The President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, lauded the world’s embrace of online services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, in her high-level General Debate speech at the 76th United Nations General Assembly session.

Ms. Kaljulaid said that, although many conversations on digital development have been curtailed, online events have continued to provide solutions and fresh ideas to confront the crisis. 

“Through the tears we have shed for our lost ones, from the despair and devastation, solutions have sprung which will enable us to become better, more egalitarian societies” she declared. 

The Estonian President singled out Kenya’s decision to make court judgements available online and expressed her hope that this could be replicated by all governments, citing the benefits for people from rural areas and vulnerable groups, who would otherwise have to travel long distance and queue at government offices.

‘The vulnerable suffer’

Turning to Afghanistan, Ms. Kaljulaid expressed her sadness that the progress made in the past two decades, particularly in relation to women’s rights, is seemingly being reversed. Their future, she said, looks grim, as does the humanitarian situation, with more than 18 million people, including women and children, in need of emergency aid.

The Estonian President reminded her audience that women and children in parts of the world have been hard-hit by the pandemic: the figures surrounding women’s participation in the workforce, their proportion among the unemployed, or the number of women unable to reach ante- or postnatal care make up a “dark shadow of this pandemic”. 

Vaccinating the global population, she continued, is necessary before problems such as starvation, access to education or medical care can be properly addressed, and Estonia is contributing some 900 000 vaccine doses.

Digital as an equalizer

On the subject of the digital transformation, Ms. Kaljulaid noted that the phenomenon, of particular importance for small countries with limited resources, cannot be separated from the respect from the basic rights and freedoms.

Digital, she continued, is an equaliser and, in order to prevent the emergence of digital inequality and division, Estonia and Singapore co-sponsored a Global Declaration on the Digital Response to COVID19, “Close the Digital Divides: the Digital Response to COVID-19”.

The President insisted that digital tools must not be used to help repressive states become more efficient, but should be used for the benefit of their citizens. In Estonia, she continued, the State’s online behaviour is rooted in international law, including the UN Charter, international humanitarian law, and human rights law.  

Turning to the activities of neighbouring countries, Ms. Kaljulaid raised the situation in Belarus. She said that Estonia stands in solidarity against the “aggressive and destabilizing behaviour of Alexander Lukashenkaʼs regime”. 

As for Ukraine, the Estonian leader declared her country’s “strong and unwavering support for their sovereignty, territorial integrity and for nonrecognition policy of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.”

Highlighting the work of Estonia as an elected member of the Security Council, Ms. Kaljulaid said that the country has tried to give a voice to women human rights defenders by inviting them to brief the Council, and to draw attention to the situation of children in armed conflicts.

The Estonian President concluded by remarking that the UN relies on international cooperation to solve global problems, and that the Organization has a great potential for solidarity regardless of the problems we are facing.

Full statement in English here.