Historical archive

Speech at the Rafto Conference

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

State Secretary Laila Bokhari's speech at the Rafto Conference at the University of Bergen on 19 November 2016.

Dear Rafto-Laureats,
Dear Yanar,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, to honour the 2016 Rafto Laureate Ms. Yanar Mohammed, and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Rafto Foundation and Rafto Prize. The Minister for Foreign Affairs sends his regards.

Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms is essential to well-functioning democracies. Without freedom of information and speech, independence of media, or freedom of assembly - democracy becomes nothing but an empty shell.

The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights was established 30 years ago to commemorate Professor Thorolf Rafto's work and the inspiration it invoked. Some years before his death in 1986, Thorolf Rafto was arrested and beaten by the Czechoslovakian security police after holding a lecture to students who had been excluded from the University for political reasons.

Europe has come a long way since then. But none of us can – or should –  take human rights for granted. Human rights have to be defended.


Every day around the world we see examples of people being deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Not least this applies to minorities. The pressure on civil society in general and on human rights defenders in particular has sadly increased.

In many parts of the world those who advocate their own and others’ rights expose themselves to great danger. We’ll be hearing more of those voices today. This is unacceptable. It gives cause for serious concern and must be condemned.

Human rights defenders should enjoy the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. As they are particularly exposed, it is still necessary to focus on measures to increase the protection and the awareness of human rights defenders.

The Rafto Foundation is one of the dedicated actors who stand by a large number of human rights defenders. Not only on a day like this and through speaches. Through your Human Rights Defender Programme, the Rafto Prize, as well as the Women’s Network, you acknowledge, support and protect human rights activists all ever the world. An imperssive and important work.


We – the authorities – should feel grateful for the work defenders of human rights do to develop our society in the right direction and to ensure equal opportunities to all.

Today, in some countries, 7 out of 10 women experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime. More than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable.

This is not - and can not be - ok. We can never accept that religion and so-called traditional values are used as an excuse to deprive 50 percent of the world’s population of their fundamental rights.

Nor can we accept the false dichotomy between security and human rights that some would have us believe. It needs to be challenged.


All women – all people– have the right to a life without violence.

That is why I am glad that this year’s Rafto prize is awarded to Yanar Mohamed, who has worked tirelessly to secure the rights of women and other vulnerable groups.

Her home country of Iraq has long suffered from violent conflict and war. We know that women and children usually are amongst the first victims of war and armed conflict.

The brutality of ISIL was nevertheless especially shocking. I will never forget Nadia Murad’s testimony of how she and thousands of other Yezidi women and children were forced into sexual enslavement by ISIL. Her story is only one. There are many more to be told and documented.

Yanar Mohamed’s Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, OWFI, offers shelter to women such as Nadia, who have fled from violence and sexual abuse, be it by ISIL or other parties.

OWFI has since its establishment in 2003 worked for an egalitarian society, and protected women, LGBT and other vulnerable groups. OWFI has established a network of about 40 NGOs working together on the issue of trafficking, in the midst of conflict and all the other challenges in Iraq.  Through the radio channel al-Mousawaat, Equality Radio, millions of Iraqis are informed of their rights every day.

I applaud your important work.


The costs of discrimination and gender based violence are high - not only for the victims, but also for society as a whole. And it undermines peace and development.

Norway is strongly committed to combatting all forms of atrocities against women and girls.

That is why Norway is a strong supporter of the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security.

Where women are included and can exert an influence, we are more likely to reach a peace agreement – and the peace is more likely to last. We know, and we see today, that women are actors – not victims.

To refer to “the lack of competent women” is no longer a viable excuse.

This is why I insist on meeting with yourselves. You remind us of why we do the work we do – but also provide important contextual understanding and policy input to our work.


In Iraq, we support several organisations that help victims of gender based violence, such as Yezidi women and children. 

We participate in the counter-ISIL coalition, which is assisting Iraq in the fight against ISIL’s brutal reign. A fight that we are winning.

To ensure a true victory, it is important that the different groups involved follow international humanitarian law, and that the fight is led in way conducive to national reconciliation.

There is a need for new thinking in many areas, also in the fight against violent extremism. We believe women can play a crucial role in dissuading young people from joining the ranks of the extremists.

And, that is why we often support women’s organisations and youth networks, because we believe that they are key players. We listen to them in our policy development and support them through concrete programmes.

The Norwegian Prime Minister recently launched a new dialogue forum for women combating violent extremism on the frontlines and policy makers at the highest level.

We also believe that giving women equal access to the labour market is crucial when rebuilding Iraq. That is why we support a program for female entrepreneurship.

The determination of Iraqi women to build a better future is something that neither ISIL nor other extremist groups can destroy. On the contrary, I believe women’s determination is crucial in fighting violent extremism, and in building a peaceful and prosperous Iraq of tomorrow.