Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan hosted a commemorative Forum of Small States (FOSS) event titled “The UN Charter at 75: Multilateralism in a Fragmented World” on 10 June 2020. President of the 74th Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Mr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, UN Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres, Chair of The Elders and former-President of Ireland Mrs Mary Robinson, and a high-level panel of Leaders and Ministers from UN Member States participated in the virtual forum.
The FOSS, founded by Singapore in 1992, is an informal platform at the UN that brings small states together to discuss issues of common interest. In his opening remarks, Minister Balakrishnan underscored the importance of the UN and a rules-based multilateral system, global solidarity in the current geopolitical context, and small state participation at international fora. Her Excellency Mary Robinson pre-launched the new report and recommendations by The Elders on strengthening multilateralism. This was followed by a cross-regional panel of Leaders and Ministers of Armenia, Bahrain, Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji, Germany, Georgia, Ghana, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Namibia, Palau, Rwanda, Sweden, and Switzerland sharing perspectives on how to strengthen multilateral institutions, including to ensure that they continue to deliver on their mandates amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing economic uncertainty. The participants reaffirmed their commitment to the foundational principles of the UN, as enshrined in the UN Charter, and reaffirmed their commitment to collectively overcome the evolving challenges of the future.
The event was organised by Singapore in its capacity as Chair of the FOSS in partnership with The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice, and human rights.
Minister Balakrishnan’s opening remarks are at Annex.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
11 JUNE 2020
REMARKS BY MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN AT THE FORUM OF SMALL STATES VIRTUAL HIGH-LEVEL EVENT ON THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SIGNING OF THE CHARTER OF THE UNITED NATIONS, 10 JUNE 2020
Good evening Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, and everyone who has joined us at this virtual meeting representing the Forum of Small States to the world.
At the outset, I would begin by expressing our condolences to the nation of Burundi, and to the family of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who passed away recently.
The Forum of Small States is delighted to partner with The Elders to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the signing of the United Nations (UN) Charter. We are honoured to have several distinguished speakers with us this evening or morning, depending on where you are, including the President of the 74th UN General Assembly Mr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, and the Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland Mrs Mary Robinson. The UN Secretary-General will also be delivering a video message to all of us shortly. I want to express my Special thanks to my good friend President Remengesau Jr, who is joining us as a high-level panellist at this very late hour from Palau, and to the Deputy Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers who are joining us from different time zones all over the world.
Excellencies, the world came together to sign the UN Charter 75 years ago, and this was in the aftermath of World War II. The UN Charter set out bold aspirations of lasting peace and development, and formed the cornerstone for multilateralism and international cooperation. Here we are 75 years later, and, to be honest, we all find the multilateral system under great strain. If that was not enough, we are currently confronting a global pandemic that is becoming the defining crisis of our generation.
Despite imperfections in the multilateral system, we are undoubtedly better off because of the UN and multilateralism. Since the UN was founded, we have averted great wars, the world’s GDP has grown by more than ten times, and the average person is more than four times richer than before. These achievements may not be attributable to the UN alone. But credit must be given to the UN and all the multilateral institutions for building a more stable world, and a more conducive environment for peace and prosperity.
The UN is the foremost international organisation. Its Charter has contributed to the survival and development of small states like all of us here tonight. Small states can only thrive within a rules-based multilateral system where every country has an equal voice and disputes can be settled peacefully. To go back to a world where “might is right” is to turn our backs on the lesson of history. This was the reason for establishing the Forum of Small States way back in 1992 as an informal, cross-regional grouping of small states. All of us are deeply committed to defending the UN and the multilateral system.
Excellencies, when Singapore was admitted to the UN on 21 September 1965, our first Foreign Minister, Mr S Rajaratnam, said that for Singapore, the essentials of the Charter are the preservation of peace, the promotion of economic development, and the inalienable right of every country to establish forms of government based on the wishes of its people. I believe these essentials remain relevant for every country around the world.
Multilateralism is our best option to tackle today’s complex global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, more pandemics in the future, and the governance of cyberspace. These challenges demand that we intensify cooperation, rather than turn inwards into isolation. Isolationist and protectionist sentiments will always exist. But all states must work to refute such dangerous thinking. COVID-19 has starkly demonstrated our interdependence – and the need for greater cooperation across borders. Big and small states alike have the same interest: to defeat this pandemic as quickly as possible. It is critical that the UN mounts a united response across the globe. International cooperation will be key to developing a vaccine or cure, and to getting us back on the road of sustainable economic rebuilding, and to enhance resilience to cope with future pandemics and other natural disasters. The phrase “we’re all in this together” rings true not only in a COVID-19 world, but even so in a post-COVID-19 world.
Excellencies, multilateralism matters. To ensure that multilateralism works for all of us, we must adapt and we must reform the institutions that, while imperfect, nevertheless have served us well for more than seven decades. We must ensure that they are open, inclusive, transparent, and fit for purpose. Above all, we must reaffirm our commitment to a world underpinned by a strong, rules-based multilateral system. The alternative is a more dangerous and shrinking world that will threaten the marginalisation, irrelevance, and decline of small states.
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