Opening statement at Community of Democracies Governing Council

State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte's opening statement at the Community of Democracies Governing Council Meeting.

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Ladies and gentlemen,
Members of The Diplomatic Corps
Secretary General Garrett,

I am pleased to welcome you all to Oslo.

This is a special day here in Norway. On 6 February we celebrate the Sami People's Day, which commemorates the first Sami national congress, held in 1917. The principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to self-government and participation, are reflected in the Norwegian Constitution, and have been implemented in the Sami Act. The Sami people have their own nationwide Sami parliament elected by and among the Sami population.

State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte Chairs the Community of Democracies Governing Council Meeting.
State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte chairs the Community of Democracies Governing Council meeting. Credit: Siri Andersen, MFA

This occasion reminds us that we need independent institutions to safeguard the rights of minorities, even in an electoral democracy. Without the rule of law based on respect for human rights and an independent and effective judiciary, the rights of minorities are in jeopardy, whether we are talking about religious, ethnic, sexual or other minority groups.

The separation of powers is one of the ground rules of democracy. As members of the Governing Council, all our countries should lead by example in this matter too.

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More people live in electoral democracies today than ever before. Women's political representation has increased significantly. We have better access to information than past generations could even dream of.

The bad news is that both history and current events clearly show that we can never take a stable democracy for granted. Democracy is so much more than elections and the will of the majority.

For decades, we assumed that once democracy had arrived, it was here to stay.

But we know from experience that democratisation is not a linear process. Even countries that were once solid democracies can slip back. This is why robust democratic institutions and checks and balances are so important.

If left unopposed, nationalism and authoritarian populism can undermine democracy from within. This is already happening in some places, as International IDEA has documented in its report on the Global State of Democracy. The report will be presented to you later today. This is a very disturbing trend, which needs to be reversed and requires our full attention. As our Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide said when the report was first launched here in Oslo, 'This report should be mandatory reading for politicians everywhere.'

We are living at a time when liberal democracy and the international world order are under pressure.

Extremism, violent conflict, authoritarian regimes and growing polarisation are real threats in countries throughout the world.

A lack of democracy and a lack of respect for the rights of individuals and of minorities are drivers of many of the crises unfolding before us. Democracy and respect for human rights are essential to peace and stability both within and between states.

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There can be no doubt that good governance and the rule of law are vital for development, economic growth and innovation. But at an even more fundamental level, democracy, human rights and the rule of law must be in place for people to be able to control and shape their own destiny.

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. This is also the logic behind SDG 16 of the 2030 Agenda.

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The Community of Democracies can offer a diplomatic and political arena where states can join forces to promote, protect and preserve fundamental democratic principles.

One of the factors that makes the Community of Democracies unique is its inclusive approach to civil society. The way a government treats civil society organisations and minorities can tell us a lot about the state of its democracy.

Civil society organisations are catalysts for change and development. They play a vital role in holding governments to account – even though as government representatives we may not always find this particularly comfortable.

Governments that fear civil society often do so because they do not wish to be transparent and accountable to their citizens.

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Norway's support for tthe Community of Democracies is in keeping with our efforts to promote robust democracies worldwide. Our aim is for the Community to develop further as an arena where consolidated democracies and states undergoing democratic transition can work together to promote, protect and preserve sustainable democracy.

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Dear Friends,

2018 is an anniversary year for human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders turns 20. This gives us an excellent opportunity to intensify our efforts to protect and promote human rights worldwide. The year will culminate with a high-level meeting on human rights defenders at the UN in New York. Together we must widen the political space for human rights defenders and civil society around the world.

The world is volatile. Sometimes it seems as if the only constant is change.

Some things, however, should never change.

Among them are respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law – as outlined in the Warsaw Declaration.

I hope this meeting will be fruitful and constructive.

Thank you.

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