Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Statement at the 54th Session of the United Nations General Assembly - Sept. 22, 1999

Vaira Vike-Freiberga
September 22, 1999— New York, New York
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Monsieur le president de l’Assemblee,

Monsieur le Secretaire-general,

Vos excellences,

Mesdames, Messieurs,

C’est un grand honneur pour moi d’adresser la parole a la 54e session de cette auguste Assemblee generale des Nations unies, ainsi qu’a son president, son excellence Monsieur Theo-Ben Gurirab. Veuillez agreer, Excellence, l’assurance de ma consideration distinguee, et permettez-moi de vous offrir mes meilleurs voeux de succes et de reussite dans tous vos efforts.

Cette 54e Assemblee, la derniere avant l’an 2000, suscite inevitablement des reflexions. D’une part, elle nous invite a nous pencher sur les acquis et les francs succes dont les Nations unies peuvent tirer une fierte et une satisfaction bien legitimes. D’autre part, elle nous invite a relever tous les defis que le nouveau millenaire ne manquera pas de nous presenter. Puissent nos debats ici contribuer a etablir la paix et la securite dans le monde, a regler les conflits et a developper des solutions innnovatrices aux problemes que nous aurons a confronter.

Les nobles ideaux qui ont guide les Nations Unies au fil des annees n’ont toujours rien perdu de leur actualite ni de leur pertinence. La paix dans le monde, la lutte contre la pauvrete, la defense des droits de l’homme – voila un programme qui demeure en vigueur, avec des buts on ne saurait plus clairs. Cette lutte est un peu celle du heros mythique dans sa lutte contre le dragon: on coupe une tete du monstre, et neuf autres repoussent a sa place. Neanmoins, il n’est pas possible de renoncer au combat, il n’est pas permis de relacher notre vigilance, certainement pas si le monde que nous voulons construire est un monde de civilisation.

The 54th General Assembly of the United Nations is held at a time when the United Nations system has experienced a certain amount of strain and is faced with important challenges. These have caused questions about the effectiveness and the very relevance of this august body within the contemporary international system. This scepticism ranges from concerns over the capability of the Organisation to address regional conflicts and the needs of the developing world to concerns about budgetary management problems. No doubt there is some basis for each of those concerns. Nevertheless, they should not undermine the fundamental importance of a truly global organisation, which over a period of decades has earned respect around the world. Our ranks are continuously growing, and the UN keeps approaching the goal of truly world-wide representation. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru and the Kingdom of Tonga upon their admission to UN membership.

The reform process of the UN is underway and my country, Latvia, fully supports it. The member states after all are the ones that set the agenda of the Organisation. It will be the quality and commitment of each state that will ultimately determine the success or failure of our common efforts.

Some of the negative feelings about the UN stem from over-expectation. One cannot view the UN as a panacea, particularly where decisions on long- lasting regional problems are concerned or when preventive actions on a regional level had been long overdue. Yet, even in those situations a modern UN system is expected to look for earlier and more effective involvement than it has been the case in South East Europe, East Timor and the Middle East. It needs to be stressed that the painful refugee crisis of Kosovo could not possibly be resolved without direct involvement of the UN and its institutions. But sadly, the maximum potential of the United Nations cannot always be utilised because of prejudice, lack of political will or perceived political ambitions. Let us not forget that the costs of our reluctance to take action are extremely high. Too often they result in the deaths of innocent people, they are the cause of wholesale destruction, which may take decades to remedy and reconstruct.

The topical issues of co-operation at regional and global level and conflict prevention, non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament, humanitarian, environmental protection, follow–up to UN conferences, poverty eradication and gender equality need to be addressed on a global scale. Without a doubt, the United Nations and its institutions have to play an increasingly important role to this end. The mandate of the United Nations is to serve humanity, and the United Nations should observe the principle of universality. The UN’s possibilities in conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy are by no means exhausted and further attention should be paid to fostering the observance of these principles throughout the world.

Even as we speak here today, many people in this world are suffering at the hands of terrorists or live under terrorist threat. Any instances of terrorism should be universally condemned and steps need to be taken to strengthen the international response to this problem.

In order for the UN to become a truly modern organisation it needs to reflect the new realities of a changed international context. The reform of the Security Council remains the central part of the revitalisation programme of the UN and it should reflect the needs of the international community as well as present – day realities. The acquisition or possession of nuclear weapons must no longer be the basis of a superpower status and the future model of the Council will have to reflect this reality. The future model of the Security Council should also become increasingly open to the views and contribution of smaller states and of non- permanent members.

How does Latvia see its contribution to the new United Nations?

My country is among those nations that could not be a part of the United Nations at its inception. Because freedom of choice was forbidden to our people when Latvia lost its independence in 1940, we have a special respect for this principle today.

We also reserve a special place in our hearts for the UN because it was the first international organisation we joined after restoring independence in 1991. It was a moment of celebration, pride and even euphoria, as justice prevailed and a long struggle to join the community of nations finally came to an end. But our people quickly realised that we were now setting off on a new road. After a fifty-year delay, Latvia was faced with the task of becoming an equal, responsible and contributing member of a new Europe and a new globalised international community.

Membership in the UN was just the first step on the road to reasserting our national and human rights. More importantly, we recognised our responsibility to help other nations setting out on this path.

Yet even at the very end of this century we still have to encounter thinking which a priori denies the right for all nations to choose their own destiny. Thankfully, such views are becoming less and less acceptable as the years go by. For Latvia as a free and sovereign nation, the last years have been a remarkably successful period of active integration into the international community, and of internal restructuring, wide-ranging reforms and societal regeneration. Fifty years of occupation have left us with a heavy social, economic and psychological legacy, but we have made tremendous efforts to overcome it in every way. The support offered by the UN in this onerous task has been of enormous significance and I should like to use this opportunity to reiterate the heartfelt appreciation of Latvia for the invaluable assistance that the UN has provided.

During this last century Latvia has made a remarkable turnaround. It has gone from he depths of tragedy to the heights of success. In a few short years, Latvia has grown into a politically stable state with strong democratic institutions and practices. Latvia has restored a thriving market economy and a deep respect for individual rights and freedoms. Over the past years and with the help of the international community, Latvia has attached particular importance to the process of forming a fully integrated, harmonious society. It is a challenging but critically important task for my country, all the more so because of the burdens imposed by the historic legacy. We perceive it as an ongoing process that involves numerous cultural and educational aspects, and includes the important element of a person’s right to choose. Our goal is to give each resident of our country an equal opportunity to contribute to a civic identity that shares goals and values in common with all of Europe. As part of this programme, my country will continue to attach particular importance to strengthening the role of the Latvian language.

Latvia believes in the complementarity of regional and global efforts and it sees its integration efforts into European and transatlantic structures as a practical means of contributing to joint efforts in the European and Transatlantic area. For Latvia, integration into Europe remains a high priority, but it is not the end of the road. Integration into the transatlantic security alliance is prudent, but not sufficient. For Latvia to succeed, and for the people of Latvia to have the full opportunity they deserve to live secure, healthy and prosperous lives, Latvia must be fully integrated into the political, business and intellectual exchange of a global community.

We are very proud of the fact that on February 10, 1999 Latvia became the first Baltic State to join the World Trade Organisation as a full-fledged member.

Within the range of its capabilities, Latvia has participated in peace operations in the Balkans and has contributed to relieving the suffering of Kosovo refugees. Latvia has been an active contributor of UN revitalisation through its membership in ECOSOC and the Commission on Human Rights. Latvia has put forward its candidature for the UN Security Council elections in 2005. This spring my country signed the Statute of the International Criminal Court and is currently planning its ratification process.

A very visible indication of the appreciation of the UN’s work in Latvia and a concrete manifestation of Latvia’s support to the Secretary General’s Programme for UN Reform, has been the donation of a historical, fully renovated building in the centre of our capital as a common home for all UN agencies. On July 16 of this year, and as one of my first official functions as President, I had the pleasure of participating in the official inauguration of the UN house in Riga, one of the first UN Houses in Europe and the first in our region.

Mr. President of the Assembly!

Mr. Secretary-General!

Your Excellencies!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I should like to express the full support of my country for the proposed Millennium Assembly of 2000 and trust that it will become a landmark in setting our sights the 21st century.

May the results of the 54th session of the General Assembly advance our common cause at the dawn of the new Millennium.

Thank you.

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