The upcoming year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, it will be 30 years since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders turns 25. This is an opportunity for reflection.
We were already faced with an unacceptable and growing gap between the established obligations and commitments of States and realities on the ground. Now, we also we face an exceptional set of crises – war, food and energy insecurity, climate change. Sadly, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit.
Democratic backsliding, persistence of autocratic rule and proliferation of authoritarian regimes are cause for serious concern. Disregard for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles is a root cause and driver of instability. It threatens our security. It upends development gains.
Protection of human rights through rules-based international cooperation, on the other hand, makes the world safer and more stable, more prosperous, fair and equal.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Full stop. There are no caveats or disclaimers. There is no room for intolerance or discrimination.
There can be no discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We must increase our efforts to combat discrimination and persecution of sexual and gender minorities.
Similarly, there can be no discrimination based on religion or belief, on the basis of ethnicity or cultural or linguistic background, nor on the basis of disability.
We are witnessing an alarming shrinking of space for civil society and human rights defenders. They are indispensable voices to hold States to account for their human rights obligations. They were the first to notice backsliding, shrinking civic space, erosion of human rights and rule of law. And the first to warn.
As a consequence, they face threats, harassment, violence, and incarceration. Women human rights defenders in particular continue to face multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination owing to their work – and their gender. And yet they continue to stand up for human rights. For democracy. For sustainability.
We owe them a great debt for risk they are willing to take, the threats and reprisals they face in order to improve our societies. Without criticism, there cannot be positive change. Their voices are necessary to ensure peaceful, inclusive and democratic societies.
For these and other voices to be heard, we must safeguard the right to freely express views and opinions.
Freedom of expression is particularly important during armed conflict. Propaganda and disinformation are being weaponized. The importance of social resilience as well as independent and pluralistic media cannot be overstated.
It is more important than ever to support the journalists and other media workers that risk their lives to document, to inform and give a voice to those that need to be heard. And female journalists are often themselves among those that have been forced and harassed into silence.
A strong UN human rights pillar is needed more than ever. The international human rights institutions that we have built, must be defended and strengthened.
Norway strongly supports the mandate and leadership of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Our ambitions must be matched with both human and financial resources.