Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson,
at the UN General Assembly, 25 september 1998
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you upon your election to this prestigious position. I am convinced that you will guide us wisely through the fifty-third General Assembly.
The world community is now confronted with several dangerous situations which threaten the existence of millions of people; situations, which demand immediate action by our organization. I would like to draw special attention to the plight of the people of Kosovo and the alarming situation in several African countries, where wars have caused appalling suffering and directly threaten the development and advancement of the whole continent.
Our organization is also confronted with issues of universal nature, which can determine the future of humankind, such as the protection of the environment and the delicate balance between economic growth and the conservation of natural resources. In this respect, the protection of the oceans and the marine ecosystem is one of the most important tasks facing us today.
The International Year of the Ocean allows me to draw the Assembly's attention to the fact that the oceans are the single largest source of protein and a crucial part of earth's ecosystem. We have to come to grips with the reality that the ocean's bounty is finite and that the ocean is not a bottomless receptacle of human waste and pollution.
Pollution of the seas from land-based sources remains a daunting problem. However, effective implementation of the Washington Global Programme of Action will certainly bring about much improvement in this respect. Pollution by persistent organic pollutants is another major concern. Prompt completion by the year 2000 of a legally binding instrument dealing with some of these pollutants will be an important step towards reducing and eventually eliminating this kind of pollution.
Accidents, where radioactive material from nuclear waste treatment plants has spilled into the sea, have demonstrated clearly the dangers of such facilities. Under no circumstances should such plants be allowed to operate near the ocean. It is my hope that our generation will take the necessary measures so that future generations will inherit clean oceans free of contamination.
Nations with similar interests must strive for agreements on sharing and sensibly managing common stocks and fisheries on the high seas. It must be ensured that the harvesting of living marine resources can continue and that economic development and conservation go hand in hand. In order to ensure a vibrant and profitable fisheries sector, states need to introduce the principles of private enterprise in the fishing industry and make its products compete on the free market. In Iceland we have devised a market-driven fisheries management system which encompasses both conservation of our resources and their sustainable use.
The fishing stocks in the Exclusive Economic Zone around Iceland have been steadily growing since the implementation of a system of individual transferable fishing quotas in order to achieve both desired economic objectives and to protect our resources. However, fisheries in many parts of the world are overexploited. In my view, this is mainly due to the fisheries sector being inundated with government subsidies, resulting in excess fishing capacity and the distortion of market principles. No other single action could bring about such positive results, in a short time, towards achieving sustainable development in fisheries, as would the elimination of government subsidies.
I would like to note that when one reads UN publications dealing with the state of the world's fisheries one is continually confronted with the phrase "overfishing"; not fishing but overfishing. This implies firstly that fisheries everywhere are utilized to the hilt and, secondly, that states in general have failed in the management of the resources inside their economic zones. This gives a wrong picture of the situation.
I wish to draw your attention to an interesting study issued a few weeks ago by the World Wildlife Fund on the root causes of depleting fish resources in many parts of the world. The study states that overcapacity in fishing fleets is a key factor and government subsidies of this industry is another. It rightly points out the fact that one solution to this problem can be to issue each fishing vessel tradeable rights to a percentage of the catch. It goes on to say that this system has worked well in New Zealand, Australia and Iceland.
In the negotiation on the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change we stressed that further harnessing of Iceland's abundant clean and renewable energy sources could contribute towards the global effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Iceland has for decades placed special emphasis on the utilization of clean and renewable energy sources such as geothermal energy and hydro-power. On its own accord, Iceland replaced, through extensive investment, fossil fuels for space heating and electricity generation with clean and renewable energy sources. These efforts prior to 1990 have severely limited the possibilities for Iceland to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.
In our view, it must be recognized that the economy of some countries is dependent on few natural resources. They have therefore fewer options to secure their economic base vis-a-vis countries with diverse economies. It is both illogical and unfair to deny countries the right to harness and utilize clean and renewable energy. Such a result would run counter to the objective of the Convention and be incompatible with Agenda 21.
This year's Substantive Session of the Economic and Social Council demonstrated clearly that the industrialized countries must make a concentrated effort to remove barriers to trade and integrate the developing countries into global markets. Many developing countries now have flourishing private sectors, competing in world markets.
Last month I had the pleasure of visiting some countries in the southern part of Africa and observe the enormous human and natural wealth of these countries, and learn first hand of the possibilities available to the people there. It is clear that peace has brought prosperity. My country is engaged in development cooperation in this area, focusing on human capacity building as well as training and education in the field of fisheries. It should be stressed that parallel to the privatization of the economy, there must be increased funding for the building up of social services, health care and education. It is my firm intention that Iceland will increase its official development assistance to our partner countries in Africa. This fall, I had the pleasure of welcoming the first students, - coming from three African countries -, of the new UN University Fisheries Training Programme in Iceland. We hope that in the future students from all parts of the world will come for training in all aspects of the fishing industry.
I would especially like draw attention to the importance of strengthening the position and role of women in society, mainly with regard to their education and active participation in the economy. In this respect we have to tackle the problem of overpopulation with comprehensive solutions.
The volatility in the world}s financial markets has led to severe recession in many countries and slowed economic growth in others. Globalization is a part of the development of the world today and for all countries of the world it entails both risks and benefits. The risks must be borne by all and the benefits must be spread evenly and widely, especially to the poorest.
Our organization has seldom had more urgent tasks in preserving peace, security and human rights. I would like to express great concern over the nuclear tests, recently conducted by two countries in South Asia and I welcome recent statements that these states will adhere to the provisions of the NPT and CTBT.
War has visited many countries since we gathered here last year. The keeping of peace demands our constant vigilance. In several African countries war and ethnic tension has brought death and destruction. The cruel fate of children in war is more evident now than ever. Once again the people of the former Yugoslavia are confronted with a problem of tragic proportions. In Kosovo thousands of refugees are facing hunger and a cold winter.
Conflicts where the civilian population is targeted are abhorrent and leave scars that take a long time to heal. We now recognize that preserving peace demands more intensive measures than before, such as the strengthening of democratic institutions, policing, overseeing elections, establishing judiciary systems and monitoring human rights.
In many countries it is as though the Middle Ages have never passed and the darkness of intolerance, cruelty and human rights abuses descend on people's lives every day. The fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights should encourage us to be stalwart in our principles. Human rights are universal and the veil of religion and tradition can not and will not be accepted as an excuse for tolerating flagrant human rights violations.
The international community must deal successfully with problems such as terrorism and war-crimes. The world community has had to look on in horror as terrorists have cowardly targeted innocent people going about their everyday lives. We urge states to sign and ratify the counter-terrorism conventions.
The adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court this summer in Rome shows the firm commitment of the international community to let law take precedence over lawlessness and justice over injustice. Once the ICC is firmly in place it is our hope that criminals who commit atrocious acts such as crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes will have no escape from the long reach of international law. We urge all states to sign and ratify the Statute.
We look forward to the effective implementation of the agreed outcome of the UN Special Session on drugs. Enhancing judicial cooperation and law enforcement cooperation is essential as well as bearing down on money laundering world wide. The elimination of illicit crops should be a high priority in the global drug control strategy.
We strongly support the Norwegian and Canadian initiative to control the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The huge number of these weapons should be of great concern to the international community.
Our organization must enter the next millennium as an effective and reformed organization, with lean management, result-based budget, increased action potential in the most vital fields, strengthened finances and a clear commitment from all member countries to pay their contributions without conditions.
Finally Mr. President,
Iceland has been committed to the ideals of the United Nations. We have always been ready to shoulder our responsibilities in every aspect of the work of the organisation, because we believe that all member countries should put their mark on events shaping the world we live in today.
Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson,