Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity ‘Sacrosanct’, Secretary-General Tells Forum of Small States, Stressing Borders Cannot Be Redrawn at Great-Power Whim

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the meeting of the members of the Forum of Small States, in New York today:

It is a pleasure for me to meet you today to resume our discussion on Our Common Agenda.  And allow me to congratulate one of our small States that is a steadfast supporter of multilateralism on your national day — happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland.

First, I would like to update you on progress on the proposals in the report since we last met in October 2021.

The General Assembly adopted an important resolution on Our Common Agenda by consensus, with an encouraging number of co-sponsors — 166 overall.  Seventy-eight were members of the Forum of Small States.

We have held five very rich consultations on the proposals under the able leadership of the President of the General Assembly.  In many cases, we were able to provide immediate answers on follow-up.  There are several areas on which I took away strong support for the membership to consider moving forward to more detailed discussions.

These include:

  • The Transforming Education Summit, for which work is already under way, led by the Deputy Secretary-General.
  • The establishment of a Youth Office in the United Nations Secretariat.  We will present a concrete proposal on this.
  • The proposals on expansion of social protection and creation of jobs in the care, digital and green economies to be achieved with the support of a high-level coalition of Member States.
  • The transformative ideas on gender equality.
  • The Biennial Summit on the global economy, engaging the G20 (Group of 20) and international financial institutions.  I take note of your call to ensure this is truly inclusive.
  • The proposals around finding measures to complement gross domestic product.  Work is under way on this in the Chief Executives Board, and we aim to put forward a concrete proposal in due course.
  • The need for a New Agenda for Peace that takes account of all the new risks and threats to international peace and security.
  • The need for a Global Digital Compact.
  • Proposals around the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space.
  • The proposal for a systematic focus on future generations in our decision-making processes and the need to improve our strategic foresight and risk analysis.

At the fifth consultation last week, we heard support for the proposed Summit of the Future in 2023.  Modalities and outcomes are still to be discussed and decided upon by Member States.

The consultations reinforced that many proposals in Our Common Agenda seek to turbocharge achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, the SAMOA Pathway and other intergovernmentally agreed frameworks.  We also gained clarity on proposals where further work is needed.

Our Common Agenda is now in your hands.  We stand ready to support the President and Vice Presidents of the General Assembly and all Member States in the coming weeks as you determine the best way forward.  My report also focuses on upgrading our Organization to fit the needs of tomorrow — the so-called UN 2.0.

To serve Member States to the best of our ability, we need to take advantage of digital technologies to improve our strategic foresight and upgrade how we plan, learn, recruit and work.  This includes using data to inform our decisions and analysis and applying insights from behavioural science.  It also means creating the space for new ideas and innovation to emerge and making sure we have the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs.  I count on your support for an updated United Nations.

Developments over recent weeks and months have only reinforced the need to reform and upgrade both the capacities of the United Nations and the multilateral arrangements for global governance.  The war in Ukraine is terrorizing the people of that country, bringing unimaginable death and human suffering, with very serious global consequences.

Ukraine and Russia provide nearly one third of the world’s wheat, among other staple foods.  The war is already disrupting supply chains and causing the prices of fuel, food and transport to skyrocket.  The FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) global food prices index is at its highest level ever.

Meanwhile, resources for humanitarian action and sustainable development are being stretched to the limit.  Many small States, even those far from Europe, will be hit hard.  To respond to these interconnected challenges, I have established a Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance in the United Nations Secretariat.  I have also asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead an inter-agency steering committee with partners to oversee this effort.

We will be consulting with Member States willing to champion the actions needed to carry forward the global emergency response that will be required for these looming crises.  For example, to expand fiscal space, we need a fresh set of emergency finance mechanisms, similar to those implemented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the height of the COVID crisis.

The Debt Service Suspension Initiative should be extended for two years.  And the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatments and the IMF Resilience and Sustainability Trust need to be immediately operationalized, in a manner that fits the needs of developing countries.

I urge the strong support of small States for these efforts.  The United Nations will always stand together with small States to support and protect their interests.  Small States rely for their security on the norms set out in the Charter and the body of international law.

Borders are not to be redrawn at the whim of great Powers.  Territorial integrity and sovereignty are sacrosanct, for small States just as for large.  The United Nations Charter is based on the sovereign equality of all its members.  It calls for “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.  We cannot allow these norms to be undermined.

All disagreements must be resolved by dialogue.  That is what brings us together as United Nations, guided by the Charter.  In addition to this terrible war, small States face many other serious challenges.  The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an atlas of human suffering.  Until we reduce emissions and increase financing for adaptation, this crisis is only set to grow.

Eighty per cent of emissions come from G20 countries.  It is obvious that they are not small States.  The COVID-19 pandemic is still a threat across entire continents that have not received vaccines.  Inequality is increasing dramatically, within and between countries.  The global financial system needs urgent reform.

As small States, you are on the front lines.  Many of you grapple with extreme weather and fragile livelihoods and habitats, and suffer disproportionately from the health, economic and social impact of COVID-19.  Record food and fuel prices will hit you particularly hard.

Middle-income countries, especially those burdened with debt, may find themselves ineligible for support from international financial institutions.  Their fiscal space will be further reduced, undermining their ability to invest in their people and implement the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

As small States, each one of you may have limited power to address these crises and injustices.  But together, you have real weight.  In the General Assembly, there are no small States.  Your voices, and your votes, are powerful.  We saw that earlier this month with the General Assembly resolution on Ukraine.  We have seen it before, with the resolution on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

When the General Assembly unites, when you unite, the world listens.  This is the very core of multilateralism:  uniting our strengths to solve problems together.  Our Common Agenda provides ideas and proposals that can unite us.

I count on your continued commitment to come together wherever possible for solutions that benefit us all.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.