ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY MR. MAUMOON ABDUL GAYOOM, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF MALDIVES, TO THE FORTY-FIFTH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
I have much pleasure in extending to you, Mr. President, my warm congratulations and those of the members of the Maldives delegation on your election as President of the 45th Session of the General Assembly. We are confident that under your able guidance the deliberations of this session will be concluded in a successful manner. I would also like to convey our sincere appreciation to your predecessor Major-General Joseph Garba for having done an excellent job in presiding over this august Assembly during the past year. Here I note with particular pleasure the significance of his visit to the Maldives earlier this year in spite of his very busy schedule.
I also wish to express my country's deep appreciation to the Secretary-General, Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, for his dedicated efforts to uphold the noble objectives of the United Nations. We wish him well in all his endeavours.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome, on behalf of the Maldives, the admission of Namibiato the United Nations, which she truly deserves after the long and hard-fought battle for independence. We are confident that independent Namibia will make a most positive contribution to the work of this org anisation . I would also like to welcome our newest member, the Principality of Liechtenstein, and congratulate her for having gained the sovereign independent status which she enjoys today.
This year, the Maldives is celebrating the 25th anniversary of attaining full political independence. I do not therefore consider it irrelevant to reflect a little on the achievements we have been able to make during the past twenty-five years. From the day we became an independent nation, we had embarked on a determined path to overcome the triple menace of poverty, illiteracy and disease. With genuine hard work in the face of tremendous odds, the Maldives has been able to register significant strides in social and economic development. In education, we have now achieved a literacy level of over 95%, and more than 80% of our young children have access to schools. The improved standard of health is illustrated by the drop in the infant mortality rate of 120 per thousand live births in 1977 to 43 in 1989 and the rise in the average life expectancy from 46.5 years in 1977 to 64 in 1988. Economically too, we have made good progress. With planned investment in the important sectors of fisheries, tourism, transportation and telecommunications, our per capita has become more than six times that of pre-independence levels, maintaining an economic growth rate of 10 percent per annum for the past ten years. I wish to express the deep gratitude of the people of the Maldives to all our development partners, the United Nations and its agencies for their generous support in realising such encouraging results.
The establishment of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in 1985 opened new vistas of regional cooperation reflecting the shared objectives of the South Asian nations. The Maldives is actively participating in the efforts to enhance peace, stability and security in our region. The Government and people of the Maldives are looking forward to the fifth meeting of the SMRC Heads of State or Government, to be held at Male' in November this year, to provide the opportunity to move ahead with our joint programmes aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the peoples of the seven nations.
The Maldives has always endeavoured to contribute its modest share to the untiring efforts of the United Nations in promoting the principles of peace and international cooperation. In a world characterised by tension and conflict, we firmly subscribe to the universally accepted principles of noninterference and non-intervention in the affairs of sovereign states by other states.
Thus, it is with deep concern that we view the current crisis in the Gulf. We reiterate our firm convicUon that there could be no justification for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any state by another. Peace and stability cannot be achieved anywhere in the world unless we respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. The Maldives urges the Iraqi Government to respond positively to the call of the Security Council and the international community to withdraw its troops from Kuwait immediately, allowing the people of Kuwait to restore normalcy in their country under the leadership of the legitimate Government of Kuwait headed by the Amir, Sheikh Jaber AI-Ahmed AI-Sabah. We support all Security Council resolutions on the issue and call on Iraq to release all foreign nationals and to respect the immunity of the diplomatic missions in Kuwait.
While we urge that a peaceful solution be found to the Gulf crisis, we re-affirm our commitment to give our whole-hearted support to those who seek to eliminate the threat of war. We welcome the new, and indeed historic, trend seen in international relations today, a change which we hope will strengthen the principles of peace and peaceful co-existence. All those who advocate freedom and justice would salute with us the slow but unmistakable move by the super powers to reduce their nuclear weapons and the development of positive ties between the East and the West. The bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the imminent unification of Germany are clear examples of such positive developments. These provide the right setting for future efforts to strengthen peace and security in the world. We are, indeed, heartened by the recent successful achievements by the United Nations in this regard. The ending of the Iraq-Iran war, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the attainment of independence of Namibia have brought to us fresh hopes of universal peace.
At this juncture, let me reiterate our support to the unification of Korea through peaceful dialogue. Notwithstanding our support to that objective, however, let me also express our support to the Republic of Korea in her efforts to seek membership in the United Nations.
The Palestinians have been denied their legitimate right for self-determination for too long. The heroic "Intifada" a" carried out by the Palestinian people in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a courageous expression of the will and determination of the Palestinian people to regain their inalienable rights. The exodus of Soviet Jews have added to the already worsened situation Israel continues to establish illegal settlements in the occupied territories. My country firmly believes that if peace is to be achieved in the Middle East a comprehensive solution to the Palestine question has to be found based on the rights of the Palestinian people to self determination and independence. It is time that a more concerted universal effort is made. In this context, we support the convening of an international conference for the settlement of the Palestinian question.
The black people of South Africa are continuously being harassed by the white minority regime. While congratulating the United Nations for its commendable efforts in exerting pressure towards the release of Nelson Mandela, we express our conviction that the minority regime needs to be further pressurised if the international community really wants to see the end of the suffering of the black people. Apartheid should be dismantled in its entirety. It is the responsibility of the United Nations and other international and regional organisations and, indeed all governments, to work towards the elimination of racism which, we believe, is not just a crime against the black people of South Africa, but a crime against humanity.
Although the world may be prepared to reduce some of its more destructive weapons and the international community may rejoice at the improving relations among the greater powers of the world, for many small but sovereign states, like the Maldives, there exists a serious predicament to which a long term solution needs to be found - that of the protection and security of our states, and the elimination of the risk to our sovereignty and independence. The growing danger of international mercenaries have increased the vulnerability of small states to external threats. The armed aggression against the Maldives in 1988 is just one example of the alarming proportions this international menace has now reached. Some may regard the event as insignificant from a global perspective, but we cannot ignore the fact that these international soldiers of fortune have in recent years threatened the peace and stability of many states. The fact is that today international mercenaries are better organised, better financed and better equipped with sophisticated weapons. Unless immediate and firm action is taken against them, they will remain a significant danger to the world in general.
Small states are not in a position to sacrifice their hard earned resources to defend themselves against such threats. Their economies are too fragile for them to divert funds to build up their military capability. Self-help cannot be the only answer. Efforts have to be undertaken by the international community as a whole under the aegis of the United Nations and other international and regional organisations. The UN Charter has envisaged some mechanisms for the protection of the territorial integrity and political independence of states from external threats, but those mechanisms are far from adequate. The United Nations resolution 44/51 on "Protection and Security of Small States", submitted by the Maldives and adopted at the 44th Session of the General Assembly, is indeed a vital step taken in the right direction to remedy the situation. "The Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries" provides an even greater opportunity to challenge the acts of terrorism and mercenarism.
The economic issues that plague the third world countries today demand urgent attention. Developing countries are caught in a vicious circle of poverty, stagnation, an overpowering debt burden and other negative trends that perpetuate their underdevelopment. Structural handicaps such as poorly diversified economies weighted by a narrow resource base is not the only explanation for the dismal performance of these countries during the past decade. The reduction of the aid flow from the developed countries, that has marred their development efforts, has caused them much disappointment.
The Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980s adopted by the first United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in 1981 called upon the developed countries to contribute 0.15% of their GNP for official donor assistance to the LDCs. However, only eight of the rich nations reached this target and the average contribution for ODA amounted only to 0.9%. The least developed countries have been increasingly marginalised in the world economy, and their share in world exports have decreased to a mere 0.3% in 1988, as compared to 1.4% in 1960. The LDCs' foreign debt had also increased from US$ 35.8 billion in 1982 to US$69.3 billion in 1988. The bottom line is that the economic situation of the developing countries has further deteriorated and the gap between the rich and poor nations has further widened during the last decade.
It is now obvious that the economic repercussions of the Gulf crisis will seriously exacerbate the unfavourable trends in the world economy, which of course will be felt more severely by small nations. The Maldives is already experiencing grim economic hardships with the steep rise in oil prices affecting the key industries in our foreign exchange earnings, fisheries and tourism. If the crisis remains unsolved, our fragile balance of payments situation will be further strained. We strongly suggest that the international community strengthen the commitment to assist the developing countries in order to revitalise their economies, and improve the quality of such assistance by making it better adapted to the real needs of the recipient countries. The elimination or substantial reduction of tariffs to guarantee favourable terms of trade, increasing grant aid to help the diversification of their economies, creating a favourable climate for more foreign investment and allowing freer resource flow are measures that are urgently required to correct the situation.
The message, in fact, is that it would be impossible for the developing countries alone to reverse the lingering inertia in their economies no matter how well they determine their priorities. It is true that the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries held in Paris earlier this month clearly defined five priorities. Among these, however, the development of human resources, the ending of environmental degradation and the strengthening of the diversified productive sector are but some areas in which no significant improvement is possible unless complementary commitments from their development partners can be mobilised.
Let me draw your attention to another key concern to us, an issue to which I have been resolutely seeking help from the international community. I refer to the predicted global warming and sea-level rise which may endanger the very survival of my island-nation. We are trying to do what we can to combat this potential threat. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, the Maldives proposed that the Commonwealth make every effort possible to expedite the drafting of the framework convention on environment on which WMO and UNEP have been collaborating for some time. The initial report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change will be considered at the Second World Climate Conference to be held in Geneva from 29th of October to 7th of November this year, and it is hoped that the final convention be adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.
A Small States Conference on Sea-Level Rise was hosted by the Maldives last year, and the Male' Declaration on Global Warming and Sea-Level Rise, which was adopted at the Conference, underscored the urgency of the problem and identified many areas of possible international cooperation in this field. As called for in the Male' Declaration, an Action Group has been established to coordinate a joint approach on the issues of climate change, global warming and sea-level rise, and to pursue and follow up on global and regional response strategies. The Group comprising representatives from the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions, is scheduled to meet in Male' early next year.
There is however, a limit to what the small low-lying states can do. We need international help. In this multi-polar world where interdependency has become a key element, we believe that it is not just the responsibility of the nations threatened by sea-level rise to take preventive measures. We remain convinced that it is also the duty of those states, whose race for development over many years had contributed to global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and tropical deforestation, to reverse the existing situation. We cannot accept that economic development has to be achieved at the expense of our environment.
The Maldives calls upon the industrialised nations to take urgent measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and to adopt environmentally compatible technology. We urge them to assist the developing countries to implement similar measures. It is our earnest hope that the world community heed our voice - that of low-lying states - and save us from the ignominy of becoming environmental refugees.
Our children are the most vulnerable sector of our societies to environmental hazards. They are the ones most likely to suffer from the deterioration of our ecosystems. Thousands of children die every year from environment-related diseases such as diarrhoea and upper respiratory disorders. Many more are subjected to air and water pollutants. The effects of environmental changes will affect not just the present generation of children, but also those still unborn. More than 82% of the world's children live in the developing countries. Rapid population growth in these regions will of course increase their number in future. They have to be fed, clothed, housed, educated and allowed to grow up in a healthy environment. It is our duty to protect our planet for them and for future generations. The World Summit for Children, the first ever meeting of its kind, that is to be convened in this very hall in three days' time, will, I hope, set the stage for this task.
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
The Maldives is proud to complete twenty-five years of membership of the United Nations this year. We remain convinced that in spite of the difficulties it faces from time to time, the United Nations is the only force that is capable of effectively dealing with the innumerable challenges and conflicts that threaten the peaceful development of civilisation. We place our sincere trust in this organisation that its efforts will lead to the achievement of mankind's most cherished dream - peace among nations, races and individuals.
Thank you, Mr. President.