Meld. St. 10 (2014–2015)

Opportunities for All: Human Rights in Norway’s Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation — Meld. St. 10 (2014–2015) Report to the Storting (white paper)

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5 Efforts to promote human rights through the UN

Norway’s human rights efforts in the UN, both at the normative and at the operational level, will be based on the Government’s three main human rights priorities – individual freedom and public participation, the rule of law and legal protection, and equality and equal opportunities. Norway’s efforts will also be based on the Government’s coherent human rights policy, as described in chapter 4. This applies to all areas of foreign and development policy, including humanitarian aid, climate and environmental policy, and security policy. Protecting and further developing international conventions and norms, and strengthening the ability of the multilateral system to help countries meet their obligations, are essential. The Government will therefore invest in, and mobilise support for, the human rights efforts of the whole UN system. The Government will seek to protect established human rights and support decisions to improve fulfilment of existing human rights obligations. The Government will pursue a coherent and consistent human rights policy across the various global and regional forums, including in the relations with the various UN bodies. It is also essential to view the multilateral engagement in relation to the bilateral efforts. Knowledge and experience gained through bilateral efforts will be used in multilateral efforts and vice versa. This will provide synergies and mutual reinforcement in all priority areas.

Figure 5.1 Firuz Kutal, Norway

Figure 5.1 Firuz Kutal, Norway

5.1 The UN’s normative role

The idea of cultural relativism is nothing but an excuse to violate human rights.
Shirin Ebadi

Human rights are one of the three pillars of the UN system, on a par with development and peace and security. The three pillars are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, and the principles of the rule of law are recognised as being fundamental to progress on all three areas.

Today there is a comprehensive, international body of human rights instruments that enjoys broad support and exerts considerable influence. The UN has played a decisive role in the development of these norms. They are upheld and further developed on an ongoing basis in the UN General Assembly in New York and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In addition, human rights considerations are important for the work of a range of UN agencies, such as ILO and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Normative work in the UN touches on sensitive political issues. There are sharp dividing lines between states that work for strong international human rights protection and those that dismiss criticism or other forms of engagement by claiming that this constitutes interference in a state’s internal affairs. The task of ensuring continued support for established political and legal obligations is a challenging one. The fundamental human rights principles are sometimes met with the claim that they must be interpreted in the context of national and regional historical, cultural, economic and religious differences. For example, some states assert that so-called traditional values should set limits on the rights of the individual, and a number of states are mobilising forces to preserve entrenched family and gender role patterns. This is nothing new, but the opponents of human rights tend to be increasingly better organised.

Normative work also risks being undermined by states that are continually raising new topics for the UN agenda that may have limited or little reference to human rights. This diverts discussions away from serious human rights challenges, and can be seen as a strategy for distracting attention from issues that particular states or groups of states do not wish to have discussed in the light of their own domestic human rights situation.

The Government will work for the protection of established human rights and support decisions to improve the fulfilment of existing obligations. Governments should not be able to evade human rights obligations by citing traditional values, national sovereignty or the principle of non-intervention. We will engage in cross-regional cooperation with countries that share our views on the importance of human rights and with civil society to stand up against countries that are trying to undermine such efforts. We will seek to identify areas of common interest and enter into strategic alliances on a case-by-case basis or in the form of more long-term, extensive partnerships. These efforts will benefit from a clear international human rights profile and a broad approach and involvement in most of the human rights issues on the international agenda.


  • further enhance a Norwegian role in the normative work of the UN in order to protect and strengthen human rights.

5.2 From norms to reality: Increasing the effectiveness of the UN

Despite considerable progress in the development of a sound international human rights framework, the effectiveness and implementation mechanisms of the international community do not match either the normative framework or the human rights challenges. In practice, respect for human rights varies considerably, and many good and relevant UN decisions are not being implemented. In some countries, this is due to poor institutional capacity and lack of expertise. In others, the authorities have the capacity but may not wish to take the necessary practical measures to protect human rights. A well-functioning legal system at the national level is vital for ensuring that human rights are respected. For this reason, the Government is giving priority to supporting efforts to build well-functioning stated governed by the rule of law.

The UN has a key role to play in ensuring states’ compliance with international human rights law. The Government will therefore support efforts to modernise the UN and make it stronger and more effective, thereby enhancing the organisation’s capacity to assist states in fulfilling their human rights commitments and obligations.

It is vital that the UN speaks with one voice, and that human rights are in effect mainstreamed into the whole of the UN system. It is the whole system, and not just the dedicated human rights institutions, that is responsible for promoting respect for human rights through a rights-based approach. Norway is a driving force in this work, including through its contributions to reform of the UN development system and its position as a key supporter of the efforts to mainstream a human rights perspective into all UN activities. Examples of such efforts are the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front Action Plan and the Human Rights Mainstreaming Mechanism under the UN Development Group (UNDG-HRM), which provides support and expertise to resident coordinators and UN country teams.

The Human Rights Up Front initiative is an important step towards strengthening the human rights perspective in all UN activities. This will help to prevent armed conflict and serious abuses. The initiative is intended to ensure that the UN’s voice is clearly heard when human rights are violated.

The Norwegian authorities will also support regional human rights systems with a view to improving the overall effectiveness of human rights monitoring mechanisms at the multilateral level. The Government will work to promote UN system-wide coherence, and to strengthen cooperation between the UN system and the regional organisations, and between the UN system and the multilateral financial institutions.

Civil society participation in UN activities is vital. It strengthens transparency and promotes constructive debate on the role and work of the UN, and thereby enhances the organisation’s credibility and influence.

Everyone, including human rights defenders, has the right to unhindered access to and communication with the UN system.1 Norway will actively seek to enable civil society to participate in a meaningful way in the UN’s work. It is of pivotal importance to prevent threats, attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders and other actors that cooperate with the UN. Reprisals against these actors not only violate their rights, they also undermine the work of the UN as a whole.

Strengthening the effectiveness of the UN requires a willingness to act on the part of UN leaders, but it also requires political will and financial support on the part of the member states. The UN budget is small in relation to the increasing size of its mandate. Less than 3 % of the regular UN budget goes to human rights efforts, under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, the treaty bodies, the special rapporteurs and other independent experts. The Government will therefore seek to ensure that the UN is provided with sufficient funds to help individual countries comply with their human rights obligations in its regular budget, through Norway’s voluntary contributions to UN human rights work, and by motivating other important donors to increase their contributions to this field.


  • full support to the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative as part of the efforts for a more effective UN in which human rights are given priority across the organisation;

  • seek to strengthen cooperation within the UN system, between the UN and the multilateral financial institutions, and between the UN and regional organisations, with a view to promoting human rights;

  • seek to ensure that UN organisations support and involve civil society more closely in the work in individual countries, and enable civil society actors to participate actively in multilateral processes and in shaping the UN agenda;

  • seek to ensure that a larger proportion of the regular budget is allocated to UN human rights work in order to strengthen the third pillar of the UN system.

5.3 The UN Security Council

The UN Security Council often deals with conflict situations where human rights violations are a central element. Thus in recent years the importance of including human rights considerations in conflict prevention has begun to receive more attention. Human rights are also involved in many of the thematic issues discussed by the Security Council, such as the protection of civilians and children in armed conflicts, and women’s role in conflicts. In addition, OHCHR and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator report regularly to the Council. The Security Council is an influential norm-setter through its decisions. Peacekeeping operations established by the Council may also play a key role in the protection and promotion of human rights. Cooperation between the Security Council, OHCHR and other human rights actors is essential for the most effective use of resources and for exerting the greatest possible influence.

Use of the power of veto by permanent members2 may limit the Security Council’s ability to take action in serious crises. There are several examples of this, including situations where genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.

Textbox 5.1 Syria: An example of international paralysis

The civil war in Syria is an example of a case where the Security Council has been unable to take action. Its members agree that the armed conflict in the country is a threat to international peace and security, but the five permanent members disagree profoundly on who is mainly responsible for the conflict and which measures should be taken by the international community to promote a peaceful resolution. The Security Council, and especially the five permanent members, have a particular responsibility to find solutions in order to put an end to the conflict. The Government has repeatedly pointed out that a political solution will only be reached when the international community manages to join forces to put pressure on the Syrian regime and the parties on the ground. In October 2011, Russia and China vetoed a resolution condemning the Assad regime’s violent response to the demonstrations for democratic change. Since then the two countries have vetoed Security Council draft resolutions a further three times. However, the Council members agreed to adopt resolution 2118 on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. As a result of UN efforts and considerable support from countries such as Norway and Denmark, these chemical weapons are now no longer in Syria. Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165 on humanitarian access also constitute potential progress, but so far they are having limited effects on the ground. The large-scale civil war and human rights abuses show no signs of stopping, and have led to huge flows of refugees. The chaos has also provided a breeding ground for terrorist groups such as ISIL. In resolution 2170 of 2014, the Security Council unanimously condemned ISIL’s actions. Gross, systematic abuses are being committed on a daily basis by all parties to the conflict. As long as neither global nor regional major powers can agree, and the parties themselves fail to demonstrate genuine willingness to negotiate for peace, the international community’s response to the enormous suffering and loss of life in Syria will continue to be inadequate.

Norway will seek to ensure that human rights considerations are a key item on the Security Council’s agenda.


  • seek to ensure that human rights considerations are a key element of the Security Council’s work;

  • Promote action by the Security Council, which effectively defends human rights in serious crises, in line with the Council’s mandate.

5.4 The UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council

The UN General Assembly, which consists of all the member states, is an important part of the international human rights system, particularly in its normative capacity. The General Assembly has six Main Committees, each of which deals with a particular field. Human rights come under the mandate of the Third Committee. The Committee examines and discusses a broad range of human rights issues, and is an important arena for mobilising support for global initiatives. Norway has long played an active role in the work of the Third Committee, and will continue its broad engagement in line with the priorities set out in the present white paper. We lead the efforts to enhance protection of human rights defenders and internally displaced persons, and play a prominent role in the work for gender equality and women’s rights. We also seek to ensure that the General Assembly does not undermine or weaken the efforts of the Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council, located in Geneva, was established in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights (1946–2006). The Council’s main responsibility is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and address serious human rights violations. It is mandated to discuss both thematic and country-specific issues and situations. The fact that the Council is a subsidiary organ under the General Assembly, and thus not an independent body such as the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is a weakness in the light of its mandate to safeguard one of the three UN pillars. Norway works continuously to strengthen the Council’s ability to take decisions and action. The Human Rights Council’s 10th anniversary in 2016 provides an occasion to push this forward.

Textbox 5.2 Responsibility to protect

The UN General Assembly adopted the framework of responsibility to protect in 2005. This means that every state is responsible for protecting its population against genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The responsibility to protect has three pillars: 1) the state carries the primary responsibility for protecting the population; 2) the international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist states in fulfilling this responsibility; 3) if a state is failing to protect its population, the international community must be prepared to act. States’ responses may take the form of peaceful multilateral tools such as enhanced diplomatic efforts or humanitarian aid, coercive measures, for instance through sanctions or by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), or the use of military force in accordance with the UN Charter. The Government endorses this broad range of tools. However, the responsibility to protect framework does not in itself provide a basis under international law for the use of force by one state against another. Moreover, the responsibility to protect concept also entails promoting sustainable social and economic development and the rule of law, and protecting human rights.

Both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council are marked by geopolitical differences, and the intergovernmental work often reflects a considerable lack of agreement between member states. Many states are against international intervention in what they perceive to be the internal affairs of the state. The fact that these two forums include countries with different views on human rights makes it difficult to arrive at clear, achievable decisions.

Despite attempts by certain countries and groups of countries to limit the UN’s ability to act, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council continue to be important arenas for debate on key human rights issues of our time. In recent years, perseverance and systematic efforts to achieve compromises and the broadest possible agreement on topical issues – often combined with strong pressure by civil society – have resulted in a more effective and relevant Human Rights Council than many people had expected. The composition of the Council (see Box 5.4) makes it essential to develop cooperation beyond traditional alliances. At the same time, Norway will not refrain from proposing decisions that are likely to be met with strong opposition. Cooperation with moderate countries in all regions will help to maintain and strengthen protection of human rights. An important part of these efforts is to identify common interests and priorities. Such approaches have been used under Norwegian leadership to achieve clear resolutions on protection of human rights defenders that have received broad support. Agreement has also been reached on various country-specific issues and on the appointment of new special procedures mandate-holders for important themes such as freedom of assembly and association, and transitional justice. Although country-specific decisions by the Human Rights Council are mainly adopted by a majority vote, the resolutions appointing commissions of inquiry for North Korea and Eritrea were adopted unanimously. However, there is still stark disagreement among the Council members on a range of issues, such as the death penalty, sexual minorities, and sexual rights.

Textbox 5.3 Special Procedures

Among the Human Rights Council’s most important tools are the many special rapporteurs, working groups and independent experts that are mandated to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. These lay the foundation for open, informed debate on thematic issues and situations in individual countries. The Special Procedures draw attention to specific human rights issues, provide expertise and give UN human rights efforts legitimacy. However, it is a weakness of the system that the Special Procedures can only undertake country visits at the invitation of the country itself. Many countries are not willing to receive visits from Special Procedures, or attempt to undermine the independence of the Special Procedures through detailed regulation of their work. Norway will speak out with a clear voice to promote the independence of the Special Procedures in order to allow them to carry out their important mandates without interference. Norway encourages all states to extend standing invitations to these experts.

Norway was a member of the Human Rights Council in the period 2009–12, and currently participates actively as an observer. Although they do not have the right to vote, observers may make proposals and participate in debates and negotiations. This enables us to play an active part in specific cases. Norway will continue to lead the work in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on protecting human rights defenders, and will work actively across regions to promote the business and human rights agenda. Norway will also continue the systematic participation in debates on serious human rights violations in individual countries. Notwithstanding efforts as bridge-builder and facilitator in peace processes or other factors, the Government will be clear in its opposition to serious abuses and human rights violations in individual countries.

Textbox 5.4 Membership of the Human Rights Council

The 47 membership seats of the Human Rights Council are allocated according to a fixed geographical distribution for the five UN regions. The members are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year period. It is a cause for concern that countries responsible for systematic human rights violations can seek membership and be elected if the regional group to which they belong does not propose a larger number of candidates than there are seats available. It is also a cause for concern that a number of countries do not seem to share the desire for a strong, effective Council, and may seek membership in order to prevent progress on key issues. On the other hand, Norway recognises that if human rights protection is to improve worldwide, it is important to involve states that are facing major challenges in this area.

When electing members of the Human Rights Council, the contribution of candidate states to the promotion and protection of human rights should be taken into account, together with the voluntary pledges and commitments they have made in connection with their candidature.1 However, in many cases these criteria are not complied with. Members that commit gross, systematic human rights violations may be suspended by the General Assembly, as Libya was in 2011.

Norway will evaluate candidate states according to their voluntary pledges and commitments and their plans for fulfilling them. In the event of re-election, particular importance is attached to the state’s practical implementation of its pledges and commitments. The Government will work for greater transparency concerning candidate states’ compliance with their human rights commitments and obligations Norway will refrain from voting if no suitable candidate is up for election.

1 Laid down in UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/251 of 2006 establishing the Human Rights Council.


  • have a clearly recognisable profile in the efforts to further develop the normative human rights framework and help to improve the implementation of UN decisions;

  • strengthen the position of the Human Rights Council and its status in the UN system, and seek to ensure that sufficient UN resources are set aside to implement the measures decided by the Council;

  • strengthen the participation of civil society actors in the work of the Human Rights Council, and work for civil society to be able to play a more visible role also in the General Assembly;

  • be a driving force in the efforts to enable the UN system to respond more effectively to member states responsible for reprisals against civil society actors, human rights defenders and others due to their participation in the UN;

  • provide strong backing for the UN Special Procedures in order to protect their independence, mobilise support for their access to visits all countries, and provide economic and political support for more effective implementation of their recommendations.

5.5 The UN Universal Periodic Review

One of the most important innovations introduced when the Human Rights Council was established is the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (UPR).

The UPR mechanism provides an opportunity for all states to report on the actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and fulfil their human rights obligations, and to have their human rights record reviewed by members and observer states in the Human Rights Council. The review is based on a national report prepared by the state itself, a compilation of United Nations information on the state under review, and a summary of information submitted by other stakeholders, including civil society actors. It is conducted in the form of a dialogue with the state under review and is followed up by specific recommendations by all UN member states. These inter-governmental recommendations lay the foundation for a constructive debate, and the close participation of and contributions by civil society can result in greater transparency around human rights issues in all states. The equal treatment of all states provided by the UPR process contributes to its legitimacy. So far all states have taken part in the review. Following Norway’s second UPR hearing in April 2014, the Government accepted a number of recommendations, which is now being followed up.

Textbox 5.5 The Human Rights Council’s consideration of serious human rights situations

Every year the Human Rights Council adopts decisions relating to countries where human rights are being systematically and grossly violated. These country-specific decisions often result in a resolution mandating a special rapporteur, commission of inquiry or other Special Procedure to gather witness accounts and other information on systematic human rights violations, and thereby prepare the way for a credible legal process.

The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria was appointed at a special session in August 2011. The Commission was mandated to investigate all alleged violations of human rights committed during the conflict, and since its appointment has systematically documented a continuing series of gross human rights violations. The Commission has a demanding task, and its findings will be a crucial contribution to any future legal process and in preventing impunity for the perpetrators.

The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2013 to investigate systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the country, with a view to ensuring full accountability, including for crimes against humanity. In March 2014, the Commission presented a disturbing report documenting serious, wide-ranging and systematic abuses. The Human Rights Council followed this up in the same month with a resolution condemning these abuses and calling for the situation to be brought before the Security Council. A similar commission of inquiry was appointed in June 2014 to investigate the serious human rights situation in Eritrea.

In March 2014, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka during the last phase of the civil war, with a view to preventing impunity and ensuring accountability. The resolution should be viewed in the context of Sri Lanka’s lack of ability and willingness to conduct a credible legal process in the wake of the serious human rights abuses committed during this period.

Norway has contributed to the adoption of these mechanisms by being one of the co-sponsors of the resolutions in all these cases.

Each state is reviewed every fourth year, through a predictable process, which provides a good foundation for comparison and follow-up. The UPR process has enabled the Human Rights Council to raise awareness of the human rights situation in countries that have previously been able to avoid this. The reviews put states and civil society in a better position to target their efforts to improve the human rights situation in their countries.


  • make systematic use of the UPR process to raise questions about difficult human rights issues in individual countries;

  • make use of relevant recommendations in the bilateral dialogue and cooperation with states, and intensify the systematic efforts to encourage and assist states to fulfil their human rights commitments and obligations.

5.6 The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), established in 1993, plays an important role as an independent voice and driving force in human rights protection and promotion, both globally and at country level. OHCHR has gradually increased its presence in the field and in UN peacekeeping operations, which has strengthened its ability to monitor and document human rights violations. OHCHR helps governments to implement international human rights standards on the ground by providing expertise, technical training and capacity-building. It also acts as secretariat for the Human Rights Council, the special rapporteurs and the treaty bodies, and is an important resource for UN funds and programmes in their efforts to integrate human rights into their activities.

Textbox 5.6 The UPR process as a framework for dialogue and coordination

In addition to the fact that the UPR mechanism is a useful tool for raising issues of human rights abuses in particular countries, the preparations for the review can provide a good platform for dialogue and coordination of efforts between the authorities and civil society, nationally and internationally. The Government considers that the participation of civil society actors is a necessity and a strength to the review, due to the information they provide in the supporting documents, and in the subsequent follow-up.

Prior to Bangladesh’s second UPR hearing in 2013, the international advocacy network Child Rights Governance Assembly (CRGA) held a series of consultations with local and national actors, including health workers, teachers, children, parents and children’s rights organisations. Together they identified priority issues for the review. The issues were raised with relevant national and international actors, such as various countries’ embassies in Bangladesh and the country’s Ministry of Finance. The CRGA also participated in several meetings in Geneva in connection with the review. The UPR preparations provided a framework for dialogue and coordinated efforts between a wide range of children’s rights stakeholders, including children themselves, and national and international authorities. As a result, 75 % of the CRGA’s demands were included in the Human Rights Council’s final recommendations. In addition, the process strengthened cooperation within civil society, prepared the way for new partnerships, and laid a foundation for further follow-up.

Only 40 % of OHCHR’s total budget comes from the regular UN budget; the remainder is financed by voluntary contributions. The High Commissioner has pointed out that lack of funding is a considerable challenge to the UN system’s ability to monitor and assist states in fulfilling their human rights obligations. This is unfortunate in an era where the international focus on human rights violations is steadily growing and has resulted in increasing demands by the Human Rights Council and its members and observers, civil society actors and international organisations for measures and follow-up under the auspices of OHCHR. In addition, OHCHR regularly receives requests from individual states for country offices and other support arrangements that it is unable to follow up. At the same time, certain states actively oppose the expansion of OHCHR’s role, due to their different views on human rights.

A strong OHCHR is a vital tool for human rights protection, especially in view of the technical and practical assistance it provides to individual countries. Norway is one of the largest contributors to OHCHR. We are a strong political supporter of the independent status of OHCHR’s mandate, and are concerned about and oppose all attempts at micromanagement that would undermine its independence. In line with the Government’s human rights priorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supporting OHCHR’s new initiative Widening the Democratic Space, which emphasises key civil and political rights, human rights education, the work of human rights defenders, and the independence of the media.


  • protect the independence of the OHCHR in fulfilling of its mandate;

  • increase Norway’s financial contribution to OHCHR.

5.7 The UN treaty bodies

A treaty body (a committee of independent experts) has been established for each of the UN’s ten core instruments (see Box 2.2) to monitor implementation of the treaty provisions by its states parties. The independent experts in the committees are elected by the states parties to the convention concerned. Most conventions require the states parties to report regularly on the measures they have taken to fulfil their obligations. A number of them also have optional protocols on a communications procedure, under which individuals who believe that their rights have been violated can bring a complaint against the state concerned – i.e. countries that have adopted the protocol in question – to the relevant committee. The committees have played an important role in the development of the international human rights protection system. Their decisions on whether or not the convention has been violated are not binding under international law but carry political weight.

The workload of the treaty bodies has increased substantially in the last few years. Four new committees have been established since 2004, and the number of complaints procedures has risen from three in 2000 to eight in 2014. The number of ratifications of the treaties has doubled since 2000, leading to a corresponding growth in the number of state reports submitted to the committees. The strong growth poses challenges for the secretariat and the committees, for example in terms of coordination and the processing time of reports. The Government will seek to ensure that the increase in the committees’ workload is matched by adequate resources, for example by earmarking support to the Human Rights Treaties Division of OHCHR.

Figure 5.2 The five largest donors to UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA

Figure 5.2 The five largest donors to UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA

Source UNDP Annual Report 2013–2014, UNICEF Annual Report 2013, UNFPA Annual Report 2013

If the treaty bodies are to fulfil their monitoring function effectively, the quality of their work must be ensured. This depends on the committees’ composition, working methods and other conditions. In particular, questions have been raised about whether the composition and working methods of all the committees satisfy the legal requirements for bodies that consider individual complaints. For example, if a committee bases its considerations on an interpretation that goes beyond what could be established from the basic rules of treaty interpretation under international law, its legitimacy will be weakened. It is also important that the committees’ work satisfies the basic requirement for disclosure and the principle of hearing both sides of the case.

The Government will take the initiative for a discussion on the treaty bodies’ composition and working methods with a view to enhancing the quality and effective functioning of the system, and will seek to ensure that committee members have the right qualifications. For example, the Government will take account of the recommendations from OHCHR that were included in the General Assembly resolution of April 2014 on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system (A/RES/68/268). Norway will also put forward qualified Norwegian candidates for central human rights positions in the UN.


  • take the initiative for a discussion on the composition and working methods of UN treaty bodies with a view to enhancing the quality and effective functioning of the system;

  • earmark funding to UN treaty bodies and seek to ensure that the committee members have adequate qualifications.

5.8 Human rights in the UN development system

UN development efforts are undertaken by a large number of funds, programmes and specialised agencies. They have both normative and operational mandates for basic social sectors such as health, education, gender equality and promotion of the rule of law. They provide expert advice, undertake capacity- and institution-building, and deliver services.

In addition to its annual core contributions to the UN development system, Norway provides financial support in thematic and humanitarian areas, and is engaged in programme and project cooperation. Supporting multilateral organisations is also a rational way of financing global commitments. Through our membership of governing bodies of UN organisations and in our direct dialogue with the organisations themselves, we are able to influence the direction of the organisations’ overall activities, including the use of funds. The Government will make special efforts to ensure that UN development organisations adopt a rights-based approach in their activities, mainstream human rights into their work at country level, and improve their documentation of results. The level of our financial support will be influenced by the effectiveness of the UN system and its ability to obtain results in the Government’s priority areas. Norwegian efforts and financial contributions will be primarily targeted at UN organisations that deliver good results. We will also support and help to design reforms for the UN development system. The Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative plays a key role in integrating human rights into the activities of the UN system as a whole.

The field of development cooperation is changing; a growing number of middle-income countries are now better equipped to deliver services themselves, and a rapidly rising number of other development actors have emerged that are often more effective than UN organisations. The future UN on the ground may not necessarily be the most important actor in areas where it is substantially engaged today. We need to identify which activities can more effectively be performed by other actors. The Government believes that UN organisations should focus more closely on providing expert advice and capacity- and institution building. Among the UN organisations’ most important tasks are supporting agents for change, serving as a voice for human rights, and seeking to ensure that respect for human rights is reflected in member states’ national policies and legislation.

Textbox 5.7 Human rights in UN funds, programmes and specialised agencies

In the individual partner countries, promotion of human rights is the task of both the UN country team as a whole and of the individual organisations within their respective mandates. As one of the largest contributors to UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and WFP, Norway is actively promoting the integration of human rights concerns into these organisations’ activities. The mandates of UN specialised agencies, such as FAO, WHO, UNESCO and ILO, include the realisation of human rights. The examples below give an idea of the ways in which UN funds, programmes and specialised agencies work to promote the priorities in the human rights field.

One of the main objectives of UNDP is to contribute to public participation, development, the principles of the rule of law and accountability by helping countries to develop systems that promote democratic governance. The organisation also helps countries to bring their national policies and legislation into line with international norms, and works to strengthen integrity in public institutions and in the justice and security sector, and increase the public’s access to the legal system. In addition, it supports the establishment of monitoring functions such as national human rights institutions, and the greater involvement of civil society.

UNICEF’s activities are targeted at all aspects of children’s rights, including education, health, nutrition and protection. The organisation is a global advocate of children’s rights, and promotes these rights as a development actor and in its increasingly extensive humanitarian efforts. Children with disabilities often come off worst, especially in crises and conflicts, where their numbers are disproportionately large and their need for protection is greatest.

The issue of women’s rights and gender equality is one of the most important priority areas in the Government’s UN policy. UN Women is particularly concerned with women’s political and economic rights, violence against women, and women’s participation in peace and security policy. The organisation is involved in the development of international norms for gender equality; assists member states in implementing these norms, and coordinates the efforts to mainstream the gender perspective in all parts of the UN system.

UNFPA’s mandate is to promote the individual’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, with a particular focus on women’s rights and gender equality. UNFPA’s work also includes young people and their right to sexual and reproductive health and comprehensive sexuality education. One of the main objectives is to ensure universal access to integrated health services for sexual and reproductive health that are gender-sensitive and comply with human rights standards. The right to choose is a key principle.

Specialised agencies are also mandated to promote a rights perspective. The agencies work within their respective mandates – for example WHO in the health field, FAO in food security and nutrition, UNESCO in education and culture, and ILO in the field of labour standards – to draw up agreements and guidelines that establish rules for how states should cooperate with one another and safeguard the rights of their citizens. For example, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food adopted by FAO in 2004 provide detailed practical guidelines on how countries can and must realise the right to food. Another example is the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, which were endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012. They promote among other things women’s right to own, use and inherit land that they and their families depend on for household food production and income. Although many of the norms and guidelines developed by the specialised agencies are voluntary, they provide civil society in particular with a foundation for lobbying the authorities to realise the rights of their citizens.


  • seek to ensure that UN development organisations integrate human rights into their efforts with a view to promoting compliance with, and implementation of, human rights commitments and obligations at country level;

  • emphasise human rights in all work in UN governing bodies and in a dialogue with UN funds, programmes and specialised agencies, and seek to ensure that they adopt a rights-based approach to their development and humanitarian activities.



Laid down in UN General Assembly resolution 68/181, paragraph 18.


The five permanent members are France, China, Russia, the UK and the US.

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