General debate of the fifty-eighth regular session of the United Nations General Assembly

New York, 29 September 2003

Unofficial Translation

Mr. President:

Please accept my warmest congratulations on your election as President of this session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Delegation of Panama is deeply gratified that you have been appointed to guide our debates, because you represent here the commitment of developing countries, and in particular those of the Latin American and Caribbean group, to multilateral efforts to achieve peace, respect for human rights, and sustainable development. You know, Mr. President, as we do, that without these fundamental elements any attempt to promote democracy and justice in the world will fail.

As we begin this new session of the General Assembly, we must renew our commitment to make use of the rules of multilateralism in order to avoid international conflicts. If we do so with sincerity and generosity, we will be fulfilling our task of moving the world peacefully towards a better future.

Stability and security, in their broadest sense, are things to which all humanity aspires. Yet we will never reach these objectives if, in attempting to shape this new world, we go against the aspirations of our peoples, or if we attempt to base it on the systematic development of grand military alliances. It is a historic fact that resorting to military power results only in greater instability. Human security, which is what all States, large and small, are seeking, depends exclusively on our dedication to the collective security architecture that we have concentrated in the United Nations. Our duty, then, is to defend and strengthen at all costs our Organization's objectives and purposes, and in particular to respect the integrity and authority of our international legal system.

Mr. President:

Consistent with this way of thinking, I wish to reiterate here today the commitment of Panama to the principle of self-determination and to the mechanisms for the peaceful settlement of disputes. We believe that the differences that divide our world must be addressed within a structured program of prevention of conflict, one that demands specialized support for the fair, orderly and peaceful negotiation of each State's legitimate interests.

In light of this, we give our whole-hearted support to the provisions of Resolution 571337 of this General Assembly, which stresses the responsibilities of member states of this General Assembly, of the Security Council, of ECOSOC, of the Secretary-General, of regional organizations, of civil society and of the private sector when it comes to preventing armed conflicts. This instrument is so important that it is well worth the five months of intense negotiations that preceded it.

Mr. President:

The world has been through an extraordinary experience this year, one that was hotly debated, and the fallout from which is still far from clear. It is not too much to say that the trepidations over the events in Iraq that were felt here in the United Nations and beyond have had a number of repercussions both on the internal work of this Organization and on the conduct of international relations.

Nevertheless, Panama is convinced that the differences that were aired in the Security Council are a clear demonstration that it has functioned as it should; that the diversity of opinions and approaches that exist in the world were poured out there without reservations, and that, although the differences remained at the end of the process, it had the marginal benefit of highlighting the measurement and control requirements that must be taken into account in the Security Council.

Apart from these differences, the United Nations Security Council acted appropriately in establishing a pragmatic relationship with the occupying powers in Iraq, by means of Resolution 1483 of May 22, 2003. In addition, our Organization is demonstrating that it has an irreplaceable role to play in the humanitarian field, just as it has in the political, diplomatic, economic and financial spheres. Our task now must be to prevent the disintegration of Iraq, a country with profound ethnic and religious cleavages and one that, as we all know, has a sorry history of civil conflict.

Mr. President:

The shocking slaughter that took place in Baghdad on August 19, and now the killings of September 22, which took the lives of many national and international civil servants of the United Nations, must surely move us to consider and adopt urgent measures to ensure that the international community takes concerted action, as quickly as possible, for the reconstruction of Iraq.

As we address this difficult matter, we must bear in mind those United Nations workers who lost their lives in that attack. They were, without. exception, people of great virtue and human qualities, most of them young, and citizens of the greatest diversity of nations, including Iraq. All of them died working for peace, under the valiant leadership of Dr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, our High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the United Nations in Iraq.

To all their colleagues, and to the great United Nations family, we express the most sincere condolences of the government and people of Panama.

This is surely an appropriate time to ask that we unite our efforts for the reconstruction of Iraq, within the limitations of each of our member states. In the meantime, as we assess the present and look towards the future, we have the obligation to analyze in-depth this experience that is still unfolding. Among other things, from what we have been able to observe to date, we may conclude that individualized solutions are no longer viable in this globalized world, and that only the United Nations can play the key role in encouraging the cultural and ethnic reconciliation of all humanity, in addressing poverty, in promoting peace, and in achieving world security.

Mr. President:

During the Millennium Summit, Panama asked, among other things, that Member States return to the original spirit of the United Nations Charter. Consistent with that request, we hope that all of us will accept the obligation to reconcile ourselves with the general interests of the international community, and avoid acting solely in light of our particular strategic, military or political interests.

We repeat that request today, and we would call attention to the urgent need for strengthening the multilateral system as the guarantee of stability and security, which are fundamental elements for peaceful coexistence. Today, perhaps more than ever, we must tackle the unavoidable task of reforming our Organization so that the General Assembly can fulfill its proper function as the principal political body, and the Security Council can have greater capacity to deal with the new challenges that the end of the Cold War has brought with it.

To achieve this objective, Panama wants to stress the contents of the Declaration on Security Council Reform approved by the Rio Group at its 11th Summit, held in Asuncion, Paraguay, in August 1997, which called upon Member States of the United Nations to correct the present imbalances in the composition of the Security Council, to improve its decision-making mechanisms, and to bring greater transparency to the conduct of its work.

We firmly believe that an extremely important element in this and other tasks facing us is the announcement by the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, that he will establish a high-level Council comprising eminent personalities from all regions of the world.

Mr. President:

We are also inspired, Mr. President, by the desire to see the General Assembly become a forum for seeking a solution to the problem between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. As Panama has noted on previous occasions, Taiwan has in a sense been left hanging in time and in space, protected and yet unprotected. Recently, the World Health Organization, in response to the need to combat the SARS epidemic, was able to provide direct and effective assistance to Taiwan without violating or weakening the fundamental elements of the positions of the parties to that controversy. We believe that the United Nations system could act in several ways to help the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, to resolve their dispute in a peaceful way, while we at the same time fulfill our most cherished objective of responding, without exception, to the social needs of humanity.

In July of this year we celebrated here the First Biennial Meeting to assess implementation of the Program of Action adopted in 2001 by the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

During that 2001 conference, the delegation of Panama urged, among other things, that attention be focused on the following needs, as expressed by many participants:

  • To eliminate the culture of violence.
  • To broaden the field of action in terms of disarmament, maintaining or consolidating peace, and combating criminal organizations.
  • To establish proper controls for intermediaries.
  • To design markings, reliable registries and proper mechanisms for tracking weapons.
  • To strengthen the regional exchange of information; and
  • To establish a monitoring mechanism under the United Nations General Assembly.

We are yet some distance from achieving these objectives, both nationally and internationally, but we believe that the biennial meeting that we have just held has injected new vigor into the efforts that we must all make to keep our commitments.

We repeat the proposal that we made at that conference, to the effect that the purposes and the code of conduct that the first two articles of the United Nations Charter demand of member states must be taken as indispensable steps for securing peace and understanding among the nations of the world.

We would also stress that the massive clandestine trafficking in small arms and light weapons, which fuels internal conflicts, dictatorships, guerrilla movements and international terrorism, can only be blocked through close international cooperation. With equal determination, we must pursue the networks of traffickers in narcotics and diamonds that take advantage of bogus firms and banks, that thrive by corrupting public officials, and that are working constantly for the destruction of our societies.

Mr. President:

We are pleased to announce here our support for the proposal made at the Biennial Meeting of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects by the distinguished Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, to the effect that the Program of Action must not ignore the violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by those States that engage in this nefarious trade.

In effect, Mr. President, the Report of the Sub-Commission of the Human Rights Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, at its 44th session, highlights the undeniable impact that the availability and misuse of these weapons has in these areas. Moreover, we share the conclusions of the third report on small arms prepared by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, which showed that such trafficking can have a direct impact on the development prospects of our countries, not only through the terror that it sows among the public, but also through the deaths and injuries for which it is responsible, the creation of concentrations of refugees, and the consequent collapse of essential services.

Mr. President:

In follow-up to the Monterrey Summit, we in the countries of the South renew our call for creating a more just and efficient financial system, for eliminating the inequities in globalization and in financing for development, and for raising the depressed prices for our raw materials and other export products. As we have stated on previous occasions, there is also an urgent need to agree on proper mechanisms for forestalling financial crises and for finding a solution to unbearable external debt burdens, in accordance with Resolution A/57/240 (2003).

On this point, we offer our public recognition for the outstanding manner in which Ambassador Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala has chaired the work of ECOSOC. Thanks to his dedication and efforts, we have made significant progress in implementing and monitoring the decisions on financing for development, and in achieving greater coherence, coordination and cooperation on the Monterrey consensus. We congratulate him for it.

We now have before us the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development that will be held in this city on October 29 and 30, 2003. We must seize this opportunity to reinvigorate this segment of our activity, and to review the progress achieved in ensuring effective Secretariat support, pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 57/273.

Mr. President:

During the second meeting of the Special Committee to prepare a comprehensive and integral international convention to protect and promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, held between June 16 and 27 of this year, it was decided to create a working group to prepare and submit a draft text for negotiation among member states and accredited observers.

Panama's position is represented in the Declaration of Quito of April 11, 2003, which called for promoting and protecting the rights and dignity of the 600 million persons living with disabilities around the world, the great majority of whom suffer constantly from poverty and lack of understanding. The international convention that we seek, as noted in the Quito Declaration, must reflect "the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and the principle of non-discrimination". These concepts are thoroughly established in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights agreements, and other related instruments.

Mr. President:

It is timely to refer here to the persistent and ever-growing worldwide HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The fact is that Latin American and Caribbean countries are also confronted with a serious situation in this area. The Pan-American Health Organization met in Washington on June 11 to address this issue, and noted that the demographic and social impact of HIV/AIDS in our region threatens to undermine the ability to carry out development projects.

For this reason, we call on the United Nations system to make adequate resources available to Latin America and the Caribbean for preventing this scourge. As is well known, our region has some 2.5 million people suffering from this terrible disease.

Mr. Chairman:

It is clear that, in efforts to eradicate political, racial and religious intolerance, and in negotiations for pacification, reunification, self-determination and reconstruction initiated by other organized peoples, the moral and technical presence of the United Nations is essential for ensuring that these people can enjoy the benefits of development.

In light of this, I urge our Organization to find expeditious ways of helping those who are committed to the so-called "Road Map" for resolving the conflict between Palestine and Israel, in order to secure the active cooperation of the countries of the region and of the governments of Israel and the Palestine National Authority, so as to overcome the skepticism that now exists over any early possibility of seeing these two peoples living in peace, with secure boundaries, as two sovereign States.

Bringing this pressing task to a successful conclusion will require permanent participation by all of the neighbors in that region. They must demonstrate a joint willingness to serve as guarantors of the stability and the security of the peoples of Palestine and Israel, and as guardians of the strict observance of the United Nations Charter and the Security Council Resolutions.

Mr. President:

I would like to conclude my remarks with a brief reference to the International Criminal Court. With the election of its Judges and Prosecutor, the Court is now a reality. Yet we recognize the concern that has been aroused, particularly among States Parties to the Rome Statute, by the Security Council's Resolution 1487 (2003) renewing for one year Resolution 1422 (2002) on immunity in cases relating to peacekeeping operations, as well as the Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIA) negotiated separately by several countries on the basis of Article 98 of the Statute.

As a firm supporter of the International Criminal Court, Panama believes that these pragmatic agreements must be seen as a response to a temporary situation, and that they cannot and must not detract from the purposes and objectives of the Rome Statute. As states parties, we cannot shrink from the obligations imposed by our domestic jurisdictions in matters relating to war crimes, and we are therefore convinced that the political concerns and suspicions of today will disappear as it becomes evident that persons who commit monstrous crimes against humanity will never be shielded by any State nor protected by any myth of immunity. Any State that holds to a different interpretation on this point will be swimming against the current of human progress and of International Law.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

New York, September 29, 2003.