Even as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) prepares for its next session in New York, UNGA president-elect Peter Thomson, who will take over on September 1, was in New Delhi to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In an interview with Suhasini Haidar, Mr. Thomson, who is from Fiji, speaks about blocks to UN Security Council (UNSC) reforms and the relevance of the UN today, among other things. Excerpts:
This is an important UNGA session. India had high hopes from the 70th session for movement on issues like the UNSC reforms but was disappointed. Given that backdrop, tell us about your talks with Mr. Modi.
I had very important discussions with Prime Minister Modi. We discussed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was the basis for my candidacy, and it will be my utmost effort to ensure that in the 71st session we do whatever we can to get the wheels turning on the SDGs. India and the PGA’s (President of the General Assembly) office will work closely on this. As you would imagine, UNSC reform and the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) were on the agenda. I was made aware of the sense of frustration that India has on both these counts, but I was able to assure the Prime Minister that the PGA will be seized of both these matters and hopes to take action on both of them.
You mentioned a sense of frustration. On the issue of UNSC reforms, Mr. Modi had spoken of seeing a reformed Security Council with India in it by the close of the 70th year of the UN, which didn’t happen. Where do you think the blocks are?
I haven’t heard of any member state that is against reform. It’s just a question of what kind of reform, what shape the UNSC will take. My job will be to appoint a chair for intergovernmental negotiations, and select a citizen or citizens to take it forward. All 193 General Assembly members have to be on board. Remember, if there is a very significant minority that is against the process, we will go nowhere. So what I told Prime Minister Modi was that I see my role in acting as a catalyst, engaging key players like Italy on the UFC side (Uniting for Consensus, a group of countries opposed to reform), and India on the G4 side (group of applicants which are India, Japan, Germany, Brazil), the P-5 (permanent members of UNSC) and the Group of African countries.
Do you think it is a mistake for India to be in the G4 at all, as the opposition to all four countries will be considerably greater than for any one? In other words, should India be ‘going it alone’?
At the UN, it is the nature of negotiations that countries fall into groups; for example, the Group of 77 or non-aligned group… it’s the UN way. The fact that you are the member of any one group for UNSC reform doesn’t mean you don’t have a foot in the other camp. All it means is for the purposes of the debate you are in one camp. Nine times out of ten that leads to consensus and then you’re all in the same camp.
The reason I ask is that in the G4 grouping are India and Japan, two Asian rivals to China which has been less welcoming about the reforms proposed by them. You flew into New Delhi from Beijing. Have you had any conversations about China’s stand?
The reason I chose to come on this trip to China and India is, first of all, they are the two biggest countries in my grouping. Fiji was put forward by the Asia Pacific Group. But also because there is a need to finesse and to find a balance on Security Council reform. China is on one side of the argument, and India on the other. Again, everybody speaks of the need for reform, but the question is what the final package will be. Like any other UN process, finding a consensus always seems impossible, until it is done.
Is there a need to put a deadline on when UNSC reform should happen?
The deadline is simply the need for reform and the fact that we are all for reform. When it comes to whether it is delayed or not… I remember what Zhou Enlai said when asked by Henry Kissinger about the impact of the French Revolution. “Too early to tell,” he said. (Kissinger’s translator said later on that Zhou Enlai had been misquoted.) Hopefully we won’t have to wait that long for UNSC reform. But the important thing is not the time it takes; the important thing is to get it right and get it done.
The other process India feels disappointed about is on the CCIT, which it introduced in 1996.
Yes, we certainly will try to get some success on getting the CCIT process under way. I have assured the Prime Minister on this regard. Around the world, terrorism is not going away. It is exacerbating and we have to address it. I as the PGA will be doing everything I can to have the CCIT adopted.
The CCIT is just one more example of delays. The larger question is, is the UN losing its relevance?
Let’s be clear, the alternative to the UN is bleak. It wasn’t created to take us to heaven but it may stop us from going to hell. The SDGs, for example, were a major achievement: to get a 193-member body to agree on 169 targets for humanity was considered impossible, but we did it. On the human rights side I think we are doing pretty well. We haven’t stopped wars but when you see what the UN has done in terms of peacekeeping, what could have happened without the UN is far worse.
You spoke of the 169 targets passed, 17 SDGs. One of the questions is how you expect to finance these, because not every country can afford them.
One of the big challenges is taking these goals to the people and educating them, and have them understand that this is something devised for them. Obviously we have the traditional means, relying on the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund. You see, the global financial system itself could go down in flames if the SDGs are not implemented. For example, SDG 13 is climate change. The insurance industry won’t be able to function if climate change is not curbed.
You spoke about human rights. Pakistan has made it clear it will take up the issue of violence in Kashmir, has written many letters, and plans to send special envoys. Could this make a difference, possibly derail the upcoming session?
No, I don’t think so. Every head of state and delegation is entitled to bring up whatever they want. But its not something that came up in my meetings in Delhi.
And were there discussions in your meetings in Delhi about India’s concerns about human rights violations in Balochistan?
No, absolutely not. I did read mentions in the papers of the public statements in this regard, but concerns on Balochistan were not raised in my meetings.
Read this Interview at : ‘I am aware of India’s frustration’
Source: The Hindu – Interviews