Statement by H.E. Dr. Didier Opertti-Badan
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay

General Debate of the 58th Session of the General Assembly

Nueva York, 30 de setiembre de 2003

Mr Chairman,

Uruguay believes in the United Nations, has faith in the United Nations, will support the Organization and will continue to contribute to it, as it has been doing from the time that it became one of its founding Members. It is comforting to note that, at this time of crisis for the Organization, virtually all the participants in this Assembly have expressed this same sentiment.

Some six decades ago, the United Nations was created to promote and regulate multilateral cooperation, through which the international community agreed to address and resolve common problems. The structure of the Organization, the functioning of its organs, and the rights and obligations of its Members, as formulated in the Charter of San Francisco, all reflected the international political reality of that time.

But, over the course of more than half a century, there have been profound changes in the structure of international society; its actors have multiplied and become more diverse; there have been new and more dangerous manifestations of violence, threats to peace that had not been foreseen by the drafters of the Charter occur each day with increasing frequency; and certain growing trends seriously affect human well being, such as the degradation of the environment, the depletion of natural resources, epidemics, and the contrast between consumer societies and societies that live in extreme poverty.

In recent years, and in particular during this General Debate, special emphasis has been placed on the need to reform and revitalize the United Nations in order to adapt it to current realities. Uruguay shares this position, not so much because it considers that this Organization has not been effective in its handling of some recent crises, but because it understands that the scale of the changes in the world today justifies the search for ways of adapting the institution.

Although it is true that the system of collective security established by the Charter is imperfect not always has been able to respond to crisis in an effective way, in numerous cases a multilateral action undertaken by the United Nations has succeeded in restoring peace in many regions and countries, contributed to the consolidation of democracy, and accelerated reconstruction in affected countries. And there are many more cases in which the Organization, through its various organs, has exercised positive and decisive control over crises and conflicts, thus preventing the situation from becoming worse and ensuring a peaceful solution.

The process of reform, which is indispensable and cannot be delayed, should, in our view, be based on the following premises:

The first is to preserve intact the Purposes and Principles of the Organization, as enshrined in the Charter of San Francisco. After all, if we all gather here every year as the United Nations, it is because our nations are united around the values and ideals enshrined in the Charter and shared by all mankind, whose permanent and universal validity transcends the vicissitudes of history.

The second premise is that the process of reform should be aimed principally at strengthening multilateral action because never before has the need to cooperate and to act together to deal with international problems been so great. The proliferation and diversification of international actors, the fact that the world is getting smaller and more and more interdependent due to the increase in exchanges and to the extraordinary development of information and communication technologies, and above all the globalization of threats to peace, security and the well being of our peoples, require common global responses. To use the words employed by the Secretary-General in this Assembly a few days ago, Uruguay believes in “collective responses to our common problems and challenges”.

Two years ago, the international community through the United Nations organs offered a fine example of solidarity and took effective multilateral action in reaction to international terrorism, which threatens governments, peoples, ideologies, religions and above all the human reason imbued in such elementary values as tolerance, compassion, solidarity and respect for rights. The attack on the headquarters of the United Nations in Baghdad – for which we wish to express our most sincere condolences to the Secretary-General – is but another example of the barbarity and fanaticism that we can successfully fight only if we work together. With this attack, terrorism has given us a raw example of its destructive universality. The death of the Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is emblematic of the tragedy suffered.

Just as in the fight against poverty, terrorism cannot be defeated as a conventional enemy would be with a victorious battle. The eradication of terrorism is an ongoing objective whose achievement requires time, patience and perseverance. Only through a joint approach and multilateral action directed above all at the roots of terrorism – not only at its atrocious manifestations – will it be possible to reduce and hopefully to eliminate this perverse and ubiquitous enemy and at the very least ensure its total rejection.

Uruguay, which is party to most international instruments for combating terrorism, attaches priority to the conclusion of a general convention against international terrorism. In this respect, we wish to express our satisfaction to the Secretary-General for having chosen transnational organized crime and terrorism as an item in the signing and accession ceremony for treaties promoted by the Organization on the occasion of this General Debate.

The third premise is that we must not forget that for years now the United Nations has been engaged in a process of self-criticism and self-reform based on the idea that the strengthening of an institution consists in the strengthening of its organs. Reforms are being implemented in three of the main organs of the Organization. The modalities of each one of the respective processes differ: in the Security Council, we are pursuing reform of its membership to make it more representative and to strengthen its democratic character; in the General Assembly, we are pursuing its revitalization so that its decisions would regain the authority that they had in the past; and in the Secretariat, the purpose of change is to enhance its effectiveness, an objective towards which the Secretary-General is working strenuously. These three processes are closely linked to each other but, despite this close link, we believe that they must continue to be pursued, as is now being done, separately, each one in its respective forum.

For Uruguay, the most important aspect of these reforms is the strengthening of the General Assembly, whose decisions are the most genuine manifestations of the will of the international community. Recent reforms are aimed at making this organ more effective, but more profound changes are required in order to restore the authority which the Charter grants it and which the Assembly has exerted in the past. We believe that there is still a great deal of room for reform. Obsolete structures and procedures remain. We also need to re-examine and evaluate the organization, conduct and outcome of the annual Assembly that brings us all here together every year, including the idea of concentrating the negotiation of dozens of resolutions into a few weeks. Uruguay will support far-reaching measures to revitalize the Assembly. A better relationship between the different organs is no doubt another of the necessary areas for reform.

The fourth and final premise is that the efforts to reform our institutions must be complemented by efforts to change our own conduct as members of the United Nations. When we agreed to become Members of this Organization, we freely agreed to fulfill in good faith the international obligations arising from the numerous treaties, conventions and other instruments that have resulted from the comprehensive legislative work accomplished by this Assembly, by United Nations agencies and by other international organizations and conferences.

However, the provisions of many of these instruments are not implemented. At times, in a misguided defense of sovereignty, common expectations are thwarted in order to satisfy national interests that frequently are not of decisive importance. Protection of the environment and the law of the sea are good examples, but not the only ones, of areas in which a sharp contrast can be seen between the extensive legislation that exists and the degree of implementation. Consequently, year after year, the competent international agencies and organizations and scientific authorities report the continuation of the degradation of the general environment, the abusive exploitation of natural resources, pollution of the seas and reduction or extinction of marine species.

The question of fulfillment of the obligations assumed is the weak link in the chain of multilateralism. We must seek ways of ensuring respect for international obligations. Over the long term, the satisfaction of common interests is the best way of satisfying the national interest.

Mr. President,

Without prejudice to this profession of faith in the United Nations, Uruguay, country from latin America, is also actively participating in the Organization of American States and in the Inter-American system in general. Uruguay is fully committed to regional integration processes, in particular to MERCOSUR. We see in these mechanisms a promising avenue to help overcome the difficulties that result from our status as a developing country emerging from the most serious economic crisis of its history and trying to overcome the obstacles preventing it from achieving insertion into the global economy, such as, for example, the huge subsidies that the industrialized countries grant to their agricultural producers.

In this connection, we cannot but mention the recent ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization, held in Cancún, whose lack of progress is a negative signal for a world that is demanding fairer and more balanced rules, especially for countries such as Uruguay, whose economies rely primarily on the production of agricultural goods. We are hopeful that renewed impetus in the negotiations will permit us to achieve positive results in the forthcoming meetings scheduled for Geneva, for the benefit of the less developed countries and for the very future of international trade.

I close my intervention conveying to you my country’s satisfaction and pride in seeing you, representative of a friendly country of our region, presiding this Assembly.

Thank you.