Helsinki, 17 May 2019
129th Session of the Committee of Ministers, Council of Europe
Mr Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland
Mr Chair, Mr Secretary General, Ministers and colleagues,
Let me start by congratulating you, Minister Soini, and your team on the great work you have carried out during the Finnish chairmanship of the Committee of Minister. You have offered a steady hand and a solution-based approach in your work on the Council of Europe´s three pillars and no less regarding the institutional crisis that is threatening the very future of our organisation.
Iceland commends you, Mr Secretary General, dear Jagland, for your annual report. We remain concerned about the rising trends in Europe where the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly are undermined and NGOs and the media face increased pressure and attacks.
Our concerns further extend to other vulnerable groups and, despite some legislative improvements, on the rights of LGBTI people who continue to face discrimination and attacks in some Council of Europe Member States. These are matters we need to address urgently.
Mr Secretary General, we welcome the focus areas to strengthen the Council of Europe that are highlighted in your report, including the increased focus and interest in artificial intelligence. Women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and LGBTI persons are particularly vulnerable to discrimination from biased algorithms and we need to assess what human rights risks are involved and how we can react. We are in full support of undertaking the necessary steps to develop a legal framework on artificial intelligence based on our standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Dear colleagues, it is my firm believe that the Council of Europe operates for the benefits of the citizens of our Member States. For this reason, I hope we can find a solution to the crisis upon us. I worry that if it remains unsolved it might not only pose harm to our organisation, but also negatively affect European citizens who can today benefit from the protection provided under various Council of Europe instruments.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to restate Iceland’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I would also like to reiterate our support for the sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.
I extend my best wishes to France in their upcoming chairmanship and, once again, thank your Secretary General Jagland for your service to the Council of Europe, and our common mission in promoting human rights. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to Secretary General Jagland on Norway’s national day.