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

Historical archive

Welcoming remarks at "Conference on Right-wing Extremism and Hate Crime"

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 14 May 2013

- On our own continent the challenges are increasing. We see that respect for democratic principles cannot be taken for granted – even in deep-rooted European democracies, said Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Eide, when he opened the "Conference on Right-wing Extremism and Hate Crime: Minorities under Pressure in Europe and Beyond".

The Minister based his speech on these points (the speech must be checked against delivery)

  • Welcome – to Oslo – and to this conference.
  • Europe 2013: We are witnessing negative trends, on our own continent, and the challenges are increasing. Crisis, unemployment, social instability, unrest. Makes a fertile ground.
  • The European project often characterized by: tolerance, multicultural countries. However: Respect for democratic principles cannot be taken for granted – even in the deep-rooted European democracies.
  • Some of the darkest chapters of European history (1930s) remind us of the links between economic crisis, unemployment and political and social instability. One may say that we find the best and we find the worst in European history. Now, democracy, international human rights and the rule of law are under pressure.
  • The 1930s gave us lessons. After 1945: The building of European institutions such as the Council of Europe, the European Union and the OSCE; are of vital importance, as is their close cooperation with the UN and the UN human rights institutions.
  • In Europe, we are witnessing an upsurge of different forms of extremism that feed on intolerance, such as anti-Semitism, islamophobia, racism and other forms of negative stereotyping. Discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, religion/beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, etc.
  • Great danger: The perception of the so-called "others". "We" and "they", "us" and them". The dangers of exclusiveness. The definition of groups. The dehumanization ("We could not do this to humans"). Pre-emption, the in-group community.
  • Re: The Balkan conflicts – the 1990s. Not long ago.
  • Every day, different minority groups are subjected to serious instances of violence, hostility, intolerance and discriminatory attitudes, based on their actual or perceived nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion or belief.
  • At the same time, we are seeing that individuals and organisations that oppose these incidents and claim their rights – the human rights defenders – are being suppressed and silenced.
  • In the European context, the challenges presented by right-wing extremism in particular demand our attention. Right-wing extremism – this ideology – originates in the majority population, and has long and deep roots (and still fertile ground?) in our continent’s history of political violence.
  • So, can the 1930s happen again? What differs the 1930s from the 2010s? What are the lessons learned from the dark chapters in Europe 70-80 years ago? Important to discuss these things.

***

  • 22 July. In the summer of 2011, Norway experienced the grave consequences of unchallenged right-wing extremist views. The terrorist attacks on 22 July (the worst right-wing solo terrorist attack in our times) reminded us that no country is immune to extremism and other forms of intolerance.
  • 22 July exposed both the weaknesses and the strengths of an open, democratic society. It put our legal system to the test. I am glad to say that our society passed that test, and that our democracy and rule of law stand firm.
  • Today, we are following the court proceedings in Germany in connection with the National Socialist Underground (NSU) process. Together with the overwhelming majority of German citizens, we are asking how it was possible for these murders to go on for so long. (And we are pleased to see that the issue will not only be addressed by the judicial system, but, as in Norway, politicians in Germany will examine the structures that proved insufficient to save people’s lives.)

***

  • Diversity and inclusiveness. The attacks in Norway were in many ways attacks on diversity and our multicultural society. – They are also characteristics of Europe as a whole today.
  • Building trust between different groups and individuals in our multicultural societies is vital if we are to overcome hatred, ignorance and intolerance. (We must speak (up) about these things! The majority shouldn't remain silent!)
  • Intolerance is often caused by ignorance and fear of the unknown. It is crucial to increase knowledge and raise awareness of other cultures and religions – and to focus on our large common ground.
  • Therefore: Education, contact and dialogue can often be the best antidote to hate and intolerance.

***

  • It is with great concern that we witness the increase in intolerance, hate speech and hate crime targeting minorities and other vulnerable groups in Europe and beyond. These challenges are transnational.
  • One example: the situation facing the Roma people in Europe today. They are repeatedly subjected to discriminatory and hostile attitudes. Securing their rights and well-being is a collective European responsibility that we simply cannot ignore.
  • Combating hate speech presents us with a difficult dilemma: Freedom of speech constitutes a cornerstone of any democracy. However, this very freedom may sometimes result in the expression of provocative views, controversial statements, racism and other extreme positions that most of us do not like or agree with. Symptomatic of a well-functioning democracy.
  • At the same time we must not forget that the exercise of this freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right and does not entail an entitlement to harass or threaten fellow human beings. Now, this raises the question: What expressions should be prohibited by law?
  • Where to draw the line, how to strike this balance is a difficult task. However, I believe that the threshold for prohibiting certain forms of expression needs to be very high. Our response to hate speech cannot be to suppress fundamental freedom of expression.
  • The long term solution can be found by reaffirming the importance of fundamental freedoms. This can be done through securing freedom of speech and promoting greater openness and inclusiveness as part of the right to education and access to information.
  • Therefore, our primary response to hate speech must be to meet such statements with counter-arguments in a critical, inclusive and transparent debate. The pillars and institutions of our democracy. We must speak up!

***

  • In preventing hate speech and promoting tolerance, the media can play a crucial role. Most of the information the public gain about different minority groups is conveyed through the media (re: new media technologies). Accordingly, the media is in a position to challenge prevailing attitudes: the media can challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions regarding minorities.
  • Much attention has been given – and quite a few theories put forward – to the way in which the Internet and social media can enable radicalisation and recruitment to extremist groups. Online discussions bring together like-minded people, regardless of geographical boundaries. The reach out globally. They allow for the proliferation and dissemination of extremist ideas in spaces outside mainstream forums. And: they reduce the opportunity for countering extremist views.
  • However, while acknowledging the challenges presented by the use of social media, we must also recognise its positive potential. The Internet can be a useful preventive tool in combating racist and xenophobic attitudes. The Internet can inspire and influence young people and older generations alike; the Internet can promote dialogue and facilitate knowledge and awareness-raising. The Internet has a great potential for response. We must encourage "the silent majority".

***

  • When confronted with extremism and hate crime targeting minority groups and individuals, governments have a responsibility to respond. However, there are many examples of discrimination and violence against minorities occurring with impunity.
  • Adopting and enforcing proper legislative measures is a minimum requirement. Governments cannot condone or ignore violations of the rights of minorities (basic human rights). Governments must investigate and effectively sanction hate crime and related forms of intolerance.
  • At the same time, legal measures are only one element of a larger toolbox. They should be complemented by wide-ranging efforts to address the root causes as well as various facets of intolerance. I particularly want to emphasise the responsibility of governments to stand up and speak out against manifestations of intolerance. Political leaders – who are often in the limelight – have a special duty to publicly denounce manifestations of hate in public discourse and to condemn acts of violence based on bias. Leaders must also refrain from making discriminatory statements. In short, they – we – must lead by example. Remember: The role of norms. The democratic institutions' strength today, compared to the 1930s. The human rights institutions.

***

  • The same responsibility applies to other national and regional stakeholders, such as national human rights institutions and members of civil society. Civil society also has an essential role to play by holding us – governments – accountable, as watchdogs. Civil society: Information, knowledge, facts, analysis.
  • Furthermore, civil society organisations have gained vast experience and expertise through working with victims, reporting incidents of violence and discrimination and raising awareness about such incidents. This pool of knowledge should be used by governments when developing and implementing laws, regulations, policies and actions to prevent discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. (Give us more policy advice!)
  • In our efforts to combat discrimination and intolerance, we must not limit our focus to the extremists themselves. In my opinion, it is just as important to encourage the silent majority to take a stand and refrain from giving the extremists room to carry out their hate crimes and threaten the stable European democracy.
  • When developing a strategy to respond to extremism and intolerance, it is crucial that we have sufficient information to ensure appropriate policy responses and decision-making. It is obvious for me that we need more knowledge, targeted research and broader analyses. I am therefore glad to see so many competent researchers here today.
  • You represent national, regional and global organisations and different sectors of society. In the search for new and more effective measures to counter extremism and intolerance, we must build on the good work of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the EU, the UN and others. I am grateful that representatives from these organisations I mentioned are with us here today. I hope that the outcomes of the conference’s discussions – that is your "collective thinking" – can contribute to future developments and strategies for tackling the serious challenges facing Europe today.

***

  • I am sure that I – and my colleagues present here from the Foreign Ministry – will learn from today’s discussions, and I will bring your ideas and insights with me when I travel to the Council of Europe later this week to meet with my colleagues in the Council of Ministers: On Thursday this week, I will attend the Ministerial meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. We will discuss “Democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe” and explore how European countries and regional organisations can best tackle the growing challenges on our own continent. A key theme here is how the Council of Europe – an institution that, at least on paper, has some of the strongest human rights instruments available – can put them to better use in an era in which some of the key principles of the organisation are being challenged by its own member states. My main message will be that both the Council of Europe and the European Union should to do more to hold their member states accountable to their commitments.

***

  • In sum: Human rights are under pressure even in Europe. We are seeing worrying signs in a number of countries. Pressure on minorities, extremism and hate crime are on the rise in parts of Europe. This is often linked to the financial and social crises at play in many European countries. The lesson of the 1930s is a stark reminder that this continent is responsible not only for some of the best, but also some of the worst events in our collective memory.
  • But let us not be simplistic – people are individually responsible for their actions and beliefs, and economic distress should be no excuse for not respecting the rights and equal worth of people who are different from the majority.
  • The obvious thing for us all is this: Adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights is essential if we are to live together in peace and prosperity – in Norway, in Europe and in the rest of the world. These principles represent the opposite of extremism. In my view, the ability of governments and international organisations to protect the rights of minorities is the ultimate test of our common democratic values.
  • The challenges at hand remind us of the situation in Europe in the 1930s. However – and I want to underline – Europe has evolved since then. This is 2013 – not 1930. We are now better equipped to tackle financial, political and social instability. We have built more robust institutions, strengthened the rule of law and developed open societies characterised by transparency and access to information. The challenges are not insurmountable, but can be overcome through a concerted effort and by continuing our engagement in this field. Posterity will not only judge us on how we accept diversity in our societies, but also on how inclusive we are. I wish you every success with this conference, and I very much look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions. Thank you.
Go to the top