Trygve Lie Symposium - Photo:NorwayMFA/Frode Overland Andersen
NorwayMFA/Frode Overland Andersen

UNGA: Tryge Lie-symposium

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide at the Trygve Lie Symposium on Fundamental Freedoms, 27 September 2018.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Trygve Lie Symposium.

Human Rights are the cornerstone of the UN. Quite literally.

When Trygve Lie laid the cornerstone of the UN Headquarters in Turtle Bay in October 1949, it contained, among other things, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Fortunately, the Declaration was not buried in Turtle Bay once and for all.

On the contrary, it is still very much alive and continues to improve people’s lives across the globe.

So, as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, we are not just looking back in recognition of these achievements.

We are also looking forward. Acknowledging that we still have a lot of work to do.


The protection of human rights defenders is a key priority in Norwegian foreign policy.

The UN has adopted far-reaching resolutions on human rights defenders, and Norway has been pushing this forward by tabling resolutions, such as last year, with the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which was passed by consensus. Adoption of resolutions unanimously is not a given in today’s climate. This would not have been possible without close cooperation with civil society and the willingness of countries from all regions to work together.

Tunisia is one of the countries that has shown crucial leadership in driving this agenda forward.


Today, we are pleased to bring together high-level UN and government officials, experts, and civil society representatives to discuss the progress we have made so far and new obstacles that lie ahead.

I had never thought that I in 2018 would use a large portion of my time to prevent dismantling of core rights, and avoid pushback against progress that has been made. That it would be more important to fight for established rights instead of taking bold initiatives to push forward.

As foreign minister, one of my key tasks is to consider how Norway and the international community can further promote the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders.

A vast gap remains between what the UN member states have agreed to and the reality experienced by human rights defenders in many parts of the world.

We must all take action to implement these resolutions at national level.

We have a joint responsibility. We can and should make a difference.


Individual freedom and public participation, the rule of law and legal protection, equality and equal opportunities.

These are all vital elements in Norway’s human rights policy, which in turn underpins our foreign policy and development cooperation.

Our foreign policy is based on the conviction that democracy and human rights are preconditions for peace, stability and development.

A strong and pluralistic civil society is a driving force in efforts to promote democratic development, the rule of law and human rights.

Non-governmental organisations, institutions and independent media are vital pillars in any democracy.

We are happy to have Article 19 together with us today.


As the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, once said, ‘Human rights defenders are an important corrective in any society. Only weak leaders fear being corrected.’

In many countries established democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights are under severe pressure.

Over the last couple of years, there has been much discussion of the ‘shrinking space’ for civil society and human rights defenders in several countries around the world.

Governments that restrict the space for free debate and information sharing seem to be learning from and copying each other.

‘Worst practices’ are being shared between countries.

These trends need to be reversed.

We must not give up; we must fight back, we must expand and strengthen the democratic space, and reach out across regional groups to forge new, and deepen existing, partnerships.

Article 1 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders says, and I quote: ‘Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.’

We should all make full use of this right.

Previous generations have fought hard for human rights.

Without their courage and determination, I might not have been standing here today.

I am thinking of the many women (and some men) who fought for equal rights for men and women, including women’s right to education, to knowledge, the right to vote and the right to decide whether to have children, and if so how many.

Centuries of prejudice and discrimination have been pushed back. Change is possible.


Today, our focus is on the role of women and men like these, on human rights defenders:

People who speak out, criticise authorities and defend vulnerable groups, such as ethnic or religious minorities. Journalists who document human rights violations like torture or the use of hunger as a weapon of war.

Human rights defenders include lawyers, journalists, trade unionists, activists, but also employees in national institutions – anyone peacefully advocating in support of human rights.

Women human rights defenders are often on the front line and have a heightened risk of abuse, including gender-based and sexual violence.


Human rights defenders speak out on behalf of others. They speak out on behalf of all of us.

Not only do they give a voice to the victims of human rights violations.

They speak on behalf of humanity as a whole and the values that are dear to us.

Regardless of whether people are fighting for freedom of expression, freedom of religion, for indigenous rights, for gender equality, or LGBTI rights, we will insist on their right to be heard.

No one should risk being harassed, persecuted or attacked just because of the opinions they express.

In many countries, human rights defenders and journalists are threatened, imprisoned or even killed merely for doing their job.

Using their voice, their knowledge, their pen, mobile phone or camera to examine social issues, to reveal injustice, or present alternatives can entail great risk and all too often has dramatic consequences.

According to a recent report[1] by the UN Secretary-General, at least 1019 human rights defenders were killed in 61 countries from 2015 to 2017. Attacks like these often occur after human rights defenders have spoken out about basic human rights violations.

When the village drinking water is polluted.

When a blogger is imprisoned because he or she disagrees with the people in power.

When a young student takes part in a peaceful demonstration and is met with police violence and a long prison sentence.

When people are not allowed to go to church or to a mosque to pray.

Or when an LGBTI-activist is killed.


Every day, human rights defenders across the globe show extraordinary courage.

And we, for our part, have to defend the defenders.

The promotion and protection of human rights is the responsibility of every UN member state.

All states have a shared obligation to support and protect those who are working so hard to bring about change.


This is why Norway supports individuals, organisations and networks that are fighting for human rights in many countries.

We will continue to do this.

Norway will continue its efforts to translate the UN resolutions into action.

We will do so in multilateral arenas and through our foreign missions and partners.

And, of course, we will do so through our cooperation with, and support to, human rights organisations.

The reason why human rights are not respected is often a lack of political will. But in some cases it is also a question of resources and weak governance.

This is why Norway is advocating for a stronger human rights pillar in the UN, which should include effective capacity-building and technical support to member states.

Strengthening national capacities will have a direct impact on countries’ ability to observe and respect human rights, and on their ability to ensure that human rights can be enjoyed by everyone.  

It is an honour to be joined by one of the people who will be instrumental in this work, the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. This Sunday, the High Commissioner and I signed a multi-year agreement between Norway and the OHCHR of 85 million US dollar. It gives predictable funding and will increase the OHCHR’s ability to prevent human rights violations.

When you delivered your first opening statement at the Human Rights Council just a few weeks ago, we listened with interest – and with hope.

I want to pick up on one element in particular.

In your call for greater engagement by all Member States you pointed out that this does not mean disputes or withdrawals, but coordinated and cooperative work for common principles and goals.

Because the best solutions are grounded in principle and openness, and because consensus is possible.

Just like last year’s resolution here at the UN General Assembly on human rights defenders was adopted by exactly that, consensus.

Ideal solutions might not always be possible. But it should never discourage us from aspiring for higher ideals.

In that endeavour you can always count on Norway.


70 years ago our forefathers (and mothers), laid the cornerstone of the UN. The UN is literally built upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We are called to defend this foundation, build on it and develop it further.

I look forward to our discussions.