Address at seminar on international cooperation

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt gave the opening speech and participated in a panel debate on international cooperation in Pretoria on Wednesday 19 April. The seminar brought together academics, students, members of the diplomatic community in Pretoria. The South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor also attended.

Thank you, Ottilia.

Dear participants,

Thank you for joining us to discuss multilateralism. A topic at the core of Norwegian foreign policy, and of our cooperation with South Africa. 

I also want to thank our partner, the Institute for Security Studies, for organizing this seminar together with us.

Today’s world order is subject to many global challenges:

  • War and geopolitical tensions,
  • climate change,
  • global pandemic,
  • food insecurity
  • and inequality.

By definition, they pose a threat to all countries. And can only be tackled together.

That is precisely why we have the United Nations – or as the second Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, said back in the days: “The UN wasn’t created to take mankind into paradise, but rather to save humanity from hell”.

The United Nations was born out of crisis. And it should be strengthened in a a time where we face increased international tensions.

Fifty years ago, Norwegian diplomats smuggled cash to the ANC – at a time where many of our allies still considered it a terrorist organization. One of the Norwegians who arrived here with cash hidden underneath his suit was Thorvald Stoltenberg. He would later become Norway’s foreign minister.

At its core, Norway’s relationship with African countries is built on solidarity, the fight for freedom and justice, and against colonialism and apartheid. At that time, some countries said this was an internal issue for South Africa. We refused to accept that. Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t make repression or discrimination internal matters.

These same values are vital for international cooperation at this time of heightened tensions. And that is why Norway wants to maintain our close cooperation with South Africa on multilateral issues.

One example of our partnership is our joint commitment to the meaningful inclusion of women in peace processes.

Another is our excellent collaboration in the joint leadership of the ACT-A facilitation council – a part of the global response to COVID-19.

The new technology transfer hub in South Africa will improve Africa’s access to vaccines. This very moment, my good colleague, Norway’s Minister of Development is in Cape Town to participate in the hub’s launch.

Norway and South Africa also collaborated closely as elected members of the UN Security Council.  

As we entered the Council in early 2021, Foreign Minister Pandor briefed my predecessor on South Africa’s experience the two previous years. And earlier today in our bilateral meeting, I had the chance to reflect on Norway’s experience with the Foreign Minister.

Allow me to highlight a few points that would merit further discussions at this seminar.

My first point.

Norway will continue our efforts in peace diplomacy in regional conflicts, like the Israel-Palestine, Sudan, South-Sudan and Colombia. But we cannot do that without regional partners. One example is Colombia where we have been working closely with Cuba to facilitate negotiations between the FARC guerilla and the government.

We support finding a joint solution for UN financing of African led peace operations.

This is an area where we want to work closely with South Africa.

We must uphold international law, including the principle of territorial integrity in all corners of the globe.

Norway consistently protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

That’s also why we did not support the US-led intervention in Iraq in 2003.

Authoritarian regimes are on the rise – including on my own continent. We must continue to stand up for human rights and freedoms worldwide. Here, Norway and South Africa work together, for example through our joint support to UN-resolutions on human rights defenders and combating racism.  

South Africa is a long-standing champion in promoting diversity and women’s rights. 15 years ago, as minister for children and equality, I was working to legalise same-sex marriage in Norway. I was told this would be difficult, as there was no precedent to lean on and learn from.

But I argued in the Norwegian public debate that two countries had already paved the way: namely South Africa and Spain. And in 2008, the Norwegian parliament passed the bill into law.

Today, attacking gender diversity is a core strategy for many authoritarian leaders. Both when it comes to women’s liberation, and LGBTI rights. Such attacks are often the first sign of a country turning away from democracy.

Authoritarian leaders seem not willing to accept women’s rights to decide over our own bodies. These so-called strongmen are often very weak. They do not accept freedom of speech or gender diversity.

We need to stand firm against this authoritarian trend.

Second – a point well known to all of you: working across regional and geopolitical dividing lines produces results. This was our systematic approach during our two years as elected member of the Security Council.

  • We helped secure a robust political mandate for the UN in Afghanistan.
  • We helped extend the mandate for cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria three times, in partnership with Ireland.
  • Together with Niger, we negotiated a ground-breaking resolution on the protection of education in armed conflict.
  • And we partnered with Ghana on the first resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea in a decade. Just to mention a few.

Building upon South Africa’s work, we promoted closer cooperation between the ten elected members of the Council.

We gave priority to maintaining close cooperation with all countries, and in particular the three African Council members. We will continue to push for increased African influence in the UN Security Council itself.

This brings me to my third point:

To have the legitimacy needed to address today’s challenges, we need a Council that is:
- more transparent
- more effective
- more representative
- and more accountable.

Progress on reform of the Security Council has been slow. The violation of the UN Charter by a permanent member of the Council only stresses the urgency of our reform efforts.

We were main sponsors of the veto initiative, adopted by the General Assembly last year. It has brought much needed transparency around the use of the veto. We must also reform the composition of the Council.

Such a large part of the Council’s agenda is focused on issues related to the African continent. And yet - Africa has no permanent seat.

Norway supports expanding the Security Council to include both permanent and non-permanent seats for Africa. This is necessary to redress the historical injustice against Africa.

It is unacceptable that the continent is not only without representation in the permanent category, but also today, under-represented among elected members.

Fourth, it is impossible to talk about multilateralism without raising Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The invasion is a blatant assault on the UN Charter and the rules-based order we have all committed to.

Kenya’s ambassador to the UN conveyed precisely that message to the Security Council two days before Russia’s invasion. Borders drawn based on a colonial past could have led to bloody wars in Africa, Ambassador Kimani said. 

Further, he underlined:

“we chose to follow the rules of the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations charter, not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater, forged in peace.”  End quote.

I am extremely concerned by evidence of war crimes committed in the areas that the Russians hold or have held in Ukraine. The Norwegian Chair of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, Erik Møse, told me that there is documentation of sexual violence committed against victims in the age range of 4 to 82 years.

The war has devastating global consequences, with developing countries paying the highest price.

Countries might have differing assessments of the situation in Europe.

But taking a stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine is not about taking sides – geopolitically. It’s about standing up for the UN Charter and principles that serve the best interest of all countries. We simply cannot accept that one permanent member of the UN Security Council invades its neighbour, a peaceful, sovereign and independent state.

It is also worth recalling that at independence, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal – the world’s third largest. Doing so, Ukraine was given reassurances for its sovereignty and internationally recognized borders. Russia signed that agreement, the Budapest memorandum.

That’s why all states that want to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons should stand with Ukraine.

I would like to add that we understand that the situation in Europe is far away from the political realities in other regions of the world. And at the same time as we ask for support for the principles that are at stake, we should listen to the concerns and questions from our partners in Africa.

And you are also suffering from the consequences of the conflict through higher food and energy prices. In 2022, Norway allocated more funding to humanitarian assistance and development aid than ever before. This is of course partly because of the humanitarian support to Ukraine. But we have also increased our humanitarian assistance to parts of the world as well.

Fifth, to conclude:

In times of rising tensions, it is tempting to prioritize domestic concerns before global solidarity. But it should be clear to us all, from both histories’ long gone and the very recent past, that we are – in fact – our brother’s keeper.

After decades of progress, the 2030 agenda is now in serious trouble. An expected 345.2 million people are projected to be food insecure this year – more than double the number in 2020.

It is imperative that we agree on how we can fast track sustainable development for all.

I very much look forward to our discussion. Thank you.