Ladies and gentlemen, Model UN delegates.
As one of the Vice-Presidents of the 62nd Session, let me welcome you to the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of Dr. Kerim the President of the 62nd Session of the General Assembly and all of us who work here.
Let me start by putting a few things in perspective. I come from Iceland, a country with a population of about 300 thousand or approximately one thousandth of the population of the United States. In other words, yours truly represents the same proportion of the Icelandic people as if you had 1000 US Ambassadors standing here in my place speaking to you all at once!
Statistics can be fun!
Of the 192 member states of the UN today 100 belong to an informal group called FOSS, the Forum of Small States. When Iceland joined the UN on 19. November 1946 it was the Member State with the fewest inhabitants for about the next two decades. Now there are over twenty Member States of the UN that have smaller populations than my country. There are also over twenty Member States of the UN that have no standing armies or military and many more with only what can be described as token military forces.
I mention these facts only to demonstrate that the political multilateral system is constantly changing. We may not see or feel it on a daily basis, but when we look back a few years we all realize the dynamism of change. We only need to go back 18 years, before the fall of the Berlin wall, to see the tremendous changes that have occurred. Each generation is like a wave in the Ocean, bringing with it inevitable changes and new challenges. But fortunately there are certain constants that will hopefully never change for human kind: The love of life and family, the yearning for peace and a meaningful existance, the search for knowledge and wisdom, to name but a few. And here is where the only truly Global Organization, the United Nations, must play a key role if we, our children and grandchildren are to survive, evolve and prosper.
Before touching on some of the priority issues of the 62 nd Session let me just mention briefly the short Icelandic experience with the Model UN. The first Icelandic Model UN conference was held in the fall of 2003 at the initiative of a few political science students that had been introduced to MUN conferences abroad. The conference was supported by the United Nations Association in Iceland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. As is the case here at the UN the cooperation between the five Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway, turned out to be very important. The assistance from the Norwegian Model UN Association in particular proved crucial for the organization and execution of the conference.
The Icelandic Model UN Association was then formally founded after the second Icelandic Model UN conference and works now as a part of the Icelandic UN Association. Members of IceMUN have participated in conferences all over the world as well as chairing Model UN´s in other Nordic countries.
Many of the organizers and participants in the first Icelandic Model UN conference have gone on to work for the Icelandic parliament, UNIFEM, WFP and the Icelandic Foreign Service, MUN is clearly a great foundation for careers in international diplomacy and civil service.
I wish all of you who, with the wonderful idealism of youth, want to better our world, fruitful and meaningful endeveours. May you not be disappointed.
Turning now to the priority issues on the agenda of the 62nd Session that are truly global. Climate change, financing for development, counter-terrorism, UN reform and the millennium development goals, are all issues that present global challenges and require global solutions and no one State – or a single group of States– can tackle them alone.
However, the international community is confronting a paradox. On the one hand, everyone understands that global problems require global solutions, and that these can only be reached through mutual respect and partnership. On the other hand, the high level of mistrust, tension and fear of the ‘other’ is evident among states and in the perceptions and behaviour of people throughout the world.
For this reason, the President of the 62nd Session has aimed to foster a spirit of cooperation and to involve other sectors of society that can help the General Assembly to make real progress on the many challenges we face.
Climate change was the focus of the general debate of the 62nd Session. In February this year, the General Assembly held a thematic debate on “Addressing Climate Change: The United Nations and the World at Work." This spring, follow-up discussions will be held focusing firstly on countries in special situations (SIDS, LLDC) and secondly on the role of the business sector.
The process of Financing for Development is also underway. It is time to take action and involve partners with the resources, vision and commitment to make progress a reality.
On the Millennium Development Goals, an informal thematic debate took place at the beginning of this month, entitled “Recognizing the achievements, addressing the challenges and getting back on track to achieve the MDGs by 2015.” The debate focused on poverty and hunger; education; health (maternal and child health, malaria and TB) to highlight lessons learned and possible additional measures to ensure that the goals are attained.
A thematic debate on improving the management of the UN was also held this month.
Additionally, other Informal Thematic Debates will be held on timely issues such as human trafficking (3 June), and human security (July).
Countering terrorism is another priority issue which has forced the UN to reflect on ways to deal with new actors and networks across borders and beyond the purview of any one State. A review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy is scheduled for September of this year.
Security Council reform also remains high on the agenda. There is widespread recognition that the status quo is not acceptable. As threats to international security have changed since 1945, so must the decision-making structures responsible for preventing and responding to those challenges.
System-wide Coherence is another process which demands attention. The UN has grown in size and scope, and often the UN will have many different agencies and programmes in one country. Ensuring that the UN delivers as one – in a coherent way - and that its work at the country level corresponds to the priorities and plans of the country in question is urgent, so that we can effectively manage our resources and maximize our impact.
The issue of HIV/AIDS cannot be forgotten. Despite progress in many parts of the world, HIV/AIDS continues to wield a devastating impact. No one problem can be viewed in isolation. For communities severely affected by HIV/AIDS, development, human rights and human security are also threatened.
For the UN to respond to both new and ongoing challenges, it must be an agile institution that reflects present-day realities, and takes into account the evolution of sovereignty. Sovereign rights go hand in hand with sovereign duties and global responsibilities. You can’t have one without the other.
The post Second World War institutions were set up to maintain peace and security, economic and financial stability, promote health, and protect the environmental sphere, but they are inadequate to address the challenges of a globalized world.
We need more responsibility and accountability on the part of Member States and international institutions, as well as regional entities and non-state actors. Together we have to move from recognizing problems to identifying and implementing solutions.
The process for renovating the United Nations building has begun. Like the building which is showing signs of its years, the mentality and working methods of the UN are also dated, and it is our task to modernize the UN not only on the outside, but also on the inside, with new technology, new ideas, and the capacity to adapt to the needs of the future. As tomorrow’s diplomats and international civil servants – this task will be yours to complete. The Capital Master Plan to renovate the UN building should signal that it is time to renovate our mindset as well. All key players in the international community, without exception, must reposition themselves. Only then can we achieve the effective multilateralism that is needed now, more than ever.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Globalization has brought the world closer together, erasing gaps of time and space – yet much of the world’s population remains at the margins of this progress with little or no chance of competing in an ever more accelerating and competitive global economy.
As 2008 marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must ask ourselves what tools will guarantee human rights and opportunities for all.
The first step is a new mindset. We need a new culture of international relations, based on the principles of freedom, mutual respect, solidarity, and shared responsibility; the values of human rights and human security, the responsibility to protect and sustainable development. These are the ingredients of a vision for the future and the basis for the UN of the 21st and 22nd century, the UN that will be in your hands.
I urge you to begin to realize this new culture as of now.
With information technology reaching the furthest corners of the world,
the wide gap in living standards is more evident than ever before, and the underprivileged experience frustration and dissatisfaction.
Over 200 million young people worldwide live in extreme poverty. Achieving the Millennium Development Goals is therefore as much your concern as it is that of the Member States who committed themselves to achieving the MDGs.
As college students, and Model UN participants, your awareness of global issues is vital. How you cope with these realities, and the values that you choose to live by will determine not only the course of your lives, but also the direction of society globally and the future of the planet.
Your awareness and sensitivity to the imbalances of the world should not depress you but rather inspire you to become agents of change, to challenge accepted notions, and take action on behalf of those in need.
The media targets young people. If you articulate your concerns loud and clear, these will resonate in global public opinion and will become policy priorities in the future.
Today we have greater mobility between nations and continents, and greater capacity to communicate between cultures than ever before. We have the opportunity to break down barriers. Your generation is more educated and interconnected than any previous one, so you must lead this effort.
Use your power, imagination and your dreams to make a difference in life and let the tools at your disposal, help you create the future that you deserve.
As you prepare to tackle the difficult and timely issues on your agenda, I wish you many inspiring debates and much success.
Before I became a diplomat 32 years ago I was a teacher in my country. When I have the chance to stand before young people, like you here today, I admire the energy, inspiration and idealism each generation brings. If you mix that wisely with the knowledge and experience of older generations and avoid the mistakes of the past you will succeed in making our world a truly better place.
Thank you for allowing me to be with you here in this great hall today.
It was a privilege and a pleasure.