H.E. Mr. Halldór Asgrimsson
Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of Iceland
at the Fifty-eight Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations
26 September 2003
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you on your election to the Presidency of this General Assembly. The role of the President in providing overall leadership to the Assembly is crucial and I am confident you will guide us wisely through the complex tasks ahead of us.
A month from now, a group of young people will gather at the University of Iceland to take part in a UN Model. It is good to see such enthusiasm for the ideals of the UN among young people - as well as a desire to experiment with how the UN machinery works in practice. But I wonder, Mr. President, whether their Model will accurately reflect how our UN works. And I am concerned that if it does - will it increase or dampen their enthusiasm?
If they were to model the General Assembly, I suspect that it would contrast in a number of ways with the real thing. Their agenda would be more concise. They would concentrate on fewer and more immediate issues of urgency. They would have little time for often repeated resolutions, whose relevance is chiefly historical. They would not allow such items to crowd out more immediate matters. They would address the world as it is, not the world of yesteryear.
To be honest Mr. President, I am worried that the more accurately their UN Model reflected the real thing - be it the General Assembly or the Security Council - the more difficult it would be to explain to these young idealists our purpose and convince them of our effectiveness.
As already stated by my Danish colleague on behalf of the Nordic countries, I would very much like to welcome the proposal of the Secretary-General to establish a highlevel panel of eminent personalities to make recommendations on issues ranging from peace and security to reform of UN Structures.
General Assembly Reform
The General Assembly has tremendous achievements to its credit. It is, as we affirmed in our Millenium Declaration, the "chief deliberative, policy-making, and representative organ of the UN". The achievements of the General Assembly in international norm setting and the establishment of an international legal framework are undisputed. Its potential is great - but as the young people at our UN Model would bluntly point out - it needs fixing.
If we believe the General Assembly is where deliberation should be carried out, let us ensure that the agenda and procedures allow debate and deliberation to take part in an interactive manner.
If we believe that it is the chief policy making body, let us ensure that it develops policy, perhaps by linking debate more closely with the decision-making process. Policy needs to be followed up. We need to do more on implementation.
My delegation will contribute actively and constructively in the forthcoming deliberations on reforms of the General Assembly during this session.
Security Council reforms
Our young people at the UN Model next month will in fact be modeling the Security Council. I suspect they will raise some questions about the composition of that body. Iceland is seriously concerned about the slow progress in the Open Ended Working Group, though it provides, for the time being, the appropriate forum for continued dialogue. Iceland would welcome any additional initiatives to further intensify the process towards a satisfactory resolution of this important matter.
The Icelandic position on the reform of the Security Council is on record. It is essential that the membership of the Council better reflects the membership of the United Nations as a whole. At the same time the efficiency of the Council must be secured.
Further steps should be taken to increase transparency in the decision-making process in order to build on the welcome steps already taken by the Council.
Iceland supports an increase in both permanent and non-permanent seats on the Council. New permanent members should have the same rights and obligations as the current permanent members. The veto right should be restricted and an obligation to state the reason for its use should be established, including why a permanent member considers a matter to be of vital importance.
Iceland has, for the first time, put forward its candidacy for membership of the Security Council for the years 2009-2010. We see participation in the Security Council as a logical expression of our determination to fulfill our responsibilities within the United Nations and contribute as an active member of the international community.
The promotion and protection of human rights must be a central concern of all UN activities. In this regard much more needs to be done to implement our commitments regarding the rights of women and the rights of the child.
Iceland has signed the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and has enacted a legislation against trafficking in human beings. Iceland is working against the trafficking of women through a common campaign with the other Nordic countries and the Baltic States. The Icelandic campaign will focus on informing and increasing awareneess among the public about the issue.
We should be especially aware of the implications for human rights of new threats and new policies. In particular, we must ensure that fundamental human rights are not violated in our counter-terrorism efforts as has been underlined by the SecretaryGeneral.
Peace and security
In Iraq, the UN itself has recently been the target of two terrorist attacks. I would like to use this opportunity to express the most sincere condolences on behalf of the Icelandic Government to the United Nations and the families of the UN officials who lost their lives. I would also like to wish those who were wounded, full recovery.
The UN and the Security Council, in particular, must address the issue of Iraq. Iceland along with many other member states is contributing to Iraq's reconstruction and will continue to do so. The situation will demand all our resourcefulness and a concerted effort at cooperation by all parties in the Security Council to ensure that the people of Iraq are assured the destiny they deserve. This destiny should encompass peace and democracy, affording equal rights and justice to all Iraqi citizens.
On terrorism, renewed efforts must be made to reach an agreement on a universal definition during this General Assembly. Such a definition would make the fight against terrorism more effective.
Women, peace and security
It is estimated that close to 90 per cent of victims in today's armed conflicts are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. Women and girls experience conflict differently than men because of their status in society. Their rights must be protected in situations of armed conflicts and we must ensure that women play a central role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace-building. UN Security Council resolution 1325 lays down the ground rules for this to happen and must be implemented in all its aspects.
It is our role to ensure that globalisation benefits all countries - not least through targeted development cooperation. Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be the focus of our bilateral development cooperation, while we will also increase our contribution and involvement in multilateral development cooperation, especially through the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund), UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) and WFP (the World Food Programme).
I just returned from Cancun where we had difficult discussions on correcting the trade rules so that developing countries can operate on a more level playing field in world trade. This work is vital and we must push on with it. With determination we can break through the impasse that we reached in Cancun.
Protecting our conunon environment
Iceland is one of many island states in the world whose well-being and development is crucially effected by the state of the marine environment. Sustainable harvesting of living marine resources is the mainstay of our economy. The resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea which was adopted during our last session provides for the establishment of a regular process for the global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, commonly referred to as the Global Marine Assessment or GMA; a concept that was initiated by Iceland in 1999.
An intergovernmental meeting should be convened in 2004 to decide upon the modalities of this process and negotiate an agreement between UN agencies. It is our sincere hope that such a meeting could turn out to be fruitful in the process of the establishment of the Global Marine Assessment.
We must craft for ourselves a UN which is task-oriented, representative, focused and coordinated. I believe strongly that the UN should not only be a place where we can talk about what we want to do - it must also be the place and instrument to get things done. We have taken note of the Secretary-General's call for changes to our institutions by 2005.
There are varying opinions on how the UN should operate. But I believe there is a general recognition that the UN is, and must remain, the key forum in which to exercise our collective responsibility. At the Millenium Summit heads of State and Government reaffirmed their faith in the Organization and its Charter as indispensable foundations of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world. They defined our priorities for this century and resolved to make the UN a more effective instrument for pursuing all of these priorities. It is up to us, the member states, to make it possible for the United Nations to realize these objectives.
Thank you, Mr. President