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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

General Debate at the 51st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

General Debate at the 51st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
September 27, 1996


May I congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to the Presidency of the fifty-first session of the General Assembly and pledge to you the full support of my delegation.

During the past fiftieth anniversary year, the Member States of the United Nations have reaffirmed their support for the fundamental goals and principles of the organization.

The momentum created by the anniversary must now be used to adapt the organization to new realities. To this end, both structural and financial reforms must be undertaken, setting priorities and reallocating limited resources. But the point of the exercise must not be simple cost-cutting. What we need above all is a stronger, not a weaker, organization, better capable of dealing with the global challenges of the twenty-first century.

There is no alternative to the United Nations. The further evolution of the organization is, therefore, inevitable. But the organization will not evolve in a commonly acceptable direction under duress. The agreement and implementation of necessary reforms will only be achieved in a spirit of dialogue and accommodation.

This applies not least to ongoing work to adapt the Security Council. Changes in its composition and working methods should remain a priority. The Council must better reflect political and economic realities in a rapidly changing world. Its continued efficiency depends on a constructive contribution by all its members, as well as equitable representation and manageable size. There should be a geographically balanced expansion of seats in both the permanent and non-permanent categories, including permanent seats for Germany and Japan. We should also ensure that small and medium-size States have the possibility to be represented in the Council.

The United Nations system must be strengthened further in the fields of economic and social policy and development. The revitalization of the Economic and Social Council is important is it is to serve as an important venue for coordination and policy-making on issues which affect our daily existence. Iceland is a candidate for election to the ECOSOC for the next term and is prepared to contribute constructively to the work of the Council and the debate on its future.

The signing of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty this week will be remembered as an important step towards limiting the nuclear arms race and setting us on a path of genuine nuclear disarmament. I would like to urge Member Countries to sign and ratify the Treaty as soon as possible.

The proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is of continuous concern to the international community. Unconditional and universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, and now the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, is a critical step towards eliminating weapons that threaten life on our planet.

But the horrors associated with weapons of mass destruction must not blind us to the wide-spread suffering caused by increasingly destructive conventional arms. Landmines, especially, are a growing menace, indiscriminately maiming and killing innocents, no less than combatants. Iceland strongly supports a comprehensive ban on the use, production and export of anti-personnel landmines.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, it has become increasingly clear how prolonged regional conflicts can have serious international implications. Events in Iraq are only the most recent example. Such conflicts need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner by the United Nations. In addition to the important function of the Security Council, the wider United Nations system should be employed more actively to prevent armed conflict, as well as to assist in the reconstruction of societies emerging from war.

Vigilance towards threats or acts of aggression, which can erode regional or international stability, is a necessary part of such preventive activity. International terrorism is aggression by unconventional means. Its victims are mainly civilian. The use or sanction of terrorism by individual states is unacceptable. The actions of the international community should properly reflect the universal abhorrence of alliances between terrorists and individual States.

The sinister scheming of terrorists and organized crime is of growing concern, not least since it is frequently based on illicit drug-trafficking. The United Nations can do much to enhance international cooperation in crime prevention and the suppression of drug-trafficking across national boundaries. Iceland supports the holding of a Special Session of the General Assembly in 1998 devoted to drug control.

The international community must move swiftly to enhance respect for relevant human rights instruments in areas of conflict. The establishment of international war crimes tribunals is a step in the right direction, provided they receive the necessary cooperation to fulfill their mandate from all parties concerned.

Through a series of international conferences, the organization has, during the past few years, addressed the most important issues facing humankind. These conferences have highlighted both the enormity of our task as well as the complex interrelationship between the different global issues we are called upon to deal with, be they absolute poverty, environmental degradation, overpopulation, human rights abuses of social injustice. Having concluded this unprecedented series of conferences at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul last June, we owe it to future generations to join hands and spare no effort to implement the decisions reached.

Universal human rights are the foundation on which we base the work of the United Nations. This includes the safeguarding of gender equality and the rights of the most vulnerable group in society, the poor and the disabled. Children are increasingly the target of atrocities in war and human rights violations. Six years after the World Summit for Children we still must do a better job of honouring our commitments to children. In this context, Iceland welcomes in particular the recommendations of the Stockholm World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and wishes to see them followed up on as soon as possible.

Hunger and malnutrition are shameful phenomena on the eve of the twenty-first century. With the resources at our disposal the international community should be able to provide food security for the whole of mankind. The forthcoming World Food Summit will hopefully secure a commitment, at the highest political level, to rapidly achieve this objective.

As a country owing its survival and prosperity to the harvesting of living marine resources, Iceland has consistently underlined the potential of the oceans as a major source of nutrition. Icelandic fisheries have developed experience and technology which could benefit others. The Government of Iceland is prepared to facilitate international cooperation in this field.

Iceland has contributed actively to the establishment of international law governing the protection and sustainable utilization of the oceans. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has already proven to be an historic success in the field of international law and remains among the greatest achievements of the United Nations.

The seas and ocean floors are the depositories of enormous resources. The agreement of the international community on an extensive legal framework on this subject is therefore a major accomplishment. The Convention offers the prospect of resolving serious conflicts on the uses of the seas which could be detrimental to international cooperation. The Convention has already provided the basis for further agreements, such as the recently concluded Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

Iceland has actively participated in the adoption of the Global Programme of Action for Protecting the Marine Environment from Pollution from Land-based Sources. Pollution of this sort is responsible for over 80 percent of all marine pollution. In order to facilitate the implementation of the Programme, a draft resolution on institutional arrangements will be addressed by this session of the General Assembly.

However, major challenges remain. Controlling the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants needs to be addressed. Iceland welcomes the proposal put forward within the United Nations Environment Programme to establish and international committee in 1997 with the aim of reaching a global agreement on this question.

This year, Iceland celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its membership in the United Nations. We have strongly emphasized constructive participation. This reflects our belief in the importance of multilateral cooperation for smaller States and, in particular, in the hopes and aspiration attached to the world organization.

The United Nations are ideally capable of achievements in specific areas which are beyond the reach of national or regional authorities. However, it will never attain the capacity to meet all expectations. As Member States debate reforms, I would like to emphasize the importance of setting priorities and making them well known. The shaping of a new United Nations suited for the twenty-first century must be complemented by vigorous information efforts, with the aim of ensuring continued public confidence and support.

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