Address by H.E. Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
President of Latvia
at the 57th session of the UN General Assembly
New York, 12 September 2002
I would like to begin by congratulating the Swiss Confederation on its recent accession to the United Nations Organization. Switzerland’s immeasurable contribution to the work of the UN, even as a non-member, has been widely recognized and appreciated for decades. I am confident that Switzerland, in its new capacity as a member state, will assume an even more significant role in the UN’s activities, a role compatible with its new status.
Later this month the United Nations will greet another country, East Timor, as the newest member of the organization. Like my own country, Latvia, which regained its independence only 11 years ago, East Timor will face the difficult challenges of consolidating its statehood and enhancing its economic development.
The UN and the international community can be proud that their concerted efforts to create a climate of peace and security for this island nation have met with success, and that the people of East Timor are now able to be the masters of their own destiny.
I would also like to express Latvia’s continued solidarity and sympathy with the people of the United States, one year and one day after the horrifying terrorist attacks that changed the world forever. The courage and resilience displayed by the inhabitants of New York following the destruction of the World Trade Center has truly been remarkable, and the manner in which New Yorkers have coped with the aftermath of this tragedy has been an inspiration to us all. Today, as well as on the anniversary date itself, Latvians the world over are with the bereaved and with the people of the United States in our thoughts and in our prayers. We see the heinous crimes of September the 11th not only as a contemptible act of aggression against the United States, but as a direct and frontal assault against the civilized world as a whole.
The foundation of any civilized society rests on its deep-seated respect for the sanctity of human life. International terrorists hold human life in total and utter contempt. International terrorists specifically target civilian non-combatant populations, with the express goal of extinguishing as many human lives as possible. This is precisely what makes international terrorists so dangerous and so threatening.
Latvia, in collaboration with the United Nations, the European Union, the NATO Alliance and all like-minded countries, is determined to do everything in its power to stem the growing threat of international terrorism. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Latvian government has adopted an action plan that foresees Latvia’s ratification of all international antiterrorist conventions, as well as an increase in the capacity of Latvia’s administrative, security, law enforcement and military structures. We are continuing to harmonize our national legislation according to international and EU standards, and we are tightening our control of immigration and the flow of strategic goods. We are improving our air and border surveillance capabilities, updating our emergency response procedures, and raising the public’s preparedness for dealing with emergency situations.
I would like to express Latvia’s concern at the fact that one of our Organization’s member states continues to ignore repeated calls by both the UN Security Council and the international community to allow UN weapons inspectors on its territory. This lack of good will and manifest atmosphere of seclusion only serves to reinforce credible suspicions that this country is clandestinely seeking to produce nuclear, chemical, bacteriological and other weapons of mass destruction. Latvia views such clandestine activities not only as destabilizing to the region, but also as a threat to world security. That is why Latvia believes that the UN and the international community must act decisively to curb the continuing threat of weapons proliferation posed by this country.
Latvia realizes that in this globalized world of the 21st century, no nation can be an island unto itself. Several other alarming threats besides international terrorism and arms proliferation present such serious challenges to the human race that they can only hope to be addressed through concerted and long-term international cooperation. These pressing global issues include organized crime and illegal trafficking, the abuse and exploitation of women and children, endemic poverty and unemployment, drug addiction and disease, and environmental pollution.
The global ecological crisis that our planet is now experiencing has resulted from our own reckless disregard of the earth that sustains us. If we do not radically curb the excessive amount of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants that we produce every day, then we will continue to experience natural disasters and climate changes of increasing scope and frequency.
I am proud to note that Latvia ratified the Kyoto environmental protocol earlier this summer, and share the hope of Secretary General Koffi Annan that the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg will lead to an increased commitment to environmental protection by the UN’s member countries. Latvia is pleased that target dates have now been set regarding safe drinking water, sanitation, and permissible levels of harmful chemicals. Yet we must not allow ourselves to slip into complacency, as the goals that our countries set at the Rio Summit in 1992 are still far from being reached.
Earlier this spring Latvia established a Sustainable Development Council led by the country’s Prime Minister. This Council will establish plans for the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of the country, in conjunction with European Union policies
Two years ago the member states of the United Nations adopted another series of far-reaching goals when they signed the Millennium Declarations on the reduction of poverty. Unfortunately, we cannot yet pride ourselves on having achieved notable progress in this sphere. If the laudable goals of the Declarations are truly to be realized in practice, then the member states of the United Nations will have to display a far greater degree of political will and practical commitment in implementing them.
The United Nations Organization itself will need to increase its administrative capacity if it is to effectively cooperate with its member states in realizing the goals of the Millennium Declarations. Thanks to the initiative of Secretary General Koffi Annan, several improvements can already be seen in the UN’s work, particularly regarding the reform of peacekeeping operations and the level of collaboration among the UN’s own institutions.
Further improvements could still be made in the financial discipline of the Organization’s member states through the timely payment of membership dues, and through the more rational use by member states of UN services at UN conferences. Initiated reforms within the UN system itself must continue in order to put an end to the overlapping of functions and prevent unnecessary competition among the organization’s various institutions. Sounder spending practices and reduced paperwork, along with a reduction in the number of meetings and conferences with overlapping themes, would further increase the effectiveness of the United Nations’ activities.
Despite certain deficiencies in the structure and work of the United Nations, this organization has contributed tremendously to the economic and social development of numerous member states, including my own country, Latvia.
When Latvia regained its independence 11 years ago, it had to undergo a rapid transformation from an occupied nation with a repressive political system to a liberal, parliamentary democracy that respects human rights and liberties, and had to transform its closed and planned, state-run economy to an open and free-market economy.
Thanks to the hard work undertaken by Latvia’s people and their commitment to implement difficult transition policies, as well as the dedicated support of the international community, Latvia now has one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, along with a stable national currency and a low rate of inflation. Within a few months, Latvia hopes to receive official invitations to join the European Union and the NATO Alliance.
Many of the positive changes that Latvia has experienced over the past decade have been actively supported by the UN, and particularly by the United Nations Development Programme.
Latvia’s new social security system, which is now one of the most modern in Europe, was implemented with direct UNDP participation. The UNDP and the Latvian government are also cooperating in the implementation of minority integration programmes in the country. Latvia is still in the process of reforming its health and education systems, and like other countries in Europe, must confront the problem of an ageing population resulting from denatality, the number of deaths each year continuing to exceed the number of births.
Nevertheless I am proud to note, Mr. President, that on June 17 last Latvia and the UNDP signed a memorandum of understanding, by which Latvia’s status as a recipient of UN assistance was changed to that of a net contributor. Latvia sees its intellectual potential and its experience in the implementation of transition reforms as a national resource. We have now entered the phase of sharing this resource with other developing nations. During the past two years, Latvia, in cooperation with Canada and the European Union, has been providing technical assistance and expertise to Ukraine, Georgia and Croatia.
Latvia is convinced that the reduction of disparities in income and standards of living among the world’s nations is essential for the consolidation of peace and security across the globe. That is why Latvia has liberalized its trade regime with 49 of the world’s least developed countries, in accordance with the Doha development agenda. Within its means and through UN channels, Latvia has also provided humanitarian aid to war-torn areas in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.
Every nation, no matter how large or how small, is possessed of its own intrinsic, inalienable value. Every nation has its unique contribution to make to humanity as a whole. Let us remember this as we meet here today at this 57th session of the UN General Assembly. Together, our nations have many serious challenges to address. But I am confident that by uniting our experience and resources, we shall eventually succeed in reducing poverty, cleaning up our environment, controlling the spread of disease, and making this world a more safe and secure place to live in.
The United Nations Organization was created first and foremost to serve for the benefit of humanity. It was created as an instrument for propagating the fundamental principles of democracy, humanism, universality, mutual respect and understanding. Although the people and nations of the world are vastly diverse in their conditions of life and in their cultures, all human beings share the same basic needs and desires: for having access to the basic necessities of life, for the possibility of growing and evolving as individuals, and for the chance to contribute to the growth and development of the countries we call home. As fellow inhabitants of our beautiful and fragile planet, let us pledge to commit our efforts to protect the physical equilibrium of the earth, and to create a fairer social and economic equilibrium across the globe.