Articles

Small States

I wish there were more small states in the world. Small States cannot be imperialistic. Small States tend to be peaceful and often advocate peaceful relations. At the same time, small states cannot defend themselves from aggressors. Small states rely on a peaceful international system. Accordingly, it is of importance for small states to be champions of peace and peaceful solutions. We are on a mission to seek out and find new paths to strengthen small states around the globe and guarantee peaceful relations between states. A peaceful world is a world where small states can be prosperous and free.

- Baldur Þórhallsson, Professor of Political Science and Research Director at the Centre for Small State Studies at the University of Iceland

The Roots to be Unrooted

The roots of war are unsolved conflict and/or unconciled trauma. The root of conflict is incompatible goals. Conflicts are solved by making them compatible, through mediation finding what the parties want and a vision of a new reality with reasonably compatible goals. The root of trauma is past violence. Traumas are conciled by clearing the past and creating a future, through conciliation wishing the violence undone, and proposing future cooperative joint projects.

 - Johan Galtung, the founder of the discipline of peace studies.

Us and Them

To create a tradition of positive dialogue it is important that people treat one another with courtesy and respect. Peaceful societies are based on respect for others and tolerance towards those who are different from us. There´s nothing wrong with people having different opinions. It can be positive to discuss important issues with people who don’t necessarily agree with one´s point of view. Though sometimes when having a heated debate people tend to attack their opponent rather than the issue being discussed.

Hate speech is dangerous and can never contribute to peace. Hate speech creates dissolution and conflict and the victims are almost always minorities. The consequences are numerous and can range from systematic discrimination to violence and war. Much of the conflicts that occur in the world have their roots in discrimination and hate speech that divides groups into "we" versus "them". The Holocaust was for example rooted in prejudice and hate propaganda against Jews. Hutu slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda in the ´90s can also be traced to hate propaganda against the Hutu. Of course there are other underlying factors that have contributed to the violence, but systematic hate speech, especially in the media, promotes inactivity and the acceptance of society of violence and discrimination against the group that is targeted.

With these words, I urge my countrymen to reject hate speech and intolerance in Icelandic society. There is nothing unusual about fearing the unfamiliar, but it is important to deal with fear of the unknown by educating oneself about what causes the fear. It is extremely important to seek information from different perspectives, step outside the comfort zone and try putting ourselves in their shoes. Let´s stop focusing on the negative, there is much more that unites us than divides us, and it is also much better for the soul to focus more on the positive in life.


-Vera Knútsdóttir, Director at United Nations Association in Iceland


The Children of Refugees

Of the over 21 million people who have refugee status in the world about half are children. In most cases, these are children who have lost their homes and have been brought up partly or wholly in situations where their basic needs of a safe environment and education are not met. What many of these children have witnessed and experienced can have lasting effects. War and violence, abuse and neglect are part of the daily life of children of refugees.

When children get to safety after such an ordeal they need not only adapt to a new society, learn the language and become familiar with the traditions of a new country, in which the school system plays a key role. Children also need to deal with the experiences that they have suffered and the violence they have witnessed. Distorted values ​​from conflict zones is often the only thing they know.

You can still have a major impact on the development of an individual when he is still only a child and prevent permanent damage that a childhood in disaster situations causes. The community that receives children, the town or city where they receive shelter plays a key role in teaching these children to value peace above war, the value of cooperation beyond divisions. Children who have grown up with war and hate have to see and experience that it is possible to get your own way and succeed by other means.

By focusing on peace, mutual respect and community we can lay the foundation for children that have experienced war to have a new worldview where it is possible to resolve disputes by means other than violence. That way these children will be both more successful in the host country and will in the future possibly be able to work on the reconstruction of their countries of origin.

Communities that receive children who have been displaced can help them deal with the tragedy they have experienced and recreate their world view. Good reception of people who come to this country in search of protection can thus be crucial for refugee children and their families, their country, and especially Icelandic society.

- Erna Kristín Blöndal, PhD student of Law


Rights can Secure Peace

Although human rights have been anchored in international- and in most countries also in national law – their nature and content is still debated, which rights are human rights, whether they are universal and of equal importance, how far we should go to ensure them and how it should be done. Rights are also different in nature; some are intended for individuals and others for groups of people. Some you can take before the courts while others you can’t. Some are designed to implement immediately, while others you can implement in phases depending on the economic situation and development in the country.

 

There are some things about human rights that the nations of the world have more or less agreed upon:

  • First -Human rights are rights that a person has simply because he or she is a human being. Thus they are sometimes referred to as "innate rights".
  • Second - Human rights are not something that you have to buy, earn or inherit.
  • Thirdly- with rights comes responsibility, international human rights stipulate what  governments should do for its citizens and what they can´t do. Every person is entitled to certain fundamental rights, human rights, and every person is responsible for respecting the human rights of others. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it is stipulated that “everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible”.

 

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. We all have the right to life, to express our opinion, and no one can stand in the way of people working or studying what they want and can. No one should live with hunger or be without housing. Color, sex, sexuality nationality, religion or disability does not make a difference when it comes to human rights. If we learn to respect each other´s fundamental human rights then everyone can enjoy equal rights and can make use of their talents, that will certainly lead to a world where everyone can live in harmony and peace together.


- Margrét Steinarsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Center