Enable Javascript in your browser for an improved experience of regjeringen.no

Statement at the Oslo Center's annual seminar

State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte's statement at the annual seminar at the Oslo Center for peace, democracy and human rights.

Check against delivery

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure - and an honor - to be invited to the Oslo Center's annual seminar to discuss the state of democracy worldwide.

Let me start by passing on warm wishes for the seminar from Norway's Minister of International Development, Nikolai Astrup. He very much regrets not being able to attend due to commitments in New York.

According to most indicators, the world is making progress. Large population groups continue to be lifted out of poverty, and more and more people are learning to read and write.

And, over the last few decades, many countries have taken major steps towards becoming free democracies that respect human rights.

More people live in electoral democracies today than ever before. This was one conclusion of The Global State of Democracy report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, launched here in Oslo last November in co-operation with the Oslo Center.

However, history and current events show that we can never take a stable democracy for granted.

Democracies can be undermined from within if the checks and balances are not strong enough. We are witnessing this even in our own part of the world.

Let me take you through three main levels of our work relevant for promoting democracies; our work in fragile areas; the Sustainable Development Goals as the heart of our development policy; and lastly our targeted efforts for promotion of democracies.

First of all: We need to increase our efforts in countries and regions affected by conflict and fragility.

Good governance and the rule of law are prerequisites for development, economic growth and innovation, and are essential for people to be able to control and shape their own destiny.

We have seen first-hand what can happen when these fundamental factors are absent, like the belt of instability that has emerged from West Africa, through the Sahel and Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, to Afghanistan and beyond.

Disintegration of state structures and institutions drives instability, conflict and extremism, and creates serious obstacles to economic growth.

Last year we launched a Strategic Framework for Norwegian engagement in conflict prevention, stabilisation and resilience building in countries and regions affected by conflict and fragility in order to strengthen and focus our political and economic support.

The measures include promotion of peace and reconciliation processes and efforts to improve the effectiveness of peace operations, including through participation of Norwegian armed forces.

We prioritise strengthening of state institutions and the rule of law, investments in health, education and job creation, increased coordination between humanitarian assistance and long-term assistance and support to regional actors.

And we work to ensure that our efforts are gender-responsive and involve women as well as men. The tasks of building resilience, preventing conflict and sustaining peace are not only about countering destructive forces.

They are at their core about promoting inclusive processes and mobilising positive forces: women and men who care about their communities and insist on peace in the face of adversity.

Building broad partnerships is a key pillar of the strategic framework. We work closely with the UN, the World Bank and other multilateral actors.

Secondly: We have seen that there is no simple solution to complex development challenges.

However, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which world leaders adopted in 2015, provides us with a better starting point than we have ever had before.

With Agenda 2030, the international community has agreed on what kind of future we want. It is a development agenda, but it is also, at its heart, a human rights agenda.

Democracy without human rights will not be the kind of democracy we want.

Where the SDGs are political commitments, international human rights are legal obligations. If we succeed in understanding and implementing them in tandem, we will be much better positioned to deliver real results – both at home and abroad.

In our efforts to build and support democratic development, SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies is of particular relevance. It is also crucial for the way we approach and implement the other SDGs.

The central premise of the SDGs – the cross cutting principle of leaving no one behind – is also founded on, and should be implemented in accordance with, the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.

We believe this principle is vital for both political and economic development.

Five thematic areas are given priority in our development policy:

  • education;
  • health;
  • private sector development and job creation;
  • climate, renewable energy and the environment;
  • and humanitarian aid.

These five priority areas account for most of the aid budget.

Let me in particular mention education which is the foundation for all other development. It is key to finding employment and to being able to lead an independent life with different options and opportunities.

During the previous four-year parliamentary period, the Government doubled its allocation to education.

Human rights, gender equality, anti-corruption and climate and the environment are important for our ability to contribute to sustainable development in all sectors. They are therefore cross cutting issues in our development aid.

Dear friends,

Let me now turn to the third and most targeted level of our efforts for promotion of democracies.

Democracies are rarely established from outside. Our assistance thus has to be directed towards local actors and institutions that are advocating and safeguarding democracy.

Our promotion of democracy varies from one country to another. There is no single formula, but some minimum requirements. As a member and recent chair of the Community of Democracies' Executive Committee, Norway works to promote and encourage adherence to the Warsaw Declaration's 19 key principles for inclusive, participatory and representative democracy.

After all, democracy is much more than free and fair elections. The separation of powers is fundamental. Without an independent and effective judiciary, the rights of minorities are in jeopardy, whether we are talking about religious, ethnic, sexual or other minorities.

In 2017, 2,56 billion kroner, or 11% of all Norwegian bilateral aid, was allocated to efforts to promote good governance.

Norway is a major contributor to the UNDP, which is a key partner, in particular for our efforts on inclusive peace, inclusive governance, social contracts, and peaceful transitions.

We promote the rule of law through both bilateral and multilateral channels. For example, we support areas such as constitution building, justice reform, police and correctional systems.

International IDEA is another key partner.

As a member and a major donor, Norway contributes to International IDEA's worldwide efforts to support the building, strengthening and safeguarding of democratic institutions at all levels, based on inclusive, responsive and accountable processes.

Gender imbalance in political processes remains a worldwide challenge.

According to International IDEA, women's representation in legislatures has more than doubled over the last 22 years – from 11% in 1995 to 23.5% in 2017.

Nevertheless, at this pace it will take 40 years to reach a gender balance. For women from minority groups, the relative level of representation is even lower. They represent 11% of the world's population, yet account for only 2% of legislators. This is a democratic dilemma.

Free and fair elections are essential for a country to flourish as a democracy. But how do we determine whether elections really are free and fair?

Long-term election observation is vital. Every year, the Norwegian Resource bank for Democracy and Human Rights, NORDEM, trains and deploys personnel to a number of EU and OSCE election observation missions worldwide.

We should never underestimate the power of knowledge in the context of democracy.

Knowledge enables people to participate, to make informed choices, to claim their rights. When we promote global education, we are also promoting democracy and democratic citizenship.

Strengthening civil society and civic education is crucial for increasing public participation in decision-making processes, raising citizens' awareness, and increasing opportunities to hold the authorities accountable.

Nor should we underestimate the destructive power of corruption. Corruption corrodes democracy and the rule of law.

International studies show that systemic corruption and inequality are mutually reinforcing and can increase the risk of conflict and destabilisation. This includes the risk of organised crime and violent extremism.

In addition to preventing corruption in use of development funds, we need to enhance our understanding of how corruption affects countries and systems.

Civil society has a key role in raising awareness and promoting increased transparency and accountability.


We cannot speak of development cooperation without mentioning results.

We must always strive to ensure that Norwegian aid efforts are effective. But how do we measure the results of our democracy assistance?

We need a long-term perspective, and we must acknowledge that democratic transitions are not linear processes. There will be setbacks. Goals have to be defined accordingly.

In countries where there is a lack of transparency and accountability, the documentation of democratic setbacks and human rights abuses may in themselves be valuable results. Efforts to identify and prevent democratic backsliding likewise.

We cannot provide support to human rights and democracy without being prepared to take risks.

We must on the practical side, be transparent about results and we must make the results easily accessible to get more debate about the substance of our development policy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Norway has benefited greatly from democracy. Our economic development and standard of living would not have been possible without good governance and sound management of our natural resources, based on the rule of law and accountable, transparent and inclusive institutions.

I started this address by saying that the world has become a better place, even though we still face major challenges that we will do our part to tackle.

The progress we have made should motivate us all to continue our work for a better world to alleviate suffering and to stand up for democracy and human rights – with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs guiding our efforts.

We will do so out of solidarity for our fellow human beings. And because it is in our own interests.

Thank you.