Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at a conference about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Oslo, 17 October 2018.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is now 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. And it will soon be 75 years since the end of the Second World War.
This gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on our own history and our own experience.
And it gives us an opportunity to look at where we are today.
We have therefore invited you here so that we can turn our attention specifically to the role – and vulnerability – of women in situations of war and conflict.
In 2020, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
This was a victory for freedom. For democracy. For the values and principles that are so important to us, and for which so many people fought so hard and sacrificed so much.
The years of occupation, violence and killings were finally over.
It is still possible to imagine the mood that prevailed following Norway’s liberation.
There was a huge sense of elation. But many people were weighed down by grief and anger after the suffering they had endured during the war.
As a result of the atrocities and immense human suffering caused by the two world wars, a number of countries saw the need for a universal set of human rights.
On 10 December 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris.
The opening lines of the Declaration include these words:
‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.
Precisely these values, relating to the equal and inalienable rights of all people, and later to be enshrined in the Universal Declaration, were put to the test in the period following Norway’s liberation immediately after the war.
How did we treat the enemy we had defeated?
How did we treat those who had betrayed their country?
And – how did we treat the women who had been in relationships with enemy soldiers in our occupied country?
The peace that came on 8 May 1945 was not enjoyed by everyone.
In the period that followed Norway’s liberation, many Norwegian girls and women who had been – or who were accused of having been – in relationships with German soldiers were treated with contempt and disrespect.
The gender roles at the time meant that there were different demands and expectations of women and men. By having voluntarily given themselves to the enemy, many people felt that the girls and women had given away something that was not just theirs to give; it was something that also belonged to the nation. They had therefore betrayed their country. In a situation of war, close relationships with the enemy, like those these women and girls had, were frowned upon.
We still need far more knowledge on this topic, but what we do know is that this was a highly diverse group of women and girls.
For many of them, it was a case of youthful infatuation. For some, it was a matter of lifelong love for someone who happened to be an enemy soldier. For others, it was a reckless fling that had a lasting impact on their life.
The treatment these girls and women experienced was a heavy burden for them to bear.
It divided sisters and brothers. Parents and daughters. Whole families were branded.
Children have borne the burden of the way their mothers were judged.
Shame and secrecy have been part of the price they have had to pay. So have gossip and ostracism.
We have now looked afresh at how the Norwegian authorities fulfilled their obligations under the rule of law.
Our conclusion is that the Norwegian authorities violated the fundamental rule-of-law principle that no citizen should be punished without trial or convicted except according to law.
Women and girls were arrested and interned.
From the spring of 1945 onwards, many thousands of women were arrested because of their relationships with Germans. Many of them were interned for months with no legal basis.
In August 1945, the authorities amended the Citizenship Act to make it possible to deport women who had married German men after 9 April 1940.
In violation of the Constitution, this amendment was given retroactive effect.
When viewed in the light of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, the treatment these women received is clearly unacceptable.
On this basis, I would today like to apologise, on behalf of the Government, for the way the Norwegian authorities treated girls and women who had relationships with German soldiers during the Second World War.
This apology has been a long time coming.
There is therefore good reason to thank all those who have enhanced our knowledge of this group of women and girls: individuals who have had the courage to speak out, journalists, authors, politicians and researchers.
But most of all, I would like to thank those who have shared their own stories: the women concerned and their children.
Thank you for helping us to understand that Norway failed to live up to its obligations as a state governed by the rule of law.