Minister Tvinnereim's Speech at The Stefanus Prize ceremony

Speech at The Stefanus Prize ceremony by the Minister of International Development, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim.

Dear Aiman Umarova, dear all. The Stefanus Prize is awarded every second year to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the right to freedom of religion and belief - in particular, and human rights - in general.

According to the selection criteria of the prize, the person awarded should be a bold advocate for freedom of religion and belief - as a fundamental human right for everyone - regardless of religious affinity. They must also be a person that has a genuine commitment to defend and support groups and individuals suffering from religious suppression or persecution. That is why it is a true privilege for me, to deliver this award to you, Aiman Umarova.

You are fighting for freedom of religion and belief in a part of the world, where it is fair to say, that human rights are challenged. We view with great concern the rise in discrimination and persecution due to religion or belief that we see in many countries.

Authoritarian states’ suppression of people’s basic freedoms creates fertile ground for conflict and unstable societies. It threatens peace. And a peaceful world is in our interest. Therefore, we must constantly defend the values on which our society is built. These are values we cannot take for granted.

In the political platform of our government, we state that Norway shall fight violations of international law and human rights. That comes with a particular emphasis on promoting freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion or belief. But despite progress in many areas, we see a grim picture for freedom of religion and belief worldwide.

Roughly 2/3 of the world’s population live in countries that restrict the ability of individuals to freely practice the faith or belief of their choice. In these contexts, individuals face harsh government restrictions if they question established religious precepts or wish to pursue a different belief. This is not acceptable. We need to step up our efforts to prevent such violations from happening and to provide the victims with appropriate care.

This includes assistance to addressing threats of violence, help with medical needs resulting from violent assault, relocation to safe housing and if necessary, replacement of equipment that has been damaged or confiscated because of harassment. Together with partners, Norway provides support for such assistance.

Colleagues. We need to understand better what freedom of religion or belief is, and why it matters to people around the world. Understanding lets us see where we need to strengthen our efforts, and some of that knowledge is already being put to good use.

Firstly: Norway has recently launched a new action plan on women’s rights and gender equality. The action plan is called: “A just world is an equal world”. Unfortunately, religion may sometimes be seen as a barrier to women’s rights and gender equality. Religious beliefs, doctrines, traditions, and practices have too often been used to justify discrimination and violence against girls and women, as well as sexual and gender minorities. But enhancing women’s rights may also contribute to achieving the right to freedom of religion or belief.          A key perspective is how gender and religion can come together, not as conflicting, but as connecting perspectives. We need to find ways to leverage both freedom of religion and women’s rights. And we need to mobilize actors to support this agenda.

Secondly. Policies that promote inclusion, tolerance and diversity are essential to fully realize the right to freedom of expression. While freedom of religion or belief protects the individual, it cannot be used as an argument to prohibit or censor criticism of religious faith or practices. Criticism of religions must be tolerated. At the same time, there are different views on how to balance considerations relating to the right to freedom of expression with the right to freedom of religion or belief.

There is a need to respect of each other’s views to be able to conduct a constructive dialogue. I sincerely believe that an open, constructive, and respectful debate of ideas, can play a positive role in combating religious hatred, forwarding gender equality and contribute to sustainable development.


Friends. We need to work with all actors. Including international and national partners, alliances of civil society and academia. To prevent violence and persecution and to promote freedom of religion and belief for all. The Stefanus Alliance is a key partner to the Foreign Ministry in the field of human rights and freedom of religion or belief. You make important contributions to our work. Defenders of freedom of religion or belief need committed people that stand up for what they belief in. Today I would like to pay my tribute to all of you.

Your courageous efforts come at a great personal risk, as the case of you: Aiman Umarova, clearly shows. Your personal history is a testimony that you are a true hero in the struggle for freedom of religion or belief, a freedom that that all people "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy.

I thank you all - and today in particular you, Aiman Umarova, from the bottom of my heart. And now I would like to welcome the winner of the Stefanus Prize of 2024, Mrs. Aiman Umarova to the stage.