HON PRIME MINISTER'S SPEECH AT THE 58TH UNITED
NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY - 26 SEPTEMBER 2003
Mr Secretary General
Ladies and Gentlemen
Please accept my congratulations Mr President on your unanimous
and well deserved election as President of the 58th UN General
Assembly. This is a difficult period for any person to preside
over the UN General Assembly and I wish you every success. I wish
also to thank HE Jan Kavan of the Czech Republic for his exemplary
work as the outgoing President.
Last year addressing the General Assembly I referred to the commencement
of the peace process in Sri Lanka and promised to report on its
The progress of the peace process in Sri Lanka is because we
stopped talking about talking to each other - we started doing
the talking. We have been lucky because the international community
did not simply talk about helping us - they did it.
In moving from conflict to peace in Sri Lanka we initiated fundamental
change in policy and strategy. We shifted from confrontation to
negotiation, identifying and recognising the root causes of the
conflict. The success story that Sri Lanka is fast becoming also
demonstrates the value of the support of the international community
acting in concert. That the global community moving with a common
purpose can succeed in re-establishing peace, democracy and prosperity
has been amply demonstrated in the Sri Lankan experience. After
20 years of conflict our people are now enjoying the fruits of
20 months of peace. The role of the international community in
enabling us to move from war to peace has been outstanding. The
facilitation that Norway provided, has resulted in bringing the
Government and LTTE together in several rounds of negotiation.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's continuing declaration of commitment
to a political solution has been invaluable. The moral and material
support which our other front line sponsors - India, the EU, Japan,
Canada and the US along with the multilateral institutions of
the UN and the rest of the international community have given,
and continue to give us, has guaranteed that our efforts to consolidate
and maintain the peace will strengthen and develop. In Oslo last
November our international partners endorsed and underwrote a
paradigm shift in policy when the Government and LTTE accepted
that the future political order in Sri Lanka would include moving
towards a federal polity where the unity and territorial integrity
of the country would be ensured. Again, in Tokyo in June this
year, 52 nations and 21 multilateral agencies, many of them of
the UN system, pledged their support to Sri Lanka's peace efforts,
rehabilitation and development programmes. The massive, and unparalleled,
financial contributions alone totalled US $ 4.5 billion over a
four-year period. These are indeed landmark events underlining
the value and strength of international action.
I must however inform this Assembly that like in all negotiations
of a peace process we find ourselves today at a temporary impasse
in the talks. Within the next few weeks we should know the results
of a comprehensive review undertaken by the LTTE in response to
our earlier proposals regarding an interim administrative arrangement
for the north and east of our country. That they should take so
much time and effort can be seen as a positive sign.
We in turn will look positively at the proposals put forward
by the LTTE and will do everything in our power to keep the peace
process moving forward to a successful conclusion.
Meanwhile our collective efforts, handsomely supported by the
international community and the multilateral agencies, at providing
relief, rehabilitation and development to the conflict affected
areas of our country proceeds apace. Economic growth is marching
ahead from a negative growth of minus one per cent in the year
2001 to possibly 6% this year and tourism is booming.
Yes Mr President, so far this has been the story of Sri Lanka.
And yes, Mr President, there have indeed been some success stories
in the UN too in the recent past, in Haiti, Somalia, Angola, Kosovo,
But these are not enough.
The UN represents an unique concept and international order formulated
by the allied powers to address the challenges to peace and security,
and to development and democracy in the aftermath of World War
President Roosevelt in his 1943 Christmas Eve radio talk said
that as long as Britain, Russia, China and the United States stuck
together in determination to keep the peace there was no possibility
of an aggressor nation arising to start another world war.
But the world the UN is called upon to represent today is an
immeasurably changed world.
Today's problems, as the Secretary General has reminded us are
problems that respect no borders, and no laws. The proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, alienation
and exclusion, conflict, global terrorism, disease and endemic
poverty are among the foremost of these.
Inescapably, the UN remains the central, indispensable forum
in which we can collectively and democratically respond to the
challenges that we in common face. But the UN itself is under
enormous stress. This strain comes from the structure of the UN
As a result the adequacy and effectiveness of the rules and instruments
devised over 50 years ago, to bring order and reason to the post
World War 11 international scene, are being questioned. The apparent
irrelevance of the current multilateral rules and institutions
to deal with the manifold problems of today compel our urgent
In the words of the Secretary General, it challenges our ability
"to deal with the least difficult issues and to do so effectively".
Hence the rationale for reform, which is insistent, compelling
and radical and cannot be averted. For words without action are
meaningless as we learnt in Sri Lanka at bitter cost.
Take for example the profound issues surrounding Iraq. There
are members in this hall today who believe passionately that the
United States and their allies were wrong to intervene in Iraq.
Then there are those of us who feel that the United States and
their allies had no choice but to intervene, that the failure
of the United Nations had created the need for a world policeman
however reluctant it might be. But Iraq is more than the divergence
of views on a major issue. It shows the inadequacies of the present
collective security system. A decision making system which grappled
with the issue of Iraq for over a decade without solution and
created a deadlock at a most critical time.
The UN has already paid a dreadful price. The attack on the UN
Headquarters in Baghdad not only deprived the world community
of some of its most devoted and talented servants but raised to
the fore issues relating to the mandates entrusted to the United
Nations by its Member States. It represents, undoubtedly, a direct
challenge. A challenge which must be met.
Any reform must be radical in order that in the changed world,
so different from that which it was called upon to serve in 1945,
the United Nations has the capacity to cope with war, poverty,
human rights, terrorism and a dramatically changed environment
where weapons of mass destruction have become so potent a symbol.
We have to move from rhetoric and cosmetic change to major surgery
if we are to come out of the woods. Rhetoric is not a substitute
for decisive action. Frantic activity is not a substitute for
concerted action and the passing of resolutions do not make a
tangible difference to the day to day lives of our peoples. And
above all remember that inaction in itself is a deliberate and
a considered decision to do nothing. We should not rival the League
of Nation's impotence on Abyssinia.
The problems we encounter at the present times compel us to courageously
and resolutely address and overcome the fundamental inadequacies
that afflict our international institutions and processes.
This year we had the propitious coming together of three events
which have framed thus far the political financial and economic
ordering of our world. I refer to this present session of the
United Nations General Assembly, the gathering of the Finance
Ministers at the Bretton Woods Institutions and the discussions
at Cancun on the re-ordering of the World Trade regime. At all
three meetings the call for structural reform was insistent and
compelling. All three, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods Twins,
and GATT were born out of the trauma and dislocation of the Second
World War. For over 50 years they have served our many causes
in varying ways at times with limited success, at times with despair
in their inability to effectively deal with the fundamental problems
of the day. After the Asian crisis the Bretton Wood institutions
have come under close scrutiny and today we are discussing how
the developing countries can have a bigger say in their decision
The recent experience under the Doha round of the WTO process
at Cancun further illustrate the problems that face us. No one
expected an agreed formula to come out of Cancun. On the other
hand it need not have ended in collapse.
The Secretary General's report has identified many of the defects
of the system that need to be addressed. Other Speakers too have
made proposals in this regard. At this stage, I would like to
mention that in our view any expansion of the Security Council
as a result of reforms must be of manageable number and Asia must
be given its due numbers. This was ignored in 1945.
While many have urged radical reform of the structure of the
UN so as to make it able to respond to the challenges which confront
multilateralism in the present times, most have been hesitant
to suggest ideas which are both practical and doable. I believe
the time has come for all of us who accept in principle the value
of this institution - the United Nations and the objective it
stands for, to think out of the box; to think creatively and imaginatively
If I were to hazard an approach it would be on the lines of going
back to our roots. The outline of the UN prepared at Dumbarton
Oaks in August and September 1944 were agreed to at Yalta in February
1945 at Head of Government level. The Charter was signed at the
final meeting in San Francisco in April 1945. All this was completed
in just 10 months.
I for one, would like to suggest that the Secretary General and
a carefully selected group of political leaders could themselves
come up with recommendations to reform the United Nations. Their
recommendations could be placed before a special session of the
General Assembly at which Heads of States and Government will
I suggest that the time frame for this need not be any longer
than at the inception of the United Nations 58 years ago.
In conclusion let us remind ourselves that September 11th was
a tragic wake up call for all of us. 19th August was a tragic
wake up call for the United Nations.
We have before us a historic opportunity. To build a United Nations
worthy of the people whom we have the honour to represent. To
build a United Nations where honesty is not clouded by diplomacy,
where realism replaces rhetoric and where action supplants treaties.