Statement at conference on human rights

Speech/statement | Date: 2018-06-18 | Minster of Foreign Affairs Ms. Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the conference "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70. Human Rights and Inclusive citizenship: Conditions for Co-existence in Conflict-Ridden Societies"

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Professor Hjeltnes,
ladies and gentlemen,

In 1946 the Commission on Human Rights was given the mandate to weave the international legal fabric that protects our fundamental rights and freedoms.

Two years later the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted.

When you pull a thread from a piece of fabric, it unravels.

As human rights are interdependent and interrelated, the same happens to them.

If you take away one set of rights, the remaining will not be as strong.

Put this way, calling it the “The international legal fabric” is an image that makes a lot of sense.

This fabric, human rights as we know them, is a result of conventions that have been developed and ratified over the past 70 years.

2018 marks the anniversaries of two breakthroughs: 70 years ago we adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 20 years ago we adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

This calls for celebration, reflection and action.


Celebration because we have made substantial progress towards extremely ambitious goals.

Over the last 70 years human rights have become an integral part of the duties governments have towards their citizens.

Women’s political representation has increased significantly.

We are closer than ever before to achieving the long-term goal of global abolition of death penalty.

And we have quicker and easier access to more information than former generations could only dream of.

Among other things – it helps reveal and attract international attention to human rights violations.

These are only a few examples of how far we have come through ambition, cooperation and global commitment.


Despite the progress made, we are not yet where we want to be.

Minority rights, the topic of this conference, is an example.

The way a country treats its minorities is often an indicator of the state of human rights in general, like freedom of speech and assembly.

We see it all over the world: the Yazidis in Iraq, Christian minorities in the Middle East, the Rohingyas in Myanmar, and Christians and Shia Muslims in South Asia.

Religious minorities are still among the world’s most vulnerable people, especially in situations of conflict.

In 2018, 70 years after the adoption of the declaration this is simply not acceptable.

We have to do more and we have to do better.


As we speak, mediators, experts and world leaders, like for instance UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, are arriving for the annual Oslo Forum taking place this week.

The first forum in 2003 and was a small fireside retreat for a handful of people.

This year over 120 international guests are gathered to discuss better mediation in armed conflict.

I mention it here because the topic of this conference - “Conditions for co-existence in conflict-ridden societies” - in many ways is also the essence of the sessions at the Oslo Forum.

Human rights is an integral part of Norwegian foreign policy, in the same way as peace and mediation.


Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is more important than ever to fight against the forces that are trying to undermine fundamental rights.

When international structures and the multilateral system is under pressure, we must stand up to support it.

This is a clear priority for the Government, and increased funding is one very important measure.

Lack of funding should not restrict the UN's efforts to promote member states' compliance with their human rights obligations.

Earlier this year I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on long-term, strengthened cooperation between Norway and OHCHR from 2018-2021.

We increase our funding to approximately 150 million NOK in 2018. This is a clear signal that we are a long-term partner.

Insufficient funding means that measures and resolutions to support human rights are not implemented in practice.

This in turn weakens the impact of measures in other areas.

If we are to succeed in creating lasting peace and in realising the sustainable development goals, human rights cannot be disregarded.

Strengthening the human rights pillar of the UN is an important investment not only in human rights, but also in development and peace and security.


Over the past 70 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has taught us to stand up for our rights.

Rights have at times been undermined, yet their importance for every human being, regardless of our differences, has endured.

Part of the success of the democratic development has been the expansion of human rights mechanisms and regional organizations as well as the continued enhancement of human rights standards and instruments promoted by these mechanisms.

Governments have accepted new duties and new obligations.

But perhaps more importantly, the structures have contributed to spreading knowledge to citizens about their rights enabling them to speak up, and demand their rights.


Promoting freedom of expression and protecting human rights defenders are key priorities for the Norwegian Government.

Norway has been the main sponsor of the UN resolutions on human rights defenders.

Last autumn Norway led the work when the General Assembly adopted a strong and unanimous resolution that recognizes the role and work of human rights defenders. This was a collective achievement – but not a given in today’s volatile and difficult normative landscape.

The 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders this year will be marked by a High-level Panel discussion at the UN General Assembly in New York this autumn.

I urge all partners, some of you gathered here today, to intensify efforts, nationally and internationally, to protect those who are on the frontlines in the fight to protect the rights of others.


Inclusive citizenship, where individuals enjoy equal opportunities and rights, whatever their gender, religion, economic and social situation or ethnic background is fundamental to our society.

I wish to thank The Norwegian Minority Network and The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities for invaluable contributions to our understanding of the situation of minorities across the world.

It is our joint responsibility to ensure respect for individual rights, and that the international legal fabric protecting human rights does not unravel.

We have come very far in the last 70 years.

Let us keep up the work for at least 70 more.

Thank you.