Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland
During the General Debate at the 56th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
12 November 2001
Once again we witness a terrible incident in the neighbourhood of the United Nations here in New York. Although we don't yet know the exact circumstances, we are shocked and it is clear that many have lost their lives. I express my sincere condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones in this tragic incident.
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you on your election to the Presidency of this General Assembly. I am confident that you will guide us wisely through the complex tasks ahead of us this session.
The ability of the United Nations to act swiftly in response to acute crisis was seriously tested following the terrorist attacks on the United States. During these trying times it has been valuable to have at the helmet a Secretary-General enjoying such a wide support. Let me congratulate the Secretary General and the United Nations on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In my view, a well deserved recognition of Kofi Annan's leadership and of the dedication he and his staff have put into upholding the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Hopefully the award will serve as an inspiration as well as to strengthen world wide support for the UN and what it stands for.
The tragic events of the 11th of September have radically challenged and changed our security environment. Fighting terrorism should therefore become a priority of the UN. We recognize that the UN has long been active in the fight against international terrorism. But now we need to go beyond political statements and become truly operational. This means developing new methods and at the same time make full use of all the available means of the UN system, the truly global character of the organization and the numerous international legal instruments available to us. Iceland strongly supports the creation of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism and hopes an agreement can be reached on such an instrument during the 56th session. Otherwise, we loose the opportunity to develop the coherent strategy lacking today. We cannot fail to react.
The key role the UN should play in fighting international terrorism must be an impetus to us to intensify our efforts to achieve a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects. Iceland is seriously concerned about the slow progress towards reaching this goal. It is essential and timely that the membership of the Council becomes more representative and thus more likely to sustain the present international coalition in the fight against terrorism. It goes without saying that the efficiency of the Council must be secured. Enhancing transparency in the decision-making process is also of importance, especially for non-member states.
One of the main purposes of the United Nations is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. This continues to be of utmost importance. Let me therefore make absolutely clear that the fight against terrorism is not, and must not become, a fight against any religious or ethnic group. We must avoid all forms of discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. Most importantly, we must at all times adhere to the basic values of human rights, freedom and democracy.
Turning to the actions taken at the national level, Iceland is taking the necessary steps to ratify all relevant UN-conventions aimed against terrorism which have not already been ratified by us. Furthermore, Iceland has implemented all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, including 1373. But in fighting the menace of international terrorism, which we all agree needs to be both wide-ranging and forceful, we must at the end of the day not in any way undermine the basic values of our societies, those of human rights, rule of law and democracy. We need to strike a balance between freedom and the security measures we opt for.
The Middle East
Uprooting terrorism in the world must go hand in hand with the solving of regional conflicts threatening international peace and security. This is particularly true for the Middle East. By prolonging the violence and refusing to negotiate both sides play into the hands of extreme elements that neither want a continuation of the peace process nor a political solution to the Middle East conflict. Both parties have to unconditionally resume negotiations. That is the only way to secure a lasting peace in the region, which should be based upon the establishment of a viable and democratic Palestinian state and on the right of the Israelis to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders. A continuation of the present dire conditions cannot be tolerated any longer.
Peacekeeping and nation-building
I said earlier that the events of the 11th of September have made reforms of the UN even more urgent. The same is true for the ongoing work to strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping capabilities. Until now Iceland's participation in UN peacekeeping operations has been modest. Iceland has participated in peacekeeping by providing civilian personnel such as gender experts, police and health professionals. With the changing and more complex nature of peacekeeping, the need for civilian personnel has been increasing. The Icelandic Government decided last year to increase systematically its contribution to peacekeeping. Our aim is to provide more personnel to the UN, as well as to the OSCE, NATO and the EU.
By passing Security Council Resolution 1325 last year, on Women, Peace and Security, the Council recognized the importance of incorporating a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations. When the UN becomes involved in peacebuilding and reconstruction in Afghanistan we have to make sure that in the process, Security Council Resolution 1325 will be honored for the benefit of Afghan women and as a result for the Afghan population as a whole. The United Nations must play a key role in the nation-building process in Afghanistan. In the case of a UN post conflict involvement Iceland stands ready to contribute civilian experts to such an operation.
Next year ten years will have passed since world leaders met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. We are asked, what has been accomplished in this past decade to secure the prosperity of future generations in harmony with nature. The truth is that there is little progress and we face enormous tasks. The world community will look towards the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development for further commitments by all nations.
In this context I would like to quote the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, who said in his opening remarks last Saturday and I quote: "We must put the issue of sustainability where it belongs, in the centre of the policymaking process.", unquote. Therefore, it is imperative that at the Johannesburg Summit we will renew our strong commitment to sustainable development. We are faced with new challenges but also new opportunities, namely to build a global partnership to harness the forces of globalization in favor of sustainable development.
The world community has just made a milestone agreement on the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in Marrakech. The Kyoto negotiations have been especially difficult. Now we have reached the moment when we can bring the Protocol into force. But more work needs to be done to include other key emitters of greenhouse-gases in the battle against climate change.
In the area of the oceans -- the foundation of human life -- we have made some progress. We have adopted significant agreements and we are looking at ways to improve the assessment of the state of the oceans to further improve marine protection and management. New knowledge and new approaches are also evolving, providing the world community with opportunities to improve protection of the oceans and the sustainable use of its living resources. Last October, Iceland, in co-operation with the Food and Agriculture Organization and Norway, hosted an international Conference in Reykjavík on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. In a Declaration adopted by the conference, states declared to incorporate ecosystem considerations into fisheries management with the aim of reinforcing responsible and sustainable fisheries in the marine ecosystem. The Reykjavik Declaration (on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem) is a landmark contribution of the fisheries nations to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. We trust that we will see its spirit reflected in the results of the World Summit in Johannesburg.
Financing for development
The time has come for a unified effort by political leaders as well as civil society and the private sector to reverse the trend of marginalisation and underdevelopment. That is why the International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in Mexico next year offers an unprecedented opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people throughout the developing world. The outcome of the Conference should focus on the great challenge of poverty eradication as well how responsibilities between the developed and developing countries should be shared. We should, however, never lose sight of each State's primary responsibility for its own development. The importance of responsible national governance and respect for human rights cannot be overstated.
The way ahead
As with many speakers before me my focus has been on the fight against international terrorism, and rightly so. Fighting international terrorism involves all states and international as well as regional organizations. We must concentrate on available instruments of each organization and find ways to adjust them as necessary. Further, we need to ensure consistency and complementarity of international efforts.
The UN needs more than ever to address the problems that might in any way contribute to the desperation, alienation and hopelessness that those behind terrorism try making use of and turn in their favor with brutal manipulation and fanaticism. Member states do also individually, have a great responsibility to reinforce their efforts in addressing these problems at the national level.
The malicious actions of the 11th of September and the latest shocking news of a suspicion of biological terrorism demonstrate that all our concerted efforts are not only necessary but also crucial in our duty to protect the lives of our citizens.
The United Nations was founded to preserve peace and work for a better world. Terrorists are fighting against everything the UN stands for. Fighting against them is fighting for the UN, the future of our civilization and mankind.
Statement by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland