UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) - Developing nations voiced concern during the opening week of the 58th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that the world body’s agenda placed too much emphasis on Iraq and not enough on their pressing issues. The leaders from developing nations also argued that multilateralism is as much about development as it is about the use of force.
Besides hearing United States President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac lay out their plan for reconstruction of Iraq on the opening day, the UNGA heard the presidents of Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa urge that more attention be paid to poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
Speaking first, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this was perhaps the most decisive moment in the United Nations’ 58-year history, and the time was ripe for a "hard look at fundamental policy issues."
Mr. Annan said that while everyone understood that the struggles to protect against "hard" threats such as terrorism and "soft" threats such as poverty were inextricably linked, "where we disagree, it seems is how to respond to these threats."
He stressed that unilateral action on the preemptive use of force without the agreement of the Security Council constituted a fundamental challenge to the principles on which world peace had rested. He also warned that such unilateralism could set dangerous precedents.
President George W. Bush, acknowledging that some member states opposed his decision to go to war in Iraq, said: "Yet there is, and there remains, unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations." He added, "We are dedicated to the defense of our collective security and to the advance of human rights. These permanent commitments call us to great work in the world—work we must do together."
Mr. Bush’s speech was received with polite applause, while his critics, such as President Chirac, were given a far warmer reception.
Speaking after Mr. Bush, the French president blamed the U.S-led war for sparking one of the most severe crises in the history of the UN and argued that Mr. Bush’s unilateral actions could lead to anarchy. "No one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules," Mr. Chirac warned.
South African President Thabo Mbeki
South African President Thabo Mbeki said while the future of Iraq was a major preoccupation, no one wanted to rehash the debate that had followed the last General Assembly. "The poor believe that the United Nations is seriously committed to the eradication of poverty and the promise of a better life for all," Mr. Mbeki said. He added that "global poverty and underdevelopment" are the principle problems that face the UN. "The world’s masses also expect that statements made in the General Assembly would indicate a commitment to implement what was said," Mr. Mbeki stressed.
In closing, the South African president gave an example of his vision of what the world population wanted accomplished at the UN. The poor expect an end to violence and war everywhere, he said. "They want an end to the killing that was taking too many Palestinian and Israeli lives; they want Africans to stop killing one another, which continues to convey a message of their inability to live in peace," Mr. Mbeki said.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed with President Mbeki. "The true path to peace is to fight hunger and extreme poverty, in a campaign of solidarity that unites the planet rather than by deepening the divisions and hatred that inflames people," Mr. Lula da Silva said.
"A war can perhaps be won single-handedly, but peace—lasting peace—cannot be secured without the support of all," the Brazilian president stressed.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obansanjo expressed great concern about the persistent armed conflicts in West Africa. Noting that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons was one of the major factors fueling armed conflicts, he called for an early conclusion of negotiations on a legally binding international instrument to control the indiscriminate trade in small arms and light weapons.
"The system of subsidies of agricultural production is strangling agriculture in developing countries and needs to be reformed," Mr. Obansanjo said.
Kenny D. Anthony, Prime Minister for Finance, Planning, Information and the Public Service of Saint Lucia, told the General Assembly that, in its role as president of the assembly, his nation would offer a fresh perspective, an alternative view. He noted that the Millennium Declaration goal of halving global poverty was receding into "nothingness" but could be rescued if developed nations made good on their pledges.
Commenting on the opening session of the General Assembly, the newspaper Al-Watan in Oman said that the session "seemed more like an electoral platform for Mr. Bush than a conference for discussing world affairs. "That was quite obvious from the long-winded speech given by the American president in praising his actions in the Middle East," the paper said. The paper predicted that Mr. Bush’s behavior would "irk many members of the international community who will lead them to work against the United States."
Deputy Director of Cairo’s Center for political and strategic Studies, Mohamed al-Said said: "[Bush’s] speech carried the same rhetoric as usual, no new arguments. His message on the Middle East, to the Arabs in particular, was very negative."
On the second day, President Joaquim Alberto Chissano of Mozambique and the chairperson of the African Union said, "I have come to this session as a messenger of the peoples of Mozambique, and Africa as a whole." He said the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remain the most outstanding targets agreed by the international community, as they cover the major areas of concern for the peoples of the world.
"It is for this reason that we must continue to support the secretary general and the United Nations as they shoulder their responsibilities in laying the foundations for a just and lasting peace, as well as for socio-economic development worldwide," Mr. Chissano said.
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