Mannréttindaráð Sameinuðu þjóðanna
Ræða Guðlaugs Þórs Þórðarsonar utanríkis- og þróunarsamvinnuráðherra
Genf, 25. febrúar 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to start off by saying what a pleasure and a privilege it was for Iceland to serve on the Human Rights Council for the very first time, up until the first of January this year.
We have practiced what we preach, maintaining through our action on the Council that human rights are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated. Human rights are and will be a cornerstone of our foreign policy and we will remain engaged in this Council´s work, even though we have now reverted to being an observer state.
When we took up a seat on the Human Rights Council, Iceland became the smallest UN member state to do so – a record we held until the Marshall Islands joined the Council this year.
We believe it is imperative that this Council is representative of the UN as a whole, ensuring the full participation of smaller states, such as ourselves, the Marshall Islands and others.
The Human Rights Council must not only be an arena for the big and the powerful. And I believe we have, in fact, shown that smaller countries can sometimes take the lead on topics of great importance.
I have said this before, but we must hold Council members to a high standard. It does not help the credibility of the Council when gross human rights abusers are repeatedly elected to serve in this forum, the election of Venezuela last October being the latest regrettable example of this tendency.
The Maduro's regime clear human rights violations have resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe and allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture are deeply disturbing. Hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in neighbouring states. The Government of Venezuela bears responsibility and yet they were elected to join this body as of 1 January.
The Human Rights Council is the forum for open and honest dialogue, where we can hold each other accountable and give voice to the voiceless.
With that principle in mind, last March Iceland lead 36 countries in a Joint Statement on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, an initiative Australia continued last September.
We also put forward a resolution expressing concern for the human rights situation in the Philippines, asking the High Commissioner for a report on the matter.
This showed that the Council can tackle the matters it must address to be credible in the eyes of the world.
On the topic of credibility and reform we need to do more, of course. The Human Rights Council is not perfect, but we have seen overall that it can have a great impact for the benefit of people – and that must be our goal, to improve the lives of people around the world.
However, we must continue to address the bias in the council with regard to the state of Israel. While Iceland will not shy away from criticizing Israel when warranted, we believe that such criticism has a greater impact when the same rules – and agenda items – apply to all states. It should be noted that we have seen some positive steps in this regard, and we do not subscribe to the view that because a body is not perfect it should be abandoned.
Quite the opposite.
In line with Iceland’s emphasis on gender equality and women’s human rights, Iceland, together with others, put forward a resolution on Equal Pay, which was approved by consensus. The UN General Assembly has subsequently approved a resolution that establishes September 18th as the International Equal Pay Day to be observed each year.
This brings much-needed focus to a topic that has emerged as a core issue of fairness and key to inclusive and sustainable economic growth to drive development and progress.
We were also happy to see the increased support for the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, with LGBTI rights being one of Iceland´s priorities on the Council. Iceland was proud to offer a public platform for the Independent Expert, Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, to speak on this important topic during his visit to Iceland in September last year.
We must remember that all human beings are entitled to human rights, regardless of their gender, the colour of their skin, sexual orientation or religion. The fact that around seventy UN member states have laws on their books that deems it a crime to be gay or lesbian or otherwise different is unacceptable and we must agree to change such laws.
I want to use this podium now, and the platform that I have here at the Human Rights Council, to join the global call for decriminalization of consensual same sex conduct and the full respect of the rights of lesbian, gay, trans and intersex people.
It is a rights issue that I want to devote our full attention to, and a topic that I now want to put on the agenda of this body, trusting that we can – together and through concerted action – not only change legislation but also influence the minds of political leaders, government officials and ordinary people. That way we will gradually see a much-needed change in attitudes and opinions.
I thank you.