Nordem: 20 years of providing civilian capacity in human rights and democratisation 



Litteraturhuset, Oslo, 22 November 2013



  • When I saw the photo from Liberia on the cover of your anniversary report, I came to think of those famous words of Abraham Lincoln: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
  • They say a lot about what we believe in and why we are here today to celebrate Nordem.
  • But before I turn to the history and the important achievements of Nordem, please allow me to start with the big picture.

The big picture

  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values that we share with people all over the World.
  • The UN has asked one million people from more than 190 countries what kind of World they want.
  • The answers are clear: People want a good education, better healthcare and an “honest and responsive government”.
  • These are the top three priorities for the development goals beyond 2015.
  • The message they send is strong.
  • Development cannot be separated from human rights, democracy and good governance. They are closely linked. We must promote them all.
  • We know this is the right thing to do. Not only from a moral perspective. Not only because we have obligations and duties under international law. But because it delivers great results.
  • The most developed countries in the World are all democracies. No conflict-ridden country has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal. And we know that there is nothing that harms development more than conflicts and war.
  • Look at the appalling situation in Syria, with more than six million internally displaced persons and more than two million refugees, and with no real access for humanitarian assistance. In less than a couple of years, a middle income country has turned into a developing country.
  • And we know that democracy, human rights and elections really do work. For me, one of the strongest illustrations of this was when – as Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross – I landed on Hispaniola, this island in the Caribbean, in 2010, when Haiti was hit by this awful earthquake.
  • On Hispaniola we have the Dominican Republic on one side and Haiti on the other. In the 1950s Haiti was a richer country than DR, but after the Duvalier family had run the country for almost three decades, we know that the growth and living standards in DR were five to six times what it is currently the case in Haiti. The same island, pretty much the same natural resources. It was a question of governance, democracy and elections. I am not saying that DR is a perfect democracy, but I am saying that it is also a question of governance; it is a question of sticking to some fundamental standards.
  • Democratic countries are less corrupt, according to Transparency International’s latest corruption index.
  • And democracy makes a country more sustainable.
  • Sustainable democracy starts with general voting rights for all women and men.
  • But democracy will not be sustainable unless all human rights of all people are respected.


  • Nordem has contributed greatly to the promotion of the values that bring development and better lives for thousands of people, all over the World.
  • For 20 years, Nordem has been sending civilian experts abroad. You have helped to build democracies and strengthen respect for human rights in the field.
  • Nordem has become a model for other mechanisms of this kind, both in Norway and abroad.
  • When Nordem was established at the beginning of the 1990s, Norway wanted to support countries on the path from authoritarian rule to democracy.

The state of human rights and democracy

  • Unfortunately, there is still a need for capacities like Nordem. We cannot take human rights and democracy for granted.
  • The gap between human rights obligations and the reality on the ground is unfortunately growing.
  • Authoritarian regimes continue to pay lip service to political and civil rights. At the same time, they are reducing the space for civil society, individuals and NGOs.
  • To ensure that we comply with the high standards set in different international treaties, we need strong regional organisations that make sure that countries walk the talk.

The role of the OSCE

  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is such an organisation. It has played a major role in this respect in our part of the World.
  • The OSCE works along three dimensions: security, the human dimension and the economic and environmental dimension.
  • The reason is simple: there can be no security for a nation without security for each and every citizen.

Chairmanship of the OSCE’s Human Dimension Committee

  • The Norwegian Government puts great emphasis on this. I am therefore pleased that Norway has been asked to head the Human Dimension Committee during the Swiss chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014.
  • This will allow us to set the agenda for the discussions on human rights and democracy in the OSCE.
  • Together with Switzerland we will combat torture, protect human rights defenders, promote democratic elections, defend minorities and strengthen the involvement of civil society in the work of the OSCE – just to mention some.

Nordem in the field

  • The OSCE is a main cooperating partner for Nordem.
  • But Nordem’s expertise has also been important for the UN, the EU and other regional and smaller organisations.
  • Nordem’s experts have shared Norwegian experience and expertise in more than 2000 assignments abroad.
  • You have also brought valuable experience back to Norway. I’m sure you have thousands of stories to tell.
  • Let me mention just one example from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Nordem has been crucial in building democratic institutions in the Western Balkans.
  • During the last 20 years, Nordem completed more than 700 assignments in the Balkans. That’s an impressive achievement!
  • In particular I would like to mention the EU’s European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo were Nordem has successfully helped key legal institutions in a difficult post conflict situation.

Closing remarks

  • In conclusion I would like to thank the Nordem staff and roster members. We value your dedication! And the Ministry will continue to support your work.
  • I would also like to thank the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, for hosting Nordem all these years. Nordem has benefited greatly from the Centre’s research and academic expertise.
  • Nordem’s 20 years’ anniversary is really worth celebrating. But the nature of your work gives us no time to rest.
  • Thank you.

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