Human Rights is the consequence of human dignity: Kjell Magne Bondevik
The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor-in-Chief, Hatef Mokhtar on Tuesday met up with The founder of The Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights and Norway’s former Premier Kjell Magne Bondevik for an exclusive interview on the Mr. Bondevik’s and the Oslo Centre’s, human rights efforts around the globe.
The Excerpts below gives us an insight into the former PM’s humanitarian efforts in various parts of the world including Myanmar, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan and Korea. During this brief rendezvous, Mr. Bondevik who served as Prime Minister from 1997-2000 and from 2001-2005, also briefly talks about himself and his passion for soccer.
What does human rights mean to you?
For me human rights is the consequence of human dignity. Human dignity is the basic fundamental value and for me as religious believer it comes from the fact that we all are created by god in his image. This is where my belief that we are all equal stems from and that is the main source of human dignity and the consequence of human dignity is human rights. It has to do with protecting every individual human being and human dignity. Human rights has two main dimensions one is social and economic human right and the other is political and civil human rights and both tracks are equally important.
Now coming to your international projects, for instance in Burma, what are your views on Burma and what kind of projects were you involved in?
I have personally been engaged with the Burma issue or Myanmar, as we call it now, for over 20 years. I started an international
network of politicians around the world promoting democracy in Burma I came in contact and had the first meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in January 1997. I committed myself and promised her that I would work for democracy and human rights in the country as long as necessary, and it is still necessary, though there has been progress without doubt. After the 2010 elections we saw that most of the political prisoners were released. Freedom of press is better. Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected in the parliament along with some of her colleagues in the 2012 bi-elections. With a dialogue going on between her and the president, speaker of parliament and others in the ruling party, things are moving in the right direction. But it is also important to remember that, there is no real democracy in Myanmar. There is still a long way to go. And, let me point you to two special dimensions in this regard, one is: the negotiations between the government and the main ethnic groups about the national cease fire agreement and more importantly a national peace agreement which should also include principles for power sharing between national authorities and state authorities. This process has been delayed. It has not been completed as they approach the country elections next year. It is really an obstacle that they have not yet signed the national ceasefire agreement and the national peace agreement. So I want to encourage the parties to go ahead and at least sign the national ceasefire agreement for the election next year. That will be crucial in ascertaining that there is necessary security and stability for organizing the elections. The second important track is the political track: It has more to do with the constitution, which was made by the military junta and which is not fair. Let me just mention two main paragraphs:
Paragraph 59F: “Excluding Aung San Suu Kyi to be a candidate for presidential elections because she is married to a foreigner and has two sons, who are foreigners.” It has been very difficult to try to change this paragraph. But, it doesn’t seem like that it will be done and she will be able to run for the presidency. This is unfair. The other paragraph states that the Army will get 25 percent of the seats in parliament, without being elected, and after only being appointed by the general. This is unfair.
There will not be a full, fair and free election if 25 percent of the seats will directly go to the army. And this doesn’t look like it will be changed too. So, the people in the democratic world will have to be aware of the fact that they still have a long way to go before they can have a full, fair and free elections in Myanmar.
There was a huge massacre in Myanmar, where thousands of people were killed but we heard nothing about it in the papers and neither did we hear about it from human rights activists, like you. Why was everyone silent?
Well I have made comments on it. I don’t know if it was picked up or not, but I wasn’t silent on the massacre of the Rakhine state and the Rouhingya in Myanmar. I commented on it on several newspapers and websites.But you are right, the international community as a whole has not been focusing on this. They should have because whatever is going on there is terrible.
This is not primarily a conflict between the government and Rohingya, it is between some Monks and the Rohingya, in the Rakhine state and it is unacceptable. I had also raised this issue when I met members of government in Myanmar, the speaker of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and I tried to increase the focus on it. I do agree that the international community should do more and that the United Nations should also try to do more to try to stop this.
I understand you were recently in Iran, what is your view on Iran?
There is a lot I can say about Iran. It has a proud history culture and art. It is rich in resources but, unfortunately, for many years it has been under an authoritarian regime. But it has seen periods of more liberal political situation, I had a dialogue project some years ago and the Oslo Centre had some dialogue projects with former president Mohammad Khatami and his foundation, a dialogue among two civilizations. He is a reformist liberal who tried to liberalize the country during his time as the president. But you see they have this system of a supreme leader and the council of guardians above the President and above the parliament. So many of his reforms were stopped by the council of guardians. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency it was more authoritarian and thus more difficult. I had two meetings with him. It was lively discussions but its very difficult to move them in a democratic direction. And the oppression increased during these years. Now they have a new liberal President, Hassan Rouhani. I know his foreign minister Mrs. Ali. I met her during my visit to Tehran last week. I also met the Vice President Dr. Aftikar, who is also the Minister of Environment and was also the Minister and Vice President under President Khatami some years back.
They have good intentions no doubt, they want to open up Iran, more towards the democratic world. I think they also have the intention to try and sign an agreement with the US about the nuclear issue. That is very important I will encourage them to go on. But of course, the main thing is – will the supreme leader allow them to do so? Because he takes the final decisions.
In the US I think Obama too has the intention to sign the agreement but the question is – will the congress allow him to do so? This becomes more a question considering the fact that he has a majority of republicans in the congress. So there are obstacles and difficulties on both sides.
In which area is President Rouhani more liberal—the media, freedom of expression, with the prisoners, or is he just deceiving the Western world?
He is liberal in all the sectors you have just mentioned. But his space is limited because there is a higher authority above him. Like I said earlier the final decision is made by the Supreme leader. He was also supportive of the former campaigns by President Khatami, who I know as a good friend. There is no doubt that he is more of a reformist than Ahmadinejad. So, rather than the president it is a question of what the supreme leader is allowing.
Now coming to Somalia, you have done extensive work in Somalia, can you tell us a little about the rise of extremism in the country?
As you know Somalia went through 23 years of civil war, they lived without a parliament, without a government and without a state budget, it was chaotic and it was the warlords who were ruling and controlling the country, fortunately in 2005 they got a government not based on political parties but based on ethnic law. Elders and leaders of ethnic communities appointed the members. So it is a very difficult situation because Al-Shabaab, which is an extreme Islamic movement, is using violence to fight against political institutions.
They have been weakened, they have been reduced, but they still have the resources to cause suicide bombings and car bombings. So it is a very difficult situation. Despite that, the government, the parliament and the president are still moving ahead. They want to move the country in a democratic direction.
The Oslo Centre is supporting them in their efforts, we have over some years now had a program, where we supported and helped the speaker of the parliament and all the committee leaders of the parliament in their daily work. For that, we now have a local office with two employees in Mogadishu.We are now supporting the work of the committee in the parliament, which supports and prepares new laws of political parties, because they now want to establish political parties and next time they will have elections in 2016 this will be their ambition, to base it on political parties not on ethnic laws.
We have also contributed to the constitution of the country. It is very important that Somalia succeeds in its path to democracy. And they need assistance for security, for developing political institutions like we are doing and they need a lot of humanitarian assistance.
I am really concerned about the situation, no doubt. I know where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is coming from. I knew him from the time I was Prime Minister, because we were colleagues. I met him even after I stepped down as prime minister, as president of the Oslo Centre. He has always been Prime Minister and now president for many years. There is always a danger when one man is in power for a very long time. It is the same as Putin in Russia. I am surprised and I am concerned. Because, I have had good discussion with Erdoğan about developing or development over democracy and respect to human rights and it was my clear impression that he had the ambition that Turkey should be real democracy respecting fundamental human rights. Now I see a clear tendency towards authoritarian way of ruling the country. Especially now what is happening with this editor and journalist of newspaper is my great concern. So it’s more important that the democratic world focuses on what is happening within Turkey.
South Sudan is going through a democratic process and Norway is playing a very positive role. How do you look at the efforts made for democracy in South Sudan?
The Oslo Center has project in South Sudan, Forum for Dialogue Among Youths that come from different ethnic clans. One of the most important problems in South Sudan is the conflict between main ethnic groups. I know South Sudan since it was one united Sudan. They had civil war for many years between the Christian-dominated South and Muslim dominated North. We follow these process and my minister for National and International Development Cooperation, was personally engaged in contributing to a peace agreement between the South and North Sudan and they succeeded. In January 2005 they signed a peace agreement. A paragraph in that article provisioned a referendum in the South after five years to decide whether they should be an independent state or not. In 2010 they organized this referendum and as a great number of people voted in favor of an independent state, they got it.
Over the last years the situation has developed in a bad way because there is a conflict of power between president Salva Kiir Mayardit and his former vice president Riek Machar. It broke out even in a violent conflict because of their ethnicity, as one of them belongs to the Nuers one to the Dinkas, and these main ethnic clans marched up behind their leaders and it broke out the violent conflict and all the ministers were expelled from government. What has happened is so sad, because South Sudan is the youngest state of the world and it is a promising state in many ways. They have many resources for example petroleum, they have good chances to develop in terms of prosperity and democracy. But now its so sad. We know that negotiations are going on in the Ethiopian capital between the main parties and we hope that they will make an agreement for a transitional government and a new election, which can be the basis for democracy. It is the way to go. They haven’t concluded their negotiations. The Oslo Centre is doing what it can, talking with the leaders to have a concrete project for a huge dialogue forum.
After the establishment of your Centre, what have been its and your major accomplishments?
We have had several achievements. In the first years we were engaged in interreligious dialogues and we had these very interesting dialogue project with Iran’s former President Khatami and his foundation in Iran about Islam in the West. We made common statements from five conferences spread all over the world, that was a success.
The other interreligious activity was about holy sites. We need to protect holy sites, and holy places from being destroyed and misused during conflict. We succeeded in developing what we call a code for holy sites and rules on how to rule holy sites to avoid misuse. This code was implemented in Bosnia Herzegovina and it was a huge success. Now we have started this in Nigeria, Jerusalem and Indonesia and this is an accomplishment in my opinion.
Also, in Kenya sharing our experiences and opinions on how to develop the democracy of Kenya with the political parties, parliament and with the government has been an achievement. We have received very positive feedback on our work in Kenya. So far we have succeeded there, and despite tensions and disputes, democracy is functioning there again.
Now as I said we are in Somalia, South Sudan and Myanmar to help them with their democratic process and meeting their leaders and talking with them. We have a huge dialogue project forum for youths and we have held three such discussions. I think this is also an achievement because you must start with the youth to develop real democracy.
The North Korean regime is a very deep-rooted dictatorial. The people of North Korea are really suffering, and the conditions there has become a major concern worldwide. What is your opinion on North Korea?
The Oslo centre has also been involved in North Korea because some years ago we were asked to report about the human rights situation in North Korea and we did that by issuing two reports. And these reports say, to be very brief, that there has been a great violation, gravest in the world, of human rights. They let one million people die in the nineties during the hunger and drought and they denied access to humanitarian organizations to big parts of the country.
That is a huge violation of human rights, secondly they have 200,000 political prisoners. Myanmar had two thousand on the tops and now most of them have been released. In North Korea two hundred thousand political prisoners are in prisons and camps. I would say it is the worst case in the world and it is unacceptable. Unfortunately nuclear issues have been the most focused one in North Korea. Though it is important and it is dangerous it is not affecting people in their daily lives. What is affecting people in their daily lives is the violation of human rights. In the framework of the six party talks, because there are six countries that have regards to the nuclear issue in North Korea, they should also raise human rights issues, they should do that because there hasn’t been much focus on the human rights issue in North Korea.
I was a good friend of President Kim Dung Yun of South Korea who issued the Sun Shine policy and this to me was the right approach and a success because in consequence to his policy they opened a railway, and road across the border. They opened an industrial heart in the North with investments from the south and that is still working, opened a route for a very famous tourist spot in the north and last but not the least they organized several reunification events and I attended one of those events, the very first one in Seoul. Unfortunately, this sunshine policy has been frozen over the last years and that is sad. The South Korean government should have taken more initiatives for this policy and a better response from government in the North too.
Does criticism or anything else annoy you?
The violation of human right makes me angry, I am never angered by criticism as a politician I am used to it. I however dislike fabricated information
Who is Kjell Magne Bondevik?
I am a man born 67 years ago in the north coast of Norway to a Christian family. I grew up in a very good environment, I got engaged in politics early in my life. I am so glad I could serve in the parliament and in the government. Over the years I became more and more involved in international politics and especially in the fight for democracy and human rights. I am so glad that I succeeded in establishing the Oslo Centre where I am still the President. I am man very glad in my family with three children and 10 grand children I am engaged in my family and I am an eager soccer fan and this year the team from my home town won so I am very happy about that.
You seem to be travelling a lot, doesn’t your family have a problem with that?
Well, I travel a lot. Last year I wasn’t home for 70 days but this year I reduced it to 50 days. So my wife is really glad that I found some time for home.
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