Marius Reikerås is an internationally acclaimed Norwegian lawyer and human rights activist. He was awarded the NCHR/NKMR honorary diploma 2018 for outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement. As a lawyer, Marius Reikerås has always battled against the Norwegian court system, to protect his Human rights. For many years, Marius Reikerås has been at the forefront of the protests and demonstrations against the Norwegian CPS, “Barnevernet”, both in Norway and internationally.
In an exclusive interview, he spoke to Ujjawal Krishnam on several critical issues circling human rights abuse.
Human rights are said to be critical parameters of human growth, how do you see this?
The belief that everyone, by virtue of her or his humanity, is entitled to certain Human Rights, is fairly new in a historical perspective. Keep in mind that World War II led to the Human Rights Laws the way that we see today. The cruelties of this war, made the the world come together to agree on minimum standards of dignity to be afforded to all human beings. These minimum standards became known as Human Rights, recorded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and made enforceable in Europe under the Human Rights Convention, which is monitored by the European Court of Human Rights.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) applies world-wide, and is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and in force from 23 March 1976. The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The ICCPR is monitored by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. People from all over the world can accordingly address their complaints for potential Human Rights violations to the United Nations Human Rights committee. Thus, the Human Rights (minimum) guarantees are the cornerstone of protecting the individual against governmental abuse. Without Human Rights, the individual is lawless in the encounter with the government, and that suffocates democracy. Accordingly, Human Rights are critical parameters of human growth. I would like to quote Thomas Jefferson: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”
War crimes are violations which always go unaddressed. Where exists the fault line?
We have the International Criminal Court(ICC) in Hague in the Netherlands. The ICC has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The ICC began functioning on 1 July 2002, and has 123 ICC member states. But in general terms you are right when you say that war crimes ( often) go unaddressed, and this is closely linked to lack of respect for Human Rights. Obviously, those who take part in war crimes, have no respect for the Human Rights. And that is my greatest concerns nowadays: That we see Human Rights, on all levels, being illusory rather than practical and effective for the protection of individuals.
Constitutional rights are largely suppressed by societal customs which sometimes are justified by self proclaimed caretakers of society. Your comment.
It’s difficult for me to give a specific answer to that. However, we do know that in many parts of the world, societal customs suppress constitutional rights. We tend to see, world wide, that Human Rights are being suppressed by national standards. That happens in a developed country like Norway too.
Religious orthodoxy is seen as the biggest culprit of rights abuse in human history, your view?
Article 9 of the European Convention, which has it counterpart in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18, says: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. However,it’s hard for me to comment upon historical facts, as my knowledge about religion in general is rather limited. My personal view, however, is that these Articles are very important, as it reflects the tolerance of religious diversity. I believe that we have to accept religious diversity world wide, to promote peace. At the same time religion must never be used as to commit horrible crimes, like we have seen being conducted by ISIS.
Conflict zones like Kashmir and West Bank face brutal abuse of armed power to suppress innocents. Why have international organizations failed to bring peace here?
Sadly, I believe you are right. War crimes always affect the innocents. And international organization must have accepted that they failed to bring peace at many places. Let me take an example from my own life: I visited Libya in the winter of 2009, and I found the country to be fairly developed and stable. A few years later, in March 2011, the UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to “protect” civilians. Unfortunately my country, Norway, took part in the airstrikes. Former president in the US, Obama, has stated that Libya aftermath was the ‘worst mistake’ of his presidency. And I agree : The outcome of the airstrikes left Libya in a total chaos and anarchy. This is a specific example where international organizations failed to bring peace, and I am ashamed Norway participated in a war against Libya. I see the conflicts in Kashmir and West Bank are rising. The only way to stop these conflicts is for the people in charge to sit together and respect the Human Rights that are universal.
Your view on Rohingya crisis?
Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the Myanmar government won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy. She has been strongly criticized for failing to speak out against the army crackdown in Rakhine state. There has been a debate as to whether Aung San Suu Kyi should be stripped of her Nobel peace prize after UN reports on mass killings of Muslim Rohingya by Myanmar’s military. My personal view is that I am deeply disappointed with how Aung San Suu Kyi has responded to this crisis. I am also disappointed that she can keep her Nobel peace prize after this.
Your comment on ISIS Brides. Do they secure rights to return to their countries?
The cases of the “ISIS brides” raise complex questions about indoctrination and violence, as well as about birthright citizenship. In my country Norway, many claim to strip their citizenship. As far as I know, the international tribunals, like the European Court of Human Rights, have not dealt with the questions yet, as the issue is fairly new. But recently a woman was convicted in Norway to almost three years in prison for supporting ISIS.
Countries are sealing their borders against refugees. Isn’t that against basic principality of humanity? How do international laws interpret situations as such?
Yes, we do see an increasing number of developed nations are taking legal steps to shut out migrants. And these nations do seem to have grown support from the European Court of Human Rights in doing so. This is also a question of the security of the nations people. The international tribunals must strike a balance between the citizens of the domestic countries and the rights of the refugees. This line is quite difficult to draw at this juncture.
Human rights also include right to food, right to education, right to equal opportunity. But what Venezuela is currently facing stands against these basic rights. Venezuela blocked food, inflation is at alarming level, political turmoil and life threatening conditions are impending human lives. How should such issues be tackled by International organizations to mediate the situation?
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that, as of November 2018, more than 3 million of an estimated 32 million Venezuelans had fled their country since 2014. Many more not registered by authorities have also left. In September 2018, the UN Security Council held an informal “Arria Formula” meeting on corruption in\ Venezuela and world leaders led by Costa Rica convened a special “high-level” meeting on Venezuela during the annual UN General Assembly. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Venezuela has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of human rights violations in other countries, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in countries including Syria, Belarus, Burundi, and Iran. They also refuse to cooperate with council mechanisms, including rejecting visit requests by most special procedure mandate holders. Juan Guaidóis is young and energetic. Maybe he can respond to some of the severe challenges that Venezuela faces.
Human rights are considered to be a proportional gradient of capital development of a nation. Then, what can be done to ensure human rights in third world countries?
The key word is: EDUCATION! We have to stimulate the people , all around the world, to gain more knowledge about the Human Rights! Even in a developed country like Norway, people are in general little aware of their basic Human Rights and public officials who are under a constitutional duty to respect Human rights often tend to ignore their duties under the Human Rights laws.
Four years of mind-boggling violence in Yemen has not spared a single child, said Geert Cappelaeri of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Children are the worst victims of conflict. How can this be addressed?
The Yemen disaster is one of the worst ever. And it tends to be the “forgotten crisis”. In fact, a leaked report by UN Secretary-General António Guterres points to a clear trend. The Yemen section of his annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report notes that “the killing and maiming of children remains the most prevalent violation” of children’s rights in the country, and found that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was responsible for more than 50% of child casualties – 683, compared with 414 by Huthi armed groups. So why do war crimes against children bear no repercussions?
Sexual violence as a weapon of war has largely been condemned but it is still a horrifying reality. Joint UN-Red Cross recently appealed to end rising sexual violence as a weapon of war, do you see it happening? Your view, please.
I am not too optimistic if we see this in a historic perspective. The post-World War II Nuremberg trials condemned rape as a crime against humanity. Governments must be willing to enforce international law and codes of conduct, while also supporting counselling and other services for victims.
According to OHCHR, nine people were executed and six others were subjected to the death penalty in Egypt this year. What is your opinion about the death penalty?
My personal view about the death penalty, is that I am against it. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says that every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. It further states in that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court. And also that anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases.
You are a human rights counsel, please tell us about the status of major advocacies and dialogues presently under shape to improve human life conditions and to safeguard human rights?
As a Norwegian Human Rights counsel, I primarily focus upon Human Rights breaches that take place in Norway. It has been, up until 2015- 2016, difficult to convince the international society about the Human Rights violations in Norway, as many tend to believe that everything here is “fine” since Norway is among the most developed and rich countries in the world. However, we see that Norway,more and more frequently,is found guilty in international tribunals. In December 2013, the European Court of Human Rights found Norway guilty of violating Article 8 of the Convention, as Norwegian authorities failed to provide deep sea divers with essential information about risks associated with their employers’ use of rapid decompression tables. Some of these divers were Indian,and they are entitled to compensation from the Norwegian state. The last five years we have seen several other convictions, also in an area which has caused diplomatic controversy between India and Norway; the child welfare area, where Norwegian authorities have take Indian children into public custody with vague reasons. One of the greatest effects, has been that the focus upon Human rights abuses in Norway, also have encouraged Human Rights defenders in other countries to come forward. And the collaboration between Human Rights defenders, is getting better and better throughout the world. I must express my deepest respect to the Indian Human Rights lawyer, Suranya Ayiar,whom I have had the privilege of knowing and cooperating with for some years now. In September last year, she was awarded the Honorable Prize from the Nordic Committee of Human Rights in Sweden.
You have faced several odds in your journey to defend human dignity,how do you look back?
I could have responded this question for hours. It’s a very tense relationship between me and the Norwegian authorities. Throughout the last ten years, ane even longer than that, they have done pretty much everything they could to get rid of me. But I am still here, and more determined than ever before to continue fighting for what I believe in: The fight for Human Rights.
Ujjawal Krishnam is an editor at Academia.edu and Wikiprojects, contributes to Getty Images, and writes on Indian polity and jurisprudence.