Address by the President of Estonia H. E. Toomas Hendrik Ilves to the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor once again to address the United Nations. This year I
would like to focus on responsibility. Recent years of economic and financial
turbulence have demonstrated a strong correlation between economic prudence and
responsibility in fiscal matters. We have realized, I hope, that sustainability
is not a term we apply to development but concerns all of us. Responsibility
and sustainability apply to the three broad topics I shall address today: human
rights, good governance, and development.
Diplomacy is to prevent war. When diplomats are attacked we are all less
secure. We know what we are talking about: we too have had our diplomats
attacked, mercifully without the horrific consequences as in Bengazi. Therefore
the recent assaults in many parts of the world on diplomats, embassies and
consular premises are deplorable. Regardless of their motivations such acts are
unjustifiable and must be universally and unequivocably condemned. All
countries must fulfil their international legal obligation to protect
diplomatic and consular properties and personnel.
As recent events have demonstrated, when it comes to human rights, it is
not enough merely to keep your own house in order. As a conscientious member of
the international community, Estonia feels the responsibility to do more
globally. This includes paying attention to human rights’ violations in places
torn by conflict, as well as doing more to stop and prevent violation of rights
of women and the child. It also means making the most of new technologies in
the service of fundamental rights and freedoms. The need to take responsibility
and to do more is also why Estonia looks forward to become a member of the Human Rights Council and to work
proactively towards the fulfilment of its mandate.
Permit me to touch upon developments in Syria. We have witnessed the
complete breakdown of any semblance of the rule of law. We continue to see
extensive human rights and international humanitarian law abuses. It appears
that both sides have committed serious international crimes. Yet we still see
no solution. We cannot look on and wait for the violence to spread even more
widely. The Security Council – especially its permanent members – must overcome
their differences and find a solution to this bloodshed. The least that all
parties must do is to allow for humanitarian aid to be safely delivered and to
guarantee the security of humanitarian workers. Without an end to the armed
conflict, without peace, there can be no political process.
But it is not only Syria that needs our attention. We should not avoid
the problem of protracted conflicts waiting to be solved already for years. We
shall speak with one voice against continuing violations of territorial
integrity of sovereign states and secure return of all forcefully displaced
persons. Moreover, more attention to conflict prevention would help to avoid
such violations in the future.
A stronger commitment to conflict prevention
and to the enhancement of the rule of law can help to avoid violent conflicts
and the most heinous international crimes. Under the principle of the
Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) states committed in 2005 to protect their
people from ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Today the content of RtoP is not debated. The difficulty, however, lies with
its application: when governments do not live up to their responsibility, the
international community must react. And act.
The international criminal justice system,
especially the International Criminal Court, plays a crucial role in providing
timely and decisive responses to such crimes.
Investigations by the Court may deter further atrocities, prevent their
escalation or accelerate their end. Therefore it is essential to cooperate with
the Court and apprehend those it has indicted.
As a result of the evolving nature of military conflicts, civilian
casualties tragically are on the rise. Among civilians women and children are
the most vulnerable. When we take this into account, resolution 1325 – “Women,
peace and security” – takes on a whole new immediacy. Furthermore,
conflict-related sexual violence requires more
attention. Such violence can easily lead to further war crimes and crimes
against humanity. Moreover, in advancing rights of the child, the International
Criminal Court’s recent decision to convict Thomas Lubanga was a significant
achievement and will, we hope, have a strong deterrent effect in the future to
prevent crimes against children.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Crimean War in the 1850s brought the world the first extensive
photographic reports of conflicts. Today, new media make it even more difficult
to hide war crimes both on and off the battlefield. Modern technology brings
home the reality and horror of war.
Therefore, we must recognize the important role of the
technology in advancing human rights.
Freedom of expression is a human right whether in the
city square, the press or in cyber space. For the third year in a row, Estonia
ranks first in Internet freedom. We joined the “Coalition Freedom Online,” a
group of states working closely together to advance human rights online. In addition, Estonia looks forward to discuss
actively matters relating to Internet freedom in the Human Rights Council,
which adopted a
resolution on this topic this year. It was a genuine milestone, affirming that
fundamental rights in the virtual world must be protected with the same
commitment as in the “real”.
Internationally, there are worrisome developments related to the
Internet governance. Too many countries speak about the dangers of a free
Internet from a security perspective. The truth is that cyber security is
needed to prevent oppressive governments and criminals wreaking havoc. It is
not to prevent peaceful individuals from speaking their minds or gathering
information and exchanging ideas.
Despite having experienced extensive cyber attacks – the so-called Web
War One – five years ago, Estonia does not support more rigid regulation and
censorship in cyber-space. Estonia is committed to an open, secure and reliable
Internet. It is therefore imperative to ensure that the International
Telecommunication Union's new regulation does not lead to the restriction of
Internet freedom, to unnecessary limits to the free flow of ideas and
information. In fighting cyber crimes the Budapest Convention provides the
appropriate and primary legal framework at the global level.
Ladies and gentlemen,
there is a deficit of good and responsible governance. Its lack is the root
cause of countless other ills. But again, some progress has been made. I
was proud to represent Estonia when I signed up to
the Open Government Partnership, along with 42 other countries. This
multilateral initiative aims to take concrete steps to institute a new model of
governance, to maximize the potential of new technologies and to tackle corruption.
The information revolution we
experience these days has assisted Estonia successfully and rapidly transform
itself into a rule of law based democratic society. Estonia was the first
country where people could cast their vote also online in parliamentary and
municipal elections. Just a few months ago we conducted our census for the
first time to a large extent online. This year over ninety
percent of taxpayers in Estonia filed annual income tax returns via the
E-school, E-medical prescriptions and E-parking are examples of
Estonian innovation in the field of citizen-friendly public services. They
increase transparency and help to prevent and cut down corruption. And they reduce costs. Most
importantly, however, they have increased the possibility to exercise fundamental
rights and freedoms and improve inclusive and responsible governance.Therefore Estonia
wishes to share its E-governance skills and to continue to facilitate
exchanges with partners worldwide.
My comments on the need to do more go for the UN too. Without reform its
global mission will be unsustainable. We need change. Ranging from reforming of
UN in the broadest sense to cutting the wasting of paper by the same system on
the other. In an information-age it is
increasingly necessary to distinguish noise from signal, genuine data from
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have spoken thus far about what governments can and must do. In our
increasingly interconnected, wired and wireless world civil society and the
private sector play an ever greater role. Governments benefit from involving
NGOs, entrepreneurs and private individuals in governance. Estonia and many
other countries increasingly, and successfully, do so. The challenge, however,
is for the UN system, a multilateral organization based on modern,
post-Westphalian states, to embrace these other actors and to involve them in
finding solutions and decision-making.
Allow me to continue by sharing some thoughts related to development and
responsibility. Sustainable development is not a clichéd utopia. Nor is it
something forced on us from above. True development can be nothing other than
sustainable. Yet we’ve seen un-sustainability
masked as development, despite the contradiction in terms.
Consider the global financial crisis. Burdening our children and
grandchildren with mountains of debt is immoral, as is living at the expense of
others. Growth without responsibility is illusory. We have learned this the
hard way. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
We are another year closer to the deadline we set ourselves for
achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Were they too ambitious? I don’t
think so. Aiming high is the least we can do. There is no point in setting
targets that we can be confident of achieving effortlessly. Yet we must resist
the temptation to “sell” everything as a success if it is not the case. Failure
to achieve all the MDGs is no excuse not to set new targets. The world needs
Sustainable Development Goals. We’re still in a preliminary phase of the
discussions. Let us aim high and do our best.
the world’s best efforts millions remain in poverty. The IT transformation will
create massive opportunities all over the world. We must, however, avoid a
digital divide that would stymie this historic chance
to accelerate the development in all parts of the world. As a member of Kofi Annan’s High Level Panel
of Experts on the Digital divide already a decade ago, I continue to be
concerned about the gap between the digital haves and have-nots. Especially
because by investing in IT, countries such as mine have leapt into modernity
and transparency. New information and communications technologies have the
potential to trigger the next Industrial Revolution. But governments cannot
achieve it all alone.
expanding the range of global knowledge networks are key
partners in fighting poverty and creating a more transparent economy. They can also make an outsized difference
in their communities and the world. Governments, however, must provide a secure
and fruitful environment for these sorts of ideas to emerge and prosper.
Twenty-one years after restoring our independence, Estonia is an example where
a combination of responsible free enterprise, E-governance, international
partnerships and eco-friendly policies, can put you in the fast lane of
Ladies and gentlemen,
Experience shows that if we fail to act responsibly, we will, in the
end, be forced to do so.
Let´s begin to act responsibly.
I thank you for your attention.