The problems bedevilling the world's small island States, especially global warming, fishing rights, natural disasters and the inequalities of global trade, dominated this morning's session of the United Nations General Assembly's annual high-level debate.
Fradique Bandeira de Melo de Menezes, President of São Tomé and Príncipe, issued a plea for all countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases because his island nation saw its "very existence threatened by global warming," with shorelines eroding, seas rising and territory shrinking. "Is my small country to end up nothing but a tiny volcanic peak sticking up above the waves with the last of our people clinging to the land left unclaimed by the rising sea?" he asked.
Mr. de Menezes also warned that progress in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic would remain far away unless more money was devoted to finding a cure for a disease that was devastating not just families in Africa, but entire cultures and economies. He said the cost of treatment was still too expensive and hurt poorer nations, especially given they often lacked the conditions - despite the impact of globalization - to match industrialized nations in developing trade, commerce and healthier economies.
Backing the work of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), President Branko Crvenkoski of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia said it was important to establish a multi-ethnic society there with better security, greater democracy and a strong adherence to the rule of law. Any decision on the province's permanent status must not lead to the destabilization of southeastern Europe.
Mr. Crvenkoski drew attention to the threats to world peace posed by weapons, large and small. He welcomed the Security Council's resolution earlier this year to restrict the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, hailed the importance of the Ottawa Convention against landmines and called for more action to eliminate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan told the Assembly his country was actively contributing to the global coalition against terrorism, which threatened security and threatened innocent people. He said the Security Council's present structure meant it was unable to cope with many major problems, especially armed conflicts, and called for a "more representative, responsible and democratic" body.
Stressing the importance of economic growth and poverty eradication to stability and security, President Aliyev said Azerbaijan was playing its role in the development of international oil and gas pipelines. "These projects will ensure predictable access for exports of landlocked countries to world and regional markets. Benefits of that should reach the poorest in each participating country."
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines outlined the catastrophic impact of this season's hurricanes and tropical storms on the Caribbean region and urged international support for recovery efforts. His nation's closest neighbour, Grenada, had fared the worst: in three hours Hurricane Ivan transformed it "from the status of a middle-income developing country with a modern, sophisticated society and a well-run, democratic state machinery to a devastated land…[with] no economy, no functioning government as we have come to accept that term, and a highly traumatized civil society," he said.
Mr. Gonsalves added his voice to other cries of distress about the situation in Sudan's Darfur region, which he described as "a chilling reminder of man's inhumanity to man." He said practical measures must be taken immediately to end the killing, or else the world may be guilty of only engaging "in the usual perfunctory and routine denunciations."
Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase said the Pacific Ocean had the world's largest sustainable tuna fishery, and yet more than 95 per cent of the income from the catch went to distant nations. Praising the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Convention, which came into force in June, and bilateral agreements with other countries, he said it was time for the UN and other international organizations to help Fiji and its neighbours "get a just return from this major natural resource."
Referring to the racial divisions that have plagued his country, Mr. Qarase said his Government was working on extending guaranteed parliamentary representation for different ethnic communities to similar representation across government. Next month, Fiji will hold eight days of prayer, forgiveness and reconciliation "to bring people together [and] to create a national sense of purpose and patriotism," he said.
Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the recent wave of deadly hurricanes in the Caribbean showed how important it was to have rehabilitation schemes in place to quickly revive ruined economies after a natural disaster has struck. He recommended the UN set up a special insurance fund that States could draw from at short notice, funded not by charity but by premiums linked to a country's ability to pay.
Mr. Skerrit also highlighted the summit next January in Mauritius, when small island developing States will gather to review what progress has been made since the Barbados Programme of Action was adopted 10 years ago. He said it was "abundantly clear" that there must be a new global economic order that was more balanced and attuned to the concerns of its weakest members.
Tuvalu's Acting Prime Minister, Maatia Toafa, said the international community was not doing enough to recognize the particular vulnerabilities of small island developing States, which tend to be isolated, have narrow economic bases and suffer from fragile environments. While there have been numerous plans, summits and declarations, rhetoric must be matched by real action to ensure countries such as Tuvalu were not doomed to "the cycle of poverty and marginalization."
Global warming was an especially urgent problem, he added, because much of Tuvalu was no more than three metres above sea level. "Our livelihoods and sources of food security are already affected badly, with increased salinity in ground water, land erosion, coral bleaching and total anxiety," Mr. Toafa said, describing the threat as "a slow and insidious form of terrorism."
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda called for a review of policies whereby small or developing States receive less aid and financial support as soon as they achieve some success and economic growth. "Is it not ironical that only in the area of development funding achieving a 'graduation' is rewarded with punishment?" he asked. "The effect of this is really to pull the carpets from under small States the moment we stand up."
Mr. Spencer also said he was not convinced that key organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave enough priority to the struggling nations of the world.
Shaikh Mohammed Bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain, said the ongoing violence and insecurity in Iraq was a concern for the entire Middle East and called for the UN to play "a vital and effective role" at the head of the international community. He also backed moves to reform the UN, especially the apparatus of collective security, so that it could respond better to conflicts and promote greater democracy worldwide.
The Republic of Korea's Foreign Minister, Ban Ki-moon, stressed his nation's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and said it had no plans to develop or possess nuclear weapons. Mr. Ban said resolving the dispute about the nuclear capacity of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) would have a positive spin-off effect on the other issues troubling the Korean peninsula, adding it is seeking more opportunities for inter-Korean cooperation.
George Yeo, Foreign Minister of Singapore, said that while there would always be disagreements between people on issues - from gay rights to therapeutic cloning to the death penalty to the nature of democracy - it was crucial that there was respect for plurality. "Respecting plurality does not mean that we stop recognizing strengths and weaknesses. That would be hypocrisy…What we need instead is an environment which encourages mutual learning and healthy competition," he said.
Declaring his country's support for "a collective and rule-based campaign" to eradicate weapons of mass destruction and end the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said any measures must be applied to all countries and without discrimination. "The relevant multilateral instruments must become truly universal and the rights and obligations of all must be scrupulously enforced," he said, adding that Iran would contribute to that effort while insisting "on our right to technology for peaceful purposes."