Foreword by the Icelandic Human Rights Centre

When reading the HRMI‘s Human Rights in Lithuania 2013-2014: Overview, I was even more convinced that human rights and democracy are really two sides of the same coin as well as reminded of the universality of human rights. An important test of a genuine democracy, for example, is how it treats its’ minorities – the importance of a firm commitment to democratic values, human rights and protecting minorities cannot be stressed enough. Therefore, it is important to mainstream human rights into all government action plans and work processes as well as to include them in all educational activities and school curricula from an early age.

 Education on discrimination against different minorities such as immigrants, lesbian, gay and transgender persons, young adults from economically disadvantaged background and religious minorities, as well as understanding the core of human rights, should be the main focus of human rights education. Growing up with knowledge and understanding of human rights means that each person is much more likely to freely and unreservedly assume the responsiblity of respecting the human rights of others. 

 Even if the nations of the World have signed and implemented international human rights conventions, there is still dispute on the nature and essence of human rights, what these rights are, whether they are all equally important and whether they differ between countries or continents, how they should be guaranteed and for whom.

 These questions and reflections can easily be answered; human rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination and they can not be bought or earned – you enjoy them for the simple reason that you are a human being. Human rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. And not least important, human rights are universal and inalienable. As stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

 Respect for human rights is the root of a democratic society and also the main characteristics of a harmonious and affluent one. I will go as far as to say that if not for the fact that Iceland, my home country, holds human rights and democratic values in high regard, we would not have recovered as well as we have from the recession that hit us even harder than most other countries.

 We live in a gender equal society (even if there is still work to be done) and a society  which strives to respect the rights of all, which is not least apparent due to the fact that there is always an ongoing and effective dialogue in place, between the Government, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. When the crisis hit Iceland, the State took care to safeguard the most vulnerable groups in society, by establishing the Wellfare Watch, which monitored the situation of these vulnerable groups. Our strong infrastructure was a crucial factor in our quick economic recovery.

By embarcing human rights and democratic values, a deep consensus may be reached in society which leads to the State no longer having any difficulty with fulfilling their human rights obligations.

 Margrét Steinarsdóttir,

Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Center