Speech/statement | Date: 2015-05-26 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Foreign Minister Børge Brende's opening speech at Oslo Freedom Forum - where the main topic was "Living in truth" with reference to Vaclav Havel's essay «the Power of the Powerless» on how individuals can challenge suppression and unjustice.
It is a pleasure to open this year's Oslo Freedom Forum.
I was pleased to learn that the title of this year's forum "Living in truth" was inspired by an essay by Václav Havel, the Czech author and political dissident.
Havel inspired many people around the world. I myself was one of them.
30 years ago, when I was a student in 1985/86, I started a campaign to free Václav Havel. We demonstrated outside the Embassy of Czechoslovakia here in Oslo, and called our campaign: "Books can be dangerous".
From the Prison cell to the Presidential Palace
Vaclav Havel's story is a story of hope.
Like Nelson Mandela, Havel went from being a prisoner under a regime with severe human rights abuses, to later being President of country that strived to protect human rights.
From the Prison cell to the Presidential Palace – the personal stories of Mandela and Havel became symbols of the larger changes in their countries.
But their personal stories also became symbols of hope and encouragement for political prisoners and human right defenders all around the world.
The lesson of Havel's essay
The title of this year's conference, "Living in Truth", comes from Havel's essay "The Power of the Powerless". Written in 1978 - at a time when Europe was divided in two by walls and weapons.
In the essay, Havel illustrates the dilemmas of living in an authoritarian regime, with the example of a green grocer, a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper is obliged to put up a sign with a regime friendly slogan in his shop. But, to him, the sign represents a lie.
The shopkeeper then has a choice: to put up the sign, or - he can choose to live in truth - and not display the sign. Such an act will put himself at risk, but it will also expose the lie that the authoritarian regime is based on.
Many people around the world living in authoritarian regimes today face similar choices: To either go along with the system, or to stand up against it.
But standing up is often hard. It takes courage. Because in many places around the world, living in truth does not come for free.
As many here in the audience knows, speaking truth to power can sometimes come with a heavy price.
Sometimes brave men and women must pay the price for the freedom of many.
Human rights under pressure today
It is the responsibly of states to protect the human rights of its citizens. Nevertheless, human rights are today under pressure.
We see this in all parts of the world. In the Middle East. In Africa. In Asia. And in parts of Europe.
There is an increasing gap between the formal commitments to human rights that states have made, and respect for human rights on the ground.
Some civil and political rights - like freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly – are particularly under pressure. These are important rights in and of itself, but they are also important for the fulfilment of other human rights.
Lack of implementation of human rights is often partly due to lack of means and weak systems to enforce these rights. But it is also often due to lack of political will.
Some countries actively undermine human rights.
But a worsening human right situations can also be due to conflict.
Turbulent times and the Canary
These are turbulent times. 2014 was a year of crises. ISIL, Syria, and Ukraine were just some of the headlines.
As a foreign minister, I sometimes feel like I am running from one crisis to the next.
But these crises and the current pressure on human rights are part of the samestory.
Where there is conflict, human rights often come under pressure. And where human rights are under pressure, crisis is often brewing.
Several decades ago, miners used to bring a canary with them, down to the mines.
If the bird passed out, they knew danger was looming. It was time to get out.
Just like the canary passing out, a worsening human rights situation is often a telling sign of an impending crisis.
In South Sudan, we witnessed an increase in the human rights violations, before the conflict broke out.
We must learn to both recognize and respond to these signs.
But unlike the miners, we should not head for the exit when faced with danger. We should do the opposite.
The international community should step up its efforts to promote and defend Human Rights.
White paper, and freedom of expression
My Government recently presented a white paper on Human Rights to the Norwegian Parliament. We did this because we believed it was necessary. And because it was overdue – the last time a similar white paper came out was over 15 years ago.
One of our main priorities in the white paper is the freedom of expression.
The freedom of expression is one of the most basic, most important - and unfortunately - most threatened human rights of our time.
As we gather, more than 220 journalists are imprisoned globally, because they speak out against injustice.
And according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, over 60 journalists died last year, because they refused to be silenced.
This is completely unacceptable in the 21st century.
The appalling attacks we witnessed in Paris and Copenhagen this Spring serve as stark reminders that the freedom of expression must never be taken for granted.
Freedom of expression is a right, but it is also a tool for protecting other rights, as it is essential in disclosing violations of other human rights.
The internet is increasingly important in this regard - a tool for human rights defenders and democracy fighters.
Some states use sovereignty and non-interference to promote increased state control over the internet.
The same arguments that have been used against the promotion of human rights and democracy.
But universal human rights are as valid online as they are offline!
Human right defenders
Human rights defenders from every corner of the world keep us informed and engaged.
They remind us of our duty to act, and of the cost of our inaction.
As pressure on human rights increases, so does the pressure on human rights defenders.
Norway remains concerned and committed to the cause of human rights defenders.
Under our leadership the UN general assembly adopted the first ever resolution on women human rights defenders in 2013. We intend to follow-up again this fall.
We must all make better use of the UN commitments that states have signed up to. We must hold each other accountable and the gap between formal commitments to human rights and respect for human rights on the ground.
As in Havel's time, human rights are under pressure. Now, as then, some dismiss human rights as being western values. But human rights are common and fundamental rights for us all.
Of course there must be respect for cultural differences – but what about the right to be different?
The right to love the person you want.
The right to choose whatever religion you want – or no religion.
The right to say whatever you want.
We need to, yet again, state a basic truth:
Human rights are the rights of every woman and every man, on every continent.
Human rights are as universal as humanity itself.
 Kilde: Committee to Protect Journalists