Today, on the International Human Rights Day, we celebrate that for 72 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served as a global roadmap for progress. In granting each one of us with fundamental rights and liberties, it has provided the basis for the international human rights architecture that most countries have committed to.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly during its third session, which was held in Paris. The United Nations had just come to be, following a horrible world war and based a vision for peace and justice for all.
The vision set out in the Charter some 75 years ago is far from outdated. On the contrary. It provides a guiding light, not least when we face a common ill like a global pandemic.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year, as we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the critical importance of multilateralism has perhaps never been as evident.
Indeed, the current pandemic has demonstrated how our fate is interlinked with the successes and failures of others, and that progress can only be achieved by working together, at home and across borders.
This very same revelation brought the founders of the United Nations together in 1945. They understood then, as we must now, that we are stronger together than apart.
Regrettably, multilateralism and democratic values have been under significant strain in recent times. Too widely are we seeing nationalism, racism, religious intolerance, and homophobia undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is of utmost importance that we speak up and fight these trends with the tools we have at our disposal. We must also work to ensure that autocratic states, and where basic human rights are not respected, do not become the dominant voices in the multilateral organizations we value so much, including the United Nations.
As a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 and 2019, Iceland made an effort to demonstrate that all nations, also the smallest among us, can use their voice effectively to speak out for those suppressed or silenced. Our experience in the Council revealed that even the smallest of nations can make a positive difference in multilateral fora, advocating for the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Open dialogue and exchange of ideas are fundamental to the promotion of human rights and democratic values, this is what makes today´s event so important – to engage in a public discourse, to learn from each other, about different perspectives and experiences.
It is true, that we are meeting under unusual circumstances, through a virtual meeting and the use of technology. Of course, this will undoubtedly be one of the lasting legacies of the COVID pandemic: the increased use of technology to hold meetings of all kinds, allowing us to join in one place people from all over the world, without having to go anywhere.
It is in keeping with the ideals of the United Nations: making sure we can come together as one, for the benefit of all.
Ladies and gentlemen.
Let me conclude by thanking all of our distinguished panellists for joining us here today, and also all of you who are listening online.
I am certain that today´s discussion will enlighten us and inspire greatly, at a time when we are all little bit in need of inspiration.
Fjarfundur í boði Höfða friðarseturs, Alþjóðamálastofnunar Háskóla Íslands og utanríkisráðuneytisins
Háskóla Íslands, 10. desember 2020