Last week, at the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual meeting of human rights and democracy activists from around the world, Bård Glad Pedersen, Norway’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had very strong words in support of human rights defenders and against dictatorships. He pointed out how autocratic regimes coordinate at the UN to undermine human rights, something that also hurts confidence in the UN, as he said.
Below is this rare excerpt coming from a European democracy, admitting the sad reality of the UN Human Rights Council which UN Watch consistently fights to expose.
We need to defend those who bravely stand up to protect human rights. We must show that the world is watching. We advocate the importance of protection of human rights defenders in the UN. We support the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. We support individuals, organizations and networks that are promoting human rights for all. We support security training and capacity building but I think we can do more and we must do more.
The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place today. However, the gap between commitment on one hand and reality on the ground on the other hand is unacceptable. I think it is important that we recognize that the international system to promote and protect human rights is not equipped to address all these challenges fully and adequately.
In the UN, states with bad human rights records are actively working to undermine human rights and they are building alliances among themselves. This threatens human rights and also confidence in the UN. The answer is not to cave in, the answer is to respond forcefully. I believe it is even more important that we, we who believe in human rights, are active, committed and visible within the system and that we actively advocate the right of civil society to be heard in these forums. To promote human rights, we must work multilaterally in the UN and must work to strengthen the system. We must work regionally through the Council of Europe and support similar institutions in other regions of the world. We must work bilaterally, address issues, share concerns and build alliances across geographies.
The most rewarding and perhaps important part of my job is to meet human rights defenders. Sometimes part of the importance is that it is visible for totalitarian regimes that we meet. Other times, I am asked not to talk about the meetings because it would increase risks for the brave people who share their stories. The meetings are valuable because it gives insight and inspiration to continue also our efforts. Your strong voices and bravery makes a powerful impression.