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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

General Debate at the 55. Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland
During the General Debate at the 55. Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 15 September 2000


Let us be guided by the doers, not the doomsayers


Mr. President,

Allow me at the outset to congratulate you heartily on your election to the Presidency of this General Assembly. Finland is a close friend and partner within the Nordic community. We wish you success with this challenging task and pledge to you the full support of the Icelandic delegation.

Peacekeeping, disarmament

Mr. President,

The Millenium Declaration provides the committments of the world community in the new century.

To prevent conflicts, maintain international peace and security and make peace an achievable goal at the end of armed conflicts, we need to continue strengthening the United Nations and the international legal system as a whole. Iceland has always supported verifiable arms control and arms reduction measures and will continue to support realistic disarmament proposals aiming at maximum security with a minimum of weapons. It is appalling to note the enormous sums being spent on weapons, while the money could be used to significantly improve the lives of millions.

Today, when there is an obvious need to assess the United Nation}s ability to conduct peacekeeping operations, it has proved extremely important to have a Secretary-General who has such a deep knowledge of the matter through his own experience. I would like to commend the Secretary-General for taking the initiative to ask a panel of prominent experts in the field to assess the situation. I welcome the Brahimi report. Its recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible.

Even though Iceland does not have a military it has been able to participate in peacekeeping operations. It has done so in the Balkans by providing medical staff, policemen and experts in the fields of law, the media and women}s rights. We have noted with interest the recommendations made in the Brahimi report concerning the non-military aspects of peace operations. We will be studying them carefully now that we are in the process of looking into how we can strengthen our contribution to peacekeeping in the future. The report states that expressions of general support in the form of statements and resolutions must be followed up with tangible actions. We will be taking these words of wisdom seriously in our policy-making.

In the preparations for the Millennium Assembly the Secretary-General has encouraged Member States to engage more effectively in the international legal framework by acceding to a number of legal instruments. One of these which Iceland has decided to accede to is the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

The Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Unfortunately it has not succeeded in reflecting the tremendous changes in the international arena which have taken place since its establishment. In order to ensure its credibility in years to come the reform process has to be accelerated.


Human rights

Mr. President,

The rules of international law governing the relations between States are now well established, also in the fields of human rights and humanitarian law. These rules set out the rights and obligations of States and individuals. But ground rules do not suffice if it is not possible to enforce them. There are mechanisms to ensure respect and compliance with these rules, such as the General Assembly, the Security Council and peacekeeping missions. As a complement to these mechanisms an effective international court system should be available to bring those who breach these rules to justice, at the same time as serving to deter potential perpetrators.

With this in mind, I believe that the greatest achievements towards strengthening the international legal system in recent years have been the establishment of the Criminal Tribunals for the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Iceland has ratified the Rome Statute and encourages all other States to do so.

Mr. President,

I welcome the proposal to include in the agenda of this session of the General Assembly the cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe. I had the honour of chairing the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe last year. I am therefore well aware of the important contribution made by the Council to peace and stability in Europe, especially in the field of human rights. The United Nations, the OSCE, NATO, the Council of Europe and other organizations responded to the serious situation in the Balkans by joining forces and working together to make reconstruction achievable.

In Kosovo the politically motivated and inter-ethnic violence must be stopped. Rogue elements cannot be allowed to destroy possibilities created by the international community. One ethnic group must not be allowed to win at the expense of another. Kosovars have been provided with a unique opportunity to build a just community in the region. A community where the fundamental freedoms and rights of every individual and minority group are respected. Only by utilizing this opportunity are Kosovars going to be able to build a stable foundation for a lasting peace and stability for future generations. The same can be said about similar situations elsewhere in the Balkans, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The international community has taken on an enormous task in building a whole new civic structure within Kosovo. The development of a legal system and free media have been two challenging tasks. The elections to take place in October are also proving to be challenging. Hopefully they can be carried out in an orderly and peaceful manner. It is very important to include women in the political process. In this respect I would like to commend UNIFEM for the good work carried out in Kosovo, not only in the political field but also in fighting violence against women and in promoting women}s participation in economic activities.

The importance of human rights in securing long-term stability and security, both within and between countries, cannot be overestimated. It is therefore essential that no compromises can be accepted in this field and our aims should remain high.


The Security Council should be commended for discussing the grave humanitarian crisis and security threat posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and also for discussing the issue of children and armed conflicts. The discussion in the Council has served to concentrate the attention of the international community on these issues and lead the way for others to take the measures required. Both issues affect children in a very serious manner. I expect them to feature prominently on the agenda of the World Summit for Children next year. I also welcome the decision to hold a special session of the General Assembly on the enormous problem of HIV/AIDS and international efforts to combat it.

The rights of women were significantly enhanced with the adoption last year of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination against Women. Iceland has signed the Protocol and is preparing its ratification. I cannot fail to condemn the terrible plight of those women around the world who are still enduring major human rights abuses including female genital mutilation and trafficking, as well as severe restrictions on the freedom of movement and the right to work.

During the Millenium Summit the Prime Minister of Iceland signed the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iceland welcomes their adoption and hopes they will further secure the human rights of children.

We have to put extra efforts into working towards the elimination of racial discrimination. It is worrying to notice the trend towards increasing racism and xenophopia in certain parts of the world, including Europe. This needs to be fought at all levels. The World Conference to be held in South Africa next year will, without doubt, play an important role. Iceland welcomes this conference and feels that, in light of history, South Africa is an appropriate venue for the conference.

Poverty and globalization

As reflected in the report of the Secretary-General "We, the peoples", fighting poverty remains one of the main challenges of the United Nations. People living in poverty do not have the opportunity to exercise many of their fundamental rights and freedoms. They cannot benefit from the possibilities of globalization. We need to reverse the current trend as decided by the Millenium Summit.

But more needs to be done. Globalization and new technologies offer many opportunities to reduce poverty at a faster rate than in the past. Iceland has been strengthening its development cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally. At the bilateral level we have concentrated on a group of African countries, with a focus on strengthening the fishing industry, education and health, areas with the potential to positively alter the lives of people in need. On the multilateral level we will be contributing to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Most of our decisions are based on compromises where each and every one of us has to give a little in order to reach an agreement. It is important to keep this in mind, not only when we discuss substance, but also when the time comes for us to pay our dues, both to the regular budget as well as to the peacekeeping budget. It is crucial for the good functioning of this organization that all members pay their contributions fully, on time and without any conditions.


Sustainable Development

In recent years the oceans of the world have received increased attention in the General Assembly. I welcome this development. Iceland}s economy is based on the sustainable harvesting of living marine resources. The health and responsible stewardship of the oceans are therefore of critical importance to Iceland.

Last year we resolved to improve United Nations co-ordination in the area of ocean affairs. Towards that end we established an informal consultative process to discuss the Secretary-General's report on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea. I was pleased with the implementation of this decision at the first meeting of this process last spring. However, we must act carefully when seeking to improve our co-ordination and co-operation in this area. Ocean issues must be addressed at the appropriate level and be consistent with the rights and obligations laid down in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. We must fully respect the sovereign right of States over their natural resources and the competence of existing international organizations. Above all, the integrity of the Convention must be preserved. We must be mindful that the Convention provides the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

The United Nations specialized agencies have an important role to play in promoting conservation and the sustainable use of the oceans. A key area in this respect is marine scientific research. We need more accurate and policy oriented information on the state of the oceans. Co-ordination towards that end would be a worthy task for the new informal process on ocean affairs.

At the outset of a new millennium, it is even more pressing than ever before to ensure the access of the people in the developing countries, especially in the rural areas, to readily available and sustainable energy. Today about one third of the world population does not have such access and this situation is obviously a serious obstacle to the development of these communities. In Iceland we have been able to bring sustainable energy to all households in the country. We are sharing our experience and knowledge with developing countries through the United Nations University Geothermal Training Programme which is located in Iceland and funded by my Government.

The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro created a momentum to build a secure future for humankind and life on Earth under the banner of sustainable development. Soon, world leaders will meet again at a global conference to take stock of the progress made in meeting the challenges laid down in Agenda 21 and the other Rio agreements.

It is indeed true that we have not been able to live up to all the expectations raised at Rio. But we should not fail to acknowledge the progress made. The concept of sustainable development has truly become accepted as a fundamental guiding strategy in environmental and socio-economic affairs. In my own country, which is highly dependent on fisheries, we believe we are reaping the benefits of a sustainable-use regime for our fish stocks in the form of a healthy ecosystem and a robust economy. Regional and international efforts to prevent pollution of the oceans have continued to gather strength, and we can expect further efforts in particular to control pollution from land-based sources.

It is my belief that in charting a course for the future, we should be looking at success stories and learning from them, rather than concentrating on the obstacles we face. Mr. President, let us be guided by the doers, not the doomsayers.

Thank you, Mr. President.


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