Statement at the General Debate of the Third Committee by Ambassador Jörundur Valtýsson, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the UN
Statement by H.E. Jörundur Valtýsson,
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
General Assembly 75th session, 7 October 2020
Third Committee – General debate
Thank you, Madam Chairperson,
Allow me to start by congratulating you and other members of the Bureau on your election to this very important Committee during these unprecedented circumstances.
The protection and promotion of human rights is a cornerstone in Iceland´s foreign policy. Human rights are universal and should be protected regardless of who we are, where we come from, what we believe in or whom we love.
At the United Nations, our human rights policy has focused on gender equality, children’s rights, rights of LGBTI individuals and the strengthening of the international human rights system – and I will focus on these four topics in this national statement.
The ongoing pandemic has created many challenges and impacted almost all aspects of our lives. Vulnerable groups, including women and children, have been negatively affected by this crisis. Amidst restrictions and community lockdowns, gender-based violence and violence against children has been on the rise. Also, the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 threaten to undermine our achievements on equality.
Protection of children against violence has been a priority for the Icelandic Government. We have long emphasized the crucial importance to have the right services and response in place when children are believed to be victims of sexual or other serious violence. The Barnahús – or Children’s House – Model has been developed in Iceland over the last three decades. This child-friendly and multi-agency response framework to child abuse has a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to investigate cases -and provides appropriate therapeutic services for child victims. The model has now been introduced in around twenty countries.
Iceland is committed to defending women’s human rights and their reproductive freedom. We are concerned to see established international norms and standards increasingly being challenged, even the ones that have been collectively agreed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are particularly concerned with renewed attempts to overturn the discourse on bodily autonomy, comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender-based violence.
The pandemic should not act as an excuse but be an encouragement in our pursuit of equality. As we celebrate the achievements made in Beijing 25 years ago, we also need to fast forward and redouble our efforts. Otherwise, we risk falling behind on our commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals.
In Iceland, we pride ourselves on valuing both our diversity and difference. A recent study by the OECD showed that Iceland tops the list of social acceptance for LGBTI individuals and, currently, three Government-sponsored bills are being introduced in the Icelandic Parliament to improve the legal framework for transgender and intersex people. As with gender equality, we can be proud of this. Yet, our work is nowhere completed. Despite great progress in recent years, we have a long way to go before we can say we have reached equality at home.
While continuing efforts at home, the Icelandic Government is engaging with other countries on the removal of stigmatization and institutional prejudices against LGBTI persons. Earlier this year, Iceland proudly joined the LGBTI Core Group, along with Nepal. Much work remains, as reflected in the fact that same-sex relations remain illegal in close to 70 countries.
Equality is not only a principled agenda. To believe everyone should enjoy their fundamental freedoms and dignity is also a practical one. If we are to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and truly “Leave No One Behind”, we must guarantee the non-discrimination and equality of all.
Finally, Madam Chairperson, a few words on the Human Rights Treaty Body Review.
In 2012-2014, Iceland had the pleasure of co-facilitating the process of the elaboration of Resolution 68/268 in partnership with Indonesia and Tunisia. It was the first time the General Assembly came together and addressed the treaty bodies in such a comprehensive way. It has been a long process and much of the work shifted to Geneva, where Iceland continues to play an active part.
Continued engagement of Member States is required to support the treaty bodies in the implementation of resolution 68/268, as demonstrated two years ago by this Committee on what became Resolution 73/162. In line with this, we look forward to working closely with other members of the Committee on this important initiative.
I thank you, Madam Chairperson.