Opening Address by Mrs. Valgerður Sverrisdóttir,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all allow me to thank the Human Rights Institutes – The Icelandic Human Rights Centre and the Institute of Human Rights at the University of Iceland for organizing this timely Conference and their invitation to give the opening address.
The protection and fostering of human rights is a vital issue for my Ministry and is at the heart of our foreign policy. The central place of human rights in foreign policy is both an ethical issue and one of self interest.
As the former Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan said development, security and human rights go hand in hand. If we want a secure world then human rights and development are preconditions.
Thus, the serious human rights violations existing in all parts of the world must concern us. Violations of fundamental human rights are frequently among the roots of social conflict and war. The protection and promotion of human rights is one of the central duties of the international community of our times.
I believe one of the most important outcomes of the 2005 World Summit was the commitment of the international community to the „responsibility to protect“, both as individual States and collectively.
This recognises that the sovereignty of states is not unconditional and that if a state fails to protect its subjects, then the international community, through the UN Security Council, has a right and a duty to intervene. We must respond to human rights violations and influence governments to respect, promote and protect human rights.
One of the most difficult issues of our time is the fight against terrorism. Iceland emphasizes the importance of protecting human rights in connection with the fight against terrorism. The fight against terrorism must take place with full respect for international law, human rights and the rule of law.
Around the globe, some 70 countries still regularly employ torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading techniques. No forms of torture can ever be accepted, whatever the reason. Iceland supports a special fund within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for victims of torture.
There is a need for strong global human rights protection under the auspices of the United Nations and regional organizations, such as the Council of Europe. Iceland works with other like-minded countries towards further strengthening the human rights machinery around the globe.
The new Human Rights Council established in Geneva in June last year, was a first step in a complex and ambitious undertaking to revitalize UN human rights instruments.
We are determined to work with others to make the new Council an effective guardian and protector of human rights. This will not necessarily be easy. The challenges we face are numerous and it is important that we succeed in further strengthening the United Nations machinery of human rights promotion and protection.
In line with our belief that human rights are universal we signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 30 March along with its Optional Protocol.
This Convention adapts the human rights obligations of states to fit the situation of persons with disabilities. I sincerely hope that the ratification and effective implementation of the Convention will lead to the empowerment of persons with disabilities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The challenge today is implementation – and lies in making the goals and principles of the Covenants and Conventions a reality for all individuals.
Promoting and increasing respect for human rights is a cornerstone of Icelandic Foreign Policy and the government aims to pursue a coherent and results-oriented human rights policy. Here, promotion and protection of human rights needs to be mainstreamed in all areas of foreign policy, including security policy, development co-operation and trade policy.
Millions of individuals worldwide have refugee status, of which women and children are around 80%. We need to ensure human rights protection and promotion and find durable solutions for refugees of the world. Iceland has for many years received refugees to Iceland and in February this year we decided that Iceland will aim to invite, on a more regular basis, refugees to Iceland, in co-operation with the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Icelandic Red Cross and Icelandic communities.
The last few years we have received individuals categorized by the UNHCR as women at risk. These are women and children whose human rights and personal security are under considerable threat if they return to their own countries.
Violence against women affects the lives of countless women around the world and is an obstacle to equality and development. According to surveys, at least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. More than 60 million women are "missing" from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide. The World Health Organisation has reported that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. Those are frightening figures.
Iceland places great emphasis on the elimination of violation against women on all fronts and also on the eradication of violence against children. Reports of cruel and humiliating punishment, neglect, human trafficking, sexual abuse, homicide, and other forms of violence against children have long been recorded, but the grave and urgent nature of this global problem has only recently been revealed – and still much remains hidden.
The statistics we have at hand confirm that violence against women and children is a massive global problem. Such violence is never acceptable, it should never be tolerated and it should never be justified. As long as violence against women and children continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.
Last November, I announced that I intended to take the initiative in strengthening Iceland’s participation in international discussions on human rights. I decided that we should start with a comprehensive policy review,
The principal aim of this policy review is twofold. Firstly, to analyse the ways in which Iceland can contribute to the protection and fostering of respect for human rights in the world. Secondly, to ensure that all our own activities are guided by human rights.
This work is in its final stages. I am very grateful to the experts and NGO’s and organizations who have provided valuable insights and advice and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will publish the review in the near future.
It is a pleasure to see so many distinguished human rights experts participating in this conference. I am confident that you will have interesting and a productive discussion. I wish you success in your endeavours.