Viewpoint by P.I. Gomes*
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (IDN) – The High-level Meeting to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations was held on September 21, 2020, with a view to adopting a political declaration on the theme: “The Future We Want, the United Nations We Need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”.
The opening Plenary session observed the usual formalities of statements by the President of the General Assembly (GA) and by Presidents of the Security Council, Economic & Social Council and of the International Court of Justice.
As a pleasant departure from those formalities, the voices of young people were heard in Statements from Youth representatives, both male and female, from Ghana (Africa), Malaysia (Asia), The Bahamas (Latin America & the Caribbean) and France (Europe). No doubt a greatly moving occurrence for those young people, who will never forget the experience of speaking to the world. And perhaps that may shape their lives for leadership careers that advance in concrete terms the “collective commitment to multilateralism.”
It is in search of that commitment, the address by UN Secretary-General Mr António Guterres is deserving of deep reflection. The world was reminded that “no other global organ gives hope to so many people for a better world” and as the Secretary-General added, the UN is “only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideals and to each other”.
Aware and quite convinced of the unique source of “hope” for the world that the UN has been and continues to be, as much as world leaders renew their commitments to “ideals of peace and security”, much in today’s world is the absence of peace.
Civil war, border conflicts, armed rebellion and violence of all sorts, so brutal especially against women and children. But without apportioning blame to the world’s instrument of hope for peace and security, calls and loud demands for reform at the highest level of the UN are persistently made. It is unacceptable that the UN Security Council continues to be so unrepresentative of the world’s population in this 21st century.
This acute anomaly of the UN system continues to be noted on several occasions. As lucidly pointed to by Professor Adekeye Adebajo, Director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC), University of Johannesburg, “While the Security Council represented 22% of UN membership in 1945, it accounts for just 8% of today’s members.” Consequently, as he added: “This body’s legitimacy, has therefore become threadbare. It is no longer fit for purpose and must therefore include countries such as Brazil, India, Nigeria and South Africa to regain credibility as a truly representative body.”
This call for reform of the Security Council was made by several African Heads of State & Government in the debate of the UNGA just concluded on September 25. Most noticeable also was Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who added fuel to Africans’ demands for reform by telling the audience that action on such reform should begin immediately.
Caribbean concerns at the GA.
While fully declaring their renewed commitment to the UN and its essential role in multilateralism, Caribbean leaders addressing the GA pledged the support of reform demands, as stated by others. They also pointed to the widely overlooked and underestimated debt crisis emerging and seriously engulfing developing countries, particularly the Middle-Income Countries (MICs).
Fiercely accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the far-reaching implications of demolishing development gains of the last two decades, MICs are increasingly facing deepening debt crises. This is compounded by the distorted accounting system of the IFIs that deny these countries grant development finance, falsely classifying them as graduated from “least developed” status.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which are all MICs, with the exception of Haiti, continue to be denied access to grant development financing.
At the same time, as in the case of the chain of Island economies, they remain exposed and vulnerable to annual recurring floods, destruction of housing, social infrastructure, loss of crops and livestock from hurricanes and storms, that have become more intense and frequent as a result of climate change.
In their addresses to the GA, Caribbean leaders of Barbados, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, among others, all referred to the burden of high debt and what was called, the “deadly existential threat of the climate crisis”, according to Prime Minister Mia Motley of Barbados. Facing high debt to GDP and debt service ratios, a plea was made by Dr Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, that a strong case exists for these MICs to be considered for debt relief.
Complementing these remarks of Caribbean leaders was the voice of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and President-in-Office of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the OACPS, who in addressing the 75th GA, said “… that even after addressing the acute phase of the pandemic, we must all remain collectively committed to global recovery” and further added that “developing countries are seeking to have the existing debt moratoriums refined and extended to December 2021…” (The Nation, Nairobi 29 September 2020).
The demand for those debt moratoriums to be refined and extended must certainly be cognizant of Caribbean concerns and of the MICs, across the Global South.
Indeed, in the search for a new post-COVID-19 fiscal pact, the international community must be reminded of the outstanding pledges of the Monterrey Consensus of March 2002. It was then agreed that developed countries would commit 0.7% of GNI to Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Regrettably not as many as six industrialised, developed countries have fulfilled that pledge almost two decades ago. In the face of the devastation by Covid-19 pandemic, across all countries – rich and poor – can we hope to see this 75th UN Anniversary as a marker of multilateral commitment to the developing world by being honoured in deed and freed of the rhetoric of the rich? [IDN-InDepthNews – 30 September 2020]
*The writer, Dr Patrick I Gomes, was Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States for five years until February 29, 2020. The 79-nation inter-regional body officially became the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) on April 5, 2020. Dr Gomes was previously Ambassador of the Republic of Guyana, to the EU in Brussels.
Image: Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands. CC BY-SA 3.0
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