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Address by Jüri Luik at the 49th General Assembly of the United Nations

28. September 1994 - 8:39

Mr. Jüri Luik, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of of Estonia
28 September 1994, New York



Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mr. President, I would like to congratulate you on your election as President of this, the 49th General Assembly. The Estonian people wish you all the best in this post.

Today is a day of national mourning in my country. Late last night, amidst stormy autumn winds, the passenger and car ferry "Estonia," sailing from Tallinn to Stockholm, sank at high sea. Nearly 100 people have been saved and rescue efforts are continuing. But most of the over 850 people who were aboard the "Estonia" are presumed dead..

Within this painful loss, we can draw some solace from the global teamwork we have seen in the rescue efforts. Last night demonstrated beyond a doubt that the Baltic Sea is a sea of cooperation. Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Estonian rescue units worked together, and we had offers of help from Russia, NATO and countless others. On behalf of my Government, I thank all of those who helped us with the rescue effort. The spirit of international cooperation sets a fine example for all of us seated here today.

Mr. President,

Since August 31, 1994, my country stands before this forum unfettered by the presence of foreign troops on our soil. The role the UN played in helping remove the last vestiges of World War II was not small. For this reason, it is a special privilege for me to speak here today.

It is also not insignificant that this new era in the history of Estonia, Latvia and Germany coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, coming up next year. These two events would seem to call for solemn reflection of the past or at least a joyous celebration of the moment. But most of all, this new era requires new approaches. Post-war security--be the war hot or cold--still hangs in a delicate balance. Because it is up to all of us, collectively, to decide which way the scales tip, I wish to focus on the future, on how we in Estonia are approaching this new era, and on some of the ideas enshrined in the UN Charter that we believe deserve special attention in the next few years.

On August 31, we marked the withdrawal of troops from Estonia. The celebrations and commemorations of this event symbolized the end of one era and the beginning of another. The withdrawal of the troops has had a tremendous effect in bringing us closer to normalization of relations with the Russian Federation, and we sincerely hope that the problem of officers demobilized on our soil against the spirit and letter of the troop withdrawal agreement will be solved. The troop withdrawal was also the first step toward achieving security in the Baltic region. But it was only the first step. The problem of Baltic security has not yet been solved, not by far.

One dimension of moving toward bona fide security is undoubtedly lies in trying to improve relations with the Russian Federation. The potential of goodwill is in the air, and it is our duty, on both sides of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, to seize the moment and make that peace again. We might call this a policy toward Russia one of Positive Engagement. This would involve, among other qualities, mutual respect for sovereignty, mutual respect for national security interests, mutual refraining from verbal and other confrontation, mutual respect for international norms of behaviour, most importantly in the area of human rights.

We are willing to expend considerable energy to repair a relationship that has been historically complex. To do so is not only in our and Russia's interest, but in the interest of regional, European and therefore global security as well. I would emphasize, however, that in order for this policy to be successful, it must be mutual. If, on the other hand, our efforts are not reciprocated, then we must be prepared to expend that energy differently.

Mr. President,

Lately, we have noted with great concern talk of new spheres-of-influence. We hear the continuing use of the phrase "The Near Abroad." We observe similar attitudes in discussions about the enlargement of NATO and the European Union. We are already well past the initial stages of building a European security structure, based on shared values, a structure that goes beyond confrontation between East and West, between North and South. A viable framework that includes East Central Europe is nearly in place. It is not only late, it is also unacceptable to ponder the plans of architects who speak of spheres-of-influence and to consult contractors who wish to build on sand or worse, on a slippery slope.

There are some specific ways the UN can take advantage of the historic opportunity it faces to encourage principled behaviour. One of them is to render peacekeeping more effective by strengthening peacekeeping mechanisms, including disseminating better and more timely information to all member states in order to garner the support necessary for any collective action. Rather than abdicating responsibility, whether due to benign neglect, expediency, or funding problems, and allowing large states to act unilaterally. It goes without saying that in lending its name to any peacekeeping operations, the UN must stand by the fundamental principles of neutrality and multilateralism. The UN should never become a mask behind which one country tries to assert dominance over another by means of peacekeeping.

Mr. President,

Another area in which more effective mechanisms and more stringent standards are needed is human rights, as reflected in the Vienna Declaration of last year. I would stress the importance of the newly-established office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in taking on this task. We wish High Commissioner Ayala Lasso success in this most important and challenging endeavour.

We believe the High Commissioner can be instrumental not only in improving the effectiveness of the UN's human rights mechanisms, but also in holding this body to strict standards. We believe that all states should be measured according to the same human rights standards. I cannot agree more with Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, who two days ago told this forum, and I quote, that "neither a selective approach nor double standards are permissible" {end of quote}. Indeed, there can be no exceptions because of the size of a nation, cultural heritage or political delicacy of the situation. The standards that are applied to one must be valid for all other states. In other words, there can be no rubber rulers.

In this regard, allow me to remind you of an open letter, an appeal, really, to morality in foreign policy, which was signed by a host of political luminaries and published last year in September in The Wall Street Journal. I quote from the letter, entitled, "What the West Must Do in Bosnia:" "Even if, like Kuwait in August 1990, all Bosnia (and not just Sarajevo) were seized, it would be essential for the democracies to make clear, as they did in the case of Kuwait, that violent border changes and ethnic cleansing will not stand. If the West does not make that clear, it will have nothing persuasive to say..." {end of quote}.

Sadly, the message in that letter remains applicable today. If the world's democracies, led by the UN, do not speak out for morality in the area of human rights, we will lose our ability to influence the course of events. Democracies must be willing to stand by the principles upon which our states and societies are based. It is our sincere hope that non-selective application of human rights standards will become the rule, not the exception.

A third way the UN can take advantage of this moment is to consider the global changes that have taken place since 1945. Then, in the immediate postwar period, the composition of the Security Council was chosen by drawing a sharp distinction between the victors and the vanquished. Times have changed. We must now take into account the positive role that two states in particular play in the international arena. I speak here of Germany and Japan, two states that have more than demonstrated their commitment to democracy during the last fifty years. Estonia strongly supports granting Germany and Japan permanent member status in the Security Council as a recognition of their accomplishments and an acknowledgment of their stabilizing role in future world affairs.

I would turn now briefly to Estonia's vision of its future role in the United Nations. Now that the issues which until now have demanded our intense attention have been practically solved, we are freer to devote more energy to wider issues that affect us all. I'm speaking here of global phenomena such as terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, smuggling of radioactive materials, illegal arms trading, as well as health and social issues and environmental problems. These are issues that know no borders, and combating them requires a collective effort on our part.

Mr. President,

On this, the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, we face an enormous challenge. The war is over. But the real battle--to safeguard human and civil rights for all persons, to strengthen security for all states, to preserve a continent undivided--this battle has only just begun. With intelligence, perseverance, goodwill, and a little luck, the nations gathered here can unite in the battle to make the next fifty years more constructive than the last.


Thank you.

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