Tale/innlegg | Dato: 30.05.2010
Utenriksminister Jonas Gahr Støre innledet da Fritt Ord og The New York Review of Books arrangerte “The Hope for Humanism: Within the West, Beyond the West” på Litteraturhuset i Oslo 30. mai.
The Minister’s address was based
on the following points (check against delivery)
- Thank you, Mr Robert Silvers, I am proud to be one of your 350 subscribers in Norway, and to be taking part in this platform for a challenging debate today.
- Just the title of this conference indicates our challenge: “Within the West – Beyond the West”.
- There is a tendency, as I see it – coming from inside the West – to say that we have achieved high standards of human rights, we have shown that individuals can be empowered – and now the challenge is to refute the idea that human rights are not applicable beyond the West. We had, by the way, a sort of a parallel to this during the Cold War (and afterwards): the West versus the East, civil and political rights versus socio-economic rights.
- And there is another tendency – coming from outside the West – to say that the West has no right to impose their values and that we – beyond the West – have a right to develop as we choose.
- My message – and point of entry to the debate – is that we must do whatever we can to refuse this tempting – but simplistic and dangerous – world view. – Tempting, because it organises the world neatly, it creates clear boundaries between “We” and “The Others”, “Us” and Them”. But therefore also too simplistic and dangerous, in my view.
- I believe we need to remain focused on the critically important point of departure: that we are dealing with humankind, that humankind is global, that universal human rights are global, and that we need to approach them as such, as we deal with their empowering potential. It may be hard, but we have to hold on to this message.
- It is easy to understand why the multitude of impressions can be confusing – the complexity of the world we live in, brought to us through multiple media channels. Far from living in a global village, and rather than having a sense of togetherness, we live in a complex world of real-time connectivity.
- I met with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Salman last week in Oslo: We do not want values to be imposed from the outside. And he is right. But it is also important to remember that universal human rights are not imposed from “outside”.
- They are what states agreed to impose on themselves 60 years ago. There are now 162 States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The same goes for the Geneva Conventions and the International Humanitarian Law – a theme we discussed at the ICRC’s Board Meeting in Bergen last week.
- I believe we have ample evidence to state that these rights have led to empowerment for change – they have empowered people, they have protected the individual, they have protected groups.
- Yet, they are challenged, not only because some states keep on saying that they do not want values to be imposed from outside – and true enough, many such states are located far “beyond the West”. But human rights are also threatened because those who most openly advocate them as universal standards are caught in a conflict of double standards – and yes, I am talking about states within the West.
- So, I will share with you a few more reflections. First – on empowerment.
- Yes – there is ample evidence that the codification of human rights has meant empowerment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the highest aspiration of all people, now incorporated into many countries’ legislation, as a world in which human beings enjoy freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech
and freedom of belief.
- Few ideas have been more powerful and influential than these four interconnected freedoms. They are enshrined in the UN Charter (1945), and the legally binding human rights treaties that followed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Thus, they are global.
- And we may add – that within the West, in Europe, we have come further with the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms than with any of the many treaties of European integration. (Perhaps this indicates that this convention is a more tangible expression of common, shared values than many others?)
- We have seen how the values of the Universal Declaration have been incorporated into the constitutions of many newly-independent states – precisely to help empower both people and societies and promote development.
- Human rights can empower because they start with the individual. The right to life. The principle of non-discrimination. The right to justice, a fair trial, protection against torture, the right to health, to food, to education, to having a faith, to an opinion.
- Human dignity, equality, justice: these are core values for everyone, everywhere, always. This was a radical achievement 60 years ago, and it still is!
- But the key point is this: we still need change if we are to succeed in achieving our goals. The fact that the conventions were adopted some decades ago, did not give any guarantee that they would be respected or kept in good shape for ever. A continuing struggle – as all states experience.
- We need to view the empowering potential of human rights precisely as a continuing struggle – inside and outside states, within and beyond the West. An example in this respect: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the fight against poverty, to improve health – they aim to fulfil human rights.
- So far, there are, as I have said, 162 States Parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Only two UN member states have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So, as I have underlined, these rights were never, and are still not, “Western” values. They are universal. 162 countries are not “the West”.
- Human rights are universal not only in a geographic sense, but also in the way we should approach them, and this is one key lesson to bring with us as we work on ensuring that they are implemented, and respected to a greater extent:
- Human rights are indivisible and interdependent, the four freedoms are interconnected. Let me illustrate:
- In places where 80% of women are illiterate, the empowering potential of a free press is limited.
- And: where people are not allowed to speak out and participate in the governance of their country, finding a solution to a food crisis is difficult.
- The founders of the Universal Declaration understood that social and cultural obstacles (for example: lack of freedom of speech, no access to media, etc.) make it impossible for people to obtain justice and participate fully in public life.
- Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has what we may call “Western inspiration”, we also need to acknowledge that it was founded on ideals and achievements from many different cultures. It reflects the concerns and interests of us all. The inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. (We discussed these issues when the Indonesian President and Foreign Minister visited Oslo last week).
- There is still work to be done, even though the groundwork for human rights – the groundwork for empowering the individual – has been laid. There will always be a lot to do with regard to implementation.
- Which brings me to my next point – on human rights and the challenges relating to their implementation:
- We need to portray the challenges in global terms – as concerning all states – and move away from the over-simplifying dichotomy “within the West – beyond the West”.
- Again: human rights are not a utopian ideal. At any given point in time they must be understood as the product of a struggle between and within states, over ideas, ideologies, politics and resources.
- This is a struggle where all states can be caught in breach of norms and standards – where all states become vulnerable in their advocacy of universal human rights because of double standards. To give some examples:
- There are mass breaches of human rights in dictatorial and authoritarian states – such as North Korea and Iran; there is mass violation of human rights in failed states – such as Somalia; there are mass violations of human rights in war zones – such as DR Congo, Afghanistan, etc. And we see that where such violations take place, people are not empowered, and development is lagging behind.
- But also within the West we are reminded of breaches – identified by civil society, NGOs, courts or as a result of periodic reviews of human rights performance.
- And we find ourselves caught in double standards: for instance, the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 accentuated the tendency to claim that a breach of one human right may be necessary to defend another: we ended up with secret prisons, disappearances, torture and inhumane treatment – practices that brutalise our societies and that are blatantly illegal. And seen from within the West – let us imagine for a moment how the practices at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have undermined our ability to show human rights leadership. This is something I feel in every meeting in the Middle East.
- States are responsible for guaranteeing universally accepted human rights for their people – and states should be held accountable.
- Now, if human rights are a global matter and a global concern, then we need to preserve and strengthen the global arenas for dealing with them.
- We need to acknowledge that there is an ongoing struggle to ensure that human rights are implemented and respected – within and beyond our own societies.
- We need to refute the practice of states evading responsibility for respecting human rights – for any reason.
- As states: We need, as I said, to preserve the global arenas – first and foremost the UN. The UN is exposed and vulnerable – especially to criticism from those who claim that it is discredited by the presence of states that openly violate human rights – and those who say that we should simply replace the UN with an alliance of democracies.
- I would hold the opposite view – the UN has value precisely because it has convening power and can hold all accountable – but the UN will never be better than the sum of its members.
- But then we – likeminded and different-minded alike – need to stand up and confront these issues and become involved. The UN is still a unique platform – spanning from the Convention on the Law of the Sea, to last Friday’s agreement at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, to next Monday’s gathering in Kampala on the ICC.
- We cannot abandon this critically important arena for upholding universal norms and standards to those who openly seek to violate their key principles
- Moreover, this raises the question of how we can best work multilaterally in this age of globalisation – how can we best connect within and beyond the West?
- Take the Durban Review Conference on the fight against racism and discrimination in Geneva a year ago. The conference highlighted some of the dilemmas governments face, not least the balancing act between when to engage in dialogue and when not to do so. Many representatives argued that the process was insoluble, that they should leave the room and walk out (as some EU ambassadors did). They argued that it was a question of integrity.
- We (Norway) for our part defined five key objectives: First, a strong and unequivocal text against racism. Second, we could not accept a text that called for restrictions on the defamation of religions. Third, we could not accept a text that would infringe on freedom of expression. Fourth, we wanted a text that recognised the role of the free media in fighting racism. Fifth, we wanted a text of universal scope. And finally: We could not accept a text that would attempt to rewrite history.
- So, how could we work to achieve this? We joined forces with a small group of states (Egypt, Russia and Belgium – and a few others), which proved instrumental in solving a seemingly unsolvable process.
- And the outcome document from the conference reaffirms the importance of freedom of expression in the fight against racism. It imposes no restrictions on freedom of expression. It confirms that rules and regulations are there in order to protect individuals – not gods or religions.
- My point is: this demonstrates that global agreement is still achievable on such key values as freedom of expression.
- It challenges us in the West to reach out and work across West/Rest boundaries. Developing countries do not want to end up like Iran or Libya. We should not let them.
- The Durban Review Conference raises an important question, or well-known dilemma: By refusing to listen, do we weaken or do we strengthen the ones who speak? By walking out, do we add to the weight of our own message or do we leave the other triumphant?
- The President of Iran exercised his right to freedom of expression at that meeting. While he spoke, representatives of many European states walked out – precisely what the President wanted – and their walkout was filmed by his TV teams as part of his election campaign.
- For my part, however, I chose to stay – in order to use my right to freedom of speech to contradict the President and tell him outright that he was spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance. I respect those who chose to walk out, but I question the effectiveness of such a response.
- Furthermore, and this is my last point, I would like to emphasise the importance of joining forces – as individuals and as states: the importance of new arenas, new alliances. (Example: Norway’s cooperation with Indonesia, Mexico, Brasil, South Africa).
- We need new approaches in international diplomacy – as we are dealing with the rights of people, we need to engage the people, and civil society.
- It was the families of the disappeared who fought for a treaty against enforced disappearances.
- It was the disabled who led the process of drafting the treaty on their rights.
- It was victims of torture who stood up against the atrocities they had suffered.
- And due to the efforts of civil society and human rights defenders across the world, the International Criminal Court is now up and running. Tomorrow, I will take part in the general debate of the ICC Review Conference in Kampala, and I am looking forward to that.
- The Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Convention (1997): victories for civilians, victims, for international humanitarian law, and for civil society. And for states, for political and diplomatic craftsmanship. And, not least, victory for the power of dialogue (listening, learning and responding). Processes built on trust. Today: US Senators’ letter to the President. Things are set in motion, let’s wait and see.
- The participation of survivors and civil society representatives in the processes was crucial (insights and competence). Their contributions helped change the perception and understanding of the humanitarian problems caused by these weapons. The processes stayed focused on the actual reality on the ground. By supporting local actors we seized the opportunity for substantial change.
- Today: The nuclear disarmament issue.
- To conclude: through empowerment, continued diligence and education, change is possible. I believe there is hope for humanism, within the West and beyond the West. We still have a way to go and many more battles ahead of us. Let us continue to criticise and fight, as individuals and as states, to make human rights a reality for all. Let us continue to use human rights as instruments of empowerment for change.