At UN, Bhutan’s premier highlights world’s challenges and aims for Security Council seat

Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley of Bhutan. UN Photo/Marco Castro

28 September 2012 – In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Y. Thinley, today highlighted a range of challenges and areas of progress before the international community, while also affirming his country’s intent to seek a seat on the Security Council.

“As with most sessions of the General Assembly, we are sharing, yet again our common fears and frustrations in a world that is going wrong. We have no stories except fleeting moments, to fill our sinking hearts with hope in our near or distant future. Ours is a narrative of mounting challenges and doubts,” the Prime Minister told the 67th Assembly’s General Debate at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Deep in our hearts, we know that our very survival on this fragile planet is under threat. Yet, we share no common vision and fail to think and act in concert and with faith. And so, we find ourselves being overwhelmed by the forces that our irresponsible and discordant actions have unleashed,” he added. “All that we have achieved individually, as nations, as regions and as a species, face the threat of loss and reversal. As we argue and falter, the world we have built is falling apart.”

The Bhutanese leader cited climate change and its impact on ecosystems, the depletion of natural resources due to the growth in extractive industries, growing costs in food and energy, a rise in the number of conflicts as well as looming conflicts, economic insecurity, and a lack of respect for human rights as among the ills affecting the world.

However, he noted, despite the slew of challenges on the international agenda, the realization that the world’s problems – be they economic, social, ecological or political – are interconnected has helped.

“Although the United Nations has been a house of gloom in recent years, it does have its shining moments, projecting rays of hope,” he said, noting the Assembly’s past acceptance of well-being and happiness as a developmental goal “binding all of humanity with a common vision and pursuit – that it should bring about a holistic, sustainable and inclusive approach to development.”

The small Himalayan kingdom has introduced a new measurement of national prosperity, focussing on people’s well-being rather than economic productivity – in recent years, there has been growing interest in this concept, known as ‘gross national happiness.’ In 2011, the General Assembly adopted a resolution, sometimes referred to as the ‘happiness resolution,’ which noted, inter alia, that the traditional gross domestic product indicator “does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country.”

That Assembly resolution led to Bhutan hosting a high-level meeting on the new economic paradigm at UN Headquarters in April, with hundreds of participants from governments, academia, civil society and religious bodies. The outcome of the conference also informed negotiations related to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June.

Rio+20 was attended by some 100 world leaders, along with more than 40,000 representatives from non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society, all seeking to help shape new policies to promote global prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

At the end of the gathering, participants agreed on an outcome document which called for a wide range of actions, such as beginning the process to establish sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Referring to the outcome document, Prime Minister Thinley noted that it “fell far short of what we ought to have achieved” with many people seeing it as a missed opportunity.

“Not so my country and people who, with minimum expectations, came away with reason for hope. The agreement to develop universal sustainable development goals that would integrate the economic, environmental and social dimensions of development was a substantive outcome, consistent with the (General Assembly) resolution and the efforts that my own country is taking,” Prime Minister Thinley said.

He added, “What inspired me even more at Rio was the indomitable spirit of the hundreds of side events, several of which I was honoured to participate in. These were organized by civil society, grassroots organizations and the private sector. They came to share best practices and learn from each other but, more importantly, to demonstrate that sustainable development was not just an idle dream but that there are individuals and organizations who are breathing and living lives to realize what is profound and necessary.”

The Bhutanese leader said he was also inspired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appointment of a High-Level Panel to advise on the global development agenda beyond 2015, the target date for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs, agreed on by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000, set specific targets on poverty alleviation, education and environmental stability, in addition to other areas.

In his speech, the Prime Minister said that Bhutan has benefited from the international community throughout its 42 years of UN membership in the United Nations, while his country has provided “modest although focused” contributions to it in the areas such as the cause of peace, development, and the rule of law – and re-affirmed that his country is seeking a seat on the Security Council for the 2013-2014 term.

“As a responsible member of the international community, committed to the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, Bhutan is now prepared and seeks to engage directly in the process of building a more secure world through non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council,” he noted. “This we regard, not only as a privilege, but also, as a responsibility of UN membership.”

“Never having served nor sought membership on the Council before, we are convinced that all states, regardless of size, population, level of development, must be permitted the opportunity to contribute by bringing diversity of thought, approach and indeed, their will, to the work of the Council,” he said.

Prime Minister Thinley is one of scores of world leaders and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October.


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