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President of the Republic at the Annual Human Rights Conference 2017


I have to say that with Kristina united we stand (Danish ambassador in Estonia, Kristina Miskowiak Beckward) against everybody who says that the United Nations are a big behemoth who spits out faxes by kilometers a day (yes faxes—Estonians, these are the machines that send you paper) and small countries have no chance to even read all that, let alone react to it. We small states have taken this into our own hands and supported by the bigger ones, we've actually managed to bring a change to the UN. The Secretary General of the UN is now promising us a more coherent UN, a reformed UN that is more efficient and effective, therefore easier to handle, also for smaller countries. Actually, it is the same current Secretary General, who came into office by a renewed election procedure. And it was Estonia, strongly supported by Costa Rica and 25 other countries that brought along this change. We actually had a big part in creating a merit based election for the Secretary General post of the United Nations.

It was New Zealand who brought climate as a security issue to the Security Council. It was Senegal who brought the lack of clean water as a security issue to the Security Council. It was Lithuania who brought the Ukrainian question to the Security Council. We have now moved to a situation where we will maybe finally have - with the support of the OECD - a UN mission in Ukraine. Hopefully it will be this way that leads to ending the partial occupation of the country.

These examples demonstrate that small states are not allowed to think small or deal with minor issues or side always with a big one. Quite to the contrary. Yes, we know the saying that goes also for the EU. That small countries basically have three opportunities. They can say: "Yes, I´m aligned with position A or B or C "- being those the positions of the bigger EU countries. The EU does not function this way any more. It functions in the way that we have a catalyst nation and its size is not necessarily an argument. Then you can bring on new thinking processes. This is how we operate in the EU and also in the NATO, think alone of the cyber defence center here in Tallinn. This is also how we plan to operate in the UN. Yes, we are small in size, but we think big and we refuse to act in a way that our only position is to accept the agenda. That is actually the secretary's job, not a Security Council member's job. The world is unpredictable and much of this unpredictability stems from climate change and technological disruption. Technological development, at this moment especially, can add to the uncertainties of a global world. But this new world also offers many opportunities. It is quite clear that the protection of small cultures and indigenous people gets more difficult if their islands get simply washed off the planet. At the same time, keeping this cultures alive and keeping alive also the cultures of small nations who see their population wandering freely and globally is made much easier by technological development. There is for example absolutely no reason why you couldn't keep a language alive even if the country where it is spoken does no longer exist. Think alone of climate catastrophy scenarios that threat many regions of the world.

I believe that a nation of just one million is more sensitive. It is sensitive to the worries of other small nations of course, but also to all those somehow unprivileged: it can be indigenous people, it can be women, it can be different minorities in different societies. It is very clear that small states have a different sensitivity about the inherently weak. This is something big states simply cannot have. I'll give you a very simple example. At the UN General Assembly I met with a Head of State. He was also from a very small country. And he told me that while he was meeting me, there was the head of another small country sitting in his office, because the latter's office had been washed away a week ago. And he said: "They tell me: "You need to ask for development aid to overcome the difficulties." "They said the same to the other head of state who no longer has an office. But these rules which exist for achieving any development aid, for us, it's simply not possible to fulfill them anymore. Maybe it was before the last hurricane or the last three hurricanes. Now it is not. And you call it development aid. We cannot call it development aid if we are replacing the same bridge and the same houses every year now due to the causes of climate change."

Small countries like Estonia keep this in their heart and mind all the time. I have been broadcasting the previous story ever since I heard it in September and I will continue to do so. Because we need to understand that these small countries, they now need a radically different treatment, they need it quickly and they indeed cannot fulfill the criteria we usually consider essential. Simply because there is nothing with what to fulfill these criteria anymore. It is easier to understand this if you are small and still remember well the geopolitical catastrophies of your continent.

And that is indeed something which I believe that makes us valuable also for the big ones in the Security Council. We have a more balanced, nuanced and sensitive view. And this, it could be said, in a nonintrusive way, because we do not have veto rights. Therefore, what we take up and however strong we put it forward, it is actually seeking the empathy of the big leaders. It is not going for anything more demanding than their feelings. That is important. Think of Emmanuel Macron's proposal that the big five should wave their veto rights in case there is immense human suffering.

You see, big leaders do hear emotional, sensitive and important things and we can tell them about it, because we small ones know and feel them. The big ones can learn from us. This way we can indeed make the UN function more effectively, so that we will not be talking about peace building and resilience while somewhere, at the very same moment, babies fall victims to fires.

Thank you!