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GA: High level meeting on human rights defenders

Statement by Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide at the High level meeting on human rights defenders, 18 December 2018.

| General Assembly

Madam President,

Every day, all over the world, human rights defenders stand up for their own rights and the rights of other.

Often with severe personal risks and consequences.

20 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by consensus.

This landmark declaration made the members of the UN responsible for supporting and protecting these brave women and men, and even children and youth.

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Every day, all over the world, human rights defenders take risks and make sacrifices – on behalf of us all.

They take risks that are by no means smaller than they were 20 years ago.

For this reason, when looking back 20 or 70 years in celebration, we must also look forward- acknowledging that we still have a lot of work to do.

This is not to say that there has not been progress.

Together we have adopted resolutions in support of women human rights defenders.

Together we have adopted resolutions urging the release of those detained or imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

This would not have been possible without cooperation across regions.

And this would not have been possible without the support of and cooperation with civil society.

***

Madam President,

Despite 70 years of significant progress - if you are a human rights defender, the world in 2018 can be a very dangerous place.

Stories of threats, harassment, persecution and imprisonment are told all over the world.

In many regions the space for civil society is shrinking.

Laws are passed to protect public interest.

However, what they really do is serve as a detriment to public engagement, undermining the freedoms of association and expression. 

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As reported by the UN, human rights defenders are being killed on a daily basis.

We all have a responsibility to do more to protect the brave women and men standing up for injustice against others.  

To understand their needs we must listen and engage in dialogue.

Give them legitimacy through public acknowledgment of their work.

And we must never stop encouraging and funding their work.

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When violence happens we must condemn it, and we should leave no stone left unturned in the search for justice when crimes have been committed.

Madam President,

In 2015 we agreed on The Sustainable Development Goals, the blueprint for the world we all want.

It is a paradox that environmental human right defenders and indigenous peoples, fighting to protect our planet, are among those who face the greatest risk of violence and killings.

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Recent reports show that environmental human rights defenders are among the most marginalised. Respect for human rights, the environment and economic growth are not contradictions.

Let us work together to find out how we can strengthen the protection of environmental human rights defenders, through our resolution in the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.

It is our hope that this resolution will make a real difference for the courageous people standing up against exploitation of land and resources.

Human rights is one of the founding pillars of the UN. It is a goal in itself, and a prerequisite for sustainable development, security and peace.

We welcome the initiative, announced by the Secretary-General today; to develop a more coherent and comprehensive approach to supporting human rights defenders in the UN.

We also call for a strong and well-resourced Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Currently, the Office receives only 3 % of the UN’s regular budget.

Our commitment to promote, protect and realise all human rights and fundamental freedoms continues. In New York, Geneva, and in what Eleanor Roosevelt called “small places close to home”.

As Prime Minister Solberg once said: “Human rights defenders are an important corrective in any society. Only weak leaders fear being corrected.”

When established democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights are under severe pressure, we should not give up.

What we must do is work together to expand and strengthen the democratic space and ensure the safety of human rights defenders.

Thank you.