Mr. President,

Please allow me to present to you, my delegation’s warmest congratulations on your election to the high office of President of the General Assembly. I am sure that your vast experience on the international scene will be brought to bear on the work of this session and help direct it with ease to a successful conclusion. The 58th Session promises to be rich in substance and may also prove to be the watershed in our bid to make the United Nations responsive to the needs of the peoples of the world in this new Millennium. I assure you, Mr. President, of my delegation’s fullest cooperation in the discharge of your onerous responsibility.

In the same vein, let me also congratulate our out-going President, His Excellency Jan Kavan for his laudable efforts during the 57th Session.

Our dynamic Secretary-General, His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan also deserves commendation for another productive year of service to our Organisation – a year that was fraught with difficulties and incredible challenges. Thanks to his leadership, we have, by and large, been able to weather the storm.

We were all devastated, however, by the Baghdad bombing of the U.N. Headquarters, which claimed the lives of so many people. May it never recur – please God, but it shows that we must remain united in our resolve to fight terrorism. Let me seize this opportunity to express once again to His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan and his staff, as well as the relatives of the victims, the heartfelt condolences of the people of The Gambia. We pay homage to Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello and his colleagues who lost their lives as we mourn the tragic loss of a highly-acclaimed international civil servant in the hands of terrorists. In wishing the injured a speedy recovery, we pray that the souls of all those who died, rest in perfect peace. My delegation strongly urges that this cowardly act should in no way weaken the resolve of the United Nations in fulfilling its obligations to the people of Iraq.

Mr. President,

Resolution 1373 (2001) was adopted unanimously by the Security Council following the September 11 attacks and the majority of member states, including my own, have embarked on implementing its salient provisions. We have ratified the major international instruments on terrorism and further enacted domestic legislation to implement them. Let me state that in spite of our modest achievements in this regard, international cooperation and technical assistance remain critical to the success of our future implementation efforts.

The Counter-Terrorism Committee’s Assistance Unit must strengthen the coordination of its technical assistance portfolio in order to have greater impact. In this regard, we welcome the G8’s commitment to providing capacity-building and technical assistance to “priority countries”. The translation of declarations of commitment into concrete action is the only guarantee of meaningful headway to counter terrorism. Apart from the recent terrorist attacks against the UN in Baghdad, other such incidents in Indonesia, Kenya, the Russian Federation, Morocco and Saudi Arabia coming in the wake of 9-11 are reminders of the enormity of the tasks ahead.

Mr. President,

The 58th session of the United Nations General Assembly convenes at a time when our approaches to the management of global issues have come under sharp scrutiny. These issues, Mr. President, are the unfinished business of the preceding millennium. The United Nations, the premier, overarching venue for multilateralism, cannot but be the only vehicle through which the world’s problems of peace and security can be solved. The recent events in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, only serve to underscore the need for the nations of the world to strengthen - not weaken – multilateralism. We shall never achieve global peace, security and prosperity without working together in a forum such as the one provided by the United Nations – a forum that is all-inclusive and which permits each and every nation – big or small, rich or poor - to expound on matters of concern to them. The ideals and principles that were the basis of the founding of this Organization are as relevant today as they were fifty-eight years ago. Let us, therefore, demonstrate our commitment to multilateralism by always turning to the United Nations. My delegation therefore urges all member states to maintain confidence in the U.N and to have recourse to the United Nations for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and settlement of disputes.

Mr. President,

While terrorism poses a real threat to international peace and security, other violent conflicts continue to rage around the world, leaving death, destruction and desolation in their wake. The situation in the Mano River Union remains volatile as I speak. And even though former President Charles Taylor of Liberia has left the scene as was required of him, and there appears to be some laudable progress towards reinvigorating the democratic process in that country, we should be under no illusion as to the extreme fragility of the situation in Liberia and indeed within the West African sub-region. We commend all the parties that recently signed the peace agreement in Accra, Ghana, for their determination and patience, and urge them to do all in their power to stay the course. This would also have a salutary effect on the situation in neighbouring Sierra Leone where we note with satisfaction the consolidation of the peace process.

The problem of conflicts in West Africa continues, however, to be compounded by the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons as well as the roving bands of mercenaries. International efforts could serve the region best by developing comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation programmes that target militias and are region-specific rather than country-specific. We must endeavour to address the issue of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons with greater determination. An arrangement similar to the Kimberley Process in blood diamonds is what is urgently required to effectively stem the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons. My Government strongly supports any measures that would treat as accomplices to war crimes and crimes against humanity, those illegal brokers, who knowingly supply arms and weapons to militias and other insurgents in West Africa. Conflict zones elsewhere in Africa that tell a similar story, should also be assisted in this manner.

We warmly congratulate our brothers in the Sudan on the recent signing of the Naivaisha Peace Accord, which promises to bring the long-drawn fratricidal conflict in that country, to an end.

Mr. President,

My Government meanwhile, continues to play its part in the search for solutions to the problems of peace and security in Africa. We participate actively within the context of the initiatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to contribute to the sub-region’s collective efforts in this area. My Government, under the wise leadership of President Jammeh, has, in the past contributed, and will in the future, contribute to sub-regional efforts to keep the peace in West Africa. We have continuously participated in UNAMSIL since its inception. We stand ready to contribute our own modest share to any other UN peacekeeping operations designed for the West Africa sub-region as we are doing now under ECOMIL. In this regard, we welcome the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1509 (2003), establishing the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Mr. President,

I just made mention of the unfinished businesses of the preceding millennium. These are thematic issues of political exclusion, disenfranchisement, economic exclusion and abject poverty. All affect the greater majority of humankind. They also give rise to all the urgent situations that the world is faced with today. Situations of conflict, civil strife, in short, the absence of peace.

A peculiar situation of exclusion, Mr. President, was created by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 on October 25th 1971. This relates to Taiwan, by ricochet. From 1949 to 1971, the ROC (Taiwan) was a bona fide member of the United Nations, recognised by the Comity of Nations. If the ROC (Taiwan) could be a member of the United Nations then, why could the ROC (Taiwan) not be a member now? The General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758, which addressed only the question of the representation of the People’s Republic of China in the UN and related organisations. It did not decide, Mr. President, that Taiwan is, or should be, a part of the People’s Republic of China.

Nor did it confer on the People’s Republic of China the right to represent the Republic of China (Taiwan) or the twenty-three million Taiwanese people in the U.N and related organisations. Resolution 2758 has since been misused to justify the exclusion of Taiwan from the U.N. This runs counter to the claim by the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that it represents the interests of all Chinese, not to mention those Taiwanese who are in the Republic of China (Taiwan).

I call upon the International Community to revisit this issue urgently, if we are to comprehensively deal with the problems engendered by exclusion, in whatever form that it takes.

Mr. President,

My Government appreciates the special attention that Guinea-Bissau has received from the Security Council, especially through the Council’s Ad-hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa. We also commend the remarkable efforts of the ECOSOC’s Ad-hoc Advisory Group on Guinea-Bissau. As Chairperson of the Group of Friends of Guinea-Bissau, my Government acknowledges the groundswell of support and goodwill that Guinea-Bissau enjoys from this Organization. Unfortunately, this has not yet been adequately translated into material and financial forms of assistance, which the people of that country so desperately need. The recent developments in Guinea-Bissau should be seen not so much as a constraint, but rather as an opportunity to re-engage the international community in partnership with the people of Guinea-Bissau, in the resolution of their problems of governance and development. Now that concerted efforts are being made by all the major actors to agree on transitional arrangements for the preparation of Parliamentary and Presidential elections in the not too distant future, we call on the rest of the international community to provide the support necessary to stabilize the situation and keep the process on course to a successful outcome.

Mr. President,

Problems of security and peace in my part of the world have not in any way diminished our concerns over similar problems elsewhere. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan need urgent international assistance to shore up security, re-establish the rule of law and embark on an effective programme of reconstruction. My Government welcomes the adoption of Security Council resolution 1500 (2003), in the hope that the establishment of the Governing Council of Iraq will lead towards a real political transition for the Iraqi people. While a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq is both desirable and urgent, as clearly underscored in Security Council Resolution 1472 (2003), outstanding issues emanating from Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait should be comprehensively dealt with once and for all.

Mr. President,

We continue to follow closely the situation in the Middle-East and we deplore yet again the recent spate of vicious attacks and counter-attacks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, thus negating hope for an early settlement within the framework of the Road Map. Trust and confidence-building measures must be reinforced and made to attend to every stage of the implementation of the “Road Map”, if the peace process is to endure. Suicide bombings that target innocent civilians must be stopped. The occupation of Arab lands must come to an end. In reiterating our position on the Arab-Israeli Conflict, we call for the creation of an independent Palestinian State living in peace along side the State of Israel.

Mr. President,

My Government firmly supports the initiatives being taken to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, two great friends of The Gambia. We urge them both to reduce the arms build-up on their respective sides of the border, and to strive harder to reach a mutually acceptable solution to their differences in particular, the issue of Kashmir.

Similarly in the Korean Peninsula we reiterate our support for a peaceful reunification.

Mr. President,

Human security is not threatened by conflicts alone. The HIV/AIDS scourge continues to be elusive and now poses a serious threat to the viability of some societies in Africa. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has slowly graduated from a health and humanitarian issue to a development and security problem.

The pandemic has compounded the problems African countries face in the fight against other scourges such as malaria and tuberculosis. It is gratifying to note however, that the international community is sensitized to this fact and that initiatives such as the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis have been put in place.

Consequently, more money, more resources and more attention must be given to research and development. Contributions to the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis have slackened and developing countries are paying a colossal price in human and material terms. The Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative (GAVI) equally requires adequate funding.

Mr. President,

The pursuit of justice and international rule of law has never been so pressing as it is today. My government strongly supports the International Criminal Court as it embarks on its crucial mandate of delivering justice. We hail its progress so far and I would like to seize this opportunity to call on all to cooperate with the Court in order that, together all around the world, we can say no to the culture of impunity.

Mr. President,

While still on the subject of justice, let me reiterate my Government’s view that the sanctions being imposed on Cuba should now be lifted. They are counter-productive anyway. Cuba is a peace-loving member of the international community, whose people do not deserve the punishment meted out to them for almost four decades now.
Mr. President,

Let me now turn to development issues.

In Africa, our efforts to achieve sustainable development continue to be seriously undermined by a variety of factors, prominent among which are conflicts, structural weaknesses, natural disasters and diseases. For the international system to successfully address these factors of underdevelopment, more serious attention must be paid to the implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries, as well as to focus more attention on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. We must also give effect to the commitments made at Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg. There is no shortage of blueprints for development. What is in short supply and what needs to be urgently mobilized are resources. So far, there is still a big gap between commitment and action. Africa’s development partners must make good on their pledges to support Africa’s development. My delegation welcomes the Africa Action Plan of the G8, the African Growth and Opportunity Act of the United States of America and the “Everything but Arms” initiative of the European Union, all of which commit their owners to well-defined forms of support to Africa’s development.

There are however, the many barriers to the implementation of these initiatives, caused by certain protectionist policies pursued by our partners, as well as other policy and structural constraints. The problem of farm subsidies just will not go away. Agricultural economies in our part of the world must be allowed to compete if the global trading system is to function in favour of the eradication of poverty. The debt issue is far from being resolved and the procedures for accessing the benefits of the HIPC initiative are too cumbersome for many poor countries to follow. The only realistic approach to the debt problem as a major impediment to development, is to cancel it unconditionally for the HIPC countries, as well as for the Low Income Countries Under Stress (LICUS).

Mr. President,

We have just ended another attempt at negotiations on world trade at Cancun. My delegation deeply regrets the failure of the talks, as well as the fact that the developed world could not see eye-to-eye with the Group of 21 on the issue of subsidies. It is in our collective interest to dismantle global trade barriers and allow markets to expand, for incomes to rise in the developing world and poverty to be reduced. Stronger earning power in the developing world would stimulate world trade in ways that would be most beneficial to the rich countries. My delegation calls on all concerned to ensure that we return to the negotiating table as soon as possible and with greater determination on both sides to reach a just and fair agreement on all the issues.

Mr. President,

Official Development Assistance still falls short of the internationally-agreed target of 0.7% of GDP. We commend those countries – Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden in particular- whose ODA has risen to that level. My delegation urges all of Africa’s development partners to address these issues with sincerity and commitment, with a view to meaningfully assisting in kick-starting the sustainable human development process in African countries.

Mr. President,

It is gratifying to note that the Human Development Report for 2003 is devoted to the Millennium Development Goals. In this way, the fight against poverty is kept high on the International Community’s Agenda because we still have a very long way to go. For instance, as stated in the HDR, I quote:

“Regionally, at the current pace sub-Saharan Africa would not reach the Goals for poverty until 2147 and for child mortality until 2165. And for HIV/AIDS and hunger, trends in the region are heading up not down..”

It is indeed true that sub-Saharan Africa is being left behind. This state of affairs is alarming, and as the UNDP rightly stated, the MDGs will not be realized with a business as usual approach. The paradox in our view, is the fact that while the means to attain the MDGs are available, it would appear that the political will is lacking. Let me again quote from the HDR:

“Today’s world has greater resources and know-how than ever before to tackle the challenges of infectious disease, low productivity, lack of clean energy and transport and lack of basic services such as clean water, sanitation, schools and healthcare. The issue is how best to apply these resources and know-how to benefit the poorest people” End of quote.

In The Gambia, my Government’s focus is on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. The strategy we have designed to this end is detailed in our Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). In a resource-strapped economy such as The Gambia’s, getting all the relevant indicators to perform well towards poverty reduction, is a daunting challenge. It is however a challenge my Government is prepared to take-up. Our special focus is on the empowerment of our people, and we seek to do so by giving priority to our education, health and agricultural sectors, as well as on building capacity among our womenfolk, who are the architects of stable and strong nations. This strategy has so far yielded dividends, as evidenced by my country’s showing on the UNDP Human Development Report 2003.

In the education sector, our goal is to achieve full enrollment well before the Millennium Declaration’s target year of 2015. As of now, we have taken the gross enrolment rate from 44%, eight years ago, to over 90% today! We have at the same time, increased non-formal, adult and distance education programmes throughout the country. The net result has been a dramatic drop in illiteracy, nationwide. Transition rates from primary to secondary levels have been significantly improved from 12% fifteen years ago to over 77% today. Six years ago, there were hardly any tertiary level institutions to speak of. Today, they abound and include a new University of The Gambia. This has been made possible, Mr. President, by the visionary leadership provided by H.E. Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia.

Recognising the important role women play in the family, in the community and in the nation, my Government has sought to pay special attention to the empowerment of our womenfolk through education, training and special income-generating projects. In order to increase opportunities for the girl-child in the educational system, we have created a Trust Fund entitled “The President’s Empowerment of Girls’ Education Project” to provide full scholarships to girls who would otherwise not be able to go to school for lack of resources. This and other measures geared towards assisting women, have helped to close the gender gap in education in The Gambia.

Empowering the rural dweller is another priority of my Government. We seek to do so through measures that lead to an increase in access to resources, infrastructure, and services – as well as to knowledge and skills. Most villages now have a primary school and clusters of villages share secondary education facilities.

Our efforts have also been geared towards the improvement of the health of our people. Significantly improved child health care, especially through an extensive and comprehensive immunization programme, has contributed immensely towards a considerable reduction of infant mortality in the last few years. Infant mortality rates have been reduced by one-third. Primary health care programmes have been strengthened across the board. Overall access to health facilities and services have equally been greatly improved with the construction of hospitals, health centers, clinics and dispensaries throughout the country.

Mr. President,

With all these achievements, however we are humbled by the challenges that still remain. The prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and a host of respiratory illnesses, is part of an unfinished agenda. Malaria in particular, remains a major problem. It is the leading cause of mortality and a major cause of morbidity among pregnant women, contributing to anemia and low birth weight. Today, with the cooperation of a Cuban medical and health team, The Gambia is now No. 1 in Africa as far as the Malaria Control Programme is concerned.

In the area of agriculture, our objective is to achieve a total transformation of the sector. Our priority is to reduce the drudgery of production and increase productivity through a systematic programme of mechanization. Added to this, is our bid to reduce our dependence on rain-fed methods of production, in favour of greater irrigation, using the abundant water resources that The Gambia River and its tributaries provide. A third plank of our programme of empowerment in the agriculture sector, is to diversify activities away from the traditional crops, by placing greater emphasis on food production as well as on other non-traditional crops for export. Finally, with all of these objectives already well on the road to success, we are beginning to increase market access, both locally and abroad, for our producers.

Mr. President,

Attaining the Millennium Development Goals would depend to a large extent, on how well poor countries perform in the areas I have just referred to. It would also depend on how well they themselves are empowered and made capable of performing, through the requisite support measures from the international community. The United Nations system as a whole can be mobilized further to broker such support for poor countries, and especially for those among them that show promise and positive signs of progress.

Mr. President,

My Government has been increasing its efforts to deepen democracy and strengthening good governance in The Gambia. In this, our intent is to continuously bring improvements to the performance of all arms of government. Our multi-party democratic system forms the backbone of our political dispensation. We continue to conduct free and fair elections at all levels of popular representation. Our courts operate independently. And we have encouraged the mass media to grow and expand, with increasingly higher levels of private participation. The international community must have been satisfied with our efforts and achievements in this domain, when the World Economic Forum, meeting in South Africa, decided to classify The Gambia third in Africa, for our performance on good governance. We are indeed honoured by this recognition, and feel encouraged in our resolve to do even better.

Mr. President,

Advances in information and communication technology have come to make our world a truly global village. This is indeed remarkable. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that even in this area there is a great deal of “catching up” which the developing world has to undergo. Global initiatives geared towards bridging the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds should be pursued with unrelenting vigour.

Scientific and technological research must be conducted in support of the essence of life. In the course of this year, we have heard several claims as to the successful cloning of human embryos. These claims, whether genuine or not, are indeed a wake-up call for all of humanity. The international community must close ranks to address them in a manner that ensures that no one is allowed – for whatever reason - to tinker with science and technology in ways that may upset or threaten nature’s fragile balance.

Mr. President,

The phenomenon of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing remains a challenge to coastal African states such as The Gambia. It has generated enormous concern at the international level as is evident from the adoption of various international instruments to combat it. My delegation would like to express its gratitude to the Governments of Japan and Luxembourg and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the assistance they provide to our fisheries sector, and fully endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendation that technical and financial assistance to developing countries for the conservation and management of fisheries resources should be provided in a comprehensive manner. We call for greater assistance and cooperation in our efforts to promote sustainable practices in the fisheries sector of our economies.

Mr. President,

On the crucial topic of United Nations Reform, my delegation welcomes the efforts aimed at the revitalization of the General Assembly and the reform of the Security Council. After more than a decade, little progress has been made in our attempts to reform the Security Council so that it is truly reflective of the realities of the international system in the twenty-first century. My Government reiterates its stance – indeed the stance of the entire African region - that the composition of the Security Council has to be revamped and democratized. Membership of the Council must be expanded with Africa occupying at least two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats. We therefore wholeheartedly support the timely proposal of the Secretary-General to establish a High Level Panel of Eminent Personalities to make concrete recommendations on the reform of the organization.

Mr. President,

As we move into the business of this 58th Session of the General Assembly, my delegation prays that the Almighty Allah crowns our endeavours with success. We pray that this session proves to be the turning point in our efforts to render the United Nations more relevant, more effective and truly all-inclusive. We pray that at this session, any doubts as to the utility of the UN to each and every one of us, be put to rest once and for all. And we pray that by this session’s closing, we shall all have emerged, secure in our conviction that only through a fuller recourse to the United Nations, shall we expect to have our global problems of conflict, peace and security, and indeed development, frontally addressed, fully contained and completely resolved.

I thank you.