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Preliminary Findings of the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Virginia Dandan, at the end of her visit to Norway (19 – 23 September 2016)

23 September 2016

During my five days official mission to Norway from 19 to 23 September 2016, I met with various departments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Norway’s development assistance policy, representatives of the Ministry of climate and environment, the immigration and integration section of the Ministry of Justice, as well as development agencies including Norad, Norfund and FK Norway. I also met with representatives of civil society working in cooperation with the Norwegian Government as implementing partners in developing countries. I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to the Norwegian Government for its openness, transparency and full cooperation, as well as to the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre for assisting in coordinating this mission. Finally I thank all those who took the time to exchange views with me.

The purpose of my visit to Norway was primarily to observe and learn about how human rights is integrated into the design and implementation of its international development cooperation, and the impact of its long standing commitment to development assistance on the promotion and protection of human rights. This focus attains even more significance, in light of my mandate’s inherent link to the achievement 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Norway’s development assistance focuses on six thematic priorities: education, humanitarian assistance, health and vaccination, private sector development, climate change adaptation and mitigation and, human rights.

Norway seems to attach great importance to untied aid, and strives to implement a demand driven and participatory assistance cooperation. In 2015, Norwegian development aid amounted to NOK 34.5 billion, corresponding to 1.05 per cent of Norway’s gross national income.

In 2015 Norway adopted a white paper titled “Opportunity for All: Human Rights in Norway’s Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation,” establishing the main priorities of its efforts to promote human rights in its foreign and development policy. These priorities include individual freedom and public participation, the rule of law and legal protection, equality and equal opportunity. It sets the framework for human rights mainstreaming into all aspects of Norway’s foreign policy and development cooperation, and makes a commitment to intensify its efforts at the global, regional and country levels. Notably, the Government seeks to “…ensure policy coherence for human rights so that Norway’s efforts to promote and protect human rights are integrated into all aspects of its foreign and development policy.” The policy paper further suggests making use of relevant recommendations emanating from the Human Rights Council’s UPR mechanism, in bilateral dialogues and cooperation with states, and intensifying the systematic efforts to encourage and assist states to fulfil their human rights commitments and obligations. In this regard I would like to suggest in addition to the UPR outcome, that Norway also takes into account treaty bodies’ recommendations.

In order to mainstream the human rights based approach to development assistance across the various departments and agencies that are managing the various budget lines, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expanded the list of cross cutting issues from three essential elements to four, namely—(1) human rights, especially the principles of non-discrimination, accountability and participation; (2) women’s rights and gender equality, (3) climate and the environment; and, (4) anti-corruption. The inclusion of human rights as an essential cross cutting issue in the grant scheme is indeed a significant positive development. Nonetheless I would like to underscore that both equality and non-discrimination, underpin all human rights.

Upon a recommendation of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, Norway decided to concentrate its support to twelve focus countries out of the 88 eligible to receive Norwegian development funds, in order to maximise the impact and effectiveness of its development assistance.  Long term partner countries have been prioritised as well as countries deemed to be in crisis or in a situation of fragility.  The Government also chose to shift a greater proportion of its official development budget to humanitarian assistance. It is worth noting that while emphazising the importance of immediate humanitarian response and the humanitarian principles, Norway’s approach aims at bridging the divide between humanitarian assistance and development aid. This includes addressing the root causes of the crisis and increasing support to sectors such as food, livelihood and education—that have long term impact on sustainability. This approach is perceived as a way of building a strong foundation for poverty eradication and sustainable development, which at the same time contributes to mitigating crisis risks.  In my view, this is a good practice of combining actions that may contribute to what I have labelled as reactive and preventive solidarity.

Norway regards the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as a transformative global roadmap to guide its national and international efforts aimed at eradicating extreme poverty while protecting the environment and promoting prosperity, peace and justice. Norway was among the first to present in July 2016, a voluntary National Review to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, where it delineated its priorities and means if implementation. The report reiterates the country’s commitment to international solidarity in efforts to eradicate poverty and protect planetary boundaries among other things. The Government also identifies priority targets which include sustainable consumption and production, health and education, equality, employment, and migration.

The Government has designated the coordinating ministries responsible for domestic follow-up of the of the SDGs including in the budget documents presented to the Storting (Norwegian parliament) each autumn,  to ensure annual reporting and consideration of the SDGs through the well-established political mechanism of the budget process. Nevertheless, concerns have been raised about the lack of a comprehensive plan for the implementation of the SDGs as a global strategy involving all stakeholders.

I welcome the fact that within the framework of its programs on the Climate and Forest Initiative, Norway has established a series of partnerships with key forest countries and contributed to significant advances in the development of a REDD+ mechanism under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is noted with appreciation that within this framework Norway has engaged in building the capacity of indigenous peoples and local forest communities by encouraging its project partners to consult with and involve them in their processes. As an outcome of its long-standing cooperation with Brazil, Norway has come to recognize that indigenous peoples and local forest communities are some of the most capable forest managers because of their life-nourishing link to their environment. On the other hand, Norway is also a major oil producer, and concerns have been voiced by civil society actors about the perceived lack of a firm commitment to significantly reduce carbon emissions domestically.

The Government expressed its commitment to building local civil society capacity in partner countries and this is implemented through the various partnerships between Norwegian civil society and their counterparts in developing countries. Approximately 21% of the total aid budget is disbursed as support to civil society organisations. Concerns have been expressed around the perception that the Government intends to reduce the development funds allocated for civil society support. In this regard, I would like to invite the Government to reflect on the impact that the shift in its thematic priorities might have on the sustainability of relationships established between Norwegian and international civil society organisations and their long term partner organisations on the ground.

The evaluation of the impact of various development programs appears to be facing some challenges, including the viability of the result-based approach to structural changes that often require a long term perspective. It is also noted that the existing framework does not necessarily capture non quantifiable positive impacts. It might be considered to expand the results-based framework to accommodate alternative methods of evaluation that might be better suited to the context and needs of the communities.

My visit to Norway has been a productive endeavour that has yielded more than I expected. The above comments are preliminary in nature and are not comprehensive in scope. A full and detailed account of the visit will be the subject of my mission report on Norway will be submitted to the Human Rights Council in its 32nd session in June 2017.