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President Toomas Hendrik Ilves gave a speech at the General Debate of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, focusing on human rights, personal freedoms and the refugee issue.

Ilves started his speech by expressing hope that the historic agreement on the Iran nuclear program will pave the way toward more stability in the broader Middle East.


“It is a region where conflicts in Syria and Libya have led to the radicalization of an ever greater number of people and to the emergence of ISIL. It poses a serious threat to peace and security in Syria, Iraq and the broader Middle East. ISIL violates universal human values. No country is immune from the threat that it poses. Stopping it, and other terrorist organisations, requires a global effort. Estonia supports the international coalition against ISIL,” he said.


Ilves said that ongoing crises and conflicts, including in Syria and Libya, have also led to the current refugee crisis in Europe.

“According to UN statistics, one in every 122 persons is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker abroad or internally displaced in his or her home country. 42 000 people worldwide flee from their homes every day. The majority of these people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, which bear the greatest burden. There were 600 000 asylum seekers in Europe in 2014. There will be far more this year“.

“The EU is the main donor in the effort to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis. Approximately €4 billion has been mobilised by the European Commission and EU member states in humanitarian, development, economic and stabilisation assistance to Syrian IDP´s and refugees. And more efforts are being planned, including an African Trust Fund.


The aim is to shift the focus from dealing with the consequences of the migration crisis to dealing with its root causes. But this truly biblical movement of peoples demands a global response.”

While also mentioning Ukraine crisis, Ilves emphasized that respect for human rights has become more important than ever. “Dialogue and diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict must continue, however not at the expense of the principles that underpin European and global security.”


“2015 is a crucial year for global action against poverty and I welcome the historic agreement reached on the Sustainable Development Goals,” said President Ilves. “National governments can play a key role in creating an environment promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, respecting human rights, and gender equality. The Paris Climate Conference should reach an agreement that promotes these goals.”

Ilves also spoke about how the smart use of the Internet and digital technologies can be essential drivers for economic growth and development. “Ninety percent of people without access to the Internet live in the developing world. Bridging the digital divide between and within countries – across borders, gender, income and age – is essential for a contemporary digital economy,” he said.

“In 2016, the Internet will become the world's fifth largest economy, behind only that of the United States, China, Japan and India. It is time for world leaders to place the potential of digital technologies at the top of the development agenda. I am personally glad to co-chair the advisory panel of the upcoming World Bank's World Development Report 2016.


The report titled Digital Dividends examines how the Internet can be a force for development and asks importantly what is required to unlock the potential of still largely unrealized digital technologies,” the president added.


President Ilves ended his speech with stressing the importance of responsibility. “We are hit by an avalanche of problems. It is especially important that we adhere to our values and stand by our commitments.


Only then, words like human rights, equality, democracy and international law acquire meaning. Only if we uphold these values will we be able to surmount the turbulent times that we find ourselves in today, concluded Ilves.
The full speech is available:


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