Hon. Kaliopate Tavola
Minister for Foreign Affairs & External Trade
Address at the 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
UN Headquarters Thursday, 02nd October, 2003 New York

Mr. President, my Government and country warmly congratulate you on your assumption of the Presidency of this 58th Session of the UN General Assembly. In presiding over the Assembly, Saint Lucia is setting a historic precedent for Small Island Developing States, with the able support of your Caricom neighbours.

Fiji fully supports your chairmanship. We also recognize the successful leadership of your predecessor, President Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic.

Mr President, I wish to express my Government's deep condolences to the family of Mr Vierra de Mello and all victims of the bombing at the UN in Baghdad last month. This was a brutal crime, which robbed the world of one of its most accomplished mediators and peacemakers. We hope that at this session, we can all come together, united, in our collective determination to rid the world of terrorism.

I come from a part of the globe that is isolated in the vast South Pacific. But that remoteness does not separate us from the international perils of the bomb, the gun and the hijacker. It does not insulate us against those bent on causing death and destruction to defend their interests or advance a cause. The fact is that every country and region is a potential target.

Members of the Pacific Islands Forum are joined with the UN in the search for a new order of peace and stability.

That might seem an impossible task set against the tensions, the hatreds, the bloodshed and violence of the times.

But, if we abandon it, we sell-out the principles of the UN. We betray our countries and our peoples and generations to come.

Are we so inadequate and lacking in our understanding and abilities that we are incapable of coming up with new solutions to stop the spread of terror?

It is not enough simply to strike out at the perpetrators. We must spend more effort and resources finding out what turns people towards violence to achieve a goal. We must tell ourselves that there is a different way, that the growing culture of violence and killing is not destined to be a permanent part of our world.

The UN, Mr President, needs to go to the root causes of this terrible phenomenon, which casts a very dark, and menacing shadow over the first years of the 21st century.

In the Pacific, we are concentrating on security issues, strengthening law and order and maintaining stability. A number of initiatives were taken during the last 12 months when our Prime Minister served as Forum Chair.

Foremost among these was the ground-breaking decision to send a peace mission to the Solomon Islands in response to a cry for assistance from that country. The Solomon Islands had been wrecked for several years by civil unrest, lawlessness and ethnic conflict. We, in Fiji, had a sympathetic appreciation of the difficulties facing those islands because of our own crisis in 2000.

We were more than happy, therefore, to contribute to a Task Force to the Solomon Islands, charged with bringing back order and re-establishing peace. A contingent of our troops, combined with others from Australia, PNG, Tonga and New Zealand, is now in the Solomon Islands working with the people there. We are encouraged by what our own soldiers, and their comrades, have been able to do so far to support a neighbour in distress. Our task is given extra significance through the close ties we enjoy with the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands mission has inevitably generated some controversy and debate about Australia's expanding involvement in our region. But let it go on record, that we endorse Australia's leading role in this intervention on the invitation of the Solomon Islands Government.

One of its notable aspects is that it is multi-lateral. It was done through the Forum and has the unanimous support of the members. Beyond this, Mr. President, we know that the support and encouragement of the international community and the UN system will remain important; as work to build a credible law and justice system, an effective administration and a viable economic base continues.

Mr President, recent happenings have brought into question the value, the relevance and the future of multilateralism. Our position is that we understood the concerns, which led the US to act in the way it did over Iraq. September 11th was a shattering ordeal. It changed history and it changed America.

That said, Fiji declares an unwavering commitment to the concept of the world community working together, seeking the common path forward. We stand by the ideals of a multilateral, co-operative approach among nations.

We welcome the decision by the US to now seek UN involvement in Iraq's reconstruction.

In the Pacific, the Nasonini Declaration on regional security, adopted last year in Fiji, is a keystone of joint strategy.

It followed the earlier Honiara Declaration on law enforcement co-operation, aimed at countering transnational and organized crime.

The Forum countries will give higher priority to implementing legislative provisions to improve our capacity for dealing with law enforcement and security challenges. Underpinning this is an Australian commitment, also approved by the Forum, to spend approximately $15 million over three years, to strengthen regional police forces. New Zealand has, additionally, agreed to put in $2 million.

This important project is to be based in Fiji. A regional academy will provide training for about 900 police officers annually from forum countries.

Fiji has been taking part in UN peacekeeping operations since 1978. This has come at a price.

But to us, serving world peace with our soldiers, demonstrates that even the smallest states can play their part in minimizing and preventing conflicts. Currently, 635 Fiji personnel are on active duty in UN missions, apart from 123 soldiers and 15 police in the Solomon Islands. Our commitment to UN peacekeeping has not changed. It is a vital strand of our foreign policy.

Fiji stresses the importance of strengthening multilateral treaties and conventions on disarmament and non-proliferation. Our country is one of those that want to see an effective global strategy for the control of small arms and light weapons.

Mr President, during our Prime Minister's Chairmanship of the Pacific Islands Forum, there was a deepening of the South Pacific region's engagement with development partners, and international organizations.

Heads of Government from Member States enhanced their bonds between France and Japan. They met in Tahiti with President Jacques Chirac and discussed many topics of common concern.

At a summit with Prime Minister Koizumi in Okinawa, they were able to gain agreement for the outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Millennium Development Goals and our own regional priorities, as further basis for future collaboration.

The Pacific Islands Forum now has 12 dialogue partners including the US, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Taiwan.

Mr President, China - the emerging giant in world affairs and trade - has a steadily growing presence in our region.

Its involvement and support for our economic and social development is welcome. We see definite scope for trade, investment, cultural and tourism links. China, many commentators believe, already has the world's second largest economy. Its present aid programme is significant - and we expect it to grow substantially as bilateral relationships grow stronger.

At the same time, we place great value on our trade and commerce with Taiwan and value its assistance to our development. We look forward to the day when China and Taiwan peacefully resolve their long-standing differences.

We also welcome Japan's role and presence in the Pacific Islands region. Japan is an economic powerhouse and its increased role and contribution in promoting international security and development should be recognized by all Member States in allowing Japan a special place in the United Nations Security Council.

Mr President, I am pleased to report that in Fiji and the region, there is more co-ordination in the effort to curb HIV - Aids, the most terrible disease of our era. Although we have so far escaped the worst effects of HIV - Aids, it is a real danger in the islands.

We expect to make substantial progress in our fight against this affliction, with support from Japan and France and an allocation from the global aids fund. A programme financed by Australia provides $12.5 million for the regional campaign. Our government will also make a larger HIV-Aids allocation in next year's budget.

Mr President, HIV-Aids screening was recently at the centre of discussion in Fiji, when a suggestion was made for obligatory testing. Such a move was regarded by our Human Rights Commission as a rights violation.
We must weigh the Commission's views carefully against the competing call for a radical response to a national threat.

The Fiji Human Rights Commission is a product of our Constitution and its comprehensive bill of rights. The Commission is implementing a public education campaign to overcome a lack of awareness on rights issues. It also monitors Government and statutory authorities so that laws and policies conform to international human rights principles and the requirements of the Constitution. These generally reflect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by this Assembly in 1948.

As a former colony, Fiji is a late-starter in promoting human rights and civil liberties. Our Government's strategic plan t0 2005 expresses very clearly where we stand. The plan was endorsed by a national economic summit and by Parliament.

Please allow me to quote briefly from the plan: "the guarantee of fundamental rights and freedoms for every citizen of Fiji and their equal protection under the law.... is an essential part of our vision for a peaceful Fiji. A feeling of personal security and of group security comes about when people have confidence that breaches of rights and freedoms will be dealt with impartially and speedily. " Unquote.

I quote further: "respect for the rights of others is a critical component of our freedoms guaranteed under the constitution. It is essential for peaceful existence in our multi-cultural society. " Unquote.

I give emphasis to these points, because sometimes there are attempts to depict Fiji as a land where rights are habitually abused. Propaganda against our country has been circulated in some quarters here at the UN.

Much of this stems from opposition to our Affirmative Action policies designed to end social and economic inequalities. These are based on principles well-established internationally and are provided for in our Constitution.

It is self-evident that a country cannot grow in justice, harmony and prosperity when more than half of its population - in this case the indigenous Fijians - are largely outside the economy looking in.

All right-thinking people will agree that it is just and fair that this should be changed. But we constantly stress that this is not about taking from one group to give to another. It is about making the economy grow so that there is enough wealth to be shared equitably among our population. We want to give the Fijians a chance to catch up and compete in business and commerce. Let it be noted that we have brought in laws to help the disadvantaged of all communities. This is a constitutional obligation.

No one is being left out. That is the commitment we've made to our own population, and we now make to the international community.

Mr President, disparities and inequalities go to the very heart of the dispute, which brought about the collapse of the Cancun talks. The failure of the talks underscores the deep differences, which separate the poor countries from the rich in the battle to reform international trade. We acknowledge the ideal of free trade. But the stark reality is that there are many dangerous pitfalls for nations whose economies are weak and vulnerable. It will be a long time before most developing states are ready to compete on that so-called level playing field. To them it is not level at all. Bring the barriers down completely and the full might of first-world commercial power will descend. What will that do to home-grown and emerging industries in poorer countries?

For the time being, countries like ours need preferences and special access for our economic survival. Think of it as a form of Affirmative Action to reduce that yawning chasm between the rich north and the poverty-stricken south. We now need to urgently consider where the World Trade Organization goes from here, and what can be done to salvage the wreckage of Cancun.

Mr President, about three and a half years ago, my country came very close to anarchy. We had an armed insurrection, hostage-taking and violence. The Government of the day was overthrown. It was a time of extreme crisis for Fiji.

Now, I can stand before this Assembly to tell you that our nation is being reborn. Order and stability were restored, and the first steps taken on a continuing journey of reconciliation.

We had peaceful, democratic elections. Our Government is on a mission to build a Fiji where peace, multi-racial harmony and prosperity will always reign.

Our economic policy is to create more employment and wealth through high growth. We have increased Government investment on infrastructure and made a concerted and, to this point, successful effort to attract greater volumes of private capital. Many of the indicators are positive - apart from those relating to our sugar industry. This year, we expect to achieve an overall growth rate of more than five per cent.

This remarkable recovery could not have been achieved without the encouragement and support of many friends of Fiji in the international community, and especially here at the United Nations. I pay tribute to the role of the UNDP, WHO, FAO, the UNFPD, UNICEF, UNESCO and ILO. The ILO is making a particularly valuable contribution at the moment with a plan to accelerate job creation.

Mr. President, the "special case" of the small island developing states is calling for a "special response" of the global community, in further advancing our sustainable development efforts. The ten year comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action in Mauritius next year will provide the avenue for our development partners to make further commitments to our cause. Fiji is urging the international community to contribute to the success of this meeting.

Mr President and fellow delegates, the UN is currently experiencing considerable strain and division. But it is for all of us to ensure that this organization comes through this period of difficulty, strengthened and regenerated.

The world needs the United Nations and what it stands for.