More than 'ice': A look at Iceland's feats in world rankings and role at UN rights council
Photo shows Icelandic houses.
More than 'ice': A look at Iceland's feats in world rankings and role at UN rights council
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - July 15, 2019 - 4:38pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte took a ridiculous swipe at Iceland for leading a United Nations resolution that called for a review of his ferocious war on drugs, claiming the Nordic island nation is made entirely of ice, and therefore, fails to understand the problem of Philippines with drugs.

“Iceland, what is Iceland’s problem? Just ice. That’s your problem. You have too much ice and there is no clear day or night there,” Duterte said in a rambling speech last week.

The chief executive also said the people in Iceland “go about eating ice” and they have “no policemen.”

“They don’t understand the social, economic, political problems of the Philippines,” Duterte, who is known for his tirades against foreign countries and institutions critical of his policies, said.

His comments about Iceland were made after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the resolution tabled by Iceland seeking a “comprehensive” report on the country’s war on drugs.

The resolution also called for the Philippine government’s cooperation, including facilitating country visits and preventing all acts of intimidation or retaliation.

More than ice                                                     

Iceland is known for its magnificent northern lights, hot springs and glaciers. But it has other claims to fame.

It is true that Iceland—with roughly 350,000 inhabitants—is a low crime country unlike the Philippines. Its police officers are unarmed most of the time.

Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world—a position it has held since 2018—according to the Global Peace Index. GPI ranks nations according to their level of safety and security, extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict and degree of militarization.

The Philippines, on the other hand, was at 134th place out of 163 countries on the list.

In 2018, the tiny Nordic nation topped the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the 10th consecutive year. The Philippines placed eighth in WEF’s gender equality rating worldwide and came in first in Asia.

Earning perfect 10 in the electoral process and political culture, Iceland ranked second overall among the world’s democracies in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 Democracy Index. The Philippines was at 53rd on the index of 167.

Iceland is the fourth happiest country in the world, according to the seventh World Happiest Report released in March. The Philippines placed 69th out of the 156 countries.

Iceland ranked sixth in the 2018 United Nations’ Human Development Index, which measures national achievements in health, education and income. The Philippines took the 113th spot out of 189 countries.

Iceland also ranked 21st out of the 190 global economies in 2018 with an ease of doing business score of 79.35, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report. The Philippines had a score of 57.68 and placed 124th.

Iceland as a human rights defender

Iceland was elected to the Human Rights Council after receiving 172 out of 178 votes in 2018. It will serve on the Geneva-based global rights body through the end of 2019.

It filled the seat vacated by the United States, which withdrew from the UNHRC, accusing the council of displaying entrenched bias against Israel.

“Multilateral institutions such as the Human Rights Council will continue to face criticism, and the call for reform will become ever louder if we cannot deliver on this commitment. Member states, not least those elected to this Council, must implement the human rights commitments they have made and we must hold each other accountable when need be,” Harald Aspelund, permanent representative of Iceland in Geneva, said in September 2018. 

In March 2019, the Nordic country led a joint initiative calling on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to improve the situation of human rights in the nation. The countries expressed concerns on the arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and condemned the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  

Drug war critic

Iceland’s latest victory in the council is the adoption of the resolution it has tabled on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines by a vote of 18 countries in favor and 14 against, with 15 abstentions.

Gudlaugur Thór Þórdarson, Iceland’s minister for foreign affairs, said all reports indicate the human rights situation in the Philippines continues to deteriorate.

“As a new member of the council last year, Iceland pledged to address human rights concerns on their merits. We also pledged to take leadership and responsibility in initiating action when and where warranted. By tabling this resolution we were following up on previous initiatives in the council,” he said.

The tiny island nation has been a fierce critic of Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign even before the approval of the resolution.

In a statement delivered last year at the 38th session of the UNHRC, Iceland called on the Philippines and its investigators to probe without conditions the killings linked to the government’s anti-narcotics campaign. The statement was signed by 37 countries.

In 2017, 39 countries led by Iceland slammed what it dubbed as “culture of impunity” in the Philippines.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo called the resolution “grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow and maliciously partisan.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also hinted at a possible withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council after the adoption of the Iceland-led resolution. 

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