UN General Assembly begins annual high-level debate

UN General Assembly begins annual high-level debate

The 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly today began its annual high-level debate with the campaign against terrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan at the forefront of concern.

The weeklong meeting is expected to draw more than 40 presidents and prime ministers and well over 100 foreign ministers. In opening the "general debate," Assembly President Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea noted that it was postponed from its traditional September schedule after the terror attacks against the United States. The actions of the United Nations in the past two months "give proof of our united response to the challenge [of terrorism]," he said. "Beginning with the unanimous resolution by the General Assembly on 12 September and the two important resolutions of the Security Council, we have moved quickly and decisively to address the overriding issue of terrorism."

In his statement to the Assembly, Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined his priorities for the coming years and reviewed fundamental guiding principles for the United Nations. Expressing his “revulsion and sorrow” at the 11 September attacks, the Secretary-General said that like the United States, the UN was determined to “overcome the forces that inflicted this ordeal upon us.

“One is tempted to say that we must now focus all our energies on the struggle against terrorism, and on directly related issues, yet if we did so we should give the terrorists a kind of victory,” he says. “Let us remember that none of the issues that faced us on September 10th has become less urgent.”

Leading off the session, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil said that while it was only natural that issues of international security be given high priority after the events of 11 September, terrorism should not stifle the debate on cooperation and other issues of global interest.

Calling on the world community to focus on the “fundamental imperative” of promoting development, President Cardoso said that the process of globalization was tainted by an undeniable sense of unease. “There is a governance deficit in the international sphere, and it results from a democratic deficit,” he said. “Globalization will only be sustainable if enriched by a sense of justice. Our motto should be ‘globalization in solidarity’ rather than the asymmetrical globalization of today.”

President Cardoso also appealed for an enlargement of the Security Council, saying that its membership should no longer be a reflection of arrangements among the victors of a conflict that took place over 50 years ago. “Common sense requires the inclusion, in the category of permanent members, of those developing countries with the necessary credentials to exercise the responsibilities that today’s world imposes upon them,” he said.

The President of the United States, George W. Bush, said that every nation had a stake in the fight against terrorism and that the leaders of every country must carefully consider their responsibilities in that respect. “It is our task – the task of this generation – to provide the response to aggression and terror,” he said. “We have no other choice, because there is no other peace.” The President said the time for action had arrived. “These obligations are urgent, and they are binding on every nation with a place in this chamber,” he said, underscoring the UN Security Council resolution adopted in September that required all countries to cooperate on terrorist financing and sharing intelligence, among other measures.

President Bush further pledged to press ahead for peace and prosperity in every land, noting that in the struggle against hateful groups that exploit poverty and despair, “we must offer an alternative of opportunity and hope.” He also reaffirmed the American administration’s commitment to a just peace in the Middle East leading to the peaceful cohabitation of two States – Israel and Palestine – “within secure and recognized borders.”

Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa said there could be no hesitation in ensuring that those responsible for the heinous actions of 11 September were brought to justice. Terrorism has shown in a very graphic, tragic and painful manner, as it did also in Kenya and Tanzania, "that our very humanity renders all of us, without exception, into potential targets of cold-blooded murder," he said

Yet it would seem obvious that the fundamental source of conflict in the world today was the socio-economic deprivation of billions of people across the globe, co-existing side by side with islands of enormous wealth and prosperity, President Mbeki said. As the recent World Conference against Racism in South Africa pointed out, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance remain a critical part of the practices that serve to alienate billions of people and contribute to mutual antagonisms among human beings. "The international community should spare no effort to ensure that this affront to human dignity is totally eradicated," he said.

For the Emir of Qatar, the word "terrorism" must be defined in order to distinguish it from legitimate struggles to end illegitimate occupation and subjugation. "Terrorism has taken root not only because of our inability to tackle world tension hotspots but also because we have tolerated for too long those who pursue policies of repression," Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani said. In that context, it is "extremely urgent to put an end to the tragedy of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces," he said, calling on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities in providing international protection for Palestinians against "the unjustified and unacceptable daily aggressions to which they are exposed."

The Emir also appealed to the international community to help save the lives of millions of Afghans who are facing a desperate situation, particularly as the winter months approach. "We would urge the Taliban authorities to cooperate fully with relief organizations to ensure that essential food and medicines reach all their people," he said, also encoura+ging United States authorities to designate a safe corridor for these supplies to travel through before winter sets in, and before the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Vicente Fox, President of Mexico, told the Assembly that in the search for lasting solutions to the new threats faced by the international system, "we should not overlook the situations that have contributed to their emergence, such as the lack of economic development in many nations."

President Fox called on the international community to make the fight against poverty and social exclusion a priority and reaffirmed his country's interest in promoting the agenda for development, providing it with a renewed impetus and a more effective approach. "We must ensure that all citizens become stake-holders in this process [of globalization]," he said, "and, to do so, we need an enabling international environment that includes appropriate public and private funding, as well as the consolidation of an inclusive international economic system that favours more equitable human development." That was why his country offered to host the International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held next year in Monterrey, Mexico.

The President also declared his country's commitment to the defence and protection of human rights and democracy "at all times and all places."

The President of Uruguay focused his address on what he called the "blind and wicked phenomenon" of terrorism. "Blind because it does not visualize nor transmit goals that have been accepted by the others," Jorge Batlle Ibañez said. "Wicked, because it attacks with no measure people and property and introduces fear, anxiety and sometimes panic."

Linking the root cause of terrorism to economic desperation, the Uruguayan leader said the fight against the scourge required a fight against other enemies of peace, such as poverty and underdevelopment. "There is no reason or banner that justifies this violence," he said. "This is why we must prevent poverty, marginality, abandonment and hopelessness from settling into people's souls and turning into a favourable and pleasing echo for criminal actions of which we become victims."

Also tracing the motivation to commit terrorist acts to global inequalities, the President of Argentina said any anti-terrorism strategy would be incomplete if such links were not acknowledged. "[The] benefits of development only touch a few States," Fernando De La Rua said. "This uneven economic distribution, made tangible by modern communications, is a cause of frustration and even desperation in wide sectors of the dispossessed and creates the conditions for the outbreak of conflicts and confrontations, over which fundamentalist movements of different kinds are at work," he said.

Turning to another issue, President De La Rua called attention to the dispute between his country and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, over which Argentina hopes to recover sovereignty, in accordance with its Constitution. The Argentinean Government, he said, is open to resuming bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom on the subject, and reiterates its support to the mission of good offices entrusted to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly to assist the parties in achieving that goal.

In his address, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, told the Assembly that the “abominable attacks of 11 September” were counter to the culture of peace and “the Dialogue among Civilizations.” More than ever, with greater determination, the struggle for peace should be a priority. “The fight against terrorism should be transformed into a war against war, the achievement of peace,” he said.

As for other social issues affecting the world such as poverty, marginality and hunger, President Chavez called for a new world pact in the UN. The Organization should concentrate on the moral, intellectual, scientific, cultural, economic and financial order in the fight against hunger and extreme poverty. While the Millennium Declaration last year had stated concrete goals, “we have to ask how to achieve those lofty goals,” he said.

President Ricardo Lagos Escobar of Chile said the world community was confronting a new conflict of global proportions whose first objective must be to put an end to fanaticism and intolerance. The terrorists would have achieved their objective if, as a result of their attacks, globalization changed direction and moved towards limited freedom and reduced international trade. The balance of our world is precarious and the concepts and institutions that we have developed to govern it are clearly inadequate, he said.

In order to create a safer world, more and better globalization was needed, not more autarchy, President Lagos said. At the same time, more and better democracy was required. "We must act preventively to protect our democracies and to ensure respect for human rights," he said. "Neither lack of development, nor cultural particularities can be used as a pretext to justify curtailment of the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments."

Mohammed Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said the beginning of the new millennium had been marred by blood and gloom, referring to the attacks on the US and other violence that persisted throughout the year. In response, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran had spoken of "Jihad against this evil phenomenon" in order to highlight the genuine view of Islam and the Islamic Revolution vis-à-vis terrorism, he said.

"The disaster in the United States is so tragic and grave that it implores all thinkers to engage in deep reflection and dialogue on its real causes," he said, stressing however that a definition of terrorism was needed, in order to differentiate between "blind criminal terrorism and the legitimate defence" against violence and occupation. The Iranian leader recommended that a global summit be convened to articulate practical and serious policies to eradicate the menace of terrorism. He also highlighted the importance of such endeavours as the "Dialogue among Civilizations," which he said offered a new paradigm of interaction among nations and cultures.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, said his country supported the current campaign against the terrorist networks in Afghanistan and hoped for its early and successful conclusion. He urged the international community to work towards establishing a broad-based, representative and neutral government in the country, so that a political vacuum could be avoided at the end of the military campaign.

As for strengthening the globalization and sustainable development processes, Prime Minister Vajpayee said they must be re-engineered to generate large-scale finances for poverty alleviation. The passion for globalization had to be tempered by compassion for its victims. "Sadly, this thought has not penetrated into the thinking of the developed economies," he said. "Their actions also do not reflect the realization that there cannot be a sustainable revival of their own sluggish economies unless the globalization and sustainable development priorities are re-oriented and anchored in the developmental needs of two-thirds of the global population."

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Lee Han-dong, told the Assembly that in the 10 years since the simultaneous admission to the UN of his country and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, inter-Korean relations had seen much progress. The first Inter-Korean Summit in June 2000 initiated the process of "melting away the icy wall of hostility and confrontation" that had thickened between the two countries over the past half-century, he said.

Since then, Prime Minister Lee said, positive changes have taken place on the Korean peninsula. The goal of his country's sunshine policy in promoting engagement between South and North was for the two sides to live together in peace and cooperation, in preparation for peaceful unification. The engagement policy was actively supported by the whole world, not to mention the Korean people and key neighbours surrounding the Korean peninsula.

Louis Michel, the President of the Council of Europe and Vice Prime Minister of Belgium, said a new global dynamic must be fostered, with the UN playing a central role in creating a coordinated strategy. He welcomed the UN Security Council's adoption of resolution 1373 following the World Trade Centre attack, and said the European Union and its Member States had already begun implementing its recommendations. Other issues addressed in his speech included human rights, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which he saw as particularly essential now to enforce international law, the rights of women, the fight against racism, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and disarmament.

Anatoliy Zlenko, Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said his Government supported the United States' determination to fight back against terrorism, and that it had joined "without hesitation" the global anti-terrorist coalition. "The military campaign in Afghanistan targeting the core of world terrorism is the first stage and a necessary element of these efforts," he said. "At the same time, it is evident that the Afghan people, who live in a state of permanent humanitarian crisis, became a hostage of terrorists." On the reform of the Security Council, Mr. Zlenko said Ukraine viewed the initiative "not as a weakening of the foundations of the Council's work, but, on the contrary, as their strengthening by making sure that they better reflect the realities of the modern world." Ukraine, as a Central European nation, would actively lobby for an additional seat on the Council for that region, he said.