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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

General Debate at the 52nd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

General Debate at the Fifty-Second Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
September 26, 1997


Mr. President,

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

The new Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has already put his mark on the United Nations, after less than nine months in office. He has led efforts at reforming our organization in an effective, fair and balanced manner. I congratulate him and pledge the unwavering support of my Government for his important mission.

Increasingly, as we approach the new millennium, we have come to appreciate the value of international cooperation. The information revolution is advancing a new sense of global neighbourhood and the gradual abolition of trade barriers is raising the level of economic well-being in different parts of the world. At the same time, the world community is faced with challenges of a new order of magnitude, making it necessary for governments to pool their resources and work together.

Global forces are in many ways eroding the traditional boundaries between nation states. This trend calls for the strengthening of international organizations competent to tackle issues that no single state or groups of states can deal with in isolation. Consequently, it is crucial that we strengthen the United Nations. Without a reinvigourated United Nations, the international community will not be in a position to address the foremost challenges confronting it in the 21st century.

Sadly, our organization has not been endowed to meet those challenges. Demands on the United Nations are greater than ever and the limited resources at the organization's disposal are grossly disproportionate to the tasks at hand. The question inevitably rises: Do we wish to give the United Nations a clear and focussed mandate and empower it to carry that mandate out? In my opinion our answer should be the same one that Winston Churchill once gave: "Give us the tools and we will finish the job".

Once more we must urge all member countries to pay their contributions to the organization fully and on time.

The Secretary-General's reform initative is the most comprehensive attempt to date at fashioning the United Nations of tomorrow into an instrument capable of serving the common interests of all peoples, guided by the enduring tenets of peace, human rights, the rule of law and social progress, enshrined in the Charter more than half a century ago. Coming at the end of a thorough and useful debate, the Secretary-General's report is in large part a distillation of views expressed by individual Governments.

Inevitably, the report represents a compromise, unlikely to accommodate all the wishes of a single state or a group of states. But taken as a whole, it represents the best effort to obtain what is realistically feasible under the circumstances. The reform package should, in our opinion, be accepted as an integral whole.

A focussed discussion on the Secretary-General's report should give a boost to the ongoing debate among member states on an increase in the membership of the Security Council, as well as a more equitable representation on the Council. The Nordic countries have jointly presented their ideas on this issue. Iceland welcomes the paper submitted by the Chairman of the Security Council Working Group, which is largely in line with the suggestions of the Nordic countries, and hopes that efforts to resolve this fundamental aspect of the entire reform process may be brought to a successful conclusion during the current General Assembly.


Mr President,

Although the reform of our organization and its long term credibility must have a high priority, regional conflicts continually demand our attention.

In the Middle East, the situation has rarely been more uncertain since the signing of the Oslo accords. The parties to the accords must not be distracted from pursuing the path of peace. They should refrain from creating unnecessary hurdles in the path of peace by provocative undertakings likely to cause hostility, suspicion and fear. There should be a clear and unambiguous recognition that terrorism against innocent civilians is wholly incompatible with the pursuit of peace. Both parties have to ensure that international norms in the field of human rights and humanitarian law are respected.

A troubled African continent remains at the top of the United Nations agenda. In sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Great Lakes Region, the situation is worrying. The United Nations, in cooperation with regional leaders and organizations, must spare no effort to prevent the peoples of this region from further suffering.

By contrast, encouraging developments have taken place in Western Sahara, where direct talks, held under the auspices of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, have greatly improved prospects for a referendum on the future of the region.

Arms control and disarmament will continue to occupy an important place in the activities of our organization. Our most immediate goal should be in the area of conventional arms; to work for a comprehensive ban on that most terrible destroyer of the lives and limbs of innocent people, the anti-personnel landmine. The recently concluded Oslo conference on this menace has provided a welcome impetus to work towards a binding treaty. Iceland strongly urges all states to banish this inhumane weapon from their arsenals.

Human rights, which are of intrinsic value in themselves, are also a vital part of efforts to secure peace and stability in areas torn by wars and internal conflict. Next year marks the occasion of the fiftieth aniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My Government applauds the Secretary-General's proposed streamlining of the work of the United Nations in the field of human rights, bearing witness to a strong emphasis on this crucially important aspect of our work.

Unfortunately, human rights of women continue to be disregarded. As the Secretary General observed in this forum earlier this week, violence against women has become the most pervasive human rights violation. The international community must work harder to correct this situation and to improve the lot of women everywhere, not the least through the creation of better education and employment opportunities.

Trafficking in drugs is a peril that recognizes no national boundaries. To a greater or lesser degree, we are all affected by it. In addition to the cost in human lives and suffering, we are witness to calamities that follow in the wake of drug abuse, the spread of AIDS, prostitution and crime. Iceland welcomes the UN efforts in the area of drug prevention and looks forward to the Special Session of the General Assembly on drugs next June.

Next year has been declared the "Year of the Oceans" within the United Nations. The world's oceans are a crucial part of the earth's biosphere, in addition to being the single largest source of protein for mankind. This vital resource is now threatened in some regions of the world. Therefore, it is important that the "Year of the Oceans" be used to raise public awareness and to reinforce efforts to protect the marine ecosystem. A global, legally binding agreement should be concluded to limit the emission of persistent organic pollutants.

Problems afflicting the marine ecosystem call for greater coordination at the global level, also in the sustainable use, conservation and management of living marine resources. At the same time we must recognize that the primary responsibility for harvesting marine resources in a sustainable manner rests with the states that depend on such resources for survival. Also, while Governments must work with non-governmental organizations, there is need to resist the indiscriminate pressure of unaccountable protectionist groups that wish to sever the vital link between environmental protection and economic self-interest.

Although not yet in force, the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, which provides a framework for regional cooperation in the conservation and management of these stocks, has already had positive impact. In the North Atlantic, for instance, fisheries management conventions are under review in order, inter alia, to adjust them to the provisions of this Agreement. Iceland urges member states to ratify the Agreement.

As a new member of the Economic and Social Council, Iceland welcomed the thorough discussion on fostering an enabling environment for development during this year's Substantive Session. It is of grave concern that the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen. At a time of vastly expanded trade and investment in the world, the least developed countries have seen their share of world trade drop by half in two decades. Many of them are threatened with exclusion from world markets and economic marginalization.

The key elements in attaining sustainable economic development are a sound policy framework that encourages stable growth, a vigorous private sector, the strengthening of institutional and legal foundations, and last but not least, a good governance and anti-corruption measures. At the same time we need to focus on human development strategies. The strenghtening of education and school systems, health and social services must be an integral part of any sound strategy for development.

We must mobilize the dynamic private sector, together with bilateral and multilateral official development assistance and secure sustainable growth and poverty reduction in developing countries.

As the Chairman of the Nordic and the Baltic Constituency in the World Bank's Development Committee, I emphasize the important role of the World Bank Group in development cooperation. I would like to reiterate what I stated in Hong Kong earlier this week, that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initative must result in a permanent solution to the unsustainable debt burden of the countries in question.


Mr President,

This is a time of extraordinary challenges for the United Nations and its member states. This is why we need a vigourous, strong and confident organization, capable of leading the way into the next century. For such an organization to become a reality we must now focus on effective and meaningful reform. We should use the momentum and not fritter away our time in long-winded and familiar debates. Now we have an opportunity we may not have any time soon again.

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