The current functioning of the UN system needs fresh examination in order to enhance its credibility. To be successful, this process must involve de-politicization of the UN systems and mechanisms and they must stop being hostage to different forms of funding."
The opening day of the annual United Nations General Assembly sessions is one where the broader issues of international interest and the role of the UN in these matters are addressed by world leaders. The first day of the current 69th session of the UNGA did follow this pattern to a large extent, but there was more emphasis on the major issue concerning the western member states - the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - or ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, and the resulting US-led international coalition, both of which appear to be raising new issues for the UN and the world.
The current UNGA sessions being preceded by the Climate Summit organized by Secretary General Ban-ki-moon, made September 23 a day for Climate Change related demonstrations in New York and many major cities of the world. At the Climate Summit world leaders made national statements in support of speedy action and funds to fight the human contribution to Climate Change, making an important preparation for the 2015 World Climate Conference in Paris, in the hope of reaching an international accord on Climate Change.
At the opening the UNGA sessions the next day, after the Brazilian President made the traditional opening address, the focus was mainly turned to the current situation in the Middle East, with Barack Obama repeating his commitment to "degrade and destroy" ISIS, with echoes of support from French President Francoise Hollande, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-thani, King Abdullah of Jordan, all key members of the US-led anti ISIS coalition, with clearly lukewarm support from Turkey that is on the border of ISIS held territory, that so far refuses to give its NATO airbases to attack ISIS.
Among the 36 Heads of State or Government that spoke on Wednesday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa sought an effective diversion of the discussion to other issues of importance, while emphasizing the need to defeat terrorism in whatever form it raises its head in the world. He paid considerable attention to the UN itself, especially its functioning today, in stating that "the current functioning of the (UN) system needs fresh examination in order to enhance its credibility. To be successful, this process must involve de-politicization of the UN systems and mechanisms and they must stop being hostage to different forms of funding."
He pointed out that human rights are used as a tool to implement motivated agendas with no understanding or appreciation of the complexity of issues in the countries concerned. "Human rights should be recognized by all as a moral and ethical concept rather than as a political tool. External intervention without adequate consideration of the structures in a society and cultural traditions of the countries where such intervention takes place, inevitably results in destabilization, which is very much in evidence today, in most parts of the world."
This was indeed a timely reminder of the reality the world faces today, with some countries taking on the role of being the final arbiters on matters of human rights, and dragging the UN and its institutions too into their own orbits of interest, that can have much more to do with economic and political interest, than the much declared goals, peace and protection of human rights.
President Rajapaksa correctly used the example of Sri Lanka in this call for a moral and ethical concept in the role of the UN, stating that "Post-conflict Sri Lanka has also become an unfortunate victim of ill-conceived agendas of some in the Human Rights Council, who pay scant regard to the substantial progress achieved by Sri Lanka, in reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation within a short span of five years. There is an obvious lack of balance and proportion in the manner in which my country is being targeted today disregarding these significant achievements. This is in sharp contrast with the approach to deeply disturbing situations involving humanitarian emergencies elsewhere.
The Sri Lankan President emphasized that: "For multi-lateralism to remain relevant and effective, reform of institutions concerned is essential. To be successful, this process must involve de-politicization of the UN systems and mechanisms and they must stop being hostage to different forms of funding. UN bodies must find ways to work with governments through dialogue, greater understanding of situations and cooperation including assisting to strengthen national institutions. This approach, instead of strong arm tactics, must form the heart of multi-lateral diplomacy, in the search for sustainable solutions to global challenges."
This was most relevant in the situation when those nations that were largely responsible or causing the grave situation that exists in the Middle East today, through a different coalition, also led by the US and UK did in 2003 in Iraq, in total disregard of the UN, and now talks of new coalitions of those who armed and funded ISIS, being the true fighters against terrorism.
As the current Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth that accounts for over on quarter of UN membership, President Rajapaksa recalled that the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in Colombo in 2013, to contribute to the process of evolving the new post-2015 global development agenda. They have endorsed the central focus on the eradication of extreme poverty and re-affirmed commitment to sustainable development.
The perspective on the post-2015 development agenda is based on shared values and principles contained in the Commonwealth Charter and individual experiences. The Commonwealth leaders encourage others to approach the forth-coming inter-governmental negotiations, in a collaborative spirit to achieve a balanced post-2015 development agenda.
He emphasized that "Reducing inequality within and among countries is one of the most transformative goals that have been proposed by the Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). We hope that this goal will serve to enhance the voice and representation of developing countries in decision making.
"The post-2015 agenda must focus on implementation. Achieving the SDGs would be impossible without the political will and dedication of all countries. It must be ensured that the failure of the developed countries to fulfill Millennium Goal 8 that called for a global partnership for development is not repeated.
"In determining goals, countries must not be deprived of policy space, to set their own domestic priorities. Instead of asking countries to re-prioritise domestic spending, there should be focus on a strengthened partnership between developed and developing countries, backed by sincere commitment. This is essential for countries in the South to access financial resources and technology that are essential for capacity building.
It is vital that we also address structural obstacles and political barriers that prevented the realization of the MDGs, such as unfair trade and investment rules. Creating a supportive international economic environment, enhanced investment flows, including from multi-lateral development banks, and an open multi-lateral trading regime, are important," President Rajapaksa said.
Palestinian and Cuba
Stating that the escalation of violence in the Middle East is deeply distressing, the Sri Lankan President reiterated "Sri Lanka's support for the early realization of a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, existing within secure and recognized borders, side-by-side and at peace with Israel. We look forward to welcoming Palestine as a full member of the UN at the earliest."
He also expressed deep concern regarding unilateral economic measures against developing countries and strongly repeated the call of the UN General Assembly for an end to the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, noting that unilateral sanctions of this nature which impact a country's innocent population are unethical.
He reminded the General Assembly that "Terrorism continues to be a grave threat to security and stability of nations across the globe. Having suffered at the hands of terrorism Sri Lanka knows well, its drastic impact on societies, communities and institutions founded on democratic traditions and ideals.
He emphasized that "The international community must strengthen multi-lateral action on terrorism including the early finalization and adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Sri Lanka is also committed to support all multi-lateral efforts to counter terrorism financing, piracy, and all forms of international organized crime."
Commenting on the current post-conflict situation of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa said: "We continue on a deeply satisfying and a transformative journey in the interest of all the people of Sri Lanka. In carrying out this task, we work in accordance with our traditional foreign policy of 'friendship towards all and enmity towards none'. We hope that the international community will reciprocate and assist Sri Lanka in her domestic process of reconciliation and economic development without exerting undue pressure on us."
He concluded stating: "We have gained inspiration from the words of Gautama the Buddha who said that the purpose of all human endeavour must be to construct order out of chaos and harmony out of strife. True to these words of wisdom, the Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to its objective of pursuing the processes of reconciliation, and nation building, undeterred by ill-motivated criticism."