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Statement on UN Security Council and human rights

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at an event on UN Security Council and human rights.

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I would like to start by saying a big thank you to Agenda and Sigrun Aasland for co-organising this seminar.

I would also like to thank former Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide and human rights advocates Bruno Stagno Ugarte of Human Rights Watch and John Peder Egenæs of Amnesty for participating.

As you are all aware, Norway is competing with Canada and Ireland for a seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2021-2022.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide at Litteraturhuset in Oslo
Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide at Litteraturhuset in Oslo. Credit: MFA

We are facing tough competition, but we are confident that we have a fair chance of securing one of the two available seats at the top table in the elections in June.

As a small country, the rules-based international order and multilateral cooperation have served Norway well. This is one of the reasons we are seeking a seat on the Council.

If we are elected, our main priority will be to safeguard and strengthen the international order.

This includes upholding the internationally agreed human rights obligations and mechanisms that we have worked so hard to establish in close partnership with civil society.

Human rights are a fundamental part of our foreign and development policy.

We work every day to protect and promote global norms and rights, particularly by supporting the work of human rights defenders on the ground.

The rules-based international order and human rights are under much greater pressure now than before.

For decades, the UN Security Council has shied away from issues relating to human rights.

It was only in the 1960s, when the Council took steps to address apartheid, that it first acknowledged that systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the absence of the rule of law, could constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Some powerful members still argue that the Security Council should not address issues relating to human rights, but should instead leave this to other UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council.

These members of the Council maintain that the issue of human rights falls under the national jurisdiction of individual countries, and that the Council should focus on what they consider to be direct threats to international peace and stability.

Norway takes a fundamentally different approach.

We are convinced that respect for human rights is essential for ensuring peace, and we are aware that human rights violations can be the first sign of an emerging conflict.

As an elected member, we will bring this approach to the Council. 

We will be staunch supporters of conflict prevention, and will promote regular briefings to the Council by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In our view, it is important that the Council systematically receive signs of early warning.

We will work to make the working methods of the Council more inclusive, and to allow representatives of civil society to brief the Council, including on human rights issues.

We must be realistic about Norway’s ability to exert an influence.

But there are many examples of elected members influencing the Council’s work, often by working together on priority issues.

If we are to achieve results, we need to combine human rights principles with concrete suggestions for actions in country-specific situations.

We will build on our experience in the field of peace and reconciliation – gained from our involvement in a range of peace processes, including in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, and more recently in Colombia and Venezuela.

Colombia provides a good example of how a principled approach, combined with effective, ‘quiet’ diplomacy years before the actual negotiations took place, can produce results.

The peace agreement, negotiated with the help of Norwegian facilitators, has a clear focus on human rights, in particular victims’ rights and women’s rights.

A united Security Council is supporting the implementation of the peace agreement.

As a member of the Council, Norway would aim to secure consensus in the Council on the need for the continued implementation of the peace agreement, including its human rights dimensions.

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A major part of the Council’s work is to establish, determine the mandates for and oversee UN peacekeeping operations.

More than 100 000 uniformed and civilian personnel are currently deployed in operations to promote peace and protect civilians in conflicts around the world, first and foremost in Africa.

Today, nearly all UN peacekeeping operations have a human rights component.

These operations save lives and contribute to the realisation of human rights every single day.

If elected to the Council, Norway will work actively to ensure the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping, including by safeguarding the human rights components of peacekeeping operations.

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The Security Council has also passed a number of thematic resolutions on women, peace and security, on conflict-related sexual violence, and on children and armed conflict.

These are areas where Norway and Norwegian civil society organisations have contributed actively and have valuable experience.

Many of you here today are working in countries that are on the Security Council’s agenda, and you have experience of what is happening on the ground - either gained first-hand or from your local partners.

The knowledge you have could be of great importance to members of the Security Council and to the success of the Council’s work.

I therefore hope that – if Norway is elected to the Council – we can work together and draw on your knowledge and networks.

Despite the prevailing international political climate, the UN Security Council has retained a unique legitimacy, and it has the potential to have a real impact on the protection of human rights on the ground.

We must be pragmatic about what we can hope to achieve.

If we are elected to the Council, we will be a consistent advocate of respect for international law, including human rights.

I look forward to the discussion.