Statement by The Honourable Saufatu Sopoanga OBE
Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu
at the 58th United Nations General Assembly

Wednesday 24th September 2003
(Check Against Delivery)

Mr. President
Distinguished Heads of State and Government
Secretary General of the United Nations
Ladies and Gentlemen

The people of Tuvalu, on whose behalf I have the honor to speak, wish me first of all to convey their warmest greetings to the Fifty-Eighth Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). We extend congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your election. Coming from a small island country as well, we hold your election in high regard, and wish you success in your presidency. We also commend the outgoing President, H.E. Mr. Jan Kavan, for his excellent leadership in the General Assembly this past year.

2.         Mr. President, a year ago we reflected on the events of September 11th, 2001. On the eve of this session, we were horrified yet again by brutal terrorist attacks on the UN in Iraq, which killed some of the UN's finest, including its Special Envoy, His Excellency Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello. Tuvalu strongly condemns these acts, and has joined in the accolade of condolences to the Secretary General, to his staff, and to the families of the victims.

3.         The recent wave of terror attacks and the havoc they have created worldwide have instilled a sense of fear and uncertainty. They have not only proven the existence of forces bent on destroying the very foundation of the UN. They have also underscored the urgency with which we must collectively combat these forces. As a small island developing country, Tuvalu's biggest fear in the advent of these all is the resolve of developed countries to also address developmental and environmental issues, so fundamental to lasting world peace and security.

4.         Mr. President, in Tuvalu and the Pacific islands generally, our isolation and fragmentation and our lack of infrastructure and manpower leave us vulnerable to terrorism. This threatens our security, especially the security of our traditional and cultural practices upon which our very existence depends. Likewise it also threatens that of the world. We are therefore grateful for the UN's work on anti-terrorism in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum, and directly with national authorities.

5.         For our part, I am happy to say that Tuvalu is committed to acceding to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism and its three protocols and the other UN anti terrorism related conventions including, the UN Convention on the Safety of the UN and Associated Personnel. In line with this spirit, we are also committed to regional security arrangements, as set out by the Pacific Islands Forum.

6.         But to fulfill our international obligations on anti-terrorism, we need technical and financial assistance. More importantly, to strengthen resilience against our vulnerabilities, capacity building through appropriate education and human development is essentially imperative, for which we seek the kind support of the international community.

7.         Mr President, conflict prevention is vital to national, regional and world peace. Tuvalu shares the view that conflicts are best resolved through dialogue, and mutual understanding of the root causes. The UN must continue to address the underlying causes of conflicts, and be the common forum where nations resolve their differences. Attempts to resolve conflicts by unilateral means outside the UN inevitably result in ongoing mistrust and instability. The stakes are too high to allow this to happen. We must continue to engage in constructive dialogue.

8.         Let me speak on a related matter briefly. Each year highly radioactive and toxic material passes by ship through the Pacific on its way to and from north Asia and Europe. It is known that some of the materials are weapons grade. We are concerned about these shipments because of the massive threat they pose to the Pacific Ocean - a vital source of our livelihoods and economic development. We would like these shipments to cease, for the sake of lives in the islands and stability of the broader Pacific basin.

9.         We believe the UN has a very important peace keeping role to play, and are therefore grateful for the progress made by the UN in restoring peace in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. We hope the UN will continue its support there, to ensure meaningful opportunities and peace for the people of Bougainville.

10.       Tuvalu noted, however, the manner in which the UN has handled the conflict in the Solomon Islands. As a small island and a Least Developing Country (LDC) similarly vulnerable to instability, we strongly feel that the UN must better respond to member States' concerns, irrespective of political affiliations. The United Nations is a body for all nations, and all nations should be afforded the assistance required of it.

11.       In the same spirit Mr President, Tuvalu places significant importance on the need to treat everybody equally, as enshrined in the UN Charter. Accordingly Tuvalu feels that the active and responsible participation of the 23 million people in the Republic of China on Taiwan in world affairs especially in trade, commerce, and international development without representation in the UN is unjust and morally wrong. Their significant contributions to technology, and their own need to access world support to combat challenges of terrorism and health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and SARS cannot be continually ignored.

12.       In our view the UN that prides itself on the protection of fundamental human rights including the rights to self-determination, dignity and worth of the human being cannot continue to turn a blind eye and ignore the obvious realities of the situation. As much as the people of Taiwan have so responsibly contributed to international development, they also need the support of the international community. Their continuing isolation is potential cause for serious conflicts.

13.       Tuvalu therefore would like to call on this august body to seriously consider the issue of membership of the Republic of China on Taiwan in the UN, and its other agencies as a matter of urgency.

14.       Mr President, on October 1st Tuvalu will mark its 25th anniversary of independence. On reflection, we are grateful for the support of the international community, particularly from Tuvalu's traditional development partners, and from regional co-operations over the past quarter century. Guided by the UN principles of good governance, mutual respect for the rule of law and for human rights, democracy and self-determination, to which we are deeply committed, it is this support that has helped Tuvalu prosper, and enjoy a peaceful and equal co-existence with the rest of the world. Our future survival as a nation is founded on these basic UN values.

15.       Despite this relative stability, Mr President, we live in constant fear of the adverse impacts of climate change. For a coral atoll nation, sea level rise and more severe weather events loom as a growing threat to our entire population. The threat is real and serious, and is of no difference to a slow and insidious form of terrorism against us.

16.       In this respect, Tuvalu participates actively in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and we are extremely grateful to all the nations that join us in resolving this threat. Nevertheless, we are deeply dismayed that key industrialized nations do not share our concern. All nations are being affected by climate change.

17.       Mr President, this is not just a problem for small island states like our own. We believe all nations must take positive steps to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, but in saying this we also believe the industrialized world must act first. It is their historical emissions that are creating the problems of today. Steps must be taken to account for and redress the emissions of the past. We implore all nations to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, as this is the only appropriate process that will bring about effective collective action to resolve this growing threat.

18.       As Tuvalu moves into the 21st century, we are also challenged by the many changes that are taking place in the world, especially through globalization. Never before have we faced such complex challenges. Yet, for Tuvalu and others like us, while we witness everyday the forces of trade, communications and travel creating a single global community, the problems of poverty, marginalization, and environmental decline continue to plague many parts of the world.

19.       The recent breakdown in discussions on international trade in Cancun, Mexico clearly shows that we live in a very complex world. If nothing else the Cancun meeting was a significant step forward for the voice of the developing world. No longer are the developing nations willing to accept the rhetoric of those who want to impose a trade regime that tends to favor the wealthy and marginalize the poor.

20.       Tuvalu and many small island states are in a particularly weak position to take advantage of the opportunities presented by globalization. There is a genuine need to better recognize the special case of small island developing states and their need to participate in a more equitable globalize world.

21.       Sustainable development, particularly for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable States, especially for small island LDC's is crucial. Of course we recognize that the primary responsibility for sustainable development rests with each country, on its own terms. However, as a poorly resourced small island LDC, even the best efforts to escape the cycle of poverty and marginalization are doomed without the support of the international community, civil society, and the private sector. Tuvalu and those like us are encouraged by the commitment of the international community towards addressing poverty and development challenges as contained in the Millennium Summit Declaration Goals, and other various UN development frameworks. But these will remain mere rhetorics unless they translate into real development that can make a difference on the ground.

22.       In this regard, proper and effective implementation of the Barbados Program of Action for the sustainable development of small island States is crucial for the development of countries like Tuvalu. To this end, the conducting of a full and comprehensive review of the implementation of the Barbados Program of Action in the lead up to the International Meeting in Mauritius next year, imperative. We kindly request the UN Secretariat to undertake this analysis as a matter of high priority so that we can learn from the past and move forward in a more positive way.

23.    This said, however, the overall decline in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in real terms Mr President, is cause for serious concern. Despite pledges at the Monterrey Conference, major industrialized nations are not fulfilling the minimum target of 0.7% of their Gross National Product (GNP). For small island states, this reluctance translates into lower economic growth as well as into further widening the gap between LDC's and industrialized nations. Tuvalu therefore appeals to the donor countries to make serious efforts to meet the UN minimum ODA target to enable LDC's attain a better quality of life for all its peoples.

24.    In conclusion Mr. President, for Atoll Island states like Tuvalu, efforts aimed at sustainable development, peace and security will be meaningless unless the issue of climate change is addressed with urgency. As, has been warned by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change in its Third Assessment Report, the threat of global warning and rising sea levels is serious business. Addressing these threats requires a global effort by both industrialized and developing countries, consistent with the objectives of, and the commitments made in, the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

25     Again, Tuvalu's interest in enforcing Kyoto is not self-serving. The consequences of not urgently enforcing Kyoto will be felt everywhere around the world. Tuvalu appeals to the countries that can make the difference to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as a matter of urgency. As we in Tuvalu celebrate our Silver Jubilee anniversary, and as we look forward into the future, it is our hope that out of this Great Hall there will emerge better understanding and goodwill - to further solidify the foundation upon which the long lasting security and survival of Tuvalu and many others is built, and for peace in the world.

God Bless the United Nations.