Good intentions need operationalisation

The Norwegian government recently presented a White Paper on Human Rights. It promises a more systematic recognition and protection of human rights. The timing is crucial- with increased pressure on human rights and human rights defenders across the world.

The Norwegian government sets out to take an integrated approach in its efforts to promote compliance with human rights obligations, and thus focuses on three main areas; Individual freedom and public participation, The rule of law and legal protection, Equality and equal opportunities.

Read the abstract of the White Paper here

“This is a comprehensive White Paper. However, it is crucial that the good intentions outlined are fully integrated, implemented, and followed up in practice. Human Rights House Network consists of 90 non-governmental organisations working on the ground. We have seen how the situation for human rights defenders has gradually worsened the past decade. It’s a clear tendency towards authorities using more sophisticated methods to limit the space for an independent and critical civil society, says Maria Dahle, Executive Director of the Human Rights House Foundation. And continues:

“The Norwegian goverment should treat similar situations in different countries in a similar way: it is the type of human rights violations that should craft Norway’s reaction, not the country itself.”

Here are some of the recommendations from Human Rights House Foundation:

10% of UN budget to Human Rights

The new White Paper carries several promises of improvement in the field of human rights. With regards to the UN, it states that Norway will increase its funding of human rights as the third pillar of the UN. This is good, although not nearly enough. Today only three percent of the regular UN budget is spent on human rights, this must be increased to at least ten percent.

Obligation to invite Special Rapporteurs

The government outlines how it will work to strengthen OHCHR, and use its embassies to systematically follow up on the Universal Periodic Review process, and the recommendations accepted by the respective countries. However, the government does not go far enough in its promises on the UN Special Procedures. Today, we have a situation where Special Rapporteurs on specific countries are not granted access to the very countries they are supposed to report on. Our position is that Norway should demand that any country up for membership of the Human Rights Council must accept the special procedures, including issuing open invitations to all Special Rapporteurs’.

Exit GONGOs, access for NGOs

An independent civil society that monitors the situation of human rights, and contributes with independent expert opinions, is a prerequisite for the UN’s ability to successfully protect and defend human rights. When Norway now promises to ensure the active participation and engagement of an independent civil society, this means that they have to level the playing field for independent NGOs trying to achieve ECOSOC consultative status. Today, we see a trend towards an increased number of GONGOs (government organised NGOs) participating in international fora and organisations. Many of these easily get consultative status with ECOSOC, often in contrast to independent human rights organisations involved in monitoring and advocacy. For instance, it took our own organisation six years to achieve consultative status. These GONGOs consume more and more of the limited time provided for NGOs at the UN, and this is threatening the credibility of the UN’s human rights work. Going forward, Norway therefore has to work to ensure that it becomes easier for independent NGOs to attain access to consultative status. This is not only important, but it is necessary, if the UN is to continue to be credible in human rights issues.

Civil society participation in the Council of Europe

It is imperative that the Norwegian Government works to achieve systematic cooperation with and protection of civil society within the Council of Europe. These mechanisms for cooperation and protection are lacking today. Norway should advocate for more openness around agenda and meetings, so that civil society can participate fully in the Council’s work.

Consequences for violation of human rights

The international community needs to ensure that systematic and systemic state violations of human rights have real consequences. The Council of Ministers needs to implement its mechanisms to monitor and follow up on systematic violations of human rights in Member States. If this does not happen, there is a risk that the Council’s work will become more politicised, and it will loose its position as the leading human rights institution in Europe.

More flexible visa regulations for defenders

The protection of human rights defenders is a topic that is unfortunately becoming more and more important. In the words of Kofi Annan; “When the rights of human rights defenders are violated, all our rights are put in jeopardy and all of us are made less safe”. The Norwegian government emphasises the importance of protecting human rights defenders, and outlines its willingness to play a leading role to this end. We therefore urge the government to put in place mechanisms for more flexible visa arrangements for human rights defenders. They might not all wish to seek asylum abroad, some might need shorter rest and respite periods instead, to study, work or intern in another country.  Mechanisms need to be in place to allow for this to happen, in Norway, and across the world.

More knowledge and focus on human rights

There is a need for increased level of knowledge on human rights across the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including at its embassies across the world. This knowledge needs to be built at all levels of the organisation, also at the top. The Ministry needs to be given the resources, capacity, knowledge and the authority to ensure that all personnel have the knowledge to implement human rights into their daily work. 

HRHF’s advocacy for a strong voice for human rights:

The Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) has been actively promoting a stronger and more powerful human rights policy of the Norwegian foreign policy, in close contact with human rights defenders.

In November 2012, we briefed the Norwegian government on Norway’s policy at the United Nations. We called for a strong presence within the political bodies, including the Human Rights Council and the ECOSOC NGO Committee, which decides upon NGO participation in the United Nations system, and a strong support for the treaty body system.

Read the whole briefing note of November 2012

NGOs of the Human Rights House Network has also in November 2013 called upon the United Nations’ human rights budget to be increased. HRHN members in their joint letter believe that as we will soon celebrate the 10 years of the Human Rights Council all States and group of States aiming at promoting human rights should ambition to raise the share of the UN budget for the promotion of human rights to at least 10%.

Read HRHN’s full letter to the European Union of November 2013

Later in February 2014, HRHF further explains its position to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende. We called upon Norway “to take a leading role globally in increasing the protection of human rights defenders and include it to the agenda of the UN Millennium Goals.”

Read the full letter of 10 February 2014

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