Statement by H.E. Jorundur Valtysson
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
General Assembly 78th session, 18 October 2023
26/27th Plenary Meeting of Third Committee
Promotion and protection of human rights (Item 71)
Iceland aligns itself with the statements made by Luxembourg, Ireland and the United Kingdom - made on behalf of three separate groups of countries.
At the outset, allow me also to say a few words about the horrific hostilities unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Millions of people are gravely affected. The growing number of deaths among civilians is devastating. We are appalled by the strike on Al-Ahli hospital adding further to the suffering we have witnessed in the past days.
Iceland has condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric acts committed by Hamas. Terrorism can never be justified. It is clear that Israel has a right to defend itself within the bounds of international law that provides states with both rights and obligations. Both are sacred.
We are deeply concerned about the risk for further escalation. International humanitarian law must be respected and upheld at all times. Breaches thereof must be carefully investigated. Safe and unimpeded humanitarian access must be ensured, and civilians and civilian objects, medical personnel and humanitarian workers and assets must be protected.
Human rights are a key pillar of Iceland’s foreign and development policy, based on the conviction that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
This year we mark the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that proclaimed that everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights, no matter their identity, beliefs, or circumstances. This milestone document is still a guiding light for our work today.
Unfortunately, we are seeing challenges to many of the basic rights we thought had been secured and accepted. We are witnessing an increase in hatred and intolerance, both in the real world as well as on social media and other online platforms. Religious intolerance, violent nationalism and racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, are on the rise. We see signs of increasing homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. We are also witnessing increased hate speech and a pushback on the gains that have been made towards gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
We must reverse and fight these trends and work together to secure the universal human rights of all people, regardless of race, religion, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We must stand up for the values of democracy, freedom, and human rights and defend the freedom of expression and assembly and tolerance for dissent as an integral part of public discourse – where we agree to disagree and fight for each other’s right to do so.
These are some of the primary motivations behind Iceland’s decision to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council for the term 2025 to 2027, as a Nordic candidature, at the next elections in the fall of 2024. Iceland will actively contribute to the Council’s core mandate of advancing the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and addressing human rights violations and abuses.
Iceland will also continue to engage with countries from all regions of the world in an inclusive manner, recognizing the critical importance of respectful and genuine dialogue for a more efficient and effective Council. This is an important point. Member states in the Human Rights Council do not have to be perfect. None of us are. But we can all do better, and we should all aim to do so. We should not shy away from dialogue and neither shy away from calling out human rights violations, regardless of where they take place or by whom.
Regardless of the Third committee's important work there are real heroes out there defending human rights, risking their lives and liberties by calling out injustices, standing up for democracy and equality, and speaking out against discrimination and intolerance. These brave people deserve our attention and support, especially as many of them increasingly face derision, threats and attempts to silence their voices.
Especially, as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, we call on this Committee to reiterate its call for providing safe and enabling environment for them, and strongly condemn reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN system.