuals in promoting human rights and in achieving transformative change in this important field.
Intolerance and discrimination feeds mistrust, resentment, violence, crime and insecurity. Racism and xenophobia remains one of the most dangerous forms of discrimination. Discrimination is however equally unjust when it targets people because of their religious belief, their nationality, their gender or sexual orientation.
South-Africa’s leadership in the fight against discrimination is commendable and we would like to use this opportunity to also express Norway’s commitment to end discrimination and intolerance.
In a new Action Plan to promote equality and prevent ethnic discrimination for the period 2009-2012, my Government has fortified its efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination , xenophobia and related intolerance. Our strategy highlights the following:
It is imperative to combat both prejudices and racial discrimination through dialogue and open public debate.
It is equally important to create an inclusive learning environment in learning institutions that is free of racism, discrimination, bullying and violence, and an education system that reflects the diversity of the population.
It is more important than ever to confront prejudices and stereotypes of cultural and religious intolerance in the public debate and to bring out the counter-arguments.
However, these processes require involvement at all levels. The engagement of individuals is essential in this regard, and human rights defenders play a key role.
Across the globe, every day, human rights defenders work to protect the fight discrimination, exclusion and inequality. These brave individuals stand up for other people’s rights. Their cause is to improve the lives and freedom of others. Protecting human rights defenders is a main priority in Norway’s human rights policy.
Human rights defenders advance the human rights agenda and bring universal principles of equality closer to reality. They help to shape laws and policies to prevent inequality and discrimination.
Indeed, as the discussion today has shown, the idealism and persistence of individuals and groups have many times changed the course of history. To echo the words of the High Commissioner, “human rights and their advocacy continue to withstand the test of history and win over supporters every day, while dictators keep falling and ideologies fading. But we must remain vigilant against assaults upon the rights and freedom of human rights defenders.”
The work of defenders is vital, yet they are frequently under threat and attacks and must be better protected. The issue of reprisals for cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights is well known to this council. We should all publicly recognize the value of their work and do our outmost to protect them. Ending impunity for attacks against them is essential to ensure their security.
I thank you.