Admission of Tuvalu

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to the 55th Session of the UN General Assembly

on the
Admission of Tuvalu
to the United Nations

Prime Minister of Tuvalu The Hon. Ionatana Ionatana

September 5, 2000


Your Excellency, Mr. President

Your Excellency, Mr. Secretary-General

Distinguished Member States

On behalf of the people of Tuvalu, allow me first to extend a warm greeting of friendship to the 55th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. I congratulate His Excellency, Mr. Harri Holkeri of Finland, on his election as President of the General Assembly.

I offer my sincere gratitude for the kind words expressed on behalf of the Group of African States; the Asian States; the Eastern European States; the Latin American and Caribbean States; the Western European and other states; the host country, the United States; and last but certainly not least our neighbour states of the Pacific Islands Forum.

I also wish to convey my deepest thanks to our sponsor States, the Security Council, and the General Assembly for the honour of being made the 189thMember State of the United Nations.

This is a special day in the history of Tuvalu. To be a member of the United Nations has made us very proud. To be a member symbolizes how far we have come since independence. But, we are humbled too. Humbled because Tuvalu is a small country. Humbled because Tuvalu is taking on new obligations. Humbled because we are confronting the franchise of the UN, which is immense: the promotion of peace and prosperity all over the world. In accordance with our faith, I want to give thanks to Almighty God - the God of Tuvalu and of all nations - for providing his guidance to Tuvalu and the United Nations.

Tuvalu was once a British Colony, part of the then Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Tuvalu came under British jurisdiction in 1877. A British Protectorate was named in 1892, with colony status conferred in 1916. In 1975, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was de-coupled. The Ellice Islands became Tuvalu. A traditional name, the word Tuvalu means "eight islands standing together" - in reference to the land on which we have lived for centuries.

On October 1st, 1978, Tuvalu celebrated its independence. At the time, many observers said Tuvalu statehood was a false promise. Tuvalu’s future was described as bleak. The country had problems too enormous to overcome. It was too remote, too small, too poor. Today, as we stand here in the General Assembly, it would appear that those who had doubted the worthiness of Tuvalu statehood have been proven wrong.

Tuvalu has a rich culture, a deep faith in Christianity, and a high respect for education. All three things - culture, faith, and education - are the foundation of modern Tuvalu. But by no means have we struggled alone. Our life under British Colonial administration taught us a great deal. Most importantly, we learned how to run a government and build a public service. In the years since, we have benefited from a seemingly endless supply of support and goodwill from the international community. This has produced a lasting legacy of development for which we are eternally grateful.

In the last two decades, Tuvalu has steadily matured politically and economically. We are now committing our own resources to development, including and especially education. Tuvalu’s private sector is small but growing. National infrastructure is gradually expanding. Ultimately, our goal is to eliminate foreign aid. In that regard, we recognise the critical role Information Technology will play in the 21st century. As remote as we are, the Internet has brought the world to our doorstep, and in return Tuvalu is spreading its country domain name, dotTV, around the world.

By any measure, the 20th century has been a remarkable journey for the people of Tuvalu. In the span of just a few generations, we have emerged from eight tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean, little known to the outside world. Traditionally, we are fishermen, planters and traders. We lead simple lives that meet our basic needs. As we have progressed, we have taken on occupations in fields as new to us as electrical engineering and computer science. We have adopted new sources of energy; new forms of communication; a new legal system; and the Westminster model of democratic government. Today, we start a new occupation in the United Nations as our journey continues into the 21st century.

The culture of Tuvalu is guided by the principles of courtesy and the search for consensus, rather than confrontation and divisiveness. We are careful to balance the assertion of individual rights with the needs of the community. This is our tradition. We believe these basic principles also rest at the heart of the United Nations. Principles of courtesy, consensus, and respect for others will be the foundation of our presence here in the General Assembly.

The United Nations, through its vast array of specialised agencies, has been a generous supporter of Tuvalu. Since independence, the UN has helped Tuvalu in areas as diverse as public health, public sector reform, private enterprise, agriculture, education, fisheries, trade, handicrafts, medicine, water…the list goes on. I might add that recent UN reforms, which made it more attractive for smaller states to join the UN, was a turning point in our decision to apply for membership. Our relationship with the United Nations is now deeper than ever before, and because of that Tuvalu’s place in the world is more secure than ever.

Tuvalu is a growing participant in regional and international affairs. We are a party to numerous UN conventions. We are active members in many regional and international bodies, including a number of UN agencies. We are a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in partnership with the European Union. As of last Friday, the 1st of September, Tuvalu became a full member of the Commonwealth.

In Tuvalu, we are concerned about liberalised trade and increasing globalisation. On the one hand, we recognise the long term benefits of free trade, especially on a global scale. On the other hand, economic globalisation has enormous force, against which we have little control or influence. We would be alarmed if a side effect of globalisation eroded our customs and undermined our culture. Because Tuvalu is small the risk we face is great. But Tuvalu owes its survival to itself, and for that we owe our ancestors an un-repayable debt.

We are also concerned about global climate change, and the consequences of atmospheric warming, in particular rising sea levels. World-wide, carbon dioxide emissions are still increasing. Emission targets are not being met. We urge the members of the United Nations family, in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol, to combat this threat more aggressively…before it is too late. As you know, we in the Pacific are especially vulnerable. We live on small islands, and on small islands, land is priceless. Losing it as a result of rising sea levels would be a tragic, irreplaceable loss.

The Pacific Islands are not always peaceful, but the world is not a perfect place. Often, the ripples from a political event reach across the Pacific region. Like many of our neighbour states, exposure to such events, even indirect exposure, means stability and security can be put at risk. In times of political instability what the region needs most is international support aimed at conciliation and economic recovery. This benefits not just one country, but all Pacific island states. The challenges facing the Pacific are not those of the Forum family only but the international community at large, for we all share a common interest in community stability and security.

We understand the obligations we have committed to in joining the United Nations. What we bring to the General Assembly is our Pacific perspective. The issues that concern us affect the Pacific Islands generally and Tuvalu specifically. Paramount is rising sea levels. But so too is the protection of our ocean and island environments, and the management and conservation of ocean resources. No one in Tuvalu is ever far from the sea. It gives us subsistence, a means of livelihood, and a sense of well-being.

In joining the United Nations, we want to build a stronger international identity. We want to strengthen old friendships and forge new relationships with Member States far and wide. We will uphold the noble ideals of the UN, and pledge our contribution to the promotion of progress, prosperity, and peace. We know what a privilege it is to be standing in the General Assembly as an equal member, despite of our small population, economy, and geographic size. But, I like to think we have earned our place.

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Member States of the General Assembly. Tuvalu has embarked on a new voyage. Our entry into the United Nations is a message of hope for our people. We are confident that the UN will steer us safely through unfamiliar waters so we can achieve our goals and expectations. May God be with us on our journey. May God bless the United Nations. And may God bless the hopes and dreams of Tuvalu.

Tuvalu Mo Te Atua (Tuvalu for God, God for Tuvalu).

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