Statement by His Excellency Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, President of the Republic of Maldives,
at the General Debate of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 24 September 2019
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
There is much that is wrong in this world. The post-war multilateral order, which this institution helped usher in, shows signs of strain. Trade wars threaten to plunge us into another worldwide recession. Populism, political extremism, and nativism have found currency amongst the disaffected within our societies. The promise of democracy, enshrined in the principle of self-determination on which this organization was found, is in retreat. Emboldened by populist rhetoric, racism and xenophobia, in various guises, threaten to rip our societies apart. Terrorism continues to plague and affect all our societies. Meanwhile, the climate crisis looms ever larger, heightened by our collective inability to address it.
Which is why the world needs the United Nations now more than ever. We need to remind ourselves of the horrors that led to the formation of this institution. Let me jog our collective memory: The United Nations was formed out of the ashes of two devastating world wars in which more than a hundred million people were killed. It was borne out of a belief in the sanctity of human freedom and of self-determination, which means even small nations have a voice on the global stage. Its charter privileged peace and international cooperation, so that we may avoid wars and enjoy the dividends of our peaceful co-existence. We need the United Nations because the problems of our times are extraordinary. Extraordinary because none of us alone can resolve them. We need the strength of the collective to fix the challenges of our times.
In these difficult times, when the great wave of democracy that swept the world during the last century seems to have ebbed, the Maldives represents a remarkable story. It is a story of second chances, a story of people power, a story of how we as a nation, managed to reverse a downward spiral towards autocratic rule.
Exactly one year ago, in the early hours of 24th September 2018, results of the Maldivian Presidential Elections were announced. The elections were significant because they represented our one shot at rekindling democracy in our country. As many of you would know, our democratic journey that began in November 2008 was cut short within a few years. Lurking behind the high idealism of our democratic moment were remnants of the old autocracy. The judiciary was hijacked, parliament brought to a standstill, institutions of state co-opted and the press gagged. Political opponents were constantly threatened and opposition leaders either jailed or exiled. Many in the international community spoke out against this reversal. As is the wont of autocrats, the regime turned its back to the world. We left the Commonwealth of Nations, insisting its calls for democracy in the Maldives was an affront to our sovereignty. Isolationism became our default foreign policy.
That we won the election last year in the face of such adversity, against odds that seemed insurmountable, is an immense credit to the Maldivian people. The responsibility they have entrusted in me is something I do not take lightly. There is much that needs to be done. From embedding good governance, to delivering justice. From educating our young people, to uplifting our most marginalised. From creating opportunities for businesses, to leveraging the benefits of new technology. From protecting our fragile ecosystem and coral reefs, to building a vibrant Islamic society that is just and modern in its outlook.
Development without justice does not work, which is why we have a transitional justice program where we seek to redress human rights abuses, investigate murders and enforced disappearances and bring to book the endemic corruption maligning all levels of government. We are engaged in a comprehensive police reform program and working closely with other institutions of state to reform and modernize our judicial system. Meaningful democracy is about more than just holding elections, it’s about involving citizens in the decision-making process; which is why we are working on legislation to decentralize our governance structures and devolve power to our local communities.
As I said at the start, these are challenging times, which require strong action from us all. This is why on the international front, we have reaffirmed old friendships long-neglected and commenced new ones. We have begun the process of re-joining the Commonwealth of Nations. It is our intention to be a good international partner. To be part of a shared solution to the pressing issues of our time, from climate change, to fighting the scourge of terrorism.
Terrorism and violent extremism have become one of the biggest threats of the 21st century. Its roots are found not only in the disaffection and disenchantment brought on by a rapidly changing world – but also in the active efforts of opportunists who twist religion and poison young minds to do their bidding. As we have come to know, terrorism and terrorists do not recognize national boundaries. On Easter Sunday, we woke up to the shocking news of terror attacks in Sri Lanka, our closest neighbour. The danger of these networks spilling over our borders is all too real. What is required is concerted global action. This involves everything from intelligence sharing, counterterrorism training and best practice sharing, as well as reforming our financial system to starve terrorist networks of finance. Unilateral attempts to deal with this menace are largely futile without corresponding global co-ordination, which is why the UN remains so relevant to the world.
Despite the best attempts by the UN and its Member States spanning a number of decades, the Question of Palestine remains unresolved, and on the agenda in this revered assembly. Never before has the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people been so acutely and blatantly dismissed by Israel, marginalised and discriminated against, in complete disregard of international law, and the resolutions of both the General Assembly and the Security Council. We are strongly of the view that a lasting peace in the Middle East can only come to fruition, through a two-state solution driven by genuine and meaningful dialogue between the Arab countries and Israel. We call on the United Nations, and its Member States to undertake every effort to work towards a settlement that would achieve this result. The Maldives will always stand unwavering in its support for the Palestinians, in their endeavour to achieve an independent and sovereign State of Palestine, based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its Capital City.
For more than thirty years we have been struggling to meaningfully address the climate emergency. For thirty years, we Maldivians have been saying that this is the fight of our lifetime, because it threatens our very existence as a nation. While the scientific evidence is irrefutable, there has been an alarming lack of global action. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the mean temperatures continue to rise above the two degrees threshold we will be faced with a point of no return. While the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was a breakthrough for what we could collectively achieve, so much more needs to be done.
Although this problem is not of our making, the Maldives is determined to drive the solution. We cannot and will not wait for Paris’s prescribed timelines. We are revising and upscaling our Nationally Determined Contributions now. We shall work in concert with other island nations, including the Small Island Developing States and fellow members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Just yesterday, at the Secretary General’s special summit on climate change, the Maldives presented a plan, entitled climate smart resilient islands, which seeks to utilize natural solutions, promote innovation and leverage new technologies to build resilience in our communities. As part of the plan, we are seeking to phase out our usage of single use plastic by the year 2023. This will be one of the most far-reaching and ambitious plastics phase-out plans of any nation on Earth.
Furthermore, you can’t protect the oceans without solving climate change and you can’t solve climate change without protecting the oceans. For us this is personal! Visit the Maldives and you cross over miles upon miles of our territory before ever spotting land: a stunning 99% of the Maldives is ocean, just 1% percent is dry land, making us a very large ocean state. We can conceive of no climate and resilience plan without a sustainable ocean plan. This week, the Maldives will enter into a partnership with the Blue Prosperity Coalition on an ambitious blue economy plan including: marine protected areas to conserve the ocean resources that sustain our livelihoods; and measures to protect them for future generations. We are confident that we will be able to receive the international community’s support to help us achieve these goals.
Our dependence on our oceans is only one aspect of what it means to be a large ocean state. Our home, the Indian Ocean, has over the past two decades come to the forefront of global geopolitics and rapidly taken its place as the heart of maritime trade. The peace and security of the Indian Ocean is inextricably linked to the peace and security of the world. Its importance to the global economy cannot be overstated. Sadly, I note that the Indian Ocean remains, especially in its South Asian Core, one of the least integrated regions in the world, lacking regional governance and unable to reap the potential economic benefits of an effective multilateral order. The Maldives intends to promote regional integration through greater cooperation with our neighbours to make the Indian Ocean region peaceful and prosperous.
This great institution has helped foster peace and avert conflict for over half a century. The world order that it helped build represents the pinnacle of what concerted diplomacy can achieve, and continues to embody the hopes of all who believe in peaceful dialogue to solve global problems. While all of us present here represent the interests of our individual nations, we also represent something far larger than that - we represent the world community, we represent humanity. For its part, the Maldives shall continue to partner with our many international friends with a renewed spirit of openness and engagement, so that together we can overcome obstacles and effectively resolve our common challenges.
Thank you very much.