Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
It is my privilege, on behalf of the
When I was approached by the organisers of the Oslo Freedom Forum some months ago, inquiring whether the UiO would arrange a side event in the wake of the Freedom Forum, I immediately realised that this was an important assignment for the University as an institution, and to me personally, as its Rector.
The new strategy plan for the
Several faculties at our University are involved in research and education on human rights. However, the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR) is the main human rights institution at UiO, focusing on the protection of these rights domestically as well as internationally. The Centre has the same function and roles as any university institution in regard to research and teaching. It is a multidisciplinary academic institution; its staff is composed of lawyers, political scientists, anthropologists and philosophers. The Centre is also
Why, then, do I see the focus on human rights as being of paramount importance to the UiO and to me, as Rector? The reasons are many; and they are visible on different levels.
One obvious reason takes us back to the Oslo Freedom Forum this week. During the past two days, we have heard human rights defenders from around the world give strong testimonies. They have suffered in the past, they are still suffering today, for no other error than to have called upon the authorities to honour their human rights commitments. These brave individuals all need the firm support of the academic community at UiO. We, who are privileged to carry out our intellectual work under secure and safe circumstances, should support the human rights defenders out there through our research. We can do normative studies, we can do empirical studies, we can do political studies, proving that the legal, the political and the socio-economic situation in a given state is violating the international human rights standards.
Another reason why focus on human rights is important is this: The UiO is educating the next generation of leaders, who will work not only within the Norwegian society, but within societies and states worldwide. It is part of our responsibility to make these students internalise respect for human rights standards. In a state governed by the rule of law, respect for human rights norms is not only a moral duty. These are legal commitments; and violations may even be subject to a personal responsibility before the courts.
The focus on human rights can also be regarded as a consequence of our scientific work. In its pursuit of objective truth, science leaves no room for inequality or discrimination.
Finally, deep down, we must always repeat that scientific work itself presupposes, and is based on, a respect for human rights. Without freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of thought and conscience, progress in science is seriously hampered. An authoritarian political regime which suppresses the basic rights and freedoms will always contaminate the academic sphere.
We live, not only as academics and intellectuals, at the UiO. We live here as human beings. That involves a responsibility. The Norwegian poet, Arnulf Øverland, warned his generation, as the atrocities of the Nazi regime became apparent: ”Dare not to sleep”. What he said is that it is all too easy to be indifferent to the suffering of others. This is a warning that is as relevant today as it was in Øverland’s time.
Another strong and clear voice, from contemporary times: When the UN Declaration of the Human Rights Defenders – a document we will hear more about later – was adopted in 1998, the Secretary General, Kofi Annan stated:
“The Declaration rests on a basic premise: that when the rights of the human rights defenders are violated, all of our rights are put in jeopardy and all of us are made less safe.”
I hereby declare open the seminar on “Justice versus Security” and give the floor to the Director of PRIO, Kristian Harpviken.