"Dear Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great honour to be here with you today, in celebrating the international day of human rights and the 21st anniversary of the Ethiopian Constitution! I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you all on this important day, celebrating fundamental principles and rights that apply to us all as human beings, and to you, as citizens of Ethiopia.
Human rights and democracy constitute a key pillar of Norway’s engagement in Ethiopia, and we appreciate the partnership that has developed over the years, both with Ethiopian authorities, non-governmental partners and academic institutions, such as the Centre for Human Rights at Addis Ababa University.
A commitment to human rights lies at the heart of Norway’s foreign and development policy. This commitment was reinforced one year ago, when the Norwegian Government presented a white paper on human rights – the first of its kind since 1999. The white paper is entitled “Opportunities for all” – a title that illustrates the intimate relationship between human rights and individual freedoms and opportunities.
So how does this commitment to human rights translate into policy and action? Well, it means that the Norwegian Government sets out to pursue a coherent policy for human rights, where efforts to promote and protect human rights are integrated into the work at the global, regional and bilateral levels. It is essential that efforts in different policy areas pull in the same direction and are mutually reinforcing. Further, human rights are included as a crosscutting issue in all aspects of Norway’s foreign policy. Respect for human rights is not only established as a foreign policy goal in and of itself, it is also a means of achieving lasting development and security throughout the world.
The focus of our efforts is on three main areas: Individual freedom and public participation; The rule of law and legal protection; and Equality and equal opportunities. Our cooperation with the Centre for Human Rights at the Addis Ababa University is an important example of how we support rule of law and legal protection at country level. By providing legal counsel to people in need, the Addis Ababa University strengthen people’s knowledge of their rights and access to justice.
It is my belief that the delivery of justice and the rule of law serves as a cornerstone for a democratic society, where individual rights and freedoms can be respected and protected. In practice, this means that the protection of human rights is completely dependent upon effective institutions and appropriate legislation that will safeguard human rights through a competent and independent legal system. Only then can the important principle of equal treatment before the law be realized, meaning that all persons, regardless of their wealth, social status or political power, are to be treated in the same way and enjoy the same rights and duties. Today, with the ongoing protests and demonstrations in the region of Oromia, it is important that the rule of law is not compromised. I say this without prejudice to any of the actors involved, be it student protesters or regional police forces. My point is rather that all individuals have a claim to their human rights being respected, just as all individuals must take responsibility for any offense committed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A basic tenet in Norway’s human rights policy is that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. They must be treated globally in a fair and equal manner. The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are equally important as the right to food, health and education. One cannot live without food and water, and one cannot advocate for access to food or water without freedom of expression and assembly. This interdependency is particularly relevant in Ethiopia today, as millions of people are in need of assistance, as a result of the El Niño induced drought that is affecting the country. The Ethiopian Government’s leadership in responding to the drought, and in calling upon the international community to contribute in meeting the needs of the Ethiopian people, deserves recognition. Securing people’s rights to food, water and health lies at the center of the humanitarian response. At the same time, the success of our joint response will depend on people’s ability to express their needs and influence the way in which their lives and livelihoods are rescued and restored. Ensuring that these rights are fulfilled is also important for maintaining human dignity throughout the crisis.
Norway is also deeply engaged in promoting gender equality and women’s rights. Gender equality is a goal in its own right – we have a moral obligation to promote and protect women’s fundamental human rights. This includes the right to make their own life decision, including whom to marry and when. The Ethiopian Government’s aim to eradicate early marriage as well as female genital mutilation before 2025 is an important commitment in this regard. Norway contributes to this ambition by supporting efforts to eradicate FGM, through partners in the civil society.
In addition, gender equality makes economic sense. Including women in the work force is one of the most effective drivers of economic growth. For Norway, the high participation of women in the labour market is the single most important contribution to the economy. I therefore believe that the empowerment of women will be an important contribution to reaching Ethiopia’s goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2025.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The important work and legitimate role of human rights defenders has long been at the heart of Norway’s advocacy for human rights on a global level. Let me use this opportunity to thank Ethiopia for their support for the resolution on human rights defenders, which was adopted yesterday by the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution addressed the increasing pressure on human right defenders and their need for protection. The negotiations on the draft resolution were led by Norway, and the resolution was approved by a large majority.
One of the many strongholds in the bilateral relationship between Norway and Ethiopia is our common belief in multilateralism. Our two countries enjoy close cooperation in multilateral fora, such as at the UN General Assembly in New York. Just as the formation and development of normative standards are important, we must not forget what these norms and standards are really about. Implementing resolutions and conventions at country level remains a challenging task, and there is no one way of doing it. Still, there are tools available for translating words and promises in to action and change. One such tool is legislation – to adopt laws and regulations that refrain from limiting the exercise of human rights. Another tool is cooperation. In Norway’s experience, the cooperation with and involvement of civil society is paramount in the constant efforts to improve our human rights record. The Government cannot secure the realisation of all human rights simply on its own, but relies on the concerted efforts of non-governmental partners to achieve ambitious goals, whether it is through service delivery or through persistently holding the Government accountable to its commitments and obligations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
From a Norwegian perspective, we look forward to continuing the close cooperation with a range of partners - States, intergovernmental bodies, academia and civil society organizations - in promoting and protecting human rights at a critical juncture of international affairs. The realization of the objectives and priorities laid out in the White Paper will be an ongoing and continuous effort over time. Ethiopia is an important partner for Norway in this work. Our two countries’ constitutions and international human rights obligations provide an excellent basis for dialogue and cooperation.
Norway’s constitution was first adopted in 1814, when Norway gained its independence. Since then, it has been revised several times, in order to increase the protection of Norwegian citizens’ rights and freedoms. Looking back at history today, it is evident that the realization of the constitutional rights for all citizens required hard work and continued commitment from generations of politicians, legal experts and representatives of the public alike. Our treasured values of liberty, equality and justice only came to life for most Norwegians through a long journey of social, economic, cultural and governance transformation – with periods of social unrest, occupation and repression along the way.
The Ethiopian constitution – somewhat younger than the Norwegian - provides the country and its citizens with a solid fundament for securing human rights and building a democratic society. The constitution contains a full-fledged catalogue of human rights, civil and political and social, cultural and economic rights alike, that applies to all its citizens, without sexual, religious or cultural discrimination. The safeguarding of religious freedom, for instance, is an element that contributes hugely to the stability and coherence of the Ethiopian society. This is something that should never be taken for granted. Ethiopia provides a positive example for interreligious tolerance and co-existence.
Just like Norway, Ethiopia will continue to experience changes, challenges, stagnation and progress in the years to come. In some areas, the development is taking place at a pace more rapidly than in others. The important thing, however, is not so much where we are on our journey from the past to the future, but rather the direction in which we are going. This has been and will continue to be the case for Norway, and it is how we see our cooperation with Ethiopia. It is informed by this rationale that we will continue to seek cooperation with Ethiopian stakeholders, in the pursuit of the promotion and protection of human rights.