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UNESCO: National Statement of Iceland at the 217th session of the Executive Board

National statement of Iceland
217th session of the Executive Board of UNESCO, October 2023

Delivered by the Permanent Delegate of Iceland, Ms Auðbjörg Halldórsdóttir

Ms Chairperson of the Executive Board, Ms Director-General,  

Mr President of the General Conference,  
Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, 

Let me start by thanking you, Madame Chairperson, for your excellent stewardship of the Executive Board.

I would like to second your opening words on the horrific events that took place over the weekend.

We deeply deplore the loss of lives and are gravely concerned by the rapidly deteriorating situation and the impact on the affected populations. 

Seventy-seven years have passed since the first session of the Executive Board took place in November 1946. It was a different world. Around 65% of the planet was considered wilderness. Today, a mere 23% of the planet's land surface can be classified as wilderness. If the current rate of decline continues, we might soon be left with less than 20% of wilderness and irreversible loss of biodiversity.

That cannot be the future we want.

Climate change and environmental degradation are undeniably some of our most urgent global challenges and UNESCO has an imperative role in addressing them through education, research and heritage protection. The world has a vested interest in the health of the oceans and ocean science. A greater focus on climate impact and climate actions at UNESCO is welcome - and sufficient support to the work of IOC is paramount.

Dear colleagues.

We are now halfway through the 2030 Agenda and yet only 12% of the SDGs are on track. A sharp and comprehensive emphasis on the SDGs, in all of UNESCO’s work is urgent, notably in the area of gender equality, which as we know, is imperative to the success of all the SDGs.

Last month, UN Women and UN DESA issued the Gender Snapshot 2023 report on the status of gender equality across all 17 SDGs. It states that the SDG5 on gender equality is “way off track” and that no SDG5 indicator is at the level of “target met” or “almost met”.

A lack of commitment to gender equality, deeply rooted biases and underinvestment are listed as key reasons. We are failing women and girls. There is real urgency to systematically prioritize gender equality with a concrete transformative approach, stronger collaboration and policy actions. UNESCO has a lot to contribute, especially through its cross-sectoral approach. While we welcome the increased budget devoted to UNESCO’s Global Priority Gender Equality, the reality is that funding for gender equality remains insufficient.

Dear colleagues.

Human rights are a key pillar of Iceland’s foreign policy. Iceland has presented its candidature to the Human Rights Council for the term 2025-2027. If elected, we will actively contribute to the Council’s core mandate of advancing the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe as we have done in the CR committee of the Executive Board.

The forced transfers of civilians and children, and the bombing of schools and cultural institutions – these are crimes and should not be ignored by those fortunate to enjoy the privilege of peace.

As Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine continues, we welcome UNESCO’s efforts of providing emergency assistance and to monitoring, assessing and developing measures across UNESCO’s fields of competence. We must support human rights defenders, civil society, independent media and journalists.

Media freedom and the freedom of expression are the cornerstone of an informed society, fostering democratic engagement and upholding fundamental human rights.   

The right to education is an indispensable human right, for which UNESCO has the lead role and responsibility. The systemic violation of Afghan women’s human rights and their exclusion from almost all spheres of society in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime is one of the gravest human rights violations in the world today. In the acute humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, access to education remains women’s highest priority. Iceland will present amendments, prepared in cooperation with the Group of Friends of Afghanistan and the Afghan Permanent Delegation, on the draft decision on item 4.I.G. UNESCO’s actions in support of Afghans.

We count on all your support.


Our forthcoming discussions at the Executive Board are important and will lay the groundwork for the upcoming General Conference. I extend my thanks to the IOS and the entire Secretariat team for excellent reports and tireless efforts in preparing for this board meeting.

The return of the United States of America to the UNESCO family is great news for the organization and will help deliver the Organization’s important mandate.

We can endorse the programme and budget as presented. We must ensure to use it wisely and to direct funds towards high-impact programmes and projects, that will help deliver the results needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Together, let’s ensure that UNESCO is both prepared and well suited to fulfill its mandate. We look forward to fruitful and constructive conclusions of our discussions in the weeks ahead.

Dear friends.

UNESCO was born of a clear vision of bringing people together and building a culture of peace through solidarity, mutual understanding and dialogue between cultures. Supporting the vision of UNESCO and the principles of the Multilateral system, on which UNESCO is built, is our best chance for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a prosperous future for generations to come.


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