Mannréttindaráð Sameinuðu þjóðanna
Ræða Guðlaugs Þórs Þórðarsonar utanríkisráðherra
Genf, 23. febrúar 2021
Since we last came together at the High-Level week of the Human Rights Council, humanity has been faced with the extraordinary challenge of a global pandemic.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has tested governments and ordinary citizens alike. Finding the appropriate balance between restrictions and openness has been a challenge for all of us, as we strive to safe both lives and livelihoods.
Nevertheless, the pandemic should not be used to justify long-term restrictions of civil liberties and freedom. We need to call out efforts to this effect and we must, as a matter of priority, re-double our efforts on behalf of the values we hold so dear: peace and security, rule of law and human rights, including those of women and girls and the LGBTI+ community.
It is true, without a shadow of a doubt, that building back from COVID-19 will be a challenge – but it is also an opportunity to do it better and greener, with human rights at the centre.
Human rights are a fundamental part of Iceland’s foreign policy and over the past few years, Iceland has significantly raised its engagement with the Human Rights Council.
Human rights are universal, and Iceland will not shy away from calling on all and any of the members of this Council to live up to their human rights obligations and commitments. Together, we must bring attention to serious violations, as millions of people are not able exercise their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
In 2019, Lujain al-Hathloul was one of ten human rights defenders mentioned in the first joint statement on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, given by Iceland on behalf of 36 states.
We welcome the Saudi government’s decision to respond to the international call for her release. I sincerely hope that this is a sign of a more profound reform and brighter days for the women and human rights defenders of Saudi Arabia.
In keeping with our approach of constructive criticism, we do not hesitate to work with those countries on paving the way forward.
Iceland had been a vocal critic of the Philippine’s human rights record, calling for an end to extrajudicial executions, and harassment of journalists and human rights activists. A report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, issued by this Council in June of last year, laid bare the extent to which these issues had become endemic.
However, to move the dial on this, it was imperative to find a practical way forward. That is why Iceland worked with the Philippines on a joint resolution addressing their human rights situation, which was passed by this Council in September. Allow me to use this opportunity to thank the Philippines for their cooperation on the resolution.
Of course, actions speak louder than words. It is now up to the Government of the Philippines to continue working with the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant stakeholders to implement the resolution.
When Iceland was elected to serve on the Human Rights Council for half-a-term in mid-2018 it was to take the seat of the United States of America, following their resignation. We are pleased to see the US now returning to active engagement with this important institution.
Let me stress that to me this Council is by no means a perfect body. However, a dialogue is always for the good, even when we disagree, while the absence of dialogue only serves to protect human rights violators. That is why we must work hard to reform the Council, rather than to disengage and leave it to others to shape as they wish.
An issue which I personally keep returning to concerns the elected membership of this Council. I have said this before, but I believe it is worth repeating: Council members must be held to high standards when it comes to the respect for human rights. It does not help neither the credibility, nor the functioning, of the Council when gross human rights abusers are repeatedly elected to serve in this forum.
Last year, I noted that the election of Venezuela had sent all the wrong signals in this respect. This year I must stress that recent developments in the Russian Federation – a newly elected member of the Council – give a serious cause for concern. We call on Russian authorities to use their membership of the Human Rights Council as a springboard for a new approach, where universal human rights truly mean every individual is guaranteed full rights, including the freedom of speech and peaceful protest, as well as other civil and political rights.
We have regrettably seen a deterioration of respect for civil and political rights in many other states, including in Russia´s neighbouring state of Belarus and in Hong Kong, where authorities have taken steps to undermine democracy, civil rights, and the rule of law. Elsewhere, in places such as Myanmar, imperfect democracy has been done away with altogether.
In too many countries, people are persecuted because of their faith, their political views or their sexual orientation. Human rights defenders and journalists risk their lives and liberties every day for calling out these injustices and for engaging in an open, democratic debate. We have a collective duty to promote and protect the human rights and freedom of all.
The role of this Council has perhaps never been as important, and it is incumbent on us to engage in an open dialogue on how to correct the course and head towards greater respect for human rights and the sanctity of human life, everywhere and at all times.
I thank you Madame President.
Ræðan var flutt í 46. fundarlotu mannréttindaráðs Sameinuðu þjóðanna 23. febrúar 2021