The popular uprisings we have seen in the Arab and North African region have brought to light decades of repression and impunity. They have exposed systems where universal rights have been undermined for reasons of self-interest and political power.
As developments have shown, such leadership is not sustainable. Indeed it is neither sustainable nor leadership.
In some countries, people are continuing to fight with peaceful means for a change of government. They are citizens of countries represented in this hall, and they have met brutal and even deadly force in their claims for fundamental freedoms.
Norway condemns the indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population in Syria and the systematic human rights violation carried out by the Syrian authorities. This must stop immediately and those responsible for these grave violations must be held accountable.
The Syrian authorities’ must allow free and unimpeded access by the UN and humanitarian agencies to carry out humanitarian assistance to those in need.
The international community must identify a broad and inclusive approach for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. The League of Arab States’ plan for Syria represents the best way forward.
After the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime, one of the most difficult and important challenges is to ensure accountability for past violations. Accountability must be the norm and not the exception. And linked to this, human rights defenders and civil society at large must have the opportunity to gather information about abuses and advocate for justice without fear of reprisals.
When people rise up and peacefully protest against authoritarian leaders, demanding reforms and respect for fundamental human rights, they deserve our strong support. Human rights defenders, and indeed any citizen engaged in peaceful protest, must be protected from violence. Their right to advocate for change and document violations and misuse of power must be respected. In the long term, only countries that respect fundamental human rights and democratic rules can contribute to a stable international legal order.
Across the Arab region, women have been present and vocal in the protest movements. Yet, they continue to face exclusion from political and economic life, from political processes, constitution building and legal reform. This is unacceptable.
In a political transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime, particular attention must be directed towards the protection of women’s rights. It is crucial that these are taken into account in new legislation and not least new constitutions. There can be no democracy without the participation of all citizens. There is no rule of law unless the law applies equally to all.
The UN must call for the inclusion of women in political transitions and constitution-building.
The developments in the Arab region have also highlighted the role the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner of Human Rights and her office can play.
We thank and commend the High Commissioner of Human Rights for her principled, transparent and timely responses to events as they have occurred. Again world events are bringing to light the need for international cooperation on human rights.
The Council is mandated to protect and promote human rights in all situations. Its prompt reaction to serious human rights concerns globally is an important development. Indeed, its relevance and credibility will depend to a large extent on its ability to react swiftly, in a fair and even-handed manner.
Let me in this context underline the urgent need to strengthen the third pillar upon which the United Nations was founded, namely human rights. Around the world, people are increasingly demanding the fulfilment of the fundamental freedoms and rights set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the international human rights conventions.
Human rights, democracy and the rule of law should be in focus throughout the United Nations system. Strategies for political and economic empowerment, especially of the most vulnerable and most marginalised, should be promoted. The key principles of participation, accountability and non-discrimination should be integral in all our efforts.
These fundamental human rights concerns need to be effectively integrated into the day-to-day work of all relevant UN funds and programmes. This will affect the focus of the UN in several ways, including through policies, resource allocation, goal-setting and incentive structures for managers. But this will not be possible without leadership from the very top of the United Nations system.
In short, we need to enhance our efforts to ensure effective implementation of fundamental human rights throughout the UN. By strengthening the third pillar we can improve the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations as a whole.
This year, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities. We hope that this anniversary will inspire events and debates around the globe. We hope that it will increase awareness of the rights of minorities and strengthen the political will to protect these rights.
There is an urgent need to intensify efforts for the protection of minorities. Minorities are under pressure in most regions of the world, including in Europe. Minorities, not least religious minorities, need the protection of the state and of the international community. Norway has therefore recently decided to strengthen its work to promote and protect the rights of minorities, and is currently identifying ways and means to achieve this aim.
When addressing this issue, we will bear in mind that minorities are not a homogeneous group. Discrimination takes place on many grounds, such as religion or belief, ethnic background, sexual orientation or gender identity. Several of these factors can come into play at the same time, making minorities within minorities even more vulnerable.
The starting point should be to promote the rule of law, including respect for the human rights of all people, both the majority population and minority groups. Strengthening the rule of law offers many opportunities for effective implementation of minority rights.
Norway welcomes the groundbreaking report from the High Commissioner on discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The report is a milestone in international efforts to stop discrimination of sexual minorities.
Norway commends the efforts of South Africa in preparing the panel on this issue to be held next week.
The panel will discuss a report that documents serious human rights violations against sexual minorities all over the world. The report shows how discriminatory laws and practices lead to killings, rape, torture and other serious forms of harassment and discrimination of sexual minorities. Such laws and practices are of course in violation of international human rights.
The report makes important recommendations. These include decriminalisation, holding perpetrators accountable, systematic registration of such crimes, and information and awareness-raising campaigns targeted at the police, the judiciary and the education sector.
We would like to encourage South Africa to continue its good leadership in this process, and to propose concrete steps on how to follow-up on this important issue.
Twenty years ago, 52 countries had abolished the death penalty. Today, according to Amnesty International, 139 countries have decided against capital punishment. This means that more than 70% of the countries in the world have chosen to refrain from using the death penalty.
It is no longer a question of if we will reach global abolition, but of when.
One of the most important things we can do to further this positive trend is to ensure that the 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty to be held in Madrid in 2013 is a success. Together with Spain, Norway will be actively engaged in organising this major event. The focus of the Congress will be on North Africa and the Middle East, and on awareness-raising among young people. We are engaging a cross-regional core group of countries, and hope to ensure participation at a high political level and strong commitments.
In the UN we need to continue to embrace the cross-regional resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty. We will work with others to ensure increasing support for each successive resolution, and hopefully secure record support when it is tabled later this year.
Through these targeted and concerted efforts we are hoping to mobilise an increased level of commitment to the protection of the most fundamental right of all, namely the right to life.
The Arab Spring did not feed on identity or on religious or cultural politics, but was founded on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: social justice and the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Everywhere, respect for human rights was at the heart of the peoples’ claims.
As members of the Human Rights Council and of the international community we are clearly obliged to ensure these legitimate and fundamental claims are made a reality.