Statement by
Hon. Laisenia Qarase
Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs

at the 57th session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York Thursday, 19 September 2002

Mr. President,

Please accept the warm congratulations of the Republic of the Fiji Islands on your election to lead this forum. I offer appreciation also to your predecessor, Mr. Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea, for his guidance of the General Assembly during the past year.

We congratulate Switzerland and East Timor in joining the United Nations. Their membership gives them a direct voice to the collective responsibility of the United Nations in promoting world peace, security and development.

Mr. President,

When I last spoke here in September 2000, my country was in the throes of its most dangerous crisis, following an armed uprising against an elected Government. However, with God's help and with the support of our own citizens and the understanding of friends overseas, we have passed through the worst.

We returned to parliamentary democracy through General Elections in August last year. We have been welcomed back into the Commonwealth and granted leadership of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group. Recently, we hosted the 3rd Summit of ACP leaders and the 33rd meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. Our economy is growing again and we have just concluded a successful national consultation on strategies for development. We have embarked on a reconciliation effort to strengthen peace and harmony in our multicultural society.

Today, Mr. President, I thank the member States of the United Nations and the UN system for their support and understanding during our period of crisis. They stood with us, with words of quiet encouragement, and expressed confidence in our ability to resolve our own difficulties.

There were others who were judgmental and strident. Their approach was not helpful. We remind them of the founding principles of the UN: respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of member States. Countries have the right to seek and put into effect their own solutions to their problems.

Mr. President,

Not far from this site is the desolate and empty space of Ground Zero. It is a scar not just on the face of this city. It is a scar on the world, a terrible reminder of an unspeakable act of horror. We, in the Pacific, share America's pain. We cannot feel it in all its intensity, but we have a sense of the anguish - and the anger. Our thoughts and prayers have been with the American people. We remember the innocents of so many races and faiths whose blood was spilled by hate, including those killed in Kenya, Tanzania and other places, through wanton acts of terrorism. Let it be known that the small nations of the Pacific join the UN and all right-thinking countries in the fight against terrorism.
From where we are in the Pacific Ocean, we are far from the world's centers of power and areas of conflict and tension. But we are very conscious that today no country is beyond the reach of fanatics, all too ready to kill and maim at random. The Pacific's response to the heightened threats of terrorism and transnational crime is contained in the Nasonini Declaration on regional security. This was adopted at the recent meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum which I had the honor to chair. The Declaration binds the Pacific Islands Forum States to the implementation of internationally agreed anti-terrorism measures such as the UN Security Council Resolution 1373, and the Financial Action Task Force Special Recommendations. Forum countries have undertaken to introduce legislation and other measures to combat terrorism and terrorist financing. We will similarly act against drug trafficking, people smuggling and money laundering, in accordance with work undertaken by organizations such as the UN.

The ACP Summit in Fiji in July lent the weight of 78 States with 650 million people, to the anti-terrorism campaign. Its Nadi Declaration strongly condemned the September 11 attacks and terrorism in all its forms. ACP countries want terror to be fought politically, legally and operationally and in keeping with the UN Charter. We made the point that the root causes of terrorism must be treated, including poverty, underdevelopment and oppression.

Mr. President,

The member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum are heartened that at last there is an awakening to the importance of the Oceans. The international community is starting to see that the conservation and sustainable use of the Oceans is vital to the survival of the human race and this planet. It was a significant achievement for us that the Plan of Action adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development had a comprehensive section on Oceans and numerous allied issues. The Summit specifically recognized that oceans, islands and coastal areas are essential to the earth's eco-system, critical for food security and for the economic welfare of many developing countries.

While the island States are small in population and area - in contrast to the billions who occupy the large land continents - we have something no other international grouping possesses. Our Pacific heritage gives us sovereign authority over nearly one sixth of the Earth's surface.

The Pacific has been described as the last frontier, its depths still largely unexplored, its total resources unknown. This boundless body of water contains great biological diversity, the most extensive coral reefs in the world, seabed minerals and the largest sustainable tuna fishery. Humankind still does not know what forms of natural energy it might produce.
It is our responsibility, as people of the Islands, to protect and nurture the Pacific. We must do so not only for ourselves, but also for people everywhere. For the first time we have adopted a regional Ocean Policy which lays out the guiding principles for promoting the Pacific as a maritime environment in support of sustainable development. These principles are based on international law, reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international and regional agreements.

The policy's objective is to improve our understanding of the Ocean, maintain its health and ensure environmentally sound use of its resources and riches. It also recognizes that we cannot take on this task alone and that we will, therefore, need to develop partnerships and promote Pacific co-operation.

For Pacific Islands peoples, the ocean environment is an integral part of their ethnic and cultural identity and way of life. It is because of the importance of the sea and its resources to them that they are so adamantly opposed to any actions which expose the Pacific Ocean to pollution, hazardous waste and the destructive effects of nuclear and missile tests.

Recently, radioactive materials have been transshipped across the Pacific in arrogant defiance of our protests. We are told there is no risk, but when we propose payment of compensation if there is an accident, there is instant rejection. The danger these shipments pose to us is underscored by the disaster off the coast of South Africa where a freighter ran aground with a hold full of toxic chemicals. We read of a ship carrying hazardous cargo on fire in waters off Britain.

Mr. President,

We do not want the Pacific put at risk in this way. We know too well about the legacy of radioactivity from nuclear weapons testing. People in parts of the Pacific continue to suffer from the fallout. We are still waiting for those who committed these acts to take full responsibility for what they have done.

There are real hazards for low-lying atolls from another by-product of this era of environmental crisis. Rising sea levels caused by global warming will lead to the disappearance of some Islands. They will sink beneath the waves. Do not, therefore, be surprised if in future environmental refugees from Oceania are forced to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

The world should also not be surprised at the strong call from the Pacific for the adoption and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. We praise those nations who have signified their intention to ratify. To those who have not done so, we pose the same question we asked in Johannesburg: Will you display the courage, the generosity and largeness of spirit the world needs from you?

Will you join fully in saving Earth from the gross abuse and destruction of its resources?

Mr. President,

We have done much in the Pacific to secure our ownership of the rich regional tuna fishery. Ten years of combined effort, negotiation, lobbying and painstaking legal drafting led to the adoption of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention in 1982. When it came into force, international law allowed us to lay claim to huge areas of marine resource jurisdiction through archipelagic regimes and 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones.

We established the Forum Fisheries Agency to co-ordinate our efforts to get the best returns from valuable tuna stocks. There was a successful conclusion to negotiations with America for a regional fisheries agreement. I pay tribute here to the US for its willingness to reach an accord and for agreeing to its extension to 2013.

But we still have much to do to consolidate our position and ensure we bring an end to exploitation, which continues unabated. We are angered by the indiscriminate commercial exploitation of our tuna by distant water fishing fleets, They have no compunction about using purse seine methods and drift nets, which take huge amounts of small tuna and destroy other species.

We call on these nations to act responsibly and to stop this ruthless exploitation.

The reality is that more than 95 per cent of the annual value of the South Pacific catch is taken by them. Where arrangements for fees to be paid do apply, the return to the region is less than three per cent of the annual commercial worth of the harvest. Obviously, we must redouble our efforts at improving our ability to receive a fair share of these resources from harvesting and processing.

The next step is to bring into effect the Western and Central Pacific Tuna Convention. This will establish a Commission to secure long-term sustainability. The Convention recognizes that the standards of other regions cannot be applied to us and that our interests will be safeguarded against more powerful and economically superior powers.

Mr. President,

We very much welcomed the undertaking by a number of countries in Johannesburg to permit quota and tariff-free market access to the least developed of developing countries. We urge them to extend the same access conditions to developing island States. We know that free trade, as espoused by the World Trade Organization, is the ideal. All nations will trade from the same basis of equality and fairness. But what a large gap there is between the ideal and the reality! The developing countries hear huge amounts of free market rhetoric from the rich nations. But this is completely cancelled out by the reality of continuing protectionism. There is no level playing field for the poorer nations, only a steep and slippery slope. That is why we must move carefully into an integrated system of world trade and allow special treatment for those developing countries that are especially vulnerable.

It is in furtherance of this that I make a plea for the acceptance of Small Island developing States as a special case for trade and aid assistance. This would bring them into line with the least developed and land-locked developing countries.

Mr. President,

Next week will see the commencement of formal negotiations between the European Union and the ACP countries on new partnership arrangements under the Cotonou Agreement. The ACP States look forward to strengthening the partnership with the European Union started under the LOME Convention in 1975. It also their hope that the new economic partnership agreements will incorporate commitments made by the European Union member countries at Johannesburg.

The United Nations was conceived to seek the betterment of people and to foster security and peace in the world. It has had its failures and it still has its critics. But let us not forget the successes and its influence for good. Consider where we would be without the UN? We believe it has a continuing role and a future, given the commitment of the membership to its governing principles.

I am pleased to assure this august assembly that the Pacific Islands Forum and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group strongly support our distinguished Secretary-General's new emphasis on preventive diplomacy. Conflict prevention and peace building should continue to be the central considerations in involvement by the United Nations in ongoing efforts to deal with conflict and crisis situations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

We congratulate the United Nations for the success of its various peacekeeping operations. Fiji's participation in UNIFIL, after more than 24 years, will conclude in December this year. It has been a great honor for us to serve the international cause of bringing peace and order to that part of the Middle East.

Fiji reaffirms its willingness to continue its participation in United Nations and international peacekeeping operations. All this has cost us dearly in lost lives but it is a price we are willing to pay for international peace and security.

Mr. President,

We live in uncertain times; the world is troubled. We look to the UN to provide steadiness and balance at the center, we look to it to maintain peace on earth and hope for humanity.

Member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum have committed themselves to promoting and safeguarding the Pacific Ocean as a region of peace. We appeal to all those who are part of our wider Pacific community to embrace the way of peace and to constructively engage in cooperation for development.

We welcome China's increasing presence and involvement in supporting and assisting development in our region.

China and Taiwan have longstanding differences. All of us in the Pacific want to see them resolve their dispute amicably through dialogue and a common vision.

We welcome the peace mission by the Prime Minister of Japan to normalize relations with North Korea. We hope that his visit will also have the added impetus of encouraging North and South Korea to intensify their contacts and dialogue for a peaceful accord between them.

Japan, itself, is setting an example of how a developed nation can use its resources to help others.

In Johannesburg, Japan was more forthcoming than most affluent countries in its willingness to act on the Summit agenda and decisions.

It is already playing a very positive role in the South Pacific.

Fiji reiterates its support for Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council along with China.

In concluding, Mr. President, let me reaffirm that in a world still threatened by conflict and war, the Pacific Islands Forum and the ACP Group stand firmly for peace. We say the best way of securing this and protecting our precious planet is to uphold the multi-literalism represented by the UN and its family of nations. And for peace to endure, the United Nations must continue to ensure that development and opportunities for economic and social progress are spread and shared evenly among all its member States.

At Johannesburg, we all agreed to promote partnerships to assist developing countries in dealing more effectively with the basic needs of their peoples. From our experience with our trade and development partnerships with Australia and New Zealand, and with the European Union, the Pacific Islands and ACP countries commit themselves to working closely with the UN system and other multilateral organizations like the World Trade Organization in promoting similar partnerships with other developed countries.

I thank you.