The Need for Vigilance

The Stockholm International Forum 2004. Stockholm, 26-28 January, 2004.


It is vital for us to remember the Nazi Holocaust. We must remember it so as to prevent such a thing from happening again, against the Jews or any other group of people. When this forum was opened four years ago, with the first conference of the new millennium in January 2000, it was stated that one of the reasons for holding it was that a survey had shown that most Swedish school pupils had not been told anything in their schools about the Holocaust during the Second World War. This fact underlines how important it is for us to keep history visible to our children every day: schools are constantly changing and new generations are constantly coming forward to take the place of the old. For this reason, we must be reminded constantly of what happened. If we fail to learn from history, it will be more likely to repeat itself.

The Government of Iceland decided to participate straight away in the first conference in 2000, at which the Icelandic delegation was headed by the Prime Minister, Mr Davíð Oddsson. Iceland has been represented at every conference in the series, and I should like to take this opportunity to convey greetings and thanks from my prime minister to the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr Göran Persson, for hosting and inviting us to the series of conferences, of which this is the fourth.

We meet here to look to the future, and to consider how to avoid the threats that manifested themselves in the Holocaust and similar events – genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia. The international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight these evils, and Iceland is determined to play its part along with other nations in standing against them.

For a peaceful nation with a tiny population like Iceland, it is vital that we should be on guard against the menace of racialism in every form. It is clear to us, as a small nation, that this can only be done through a joint effort by the international community under the auspices of the United Nations or some other comparable forum for open debate and action. This is one of the reasons why Iceland has decided to present its candidacy for one of the non-permanent seats in the Security Council in a few years' time: to uphold the values of human dignity and democracy in the face of extremism of all types.

Deciding what measures to take to ensure national and international security in today’s world is very different from what it was in the days when it was possible to draw a neat division between east and west in Europe, between the democracies and dictatorships, and to interpret conflicts and tensions elsewhere in the world in terms of that division. An analysis of today’s security issues must take account of the threats posed by the activities of movements and individuals with a wide variety of motivations. What they have in common is a belief that the way to achieve their aims is to undermine our faith in the value of national authority and government by carrying out terrorist attacks on public institutions.

Unfortunately, genocide, mass murder and ethnic cleansing do not belong exclusively to history. It is therefore not enough to warn future generations by pointing to the past: we must keep our eyes open to what is happening all around us. It is important for us to be on the lookout all over the world, and it is vital that news reporting should be free, open and democratic so that everyone can see and hear what is going on. The world’s television cameras must be able to send pictures from every corner of the globe. Then it must be possible to translate this awareness into action and an appropriate response against the problem. Our purpose in meeting here is to stress the necessity of making such a response.

What institutions do we have for this purpose? How is the world’s security system built up? Do red warning lights start flashing somewhere on a control panel when terror is about to be unleashed?

In Iceland, we live in natural conditions that can often be difficult and unpredictable. In recent years we have been building up a sophisticated detection system to give warnings when there is an imminent danger of natural catastorphes. When such a situation develops, people living in potentially unsafe areas are evacuated to safety. But the difference between such crises and a situation like the Holocaust is that the Holocaust was caused by human beings. Therefore it lies within human power to prevent it happening again. But our monitoring system, our sensing equipment, must be switched on at all times. Unfortunately, because human kind will never be perfect, the danger will never disappear.

We support the draft resolution of this conference on the need to develop mechanisms and methods to ensure that the threat of genocide can not turn into a reality. We are prepared to take part in this work within the international institutions and organizations to which we belong, such as the Nordic co-operative forum, NATO, the Council of Europe, the Organisation (OSCE) on Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations, and also in partnerships with individual countries in any part of the world.

In recent years, Iceland has been playing an increasing role in international peacekeeping and monitoring – in Pristina in Kosovo, in Sri Lanka and now in Iraq, to name some examples. We do not shirk our responsibilities: we are committed to the further development of this work and are prepared to play our part in preventing racism or anti-semitism from developing into active persecution and murder.

In this context I should like to mention the particular example of the Nordic initiative in Sri Lanka, in which all the Nordic countries, under Norwegian leadership, are members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. This is an attempt, in an unusually complicated political situation, to establish peace between factions that have been locked in bitter fighting for decades. Violence in Sri Lanka has cost tens of thousands of lives in recent years. But despite the bitter polarisation of the political positions in Sri Lanka, it has proved possible to foster a peace process that has taken root and grown for several months.This shows clearly that even nations that are tiny on the scale of the world’s biggest countries can play a vital role in settling disputes and preventing the murder and maiming of innocent people.

I hope this series of conferences on the Holocaust will ensure that we continue to remember and keep our eyes open. I hope it will bear fruit far into the future. All the same, it is clear that we ourselves, as individuals, must keep up our vigilance if we are to avoid disaster. The work we have begun here must be continued elsewhere: in the coming years, the whole world will have to become like a permanent standing conference against the threats of genocide and racial violence, with everyone constantly on the watch for danger signals.

Finally, I should like to repeat our gratitude to the Swedish government and Prime Minister for their initiative.

Thank you for your attention.