Leaders of small island developing states call for bigger voice in UN decision-making

25 September 2014

As the first head of a small island developing state to today address the annual General Assembly debate in New York, Gaston Browne called for a democratization of the United Nations to give a greater voice to countries that are marginalized “because we are considered too small to make a difference.”

As the first head of a small island developing state to today address the annual General Assembly debate in New York, Gaston Browne called for a democratization of the United Nations to give a greater voice to countries that are marginalized “because we are considered too small to make a difference.”

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Browne told the 69th Assembly that his country relies on the UN to protect it against incursions on its sovereignty and disregard for its rights.

“My small country has no military might, no economic clout,” he said. “All that we have is membership in the international system as our shield, and our voice in this body as our sword.”

He also called for comprehensive reform of the 15-member Security Council, where five permanent members hold the “anachronism” of a veto, “a system that has no legitimacy in fairness and in global balance” and one which has paralyzed the body from acting “in a manner that would command worldwide support and acclamation.”

Speaking as a member country of a group of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Mr. Browne called for an end to the United States’ embargo on Cuba, which prevents that island nation from “exercising its right to freely participate in the affairs of the hemisphere.”

Addressing the theme of this year’s debate, which focuses on a “transformative post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Browne detailed a list of challenges facing Antigua and Barbuda, including declining aid; poor terms of trade; the imposition of high costs for regulation of financial services; and the costs of curbing drug trafficking and stopping refugees.

He called for the UN to step up action, through military and humanitarian terms, to help the international community curb such trials.

Also addressing the General Assembly, President Baron Divavesi Waqa of Nauru stressed the importance of overfishing, climate adaptation and waste treatment as some of the areas most in need of attention, even as new and distracting issues emerge.

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President Baron Divavesi Waqa of Nauru addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The President criticized what he called the current “piecemeal approach”, where a donor’s political interests determine aid priorities but fail to successfully address the underlying issues.

“What is needed is long-term, in-country engagement, backed by real resources that leaves behind durable domestic institutions run by nationals,” Mr. Waqa said.

He noted that if the international community wants its efforts to be successful over the long-term, it needs to build a foundation that develops global citizens and gives them the tools they need to succeed in a global world.

“We must move beyond ‘capacity building’ to ‘institution building’,” the President said.

He called on Member States to invest more resources and a level of cooperation that the international community has thus far not countenanced. At the same time, he said the small island developing nations “cannot and should not wait for others to decide what is best for us.”

As an example, he highlighted the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which is taking the lead in successfully managing their tuna stocks, through such measures as curbing illegal fishing and sustainable harvesting.

Sustainable use of ocean resources and conservation of underwater heritage was also a major theme for Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr., whose country of Palau strongly supports ocean management efforts led by the Pacific Islands Forum.

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President Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr. of Palau addresses the General Assembly. UN Photo/Kim Haughton

President Remngesau called on United Nations to ensure that a stand-alone sustainable development goal on oceans is part of the post-2015 agenda that is currently being established.

He noted that the Pacific region is on the frontlines of climate change, and its people – who are seeing first-hand the pollution in the oceans and the depletion of their fish – “will not go down without a fight.”

The Palauan President also stressed the importance of establishing long-lasting global partnerships that include developed and developing countries, as well as other actors.

“We can continue ‘business as usual’… or we can choose a different road, one that will enable our critical habitats a chance to recover and thereby ensure their continued ability to sustain us,” he proposed to the audience, quipping: “Am I a foolish dreamer or a simple pragmatist? I guess only time will tell.”

 

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