Excellencies, dear participants,
We are pleased to once again gather in Warsaw with civil society representatives from across the OSCE region. As everyone else, we regret that the Russian Federation has blocked consensus on the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. But let us not dwell on what did not come to be. We are happy to meet up in this format and are very grateful to our Chairpersonship North Macedonia for organizing the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference.
We also thank ODIHR for its valuable contributions in organizing this year’s event. Norway would like to emphasize the importance of the work of the OSCE independent institutions – in addition to ODIHR, the RFoM and the HCNM. Being sources of knowledge, experience and methodology, their impact goes beyond the OSCE region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, twenty-five years ago, the Human Rights Commission united around the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The protection of human rights defenders is a key priority in Norwegian foreign and development policy. Norway has experienced that civil society and human rights defenders are a resource rather than a threat. We are pleased to see so many of you here. We admire your efforts and work, often in very difficult surroundings.
We see increasing autocratic rule and shrinking civic space in many parts of the OSCE region, from east to west. Even in what we thought were sound democracies, we see attacks on civil society, free media and judiciaries, from governments and political parties. These actions are signs of weakness from leaders who feel threatened by fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of association, of peaceful assembly, and of expression.
The rule of law is the backbone of a sustainable democracy. An independent, competent, and impartial judiciary is a prerequisite for ensuring the rights of minorities and persons belonging to vulnerable groups. Civil society and the independent media constitute important control mechanisms, contributing to inclusive and informed public debates and democratic processes.
These are indeed challenging times.
In the middle of war and military hostilities, the respect for human rights and democracy crumbles. The work in the OSCE human dimension continues to be heavily affected by the Russian Federation's ongoing aggression against Ukraine. It creates enormous humanitarian and human rights consequences in Ukraine, as well as challenges in neighboring countries. Furthermore, the situation undermines multilateral cooperation at a time when we really need it.
We strongly support and respect Ukrainian civil society and independent media doing invaluable work in a war zone. This also goes for the representatives of Russian civil society and independent journalists who have kept working under extremely difficult conditions.
Over the last weeks, the humanitarian situation for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh has gone from bad to worse, and last week we have seen a flow of refugees out of the region. It is a tragedy to see so many of Armenians leaving their ancestral lands behind in fear of what might come if they stay. We need to attend to the humanitarian needs in this situation. Access for humanitarian aid must be given, and those in distress must get the assistance they need. There must be freedom of movement for civilians.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The OSCE has over many years contributed to stability, confidence-building, and peace in our part of the world. In the difficult security policy situation we are experiencing, it is thus of high importance to safeguard the organization as such, and not least the activities in the human dimension. All participating states should make use the resources of the OSCE to better implement our commitments.
I once again extend my gratitude to the civil society representatives here, for your continuous effort on important issues. Norway is, and will continue to be, a strong supporter of a strong, diverse and independent civil society.
In conclusion, it is my pleasure to invite you all to the Human Dimension Committee networking lunch tomorrow, hosted by Ireland and Norway.