Mr. President, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, ladies and gentlemen.
While Iceland is a relatively young republic, we pride ourselves of the oldest surviving parliament in the world, Alþingi. Our democratic values are a part of our identity and, along with our own recent history of fighting for our independence, form the basis for Iceland’s pioneering role in recognizing the independence of the Baltic states three decades ago.
These values also underpin our active role as proponents of human rights and gender equality at the United Nations and other international organizations. Our recent membership of the Human Rights Council shows that small states can indeed have an impact.
I believe we stand at an important point in history – a point which we will later look upon to reflect on our success or our failure to uphold democratic values, human rights, and the international rules-based order.
Despite its imperfections, democracy, based on the rule of law, is the best system we have to increase the well-being of all people. The end of WWII saw the establishment of the United Nations based on democratic principles, later fleshed out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Important progress has been made but the high ambitions of the UN have not been fully achieved. This should not lead us to abandon the multilateral system and its ideals and turn to isolationism and autocracy. Quite the contrary. We must increase our efforts to achieve a world of international peace and security, where human rights and fundamental freedoms are the reality for all people.
Iceland is a founding member of NATO, a defence alliance of countries determined to safeguard the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. At the recent summit in Brussels, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to these values – with developments in neighbouring countries being a special cause for concern.
For the second half of the last century, we saw democracy slowly gaining ground around the world in newly independent countries, along with significant progress on human rights and prosperity. Recently we have seen a reversal of this trend, including in our own backyard. The Belarusian autocratic government does not even pretend anymore to be on the right side of democracy and human rights – their actions speak louder than words and show a complete disregard for international law and the rights and well-being of their own people.
In the face of such developments, we need to speak out and support the millions of Belarusians who are fighting for the democracy and freedom we enjoy, and they deserve. We must demand that all those unjustly detained, including political prisoners, be released at once; that peaceful protesters are allowed to have their views heard; and that the people of Belarus can express their will through free and fair elections as soon as possible.
From the outset, Iceland has voiced its clear criticism of Lukashenko’s regime and its support for the people of Belarus. We will continue to do so – already on Monday, Iceland will state its position on Belarus at the Human Rights Council, in not one statement but three.
We have also provided support for Belarusian civil society and are implementing western sanctions on Belarus, which we hope will send a clear message to the authorities that democratic countries will not stand idly by when faced with such grave human rights violations and restrictions of freedom.
The Nordic Baltic countries have stood shoulder to shoulder on the issue of Belarus, and Iceland appreciates in particular the important contribution of Lithuania and the other Baltic countries to this cause.
I am delighted that Ms. Tsikhanouskaya was able to visit Iceland. Her courage and determination are an inspiration to us all. The fact that there are people like her, willing to risk their own security to fight for democracy and human rights, gives us hope that eventually we can turn the tide and continue on a steady path to democracy around the world.
Ávarpið var flutt á opnum fundi Alþjóðamálastofnunar Háskóla Íslands með Sviatlönu Tsikhanovskayu 2. júlí 2021.