The efforts of every country to safeguard the multilateral system were the guiding principles in Minister Thórdís Kolbrún Reykfjord Gylfadóttir's first annual address to the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, 24 September 2022. Russia's invasion of Ukraine, environmental challenges, climate change and human rights issues were also focal in her address.
"In this hall, during this session, we are equal. Whether we represent a global superpower or one of the more than 70 member states, like mine, that have less than one million inhabitants - in this room we all have the same number of seats at the table, we each have a vote and we all have a voice and the right to let it be heard from this podium," the Minister for Foreign Affairs said.
At the beginning of her address, Minister Gylfadóttir took the opportunity to discuss the gavel, a gift from Iceland to the United Nations in 1952. Despite its smallness the gavel keeps order in the General Assembly. The person who holds it can take control of the deliberations of the most powerful men and women in the world. It has an inscription in Icelandic that says „Með lögum skal land byggja“, meaning that society shall be built on the pillars of law.
"In the global context, we are all acutely aware, not least the smaller states of this world, that a world not governed by rules, will be a world dominated by force," Foreign Minister Gylfadóttir said.
"It is our duty as leaders, not least those of us who are young, to make sure that the fortunes of the past decades do not lead us into dangerous complacency. We must advocate for the multilateral system at every opportunity and convince the peoples of the world, that despite its flaws, it is vastly and completely superior to any other method of resolving issues and disputes between states," Foreign Minister Gylfadóttir furthermore stated.
Russia's full-scale invasion into Ukraine was prominent in the Minister's speech.
"The unlawful and brutal full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine came as a shock, a rude awakening to how the world might look if the ability to destroy, rather than the capacity to create, is allowed to determine the fate of nations," Minister Gylfadóttir said.
"Therefore, before I will say anything else about world affairs. I will say that for the sake of humanity, Ukraine must win. Russia’s aggression must be defeated, and the crimes perpetrated in its name must be accounted for and punished," she added.
Foreign Minister Gylfadóttir discussed human rights issues and expressed her concerns about the increase in repression of religious and ethnic minorities, racism, anti-semitism and violent nationalism. She also discussed the misuse of the freedom of expression, especially in states where governments claim a monopoly on truth.
"For the peoples of the world to be able to find the transformative solutions that the world so desperately needs, people must be able to challenge the status quo. They must be free to express their opinions and debate freely on even the most sensitive issues. They must also be free to create art, even if the art is distasteful. These are the values that the defenders of Ukraine want to secure for their children. These are the values that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is demanding for the people of Belarus. These values are being denied to Afghan women and girls under the Taliban regime. These are the values that do not accept that Mahsa Amini is beaten to death in Iran for wearing a hijab incorrectly," Minister Gylfadóttir said.
The Foreign Minister discussed issues of food insecurity, poverty and hunger and how the number of people who are faced with these threats is increasing at a terrifying rate due to the lingering effects of the pandemic and the pandemic response, armed conflict, and climate change.-
At the end of her address, Minister Gylfadóttir urged for a global cooperation on every front to take on humanity's challenges.
"I am thankful for the opportunity to address this 77th General Assembly and once again be reminded that the possibility for nations to come together, and exchange ideas and opinions in a civilised manner remains the norm in international relations, and that those who break the rules are almost universally condemned," Foreign Minister Gylfadóttir said.