One of the remarkable features of the United Nations is that all members, rich or poor, powerful or weak, are given a chance to influence international affairs. Member states, regardless of their political, economic or social systems, can bring to the United Nations issues of concern which they believe warrant the attention of the international community.
On September 21, 1962, Sir Alexander Bustamante, then Prime Minister of the newly independent Jamaica, applauded as the island's black, green and gold flag was unfurled at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, marking Jamaica's entry, on September 18th, into that body as a member. Since then, despite limitations of size and resources, Jamaica has played an outstanding role in the United Nations' system, helping to focus international attention on such significant matters as human rights, decolonization, economic cooperation and indebtedness, and women's issues.
Jamaica has served on the United Nations Security Council (1979-1980) and on the Economic and Social Council on a number of occasion. Its representatives have frequently been elected to the Governing Council of several specialized agencies and other bodies in the United Nations Organization. Jamaican nationals have also served with distinction in various capacities within the Secretariat of the United Nations. It is of some significance that, as the international community celebrates the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, Jamaica's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York served as Rapporteur of the Preparatory Committee for that Anniversary.
Barely a year after becoming a member of the United Nations, Jamaica became highly visible when at the 1963 General Assembly, Senator Hugh Shearer, speaking in place of Sir Alexander Bustamante proposed that 1968 be designated the International Year for Human Rights to mark the Twentieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In proposing that a year should be set aside for the world to focus on human rights, Jamaica had two objectives in mind. The first was that the year should be an event which would highlight and bring new attention to the promise made in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the second, that the year should be a target towards which the UN and its Member States would work with renewed public commitment in their efforts to give effect to the principles of that Universal Declaration.
In June 1967, the UN General Assembly also accepted Jamaica's proposal for an international conference to review progress in the field of human rights. The conference was to be held in Teheran, Iran. The committee established to organize the programme of activities for the International Year for Human Rights was chaired by Jamaica's then Permanent Representative to the UN, the late Sir Egerton Richardson. The proclamation of Teheran adopted on May 13, 1968 by the International Conference on Human Rights expressed the belief that the enjoyment of economic and social rights is inherently linked with any meaningful enjoyment of civil and political rights and that there is a profound interconnection between the realization of human rights and economic development. Since 1968, much work has been undertaken in the United Nations, resulting in the adoption or entry into force of several very important conventions and mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Jamaica's commitment to the principle of human rights and to a philosophy of 'international morality' is exemplified by our stance on apartheid and racism. Jamaica was at the forefront of the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa, until recently under active discussion and debate in the United Nations. The first country to declare a trade embargo against South Africa, was Jamaica, as early as 1957 even while the island was still a colony of Britain and thus without responsibility for its external relations. Jamaica consistently and unequivocally opposed apartheid and supported all United Nations' decisions aimed at its elimination.
The struggle against apartheid had to be carried out on two fronts. Not only was it necessary to weaken the intransigence of the regime which enforced apartheid in South Africa; the major industralized countries had also to be persuaded not to oppose the imposition and maintenance of economic and trade sanctions against that country. Jamaica played a crucial role in pressing the international community to limit foreign trade and investment in South Africa, with a view to creating economic dislocation which, coupled with the internal struggles of the black South Africans, would lead to the dismantling of apartheid. Ultimately, this came about in April 1994 when national elections were held on the principle of one man one vote and Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa. A Jamaican with a long record of service in the United Nations, Angela King, was head of the United Nations observer team which monitored the elections.
The effort to isolate the South African regime also extended to the field of sport. In 1968, the International Conference of Human Rights strongly recommended the exclusion of South Africa from the membership of international sports federations and associations because of its discriminatory policy in sports. Jamaica was among those countries which worked to bring the issue of apartheid in sports before the United Nations and was appointed to the ad hoc Committee set up to draft an International Convention against Apartheid in Sports. In December 1977, the General Assembly adopted the International Declaration against Apartheid in Sports, and finally, a decade later in 1987, the Convention.
Jamaica's role in the political and diplomatic process to end apartheid in South Africa has been internationally recognized. In 1978, Michael Manley, the then Prime Minister, was among a group of eminent persons awarded gold medals for distinguished service in the struggle against apartheid.
Jamaica also made a contribution to the fall of the illegal white minority regime in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. In November 1965, Southern Rhodesia's minority regime headed by Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom. The illegal regime was the subject of many General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Mandatory sanctions were imposed by the Security Council until genuine majority rule and independence were achieved in 1980. Jamaica played a part in the negotiating process which was ultimately to lead to Zimbabwe's independence.
Namibia, that vast territory to the north-west of South Africa, is another African country with which Jamaica has had some degree of association. Once known as South-West Africa, a man- date for its administration was given to South Africa after the First World War by the League of Nations. In 1966, the UN General Assembly terminated that mandate on the grounds that South Africa had failed to fulfil its obligations to the territory and in 1968 the UN recognized its new name, Namibia. South Africa, however, remained entrenched in the territory until 1989 when, under the supervision of the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG), free elections for a Constituent Assembly were held in November. UNTAG was comprised of international civilian, military and police units and included twenty-three policemen and women from Jamaica. The exercise was notable for its complexity and its success as one of the most outstanding of the United Nations' peace-keeping operations.
Nearer home, the volatile political situation in Haiti has engaged the attention of the inter- national community for more than a decade. Jamaica has played an active role in bringing the situation in Haiti before the United Nations and in 1990, along with its CARICOM partners, succeeded, though not without some difficulty, in ensuring that the United Nations would provide support to Haiti for the peaceful and efficient development of its electoral process. The result was the establishment of the United Nations Observer Group for the Verification of the Elections in Haiti (ONUVEH). Jamaica was also involved in persuading the United Nations to condemn the illegal replacement of the constitutional President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the use of violence, military coercion and the violation of human rights in that country. The Multinational Force which oversaw the return of President Aristide in October 1994 included a CARICOM contingent within which there was a significant number of Jamaica Defence Force personnel.
Jamaica has been a vigorous participant in the efforts to correct the stark economic imbalance between the rich countries of the North and the developing countries of the South. The Group of 77, with members drawn from developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean, emerged in 1964 and, with the support of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), was able, as a group, to attempt to gain greater influence over international policies and institutions in order to establish more equitable global economic and financial relationships. In the United Nations system, the Group of 77 provides the main voice of developing countries on economic and social issues.
By the early 1970s, countries of the Third World were agitating for fundamental changes in the world economic structure. It was through the collective efforts of these countries of the South that their pursuit of development became a part of the international eocnomic agenda. The United Nations was required to respond to the development needs of the South, even though the outcome was often much less than the conditions needed. Jamaica worked closely with other members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the G77 to seek extensive reform of the international economy. At their Summit in Algiers in 1973, Heads of State of the Non-Aligned Movement called for a Special Session of the General Assembly to discuss the problems of raw materials and development.
In April 1974, the United Nations Sixth Special Session on Raw Materials and Development adopted by consensus a Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order. In addition, an agenda for the reform of the international economic order was broadly agreed on at the United Nations Seventh Special Session in the following September.
These developmental issues were followed up at the fourth UNCTAD Conference held in Nairobi in May 1976. There the major achievement was the adoption by the Conference of an Integrated Programme for Commodities and the decision to hold a negotiating conference on a Common Fund to finance the programme no later than March 1977. Ambassador Herbert Walker, Jamaica's then Permanent Representative to the Office and Specialized Agencies of the United Nations in Geneva, was the spokesman and chief negotiator for the developing countries at the Fourth UNCTAD. The year before, he had undertaken a similar leadership role at the Second General Conference of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) which adopted the Lima Declaration calling for a substantial strengthening of UNIDO 'in order to increase its ability in more efficient ways'. The Conference also proposed the transformation of UNIDO from an autonomous organization within the UN Secretariat to a specialized agency.
Concurrently with their efforts in the United Nations, developing and developed countries together embarked upon an initiative to continue economic negotiations between the two groups. Jamaica was among the twenty-seven countries - nineteen developing and eight developed - which participated in the Conference on International Economic Cooperation, a series of meetings convened by France and held intermittently from December 1975 to June 1977. Jamaica, as the smallest country at the Paris Conference, popularly known as the North-South Dialogue, no doubt owed its invitation to the passionate advocacy of the New International Economic Order by the then Prime Minister, Michael Manley. Under his leadership, Jamaica emerged as a dominant voice promoting the causes of developing countries and the need for a restructuring of the world economy so that Third World countries could reduce their dependence on the major industrialzied countries and ultimately establish their economies on a more self-sustaining basis. Jamaica's delegation to the Paris Conference was headed by our ablest and most distinguished Ambassador, the late Sir Egerton Richardson. Unfortunately, the overall achievements of the Paris Conference were modest, one being the endorsement in principle of a Common Fund to finance buffer stocks for stabilizing commodity prices.
After five years of intensive debate and negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, an agreement was reached in Geneva in 1980 for the establishment of a Common Fund for Commodities to stabilize commodity prices and to improve production and marketing techniques in developing coutries. Nine years later, in July 1989, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD opened the first meeting of the Governing Council of the Common Fund for Commodities. Since then, the Fund has been operating from its headquarters in Amsterdam but it remains to be seen whether it will in time have any significant impact on the commodity problems of developing countries.
The provision of technical assistance through the operational activities of the United Nations plays a crucial role in the growth and development of developing countries. The principal channel for assistance to developing countries within the UN is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Jamaica has not only received aid from that body but has also served on its Governing Council. The former Governor of the Bank of Jamaica, the late G. Arthur Brown, served with distinction for many years as Associate Administrator of the UNDP.
One of the singularly important accomplishments of the UN was the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Jamaican expertise, led by the country's Solicitor-General, Dr. Kenneth Rattray, was active in the evolution of the negotiations and the crafting of the Convention which was signed by 119 countries in Montego Bay in December of 1982. The Convention is considered to be one of the most important legal instruments of the century. It establishes a universal framework for the management of marine resources and their conservation for future generations. Jamaica had the honour of being selected as the site of the International Seabed Authority, becoming one of the few countries, and the first in the region, to host a major UN body. The Law of the Sea Convention came into force on November 16, 1994, an historic event in international relations and the development of international law. The inaugural session of the International Seabed Authority was held in Kingston in November 1994.
As a result of action undertaken by the United Nations, new global concerns in the area of the environment have been brought to the forefront of the international community's attention. In 1972, at the Environmental Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, the United Nations adopted a historic declaration on the need for new principles to safeguard the world's natural environment. Participants also adopted a Plan of Action calling on Governments, United Nations Agencies and other organizations to cooperate in taking specific steps to deal with a wide variety of environmental probelms. At that time the Rapporteur-General of the Conference was Jamaica's then Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Keith Johnson. Together with other developing countries, Jamaica was active in ensuring that the Action Plan adopted by the Conference included recommendations on the planning and management of human settlements for environmental quality. The purpose of this drive was to prevent efforts being concentrated on industrial pollutionalone. International action had to be devised to deal with problems of pollution resulting from poor living standards in human settlements - in other words, pollution resulting from poverty.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was established by the General Assembly in 1972 and human settlements, inevitably, became an important element in its activities for the first five years of its existence, when Jamaica was a member of the Governing Council. It was as a result of an initiative by Jamaica that the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation was established. Jamaica took the lead in piloting this initiative through the Governing Council of UNEP at its Second Session and at the General Assembly in 1974, which decided to establish the Foundation. Following the HABITAT Conference in 1976 the General Assembly further decided that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) should transform the Committee on Housing, Building and Planning into a Committee on Human Settlements. It established a small Secretariat, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, UNCHS (HABITAT), to serve as a focal point for action related to human settlements.
UNEP's overall mandate in the field of Human Settlements was therefore revised and limited to environmental aspects and consequences of the planning of human settlements.
All other responsibilities for human settlements matters were assigned to the new organization. Jamaica gave consistent support throughout this process to the institutional development of HABITAT and served on the Governing Council of the Commission on Human Settlements from 1978-1983; 1985-1991; and is now a member for the period 1993-1996.
Twenty years after the Stockholm Conference, Jamaica was again to be actively involved in the preparatory process for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) when Ambassador Donald Mills served as Vice-Chairman of the meetings. The Rio Declaration on Environment Development which emanated from the Conference contained fundamental principles for the achievement of sustainable development based on a new and equitable global partnership.
Jamaica has made significant contributions in the multilateral arena to the improvement and strengthening of the capacity of the international community to combat drug abuse and the illicit trafficking of narcotic substances. During the forty-fourth Session of the General Assembly, Jamaica promoted a number of proposals, in particular an enhanced international capability to combat this global threat. Most of the proposals were incorporated into a resolution, Global Programme of Action against Illicit Narcotic Drugs, which was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly.
Jamaica actively participated in the Seventeenth Special Session of the General Assembly in February 1990, at which the Global Programme and the Political Declaration to further expand international cooperation to deal with the use of drugs were adopted. Jamaica's Dr. Winston Davidson, Chairman of the National Council on Drug Abuse, was among the fifteen experts from developed and developing countries who were appointed to advise and assist the Secretary-General of the United Nations in enhancing the efficiency of the United Nation's structure for the control of drug abuse.
In accordance with the Global Programme of action adopted by the General Assembly, Jamaica has established a comprehensive programme to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking, dealing with transhipment, supply and demand reduction. That programme has received bilateral as well as multilateral support thorugh the United Nations system.
The Charter of the United Nations is the first international instrument to mention equal rights of men and women in specific terms, and, from its establishment in 1946, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women embarked on the task of defining and then implementing the principles of nondiscrimination and equality for women. However, it was not until 1975, International Women's Year, that the international community sought to give a more sincere recognition to the need to bring women more fully into the main- stream of economic, political and social life, contributing as vital elements to the process of development and benefiting equally from that process. Spanning the 1970s and 1980s was the United Nation's Decade of Women (1975-1985) with its theme Equality, Development and Peace.
Jamaica has actively participated in the work of the General Assembly and other international forums to promote women's advancement, and was involved in the establishment of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade for Women and its successor organization, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), from which Jamaica has benefited - small community projects are established with technical and financial assistance from UNIFEM.
Jamaican women have distinguished themselves in the work of the United Nations system. To cite but one example, Dr. Lucille Mair served successfully as Secretary-General of the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women held in Copenhagen in 1980 at the mid-point of the Decade for Women. Prior to that, Dr. Mair was Special Adviser to UNICEF on Women's Development. In 1983, she was invited to serve as Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Question of Palestine which was held in Geneva. That Conference was described as the most 'politically fraught conference' in the history of the United Nations. In agreeing to organize the Palestine Conference, Dr. Mair became the first woman to hold the title of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Jamaica has been able to make a substantial contribution to the United Nations for a variety of reasons. One of these has been the quality of its representatives. Among these, the first was the late Sir Egerton Richardson, at the time our most eminent public servant. Dr. Lucille Mair has, more recently, been an outstanding representative.
Another reason has been the interest of our Governments in the United Nations and the support and leadership it has displayed in international matters of concern to Jamaica and other developing countries. A vital reason was the early recognition that a small nation could influence international affairs not merely by putting forward new ideas and proposals but, of crucial importance, by cooperating with other countries with similar concerns and seeking to obtain changes through a collective approach. The most obvious and immediate example is the close and intimate working relationship that exists between Jamaica and our fellow members of the Caribbean Community. It is of some significance that together we possess today twelve votes within the wider Latin America and Caribbean Group of thirty- four states. The CARICOM states try to coordinate their views within the Latin American and Caribbean Group with those of the countries of the Group of 77 developing states.
Jamaica has also been an active participant in the Non-Aligned Movement. The fundamental principles of the Non-Aligned Movement are a commitment to peace and disarmament, independence, economic equality, cultural equality and universalism and multiculturalism through strong support for the United Nations system. Originally political in perspective with a sharp anti-imperialist focus, the Movement is becoming more and more concerned with economic and social issues.
In recognition of its contribution to international affairs, Jamaica was selected at the conclusion of the Non-Aligned meeting in Belgrade in September 1989 as one of the Group of Fifteen developing countries to meet at Summit level - at the level of Heads of State or Government. The primary purpose of the Group of Fifteen is to perform a catalytic role in the promotion of South-South Cooperation among themselves and other developing countries. Such cooperation would lend greater cohesion and credibility to developing countries and their efforts to pursue a more positive and productive North-South Dialogue.
Jamaica is the smallest member of the Group of Fifteen, which is a clear reflection of our role and influence in international affairs, demonstrating that size is not a limitation where there are clear policies, outstanding representation and dedication to the organization.
We must, however, make the fullest use of this and other opportunities to sustain and increase our influence in the post Cold War era. Despite the end of the Cold War many problems remain and new ones have emerged, which require an enhanced role for the United nations, if it is to fulfill the functions for which it was established, and realize the ideals and aspirations enunciated in the Charter. With the lessening of tensions resulting from the end of superpower rivalry, and the consequent reluctance among some major powers to provide adequate resources to the United Nations, the enlargement of membership - the fifteen constitutent republics of the former Soviet Union are now members of the United Naitons - and other factors, it will be no easy task for, a small nation such as Jamaica to exert influence in the United Nations, notwithstanding its remarkable record and the wide recognition of its positive and constructive role in international affairs. This will demand even closer cooperation with the Caribbean Community, the Association of Caribbean States, the Latin American and Caribbean region and the developing countries generally.
Jamaica began its contribution to the United Nations by putting emphasis on the promotion and encouragement of human rights. Much has been achieved in putting into effect the fundamental principles of the United Nations in the area of civil and political rights. However, so long as many, many millions of people in the world exist in abject poverty, and vast numbers of children are undernourished and without even basic health and educational facilities, it is a major challenge to promote economic, social and cultural rights to facilitate a better, more equitable distribution of the fruits of the productive process. Moreover, the empirical evidence is that the wealth of nations is enhanced by better education and health care and improving living conditions. The twin objectives of human rights and economic well-being would therefore be achieved by closer international economic cooperation.
Jamaica has participated in the efforts made to deal with issues of global concern, such as debt, the transfer of technology and the environment. These and other problems, such as the alleviation of poverty, require the strengthening of multilateral cooperation and new ways of dealing with global problems in a cooperative and constructive fashion. Accordingly, at the United Nations, greater emphasis should be placed on economic and development matters, and the issue of development should be at the very centre of the international agenda. Jamaica could make a further contribution to the United Nations by working with other nations on this issue which could enhance human rights and foster economic and social progress throughout the international community.
*Jamaica was re-elected to the 54-member Economic and Social Council at the 49th General Assembly to serve for the period 1995-1997.Article written by Ambassador H.S. Walker, taken from Jamaica Journal Volume 25:3, dated October 1995, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. Published by Institute of Jamaica Publications Limited in Association with the National Preparatory Committee of the United Nations.