Ræða Íslands vegna lokaskýrslu um stöðu mannréttindamála á Íslandi
Hogni Kristjansson, Ambassador
Item 6: UPR Outcome on Iceland’s Second Review
Mr President, distinguished delegates, representatives of civil society,
It is an honour and a privilege to address the Human Rights Council on the occasion of the consideration and final adoption of the outcome of the second Universal Periodic Review of Iceland.
The Universal Periodic Review is an important pillar of the Human Rights Council and has proven to be instrumental in promoting and strengthening human rights universally, providing a unique opportunity to address both achievements and challenges on the domestic level, with the aim of improving the protection of national human rights.
As noted by many of you during our review on 1 November 2016, the human rights situation in Iceland is generally good. However, as the head of our delegation pointed out during the review, there is room for improvement. I am pleased to confirm that the UPR process has indeed already served to improve human rights protection in Iceland. The process – both the preparatory stages back home and the review here in Geneva – has highlighted some areas where improvement is warranted. It has proven very useful indeed for the Icelandic authorities to hear the views and recommendations of the Icelandic people and the international community.
Our review took place only three days after our parliamentary elections, which of course affected the political landscape in which our delegation found itself. A new Government was formed on 11 January.
During the review Iceland received 167 recommendations on a variety of issues. The authorities adopted a position right away on the majority of the recommendations but 41 were left for further consideration. Those were dealt with in the addendum, which we have submitted to the working group report.
In total, we accepted 133 recommendations and noted 34. However, I would like to emphasize that due to the parliamentary elections and the time it took to form a new government, some recommendations have been noted for further consideration at the domestic level.
In particular, I would like to emphasize that our position to note all recommendations relating to the ratification of the optional protocols on communication procedures to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child does not entail our final view on the matter. In our view the question of whether to ratify these protocols deserves a thorough analysis of the domestic and international implications and a discussion, both on the political level and among domestic experts. Such a broad ranging domestic consultation process will be necessary in order to reach a sufficiently well founded position. The same applies to the recommendations concerning the decriminalization of defamation, the exact mandate of a national human rights institution and, finally, the withdrawal of our reservations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I am pleased to inform you that the establishment of an interministerial human rights steering committee, which was presented to you during our review, is well underway. It will build on the experience of the Icelandic UPR working group and its task will be to enhance and coordinate the implementation of human rights commitments and follow up on the outcome of this review. It will work on the implementation of the recommendations accepted during this review and oversee the analysis and discussion needed to adopt a position on some of the noted recommendations.
The protection of human rights is a joint venture and meaningful results cannot be expected unless all actors of society work towards that goal together. Political support is of course crucial in that endeavour. I am therefore pleased to state here that several of the issues raised during our review and in the recommendations are explicitly dealt with in the declaration of our newly formed government. I will name a few examples.
On 8 March, International Women's Day, the Government announced its intention to propose a new law that will require larger firms and state institutions to have their equal pay systems certified. This is a part of our commitment to bridge the gender gap by 2022.
The Government has also put special emphasis on guaranteeing adequate health care irrespective of economic status, improving health care services for the elderly and increasing flexibility when it comes to the pension age. The Government also intends to focus on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, following its recent ratification.
The fight against violence, in particular domestic and sexual violence, enjoys high priority and focus will be placed on capacity building and coordination of the relevant domestic authorities. It should also be noted that the preparations for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention are also well underway, which will provide further tools in the fight against violence.
The Government also highlights its intention to welcome more refugees and uphold relevant international standards in that respect. That includes strengthening Iceland’s international development cooperation with relevant humanitarian actors/organisations.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the issues, which are relevant to the UPR process but just intended to give you an idea of the setting in which we find ourselves at the moment.
Let me now turn to our national UPR process. This was conducted in an open, inclusive and transparent manner. The Ministry of the Interior cooperated closely with relevant parts of the central administration. It also reached out to NGOs, other stakeholders and the general public, all of which provided comments on the report and input during the preparation process. I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to them for their contributions, which have proven essential to the UPR process and have without a doubt contributed to making the recommendations more relevant and to the point.
This process of implementing and following up on the recommendations will continue in cooperation with the relevant domestic stakeholders and in inter-ministerial coordination.
Moreover, as the UPR is a cyclical process, we will immediately start preparing for the next round. As the head of our delegation stated during the review in November, human rights remain at the centre of Icelandic policy, domestically and internationally, and the Icelandic authorities are devoted to the task of utilizing all means possible to strengthen human rights protection. We will of course take the recommendations received during this review seriously and do our utmost to implement them. We also intend to submit a mid-term report, accounting for the progress made and, hopefully, our position regarding some of the recommendations, which were noted for further consideration.
We are looking forward to debating our report with delegations and NGO representatives, which are present here today.
Allow me, on behalf of the Icelandic authorities, to thank you and all those that have participated in the debate today and in our UPR review in general. My thanks also go to the Secretariat and the Troika for their excellent and vital support.
This has been a constructive and helpful process and the discussions have been in line with the intention of the UPR-process – they have pointed out challenges as well as good practices in a setting of mutual respect and good will. We have received constructive criticism and encouragement as well as valuable advice and recommendations.
The Icelandic authorities will certainly take these recommendations seriously and do their utmost to implement them.
We highly appreciate this important and unique opportunity to reflect on the human rights situation in Iceland and to take stock of where we stand in relation to our international obligations and wish to stress our general commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights, on the domestic and international level.
Finally Mr. President
Let me finish by reiterating what H.E. Mr. Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, Foreign Minister of Iceland underlined in his statement during The High-Level Segment of this session:
“The Universal Periodic Review has proven a valuable tool as it allows each member state – even those that may think they are beyond reproach – to listen to the comments and questions of others, to receive criticism and recommendations to improve their human rights record.” [unquote]
That has certainly been our experience here today.