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UNESCO: Speech delivered by Iceland at the General Policy Debate of the 42nd General Conference

Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, H.E. Ms. Lilja D. Alfredsdóttir - mynd

Speech delivered by H.E. Ms. Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs of Iceland, during the General Policy Debate of the 42nd General Conference of UNESCO.

Paris, 9 November 2023

Madame President of the General Conference,
Madame Chair of the Executive Board,
Madame Director-General,
Distinguished Delegates,

Peace must be founded upon dialogue and mutual understanding. Peace must be built upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity.

This vision of UNESCO provides hope for our future, a future we need to build together.

In order to secure lasting peace, we need to guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people and accept their broad diversity.

Iceland is a longstanding partner of UNESCO and an active supporter of multilateralism and human rights, which are at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate.

UNESCO´s role has become more important than ever as the world continues to face challenges, such as climate change, natural disasters and growing conflicts, increasingly putting the world’s peace and security at stake.

It is truly saddening to witness the unimaginable human suffering and destruction caused by conflicts and wars in so many places around the world. Russia continues its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, and, in Israel and Palestine, innocent civilians are the main victims of the hostilities. In these dark times, it is critical that the respect for international law, human rights and humanitarian law is upheld. Humanity must prevail.

Dear colleagues,

We are halfway through Agenda 2030 and yet only 15% of the SDGs are on track. Recent events, including wars and climate change, continue to slow down sustainable development efforts. The importance of a comprehensive emphasis on the SDGs in all of UNESCO’s work cannot be underestimated.

Iceland is a strong supporter of UNESCO’s Global Priorities. We are pleased with the increased focus on a transformative approach to Gender Equality and would like to emphasize the need for all of us to actively make an effort to ensure full and equal participation of people of all genders, in all areas of UNESCO’s mandate.

The world becomes a better place when everyone can make the most of their lives. A special concern must be included for LGBTQI people in UNESCO’s mission, their exclusion can hinder their enjoyment of fundamental rights,

The shocking and systemic violation of Afghan women’s human rights and their exclusion from almost all spheres of society includes serious restrictions on rights and freedoms under UNESCO’s mandate. Afghan women and girls need our full support. Attention to the ongoing violations of women’s and girls’ human rights must remain high on the organisation’s agenda. 

Dear colleagues,

Inclusive high-quality education is an important priority for Iceland, it is important to embrace the outcomes of the Transformative Education Summit and support the transformative approach to education and gender mainstreaming. Education is the most powerful tool to help change the world for the better. We commend UNESCO’s important work on ocean science, climate change and greening education, and support clear synergies between existing mechanisms. Iceland is pleased to have been among the first twenty Member States to ratify the 2019 Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications.

Dear colleagues,

Culture may be described as that which makes life worth living.

Protecting and safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage and supporting creativity and dynamic cultural sectors play an important role in addressing the challenges of our time.

Iceland strongly supports culture as a driver of development and the MONDIACULT 2022 Declaration, which affirms for the first time that culture is a “global public good”, consequently calling for culture to be included as a specific objective in its own right in the next revision of United Nations SDGs.

We welcome the intersectoral collaboration in the new UNESCO Framework for Culture and Arts Education and the inclusive and participatory consultation process for the upcoming World Conference on Culture and Arts Education.

Dear friends,

Respect for fundamental freedoms, pluralistic media and freedom of information is vital to every society. UNESCO´s work is at the core of the international community´s commitment to securing freedom of expression. We must defend the freedom of speech for artists, journalists and scientists, a hallmark of any democratic and free society.

Science and transformational technologies are developing fast, not the least in the context of AI. We must take very seriously their potential and predictable impact on our societies, both positive and negative. This calls for active and strengthened multilateral cooperation.

We welcome UNESCO’s initiative and work on implementing the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. This is an important step in ensuring that emerging technologies benefit humanity and are developed with respect for human rights.


UNESCO’s role as a champion of peace, understanding and tolerance is as ever urgent and vital. Education for all, gender equality and sustainability must be crosscutting themes in all our work. Iceland is firmly committed to continue playing an active role in contributing to UNESCO’s work and thereby working towards the common good.

I thank you.


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