Please note that all PDF documents are marked as such and will open in a new browser window.
30 June 2008 / 05:45

In just 15 months, our world will enter a new millennium, leaving behind it a chequered past to face the challenges of a yet uncharted future. It is not too early to contemplate this historic conjuncture and to give some thought to how best we may deal with the uncertainties ahead.

This fifty-third session of the General Assembly offers, we believe, a timely opportunity for such reflection. Your leadership, Mr. President, will be essential to the success of our exploration. We are assured that your diplomatic experience and skills, demonstrated in the service of your native Uruguay, will contribute greatly to the success of our deliberations.

To your predecessor, Mr. Hennadiy Udovenko of the Ukraine, we offer our sincere appreciation and thanks for the admirable guidance which he provided the Assembly over the past year.

Our gratitude is extended to the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, for the inspired direction which he has given to our Organization. From the report that he has been good enough to present us on the activities of the last 12 months, we are able to see clearly those areas where our stated goals have been reached and, equally importantly, those which require our further attention and effort.

Certainly, among the developments that are most heartening is the spread of democracy within recent times. It is a happy coincidence that this year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, which embodies the principles of democracy. The democratic system has emerged as a popular form of government for many States Members of the United Nations. Guyana has rejoined this growing majority. Unfortunately, this had to come after hard struggles and our people experienced three decades of lost opportunities under an undemocratic regime. Only last December, for the second time this decade, elections were held under international scrutiny, leading to the re-election of my Government to office. However, despite the fact that the outcome was adjudged by international observers to be free and fair, the minority opposition refuses to abide by the result. Consequently, the will of the electorate has been questioned. Unfortunately, this negation of elections conducted in a free and fair manner is not limited to Guyana and increasingly requires our attention. Naturally, my Government cannot tolerate this state of affairs, nor should the United Nations, which by its Charter is called upon to protect the gains of new and restored democracies.

It is vital that the international community and the United Nations rally in support of our efforts to achieve better governance and to guarantee the enjoyment of all human rights by our citizens. We need to go beyond the holding of periodic elections to ensuring the observance of the rule of law and building the institutions upon which democracy must rest.

Regrettably, many of our democracies are severely limited, in terms of their own resources, in their ability to satisfy these pressing needs. As a result, hard-won gains are under constant threat of erosion. We firmly believe that it is in the interest of the international community as a whole to assist in the strengthening of the democratic system as a bulwark against encroachment by oppressive regimes. Only through such cooperation can the democratic ideal take root and flourish throughout the world. On our part, we will staunchly defend the gains of our people and we are resolved not to allow ourselves to slide once again into the darkness of dictatorship.

Needless to say, the spread of democracy within States must be matched by democracy among States. The United Nations was founded in 1945 on the premise of the sovereign equality of all States. This principle is the rock upon which international cooperation among peoples has been built. In their operation, therefore, all organs and agencies within the international system must be cognizant of the views and wishes of all States. Developing countries in particular need to be adequately represented in these bodies to ensure that their concerns are addressed.

In this scheme of things, we attach great importance to reaching general agreement on how the Security Council must be transformed into an organ that enjoys the confidence and support of all States. Clearly, the body which was created in the aftermath of the Second World War is no longer appropriate to the circumstances of today's world. Sorely needed now is a more representative and transparent Council that can adequately address new threats to international peace and security. Accordingly, we encourage the Working Group that was created to reform the Council to persist in its search for a suitably reformed Council.

Our task is made especially urgent by the realization that, despite our perseverance, the achievement of international peace and security remains a frustrating will-o'-the-wisp. There are today more peacekeeping operations than the international community appears able or willing to sustain. Some have been reasonably successful, and, others appear to promise eventual settlement. Most, however, seem to be ending with little to show for the considerable investment of time and money.

One can only conclude from these varying results that increasingly we will have to turn to preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-building to fully address and treat the root causes of tension.

We are also constantly reminded that, notwithstanding the abatement in East-West tensions, the dangers of a nuclear catastrophe are still very real and present. It is impossible to guarantee, in an unstable world such as ours, that nuclear weapons will not be used, either intentionally or inadvertently. Only a complete prohibition of such weapons, binding upon all States, can reduce the risk of nuclear disaster. My Government therefore urges the international community to move swiftly to a total elimination of these weapons coupled with an undertaking to discontinue their production.

At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to curb the flow of conventional weapons, which serves to fuel conflagrations in trouble spots throughout the world. We must also intensify our search for a collective system of security upon which all States can rely for protection.

Peace, as has been so aptly said, is not the mere absence of war. True peace can only come if it is built on a foundation of sound economic and social development. The foremost obstacle to peace is poverty, which, when it can be borne no longer, explodes with a vengeance. It is imperative, therefore, that the problem of poverty be squarely addressed by the United Nations with a view to halving its incidence by the year 2015. Reaching this target will require concerted action by both developed and developing countries. The developed countries have a vested interest in the economic prosperity of developing countries, since they represent important markets for their exports. A renewal of the dialogue between the industrial and the developing nations is urgently needed to achieve the eradication of poverty. My Government intends to make this a primary goal during this year's session of the Assembly.

Notwithstanding the onerous debt obligations and a physical infrastructure which we are tackling as a priority, Guyana has come a long way in overcoming poverty and maximizing its full growth potential. Thus, we continue to rely heavily on external assistance for our economic development. We are therefore particularly concerned by the rapid diminution of resources made available for financing by both bilateral donors and multilateral agencies. While private investment flows have a role to play in the development process, they are still far too selective to be of benefit to weak economies. We need to be assured of the continued provision of official development assistance, sufficient investment flows, technological transfer and trade opportunities that would allow for adequate development.

As we move into the next century, we have to recognize the reality that developing countries are extremely vulnerable to changes in the world economy. The present course of globalization and liberalization has led to marginalization of the poorer countries. Guyana is a case in point. We have returned to the democratic fold and have achieved fairly high growth rates despite structural adjustment programmes. But after a few years, we are now faced with a steep drop in prices of our main export commodities, the drying up of developmental aid, adverse global weather conditions and so forth. At the end of the day, our people face tremendous hardships.

We are being told that growing investment is needed. We open our economies to work with the private sector for development, and we see investment being directed away from the poorer countries, making them incapable of modernizing their economies. There is a need for a global consensus to assist developing countries to complete their transition so that they can be equal players in the globalization process.

The alternative is to continue to ignore the danger signals which are becoming more and more evident. And, as usual, the rich countries will be able to solve their problems, but will do so at the expense of the poorer countries. The gap between the poor and rich will become greater, and conflicts will continue. The narcotics trade, mass migration, international crime, poverty and other ills will put severe strains on new and restored democracies.

As we have become painfully aware, threats to our environment also impinge on our peace and security. Global warming and climate changes have increased the vulnerability of small States such as Guyana to a wave of natural disasters. The El NiZo phenomenon recently inflicted on our country a period of intense drought, taking a heavy toll on our economy.

In our continuing efforts to develop our country and meet the needs of our people, especially those living in poverty, my country remains dedicated to the preservation of the environment and the sustainable development of our resources. We are concerned, therefore, that when we seek to exploit our forest and other resources for the benefit of our people, we face criticisms from those who accuse us of disregard for the environment.

These reproaches are entirely ill-informed, if not mischievous. A land of abundant and pristine forests, Guyana runs no risk of deforestation. We have in fact put in place firm legislative and administrative arrangements to ensure the conservation of our natural resources. Moreover, under the Iwokrama rain forest project, we have set aside almost a million acres of these forests for research by the international community into the preservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of the forests.

The four pillars which I have listed — democracy, economic and social development, human rights and the elimination of poverty — are indispensable to the construction of peace. Events in the post-war period have not only confirmed this fact, but have also shown that the building of peace and development must be the work of the international community. Persuaded of the need for enhanced multilateralism, my Government is committed to the realization of the late President Cheddi Jagan's vision of a new global human order. The thrust of his proposal sought to reduce the ever widening and dangerous gap which exists between countries in the North and those in the South.

Recalling the Marshall Plan, which served to rebuild Europe from the ashes of the Second World War, Mr. Jagan argued for a similar enterprise to eradicate poverty, promote good governance and bring development to all peoples. Only through such enlightened cooperation can the world enjoy the blessings of peace. I wish, therefore, to renew his plea and to call for early agreement on the establishment of a more just and equitable system of international relations. With the necessary determination and effort, we can make the twenty-first century a golden age for all humanity.