Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, emphasized human rights, reforms in the international system and the urgency of concrete actions against climate change in his address at the 74th Session of the General Assembly of the UN in New York on September 27.
Foreign Minister Thórdarson opened his statement by highlighting the upcoming 75th anniversary of the UN and the importance of ensuring the realisation of the principles, rights and obligations, enshrined in the UN Charter. “We need to safeguard the international rules-based system, with the United Nations at the helm but also, where need be, pursue reforms if the system is no longer serving the very ideals it is founded upon – and even rewards states that violate our principles,” said Thórdarson in his address.
In this context, Foreign Minister Thórdarson, discussed the need for reforms of the UN Human Rights Council, of which Iceland became a member last year. “During our tenure, Iceland has actively promoted gender equality, children’s rights and rights of LGBTI individuals. We have also advocated for much-needed reforms in the work and composition of the Council where we continue to see certain member states elected as full members, passing judgements and casting votes abroad while their human rights record at home should be on trial.”
On the issue of climate change, Foreign Minister Thórdarson was unambiguous. “This is not a distant abstraction, but a stark reality. In the Arctic, including in my country, we are witnessing glaciers melting and vanishing, and our seas and marine life are rapidly changing,” said Thórdarson before adding that the effect of climate change on the oceans should not be underestimated. “The fight against climate change needs to begin at home, but the high-income countries also need to support lower-income countries in addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. This is a focus area in Iceland´s new development cooperation policy and, earlier this week, my Government announced that we would double our contributions to the Green Climate Fund.”
In his address Minister Thórdarson expressed his belief that open, fair, and free trade was single most important driver for economic growth and stability. He also urged further research to address non-communicable diseases and neurological disorders, including spinal cord injuries, that affect up to a billion people worldwide. Furthermore, Foreign Minister Thórdarson discussed various conflicts and crises in the world, e.g. in Syria and Yemen. “Regional powerbrokers, which fuel tensions and fund the warring parties, need to step back in support of a peaceful political process.”
In his concluding remarks, the Foreign Minister paid tribute to the generation that built the United Nations after the horrors of the Second World War and its legacy. “We must never forget that our rules-based international system is based upon determination and awareness that derived from one of the greatest tragedies in human history. We must never take it for granted.”
During his visit to New York, Foreign Minister Thórdarson had several bilateral meetings, e.g. with the foreign ministers of Cabo Verde, North Macedonia, Andorra, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. He also took part in a meeting of the so-called Green Group, an informal six-state forum on climate-related issues. Furthermore, the Foreign Minister and his Liberian counterpart signed an air services agreement between Iceland and Liberia at their meeting on September 27.
The entire speech of Foreign Minister Thórdarson at the General Assembly has been published on the Government of Iceland website. Recording of the speech is available in the player below.