Senator the Honourable Knowlson W. Gift
Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the General Debate

at the

58th Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly

on October 2, 2003

Mr President,

It is indeed a signal honour for me to extend to you and to the Government and People of the sister CARICOM State of Saint Lucia, our heartfelt congratulations on your election to the high office of President of the 58th Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly. We are confident that, under your experienced and pragmatic leadership, this Assembly will address in a forthright manner the many and varied challenges which confront the international community.

My delegation is equally confident that the developing country perspective which your Presidency will bring to our deliberations, will serve to highlight the plight of the weak and the vulnerable among us as we struggle to come to terms with the realities of contemporary international relations.

Mr. President, please allow me the opportunity to express our satisfaction at the astute leadership shown by your predecessor, His Excellency Mr. Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic, for the many initiatives that he pursued during his tenure, including those in the areas of institutional strengthening and prevention of armed conflict in an attempt to restore to this august body, its central role as mandated by the UN Charter.

I also applaud his inclusive approach to advocacy, evinced by his short but fruitful visit to Trinidad and Tobago in February 2003, in order to engage in a brief, interactive high-level dialogue with the Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the work of this Assembly and on some of the major issues before this global forum as they relate to Small States.

It would be remiss of me if I did not compliment the Secretary General His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan for his sterling performance in the face of the myriad crises since our last Assembly, and our total confidence in his continuing stewardship of this unique world body.

My delegation wishes to assure him of the total support of the Government and People of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for his untiring efforts in ensuring the continued relevance of the United Nations to the pursuit and achievement of the objectives of the Organisation.

Trinidad and Tobago joins the rest of the international community in expressing our profound sorrow at the tragic loss of life suffered most recently by the men and women of the United Nations while on a humanitarian mission in Iraq, as a result of the bombing on 19th August, 2003 of the UN Office in Baghdad.

We shall forever remember them in our prayers together with those others who over the years have made the supreme sacrifice in selfless service to this Organization, and by extension to mankind. We are of the view that consideration should be given to the erection of a fitting Memorial here at United Nations Headquarters in New York to honour all those who have given their life in the field, in the service of the United Nations.

The United Nations, Mr. President, cannot retreat from its global responsibilities in the face of even such an atrocity. We are firmly convinced that the U.N., born out of the destruction wrought by the last World War and representing the collective hope of mankind for sparing future generations from the scourge of war, must rise to this difficult challenge and continue to play an even more central and pro-active role in managing world affairs particularly in respect of the maintenance of international peace and security.

The challenge before us is to make the world peaceful and secure. This is a concern particularly of small states which must rely on the international rule of Law, on the strict observance by all States of the Purposes and Principles laid down in the Charter of the United Nations, and on the collective security mechanism of the Security Council in order to guarantee their right to a secure, sovereign and peaceful existence.

We must therefore work to strengthen the rule of law worldwide as well as the capacity of the UN to engage both in conflict prevention and in the management of global crises that disrupt international peace and security. It is also of paramount importance that all Member States commit to and uphold the multilateral approach in our collective efforts to attain these ends

Nowhere, Mr. President is there a more pressing need for peace and security than in the Middle East. Clearly, a just and lasting peace is in the interest of both the Palestinians and the Israelis who have been a constant witness to death and destruction in their respective societies, and who have watched as their once promising economies are devastated by the unceasing instability in the region. Peace continues to be elusive, notwithstanding the latest best efforts of the Quartet, whose Road Map for measured and reciprocal steps within a specific time frame enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the international community.

There can be no peace and prosperity for this region without the political will of leaders on both sides of the conflict. Neither can there be progress on the path of peace without the focused and sustained effort on the part of the international community in providing the necessary political support to the parties directly involved. My delegation is of the opinion that, in the present circumstances, consideration should be given to deployment of a UN force in order that realistic and mutually acceptable confidence building measures can be put in place thereby restoring some measure of security to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

In Iraq, the goal of the international community, at this time, must be the restoration of a climate of peace and security and the creation of the conditions that are necessary for the building of a peaceful, secure and prosperous society by the Iraqi people. The UN has a pivotal role to play with regard to both nation- building and to the political transition in Iraq. We therefore call for greater coherence among the members of the Security Council and urge them to adopt such measures as are necessary in the security interest of all concerned to bring that situation within the parameters of international political legitimacy and give free rein to the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

The threats to international peace and security are certainly not posed by State actors exclusively. The activities of organised criminal groups engaged in the illegal drugtrade and in the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons pose a serious threat to the peace and stability of some States, despite the efforts undertaken at all levels.

Since the events of September 112001, Governments the world over have joined forces even more resolutely in their condemnation of terrorism and have endeavoured to give effect to all the measures called for in the relevant decisions of the Security Council, including by subscribing to all international treaties aimed at combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The international community must however, also turn its attention once more to addressing the root causes of this now global phenomenon with a view to alleviating, if not removing all together the more pressing concerns that provide a basis for acts of terror.

Mr. President,

So even as we remain resolute in the war on terrorism, and focus on the traditional issues of peace and security, we must be mindful of the need to make progress on the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals which world leaders outlined at their Millennium Summit in 2000.

The challenges we face are not confined only to the issues of peace and security as defined in its traditional sense. Indeed, success in dealing with the threats to international peace and security may ultimately depend on the progress we make in overcoming poverty, in dealing with injustice, intolerance, deprivation, and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of those non-conventional threats which is fast approaching a global crisis. Even though Africa remains the hardest hit, the disease is spreading fast in Asia and Eastern Europe. In the Caribbean, which is second only to subSaharan Africa in HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, HIV/AIDS is a major development challenge threatening to reverse years of hard-won human development gains and increase poverty levels.

The General Assembly has just concluded a High-Level debate on HIV/AIDS, and my delegation trusts that this meeting will provide the necessary impetus and lay the groundwork for further
meaningful support to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Unless those with the capacity to contribute come forward with additional resources, many, many more lives will surely be lost.

Mr. President,

Without a secure and peaceful international environment and in the absence of a sustained effort on the part of our development partners to live up to the commitments made at the major United Nations conferences, there can be no meaningful and sustained global economic advancement for Africa as it seeks to implement NEPAD, as well as for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-locked developing countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Mr. President,

Trinidad and Tobago continues to attach high importance to the need for special attention to be paid by the international community to the unique challenges and problems which confront Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and to the full and effective implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS.

It is for this reason that we participated actively last year in the preparatory process for the World Summit for Sustainable Development. We were pleased that the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation reinforced the view that SIDS are a special case both in terms of the environment and development.

Johannesburg also recognised that although SIDS continued to take the lead in the path towards sustainable development, they remain increasingly constrained by the interplay of adverse factors such as their small size, fragility, isolation and vulnerability.

It is also for this reason that Trinidad and Tobago will play host next week to the Caribbean SIDS Regional Preparatory Meeting. This meeting is one of four regional meetings being held by SIDS in order to identify and develop inputs for the Review of the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA).

Mr. President,

Implementation has been the achilles heel of the BPOA. SIDS have taken the lead in our efforts to achieve sustainable development. We however need the support of the international community.

We trust that the International Meeting to Review the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States to be held in Mauritius in 2004 will not only better enable us to evaluate the BPOA but that it will ultimately lead to an enhanced level of political commitment and increased financial and technical assistance for SIDS on the part of the international community.

Another issue which is of utmost concern to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and, indeed to all CARICOM Governments, is the continued transshipment of nuclear wastes through the Caribbean Sea. The reassurances of adequate safeguards do not constitute guarantees against the potentially devastating impact that an accident can have on our economies and ecosystems. We therefore once more call upon the States concerned to cease this practice.

Recent events have also pointed to the challenges faced by many countries in the area of governance. The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago which was elected after recently held multiparty elections that were peaceful, free and fair, is committed to efficient and transparent Government, to ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law, to the devolution of resources and decision making to the local levels of government, and to the meaningful participation of all its citizens in the formulation of
public policy.

Government has also set for itself the goal of achieving developed country status by the year 2020 with the aim of providing to all its citizens by that date, a high quality of life in all areas including education, health, employment, housing, transportation, telecommunications, water and electricity. This the Government hopes to achieve by allocating a sizeable portion of its national budget to programmes of human resource development, economic infrastructure and institutional development, as well as in social programmes aimed at the eradication of poverty.

But our national goals can only be achieved if our domestic efforts are complemented by efforts at the international level to achieve greater international economic stability, a more equitable distribution of resources among States, and if the benefits of free trade are more widely shared, particularly by those countries whose incorporation into the world economy places them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their developed country partners. The new opportunities occasioned by globalization and trade liberalization, which we consider to be a positive force for good, should be available to all and not to just a privileged few. We must avoid further marginalization of the vulnerable States among us. Given the central role of trade in the achievement of economic expansion, the failure of the recently held WTO meeting in Cancun to agree on issues critical to developing countries does not augur well for our future economic well being nor for that of the least developed, landlocked and small island developing States among us. We are hopeful for greater flexibility on the part of our developed countries' negotiating partners in Geneva next December if any progress is to be achieved.

Mr President,

The quest for economic and social justice for all peoples cannot be divorced from the fervent desire of all peoples to live in freedom and without fear for their lives. The growing religious and ethnic diversity of our societies highlights the ever-present need for mutual respect for and tolerance of the diversity that today is a characteristic of many communities. The lack of such tolerance and respect has fueled once again in our lifetime the horrific crimes of genocide, of crimes against humanity and of war crimes.

To deter the commission of such crimes in the future and in order to deal with the flagrant abuses of the fundamental human rights and freedom of the individual including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the international community established the International Criminal Court (ICC) which this year has made substantial progress in establishing its principal organs through the election of its judges, its Chief Prosecutor, a Deputy Prosecutor and its Registrar.

The ICC does not represent victor's justice but a universal and shared symbol of morality based on the fundamental principle that those individuals who commit the serious crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court will, with the broad support of the international community, be brought to trial before such a tribunal, but only where their national Governments are unable or unwilling to do so.

Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the efficient and effective functioning of this permanent international criminal court and deplores all efforts aimed at undermining its integrity and the commitment of its States Parties to carry out in good faith the obligations which they have freely entered into through their adherence to the Rome Statute of the ICC. We call for wider adherence to that Statute by all States, so that it may one day have universal application. Only a universal commitment by all States to strive to eliminate the culture of impunity for such heinous crimes will successfully stem the tide of the horrific events which continue to mar our world.

Mr. President,

Several speakers in this General debate have made reference to the crisis in multilateralism, and the need for the reform of the United Nations to make it more relevant to present day realities.

It is in this context that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago welcomes the call made by the U.N. Secretary-General in his statement to this General Assembly on 23'd September for a thorough restructuring of the post-WWII institutional architecture of the U.N. through the reform and strengthening of its major organs. His stated intention to pursue an approach through the modality of a Panel of Eminent Persons enjoys the full support of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. We would not wish however, at this time, to prejudge the outcome of the work of such a Panel, but would hope that recognition will be given by it to the role which small States play in international affairs.

We expect that the Panel's final recommendations will take the form of specific proposals for amendments to the U.N. Charter which will be able to command the widest possible support of the international community at the highest political levels.

The reform exercise must have as its ultimate objective the strengthening of the United Nations and an enhancement of its capacity to respond to the new global challenges.

We must also ensure that the long overdue reform of the Security Council takes place. Expansion of the membership of the Security Council so as to make it more democratic and representative can only confer greater legitimacy on the Council and on the Organisation as a whole.

Most importantly, we must better empower the General Assembly - the most representative of all the Organs of the United Nations -to play its role more effectively as the chief deliberative and policy-making Organ of the Organisation.

Mr. President,

No other institution has the inclusiveness or the legitimacy which the United Nations has. We must therefore spare no effort to make it a more effective instrument in the service of all the peoples of the world.

In conclusion, Mr. President, the stark international situation calls for more, not less, international cooperation in facing the countless challenges that confront countries large and small.

We must seek to implement urgently new and better policies aimed at the prevention of armed conflict.

We must make fuller use of the few opportunities for economic and social progress that present themselves.

We must demonstrate the necessary political will to maintain a peaceful and secure international environment that is conducive to the upliftment and well-being of all humanity.

I thank you Mr. President.