Human rights as a key component of Norway’s foreign and development Policy

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's opening address at a seminar on freedom of speech and freedom of the press - a collaboration between Fritt Ord, The Norwegian Union of Journalists, Article 19 and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Oslo, 2 November)

Ladies and gentlemen,

On this day in 2013, the French journalists Ghislaine Verlon and Claude Dupont interviewed a local leader in the town of Kidal in northeastern Mali.

After the interview, they were abducted by an armed group and assassinated on a desert track outside Kidal.  

It was to honour and commemorate these two journalists that the UN General Assembly chose today, 2 November, as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

Today’s seminar – a collaboration between Fritt Ord, The Norwegian Union of Journalists, Article 19 and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is important to shed light on some of the downwards trends we are seeing.

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All states have an obligation to protect the rights and security of their citizens.

But when it comes to journalists, the numbers and evidence show that we have to do more.

Journalists are harassed, threatened, imprisoned and even killed – just for doing their job.

So far this year, Unesco has recorded that 86 journalists and media workers have been killed.

In 2016 and 2017, 182 journalists were killed worldwide.

I am worried about the fact that the percentage of journalists killed in countries free of conflict last year for the first time exceeded that of journalists killed in conflict zones.

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The perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

The fact that the killers go unpunished in 9 out of 10 cases is difficult to understand, and even harder to accept.

Threats and attacks must be investigated promptly, effectively and impartially.

We all share the responsibility to work towards ending impunity.

And we have to join forces in this struggle: governments, the UN, regional organisations and civil society. I hope that today’s seminar will provide more ideas and suggestions on what more can be done.

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The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was launched in 2012.

The plan aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations.

In September this year, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the most comprehensive UN resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity to date.

It addresses another worrying trend: political leaders, public officials and authorities increasingly criticise, intimidate and threaten the media in all parts of the world.

This increases the risk of violence against journalists and undermines public trust in the credibility of journalism. The fight against fake news must not become a new tool to make working conditions even more difficult for journalists and opposition.

The UN resolution reminds us that we must take action to close the gap between international commitments and realities on the ground.

Prevention, protection and prosecution depend on political will.

Far too often, the reality is impunity.

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Almost three weeks after his death, it was confirmed that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul on 2 October. One month ago today.

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi is both deeply tragic – and totally unacceptable.

The exact circumstances of the killing need to be clarified through credible and transparent investigation, and we must ensure full accountability of all those responsible.

We have summoned the Saudi Ambassador, and underlined to him the gravity of the matter.

We will also raise the issue of freedom of expression and the importance of protecting journalists when the UN Human Rights Council discusses the situation in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

Norway remains in close contact with like-minded countries on this matter.

Jamal Khashoggi, his family and his friends deserve justice.

The same goes for other journalists who have died in unclear circumstances.

Investigative journalists seem to be increasingly targeted.

The murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia are examples of this alarming trend.

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From the government’s side, we have intensified our efforts to promote freedom of expression.

In 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a strategy to promote freedom of expression and independent media in Norway’s foreign and development policy. So far, it seems like Norway is one of the few countries that has developed such a strategy.

A lack of political will is often behind violations of human rights obligations.

However, in some cases, violations happen because states or institutions are weak and lack the means to protect the rights of citizens.

We support the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In September, High Commissioner Bachelet and I signed a multi-year agreement between Norway and the OHCHR. Predictable funding will increase the OHCHR’s ability to prevent human rights abuses.

At the regional level, Norway is actively engaged in this issue in the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

To underpin this work, the government has both intensified our effort and increased the funding allocated to human rights to 680 million NOK in 2019.

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Civil society groups and media organisations, like the ones represented here today, are invaluable.

You play vital roles in documenting violations and raising awareness about violence against journalists.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is proud to support the work of the Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian PEN, Icorn, International Media Support, Article 19 and Unesco . We also support training of journalists and media workers in cooperation with the Institute for journalism and Ethical Journalism Network. We support local universities and independent reporting.

I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the freedom of the press and the protection of journalists across the world.

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In closing, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the journalists and media workers who have been killed – just for doing their job.

And to pay tribute to the memory of those who suffered the ultimate consequence of seeking the truth – on behalf of us all.

Independent journalism is crucial to our democracy.

When journalists are silenced by threats, violence or death, we are all worse off.

Please continue doing your job.

We will continue working for your safety.

Thank you.