H.E. MR. ASTERIO R. TAKESY
SECRETARY (MINISTER) OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
OF THE FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
New York, September 25, 1996
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies and Distinguished Guests,
Once again, it is my honor as Secretary of External Affairs for the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia to address the General Assembly.
First, I wish to thank the distinguished former President, His Excellency, Professor Diogo Freitas do Amaral, for his enlightened and skillful leadership during the historic fiftieth General Assembly.
As always, we acclaim the tireless dedication of the Secretary-General, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who, throughout the time of our membership, has worked unceasingly to make the United Nations a more effective instrument for the betterment of our lives.
Mr. President, the people of my country are particularly pleased that you have been elected to lead this Body during its crucial fifty-first Session, Last year we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations and took stock of its accomplishments during the first half-century. Now, we begin in earnest to apply the resolves we made toward the future of this Organization and the world. There may be no other single individual who has been as instrumental or as effective in leading the world community in recent years to find difficult common ground, particularly on issues relating to environmentally sustainable development. We are heartened by your past achievements, Mr. President, and are thankful for your willingness to undertake an even greater commitment as our President during this Assembly.
This is a year of strong reflection for the people of the Federated States of Micronesia. Ten years have passed since we emerged from the United Nations Trusteeship system, and five years since we took our place as a Member of the United Nations. During those years we have worked hard to build our capacity to contribute, even as a remote small-island State, to the advancement of all our common goals. Despite severely limited resources, both in terms of personnel and finances, we have accorded a high priority to our participation in United Nations activities and to meeting our financial commitments to the Organization. It remains our strong belief, Mr. President, that this priority has not been misplaced.
At the time we joined the United Nations the world’s attention was focusing on the global aspects of protection of the environment, and on the necessary inter-relationship between the environment and development. These were the subjects of the historic work at the Rio Earth Summit in June 1992. That landmark conference gave us, thanks in large part to you, Mr. President, Agenda 21 and its associated mechanisms. Since then, much has been accomplished through the work of many institutions and individuals, such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Under-Secretary-General for Policy Co-ordination and Sustainable Development, Mr. Nitin Desai. We look forward to the special session of this Body next year which will be held to review progress during the first five years following the UNCED and to appraise the effectiveness of the institutions that have grown up around it.
In the case of the Federated States of Micronesia, this movement was very well-timed. Just as our internal process of development began in earnest, we received guidance from Agenda 21 as to sustainability and the integration of environmental protection and development. A short time later, at the Barbados Conference which had been mandated by UNCED, we participated in analyzing the barriers to development faced by all small-island developing states.
While we took encouragement from the international and regional aspects of Agenda 21 and the Barbados Programme of Action, we were also motivated to integrate the Rio and Barbados outcomes into our own national policies regarding development. Today our National Council on Sustainable Development, chaired by our Vice President, plays a central role in the formation of my country’s development policies.
Since last year my country has been assisted by the World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank in undertaking broad economic policy and government structural reforms with a view to strengthening the private sector and optimizing efficiency in the public sector. We are taking serious steps to downsize the public service workforce. At the same time measures are being taken to raise government revenues through tax rate increases and support for the public sector. All of our public utility services including telecommunication are being commercialized while a good number of our public works services are being privatized.
For a small island developing country such as the Federated States of Micronesia, the condition and productivity of our limited land areas, and of the sea that surround us, are key to our survival. Only in recent times have we, and others like us, come to realize the vulnerability and fragile nature of a world long taken for granted. It is in the nature of islands to regard our remoteness as our primary protection against all dangers. But the twentieth century has taught us how the land on which we live, and the resources of the sea on which we depend, can be destroyed as a consequence of events that take place far from OUT own shores. Thus, we are compelled to raise our voice against long-standing actions and practices throughout the world as well as within our own region.
As long ago as 1972, Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration established that national sovereignty can no longer be asserted to justify actions that “cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond national jurisdiction.” The affirmative responsibility of States to ensure the avoidance of such damage is specifically reiterated in Principle a of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The responsibility is now recognized as a doctrine of generally-accepted international law.
Yet, Mr. President, today we look back on a year during which, at best, only mixed progress has been made by the nations of the world in discontinuing or regulating activities harmful to the environment of others. Particularly in the region of the Pacific Islands, our broad expenses and our helpless populations
Administration of its opposition to plans to establish a nuclear waste storage facility on Palmyra Atoll, in our Region. But experience has shown that good intentions are not always sufficient protection. We must also rely on Global mechanisms such as the Basel and London Conventions, and on regional actions to establish zones of protection, such as under the Noumea Convention and the recently concluded Waigani Treaty.
I emphasize, Mr. President, that the progress made in all these areas is not lost on us. However, if our children and their children are to inherit a livable world, we must all somehow find a way now to take seriously the message of the Stockholm Declaration. We must face the hard fact that each time the Preventive and Precautionary principles are placed on hold to allow some offending activity to continue “just a little longer,” the global resolve expressed at Rio and reflected in many actions since is seriously undermined. Glacial progress is better than no progress, but it is not enough where the stakes are literally Apocalyptic.
As much as we support the process of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, it appears that intensive negotiations are leading in the direction of elaborate compromises which might represent masterful diplomatic achievement, but fall far short of effectively addressing the Convention’s objective. Recently, at the Second Conference of the Parties in Geneva, we witnessed a sorry spectacle in which a few delegations blocked the negotiators even from taking note of a critical and unanimous scientific Finding, namely that, “there is a discernible human influence on the global climate.” It fell to the Ministers in attendance to make their own declaration recognizing the obvious importance of this and other findings in the Second Assessment Report of the Interdepartmental Panel on Climate Change.
When there exists this degree of helplessness on the part of a great majority to come to grips with a problem, even after the denial factor has been laid to rest, one begins to fear that we lack the capacity to save ourselves from ourselves. There is too little time remaining before the next Conference of the Parties in Kyoto, where it is anticipated that a protocol or other legal instrument will be adopted which sets specific targets and timetables for emissions reductions beyond the year 2000. That action will determine whether the Convention can indeed serve to address the threat of global climate change. Yet, at this point, the only specific suggested text, tabled by the Alliance of Small island States, is regarded by some larger industrialized countries to be over-reaching even as a first step. The outlook is not encouraging.
Thanks to the work of the IPCC in producing its landmark Second Assessment Report, we now know that due to the inertia of the Earth’s climate system in adjusting to changed inputs, it is already too late to prevent significant loss of land areas and habitability due to sea level rise during the upcoming century. We must therefore begin in earnest to contemplate measures to adapt to and defend against these consequences. In order to implement such measures island countries will require the financial and technological support of the industrialized world. Without it, tens of millions of people on islands and in low-lying coastal areas throughout the world are certain to become homeless, No longer can the World afford to leave the development of adaptation measures on the back burner. We must begin to act now.
As a nation covering over a million square miles of ocean, we place a great importance on the sustainable use and management of marine resources within and adjacent to our territorial limits. We are pleased with the coming into effect of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which has provided us with a framework to deal with many important issues in this field. The resulting management mechanisms are of particular importance to those of us surrounded entirely by oceans.
Other events of encouragement have included the opening for signature of the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stacks and Highly Migratory Fish stocks last December and the election last month of twenty one judges for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,
Further, we note with great satisfaction the election of an esteemed Pacific islander, Ambassador Satya Nandan of Fiji, as the first Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority in Kingston Jamaica. With his election and subsequent actions of the Assembly of the Authority last month, the Authority is finally in place as called for in Part XI of the Convention. With a substantial percentage of the global mineral resources lying beneath the surface of the oceans, the International Seabed Authority has a crucial role in ensuring that the ocean environment is protected throughout the process of exploitation. In this connection, it is important for this Assembly to provide adequate financial resources to the International Seabed Authority during this session, as it has done with other bodies, until states parties can assume the responsibility some time next year.
One of the great learning experiences we have had during our early years of UN Membership has been to appreciate the need for us all, collectively, to act by example and insistence, to alleviate the suffering of people wherever situated who are denied their basic rights as human beings. The Constitution of the Federated States of Micronesia reflects in its Declaration of Rights, the standards ingrained in our culture over many centuries, and it has given us perhaps a certain sense of complacency in this area. But we have come to appreciate that the worldwide collective effort to confront human rights issues both strengthens our own society, and affords us an opportunity to participate in helping others.
Despite the inevitable impact of increased contacts with modern Western society, the strongest aspects and values of our traditional cultures remain strong, because they are appropriate to our circumstances. We continue to adhere to the concept of the extended family, for example, and many of the principles that are inherent in that system have long ensured a respect in our society for basic human rights.
But changing times inevitably challenge old traditions, and the maintenance of our traditional human rights standards becomes a process of adaptation to our increasingly mobile and homogeneous society in which legal and governmental institutions now also play a central role. Here we stand to benefit by involvement and participation in the international human rights movement, as was pointed out by our Vice President in his address to the World Conference in Vienna, several years ago.
As we have studied the mechanisms and obligations of the various UN treaties on human fights we have entered into constructive internal debates. Children, for example, are among our most important treasures, and so we acceded first to the Convention an the Rights of the Child. The preparation of our first Report to that Convention was a thought-provoking exercise. Traditionally, women in island cultures have been treated with love and respect, but have not participated fully in public affairs. This is beginning to change. We recently sent a strong delegation to the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and are actively considering accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In all, we realize that our own application of human rights standards must evolve progressively along with our society:
The Federated States of Micronesia also accepts the responsibility to continue to speak out, along with similarly committed States, on the need to challenge those governments who still refuse to accord their own citizens the fundamental rights of human beings. It is a long and often discouraging process, but only with a strong, constant, collective voice can the international community maintain the progress being made in exposing and deterring abuses by the powerful against the unempowered.
Much attention has been drawn in the past several years to the serious financial condition of the United Nations Organization, and to the need to reform and restructure it. Some members are so disheartened by the slow pace of this effort that they have lost the resolve to maintain their own financial commitments to the United Nations, making the problems worse and threatening the continued ability of this Organization to carry its work.
It is the view of the Federated States of Micronesia that while there may be inequities in the structure of assessments, Members should address these while continuing to meet existing commitments that were established pursuant to agreed procedures, There will always be some level of disagreement over structures and the requirements of funding. But it would be a tragedy of historic proportions if the pursuit of the goals of the Charter were substantially hindered by Members feeling that they can rightfully tailor their contributions to their degree of satisfaction with how their particular demands are met. The fact is, Mr. President, that with due regard for the importance of our overall work here, this Organization even without reform is well worth its cost – especially when one considers the amounts spent by nations on activities that do not contribute to international peace and development.
There is no question but that, as we begin the next half-century of its work, the capacity of this Organization is challenged by issues that seem to grow rapidly in number and complexity. But this is not a sign of failure, nor of a lack of capacity. Neither does it suggest that we need another instrument. It is, rather, an indication of the increasing interconnectiveness of the global community, and of the growing inclination among nations to find and recognize their common interests and to work together in the advancement of those interests.
In order to maintain and improve the responsiveness of the United Nations in a world where it faces increasing demands it is necessary that, on a continuing basis, we apply effective upgrades to the ways we do our work here. Only in this way can we keep the organization on a positive course, and faithfully translate the mandates of the Charter into terms of continuing relevance. This is the real meaning of reform. It is not a consequence of past inadequacy, but a positive evolutionary development.
This is easily said, but as we all know, it is very difficult to put into practice. Even so Mr. President, we must not allow that high degree of difficulty to plunge us into frustration and defeat. The great achievements of those who have been here before us during the last fifty years must be honored by our unshakable determination to take the United Nations into the next millennium as the single most effective multilateral instrument for the betterment of mankind.
I believe that this Assembly can and will accomplish much to add to the list of tangible achievements both for the direct benefit of peoples of the World and for the improvement of this Organization itself. We have the history, the vision and the leadership; moreover, the urgency is clearly seen by us all. Let us resolve to apply ourselves as never before, and to live up to the great potential that resides in these hairs.
Thank you, Mr. President.