President David Granger recently attended the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held in New York, where he stressed, in his speech, the importance of the three P’s, people, planet and peace in keeping with the assembly’s theme this year: ‘Focusing on people: Striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet.
People, Planet, Peace
The Guyanese Head of State pointed to the fact that humankind continues to be challenged by several crises. Children, he noted, in all parts of the world still die from preventable diseases or go to bed hungry. The denial of equal opportunities for women in some parts of the world, the “unacceptably wide” gap between the rich and poor and of course, conflicts within states, which have led to international refugee crises; causing millions to be displaced from their homelands were highlighted by the President.
The challenge to the UN, therefore, President Granger said is to reinforce respect for the rights of citizens within the governance structures of the individual member states. He said that “the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our collective desire and determination to eradicate hunger and poverty from our planet while promoting equal opportunities in education, employment and social justice for both men and women. The adoption of the SDGs has catalysed our aspirations for a better world into concrete and forward-looking actions and objectives. The respective ‘Goals’ seek to promote respect for the inherent dignity of people and their rights as human beings.”
According to the President, the advancement of these ‘goals’ are being obstructed by the incidence of human rights violations and the involuntary migration of people from their homelands, by terrorism and warfare. In this regard, he used his platform to call on fellow Heads of Government for a more tangible demonstration of their commitment to the protection of the planet. He told world leaders that a sustainable planet is humanity’s ultimate patrimony, with nothing being more vital to the survival of the world’s people. The threats to sustainability that the world now faces, President Granger said, are as a result of the indifference shown to the need to protect the planet.
“Climate change is not a fiction or the invention of a few extremists. The small island states of the Caribbean and parts of North America have felt the devastating fury of a series of hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, José, Katia, Lee and Maria – to whose frequency and ferocity mankind has contributed through the reckless exploitation of earth’s resources. Hurricane Irma was a deadly, destructive portent of the extreme vulnerability and fragility of the small island developing and low-lying coastal states of the Caribbean,” the President said. But, as the world continues to grapple with these climatic conditions, Guyana is playing its part within the limits of its resources, to provide relief to affected populations in sister Caribbean states.
Speaking on the sidelines of the UNGA, President Granger said that with several Anglophone Caribbean states being devastated simultaneously by hurricanes, a more comprehensive plan is needed to address the issue of evacuation; noting that people cannot be moved from one affected country to the next. “We have got to think about how we are going to prevent climate change at the global scale from affecting the Small Island Developing States [SIDS] and also the low-lying coastal states because countries like Belize, Suriname and Guyana can also be affected by global warming and rising sea levels. Even though we do not get hurricanes, we are going to see rising sea levels which will jeopardise our sea defences,” he said.
During his meeting with the Chairman of the Council of Delegates of the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB), Brigadier-General Luis Rodríguez Bucio in Washington, D.C., President Granger took the opportunity to emphasise the need for the global community to focus its efforts towards mitigating the effects of global warming, through the protection of the environment, people, and the perpetuation of peace.
Noteworthy was the changing mission of the IADB, which takes into consideration, the need to protect the environment and to respond to natural disasters. The main purpose of the IADB is to provide the Organisation of American States (OAS) and its member states with technical and educational advice and consultancy services on matters related to military and defense issues in the Hemisphere in order to contribute to the fulfillment of the OAS Charter.
Tired of War
A good life for the world’s peoples and the sustainable use of the planet’s resources are predicated on peace with justice, including justice within and between states, President Granger said. The world is weary of war; therefore, the President urged that the ‘striving for peace’ be humanity’s ceaseless quest.
“The United Nations is the paramount global instrument of peace. It has a vital role to play in ensuring respect for international law through the International Court of Justice and the Security Council. ‘Striving for peace’ must aim at resolving long-standing inter-state conflicts. Guyana, in this regard, supports the call for the reform of the Security Council to give even greater voice to developing countries,” President Granger noted.
Addressing the Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, on September 21, 2017, the President once again demonstrated his strong position on climate change, by calling on the faculty and staff to provide the intellectual leadership to promote a new era of security relations in the Caribbean Basin aimed at protecting the people, perpetuating peace and preserving the planet from disaster. According to the President, Climate change has emerged as a major international threat, requiring a reconceptualization of peoples’ understanding of security to incorporate environmental hazard that threatens both human safety and state security.
Disasters, he noted, disrupt governance, damage property and infrastructure, cause death and lower citizens’ quality of life. Environmental hazards are threats to the national security of states, whether they are rich or poor, large or small, island or mainland. The increased frequency, ferocity and intensity of hurricanes across the Caribbean Sea promise more death, damage and destruction and the Region requires a new regime of international cooperation to make it secure and safe.
Small Caribbean states, on their own, cannot respond, in an adequate and timely manner, to the scale of death, damage and destruction caused by most natural disasters. “I emphasised the need for regional and particularly Caribbean states to work together to mitigate Climate change and also to alleviate the suffering and the damage caused by disaster, so all in all, the three engagements, I put out Guyana’s view that we need to work together to protect the planet earth from catastrophic events like we had in August and September,” the President said as he provided an update of his engagement with officials at the Perry Center.
The Head of State acknowledged that there needs to be more work at the governmental and inter-governmental levels internationally to increase and enhance awareness of the environmental threats, so that populations can behave differently towards the protection of the earth. In Guyana, President Granger assured that steps will be taken to reverse the trends that lead to environmental degradation at the regional and community levels.
The Guyana-Venezuela Controversy was another important topic for the Head of State at the UN General Assembly. Following a meeting with Prime Minister of Mauritius, Mr. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth on September 19, 2017, President Granger said a closer relationship will be established between the two nations within the Commonwealth Framework. The Head of State explained that both Guyana and Mauritius are currently faced with claims on their respective territories and said that he and Prime Minister Jugnauth reaffirmed their unreserved support for each other and noted that, “with regard to the territorial issue between Mauritius and the UK [United Kingdom], Guyana has already made forthright statements. We support Mauritius and I also took the opportunity to raise the territorial claims on Guyana’s territory by Venezuela. Mauritius as part of the Commonwealth has always given us support so there is mutual support in terms of the territorial claims against these two countries.”
In his address to the UNGA, the President reminded leaders that Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory has not been diminished or diverted, since the country remains imperiled. The disturbing developments within Venezuela, he said, have attracted the world’s attention and roused the concerns of many over the privations of its people. The Caribbean people, President Granger said, wish for the region to be a Zone of Peace and the Venezuelan claim to Guyana’s territorial integrity, would be a threat to that zone.
During a meeting on September 25, 2017 between President Granger and the UN Secretary General Mr. António Guterres, Guyana’s commitment to the Good Offices process and the intention to work towards the achievement of the highest expectations of the decision were put forward by President Granger. “I would say that as far as Guyana is concerned we remain committed to the process and through the Secretary General’s personal representative, Dag Nylander we will continue to exchange views with the intention of bringing this process to a successful closure,” he explained in an interview at the end of his engagements with the UN and representatives of several international organisations in New York. The President was accompanied by his delegation, which included Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Carl Greenidge, Minister of Public Affairs within the Ministry of the Presidency, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams and Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Audrey Waddell.
On December 15, 2016, the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, informed President Granger and the Venezuelan President, that the Good Offices Process will continue for one final year, until the end of 2017, with a strengthened mandate of mediation. If, by the end of 2017, the Secretary General concludes that significant progress has not been made toward arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy, he will choose the International Court of Justice as the next means of settlement, unless the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.
Peace for the world’s people, the President reminded, is the mandate of the United Nations. Peace, he noted can be achieved by addressing the world’s humanitarian crises, promoting justice within and between nations and resolving long-standing conflicts between states. President Granger has stressed that common interests in the ‘Basin’ require that the region become a zone of peace and a zone of development rather than a zone of disaster. The ‘hurricane era’, he pointed out has made security cooperation, rather than strategic confrontation, a necessity to protect the Region’s vital interests.
Security cooperation he urged must be re-engineered to take into account the interests of the special environmental needs of small-island developing and low lying-coastal states.