Statement by the President of the Republic of Lithuania at the UN General Assembly
Statement by the President of the Republic of Lithuania H.E. Gitanas Nausėda at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. New York, 25 September 2019.
Mr. President of the General Assembly,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great privilege for me to address for the first time this high institution on behalf of the Republic of Lithuania. I came with the message that my country is deeply committed to the UN core values and principles. The responsibility to seek peace, to protect human rights and to work towards general welfare is our main goal, rooted in our difficult history.
Lithuania suffered painful losses during the two world wars. It experienced two brutal totalitarian regimes: Nazism and Stalinism. After regaining independence almost 30 years ago, we rebuilt democratic state institutions, created an effective market economy and became part of the world’s major political, economic and cultural organizations.
History is a great teacher. It teaches us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. It also inspires us to move on to new heights. Just a month ago, we commemorated the 80th anniversary of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This criminal conspiracy led to World War II and the occupation of the three Baltic States. The same day every year we also celebrate a moment of great triumph. 30 years ago, the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined hands in a 650-kilometer-long Baltic Way, strongly condemning the Pact. That was an important step in our struggle for freedom – and we will never forget it.
Lithuania has always strongly supported and promoted multilateral cooperation. Effective rule-based multilateralism upholds the world order and contributes to international peace and security. Determination to adhere to international law is often the last barrier separating our countries from unpredictable and therefore dangerous disorder. In this world of many uncertainties we need multilateral mechanisms more than ever before.
Against this background, the United Nation’s Charter plays an exceptional role as it commits all nations to work together towards a better world for all. Therefore, we fully support the steps undertaken by the Secretary General to reform the United Nations in order to make the organization more resilient and capable of better addressing difficult global challenges.
We need a stronger United Nations to respond more effectively to protracted conflicts and humanitarian crises in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. We also need active engagement of all UN members to eliminate and prevent large-scale crimes against humanity and to find long-term political solutions.
Unfortunately, in the world of many crises, Europe is not an exception anymore. The illegitimate use of force and serious violations or sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity have become part of Europe’s every-day life. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, encouraged by the feeble international response to its 2008 aggression against Georgia, attempts to further destabilize countries in its near neighborhood. Russia’s appalling military actions against Ukraine have been continuing for five years now.
Lithuania strongly condemns this prolonged violation of international law and urges the aggressor to respect the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and bilateral agreements with Ukraine. We will continue supporting Georgian and Ukrainian independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; we will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea, the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We hold that the implementation of the Minsk agreements is an absolute precondition for normalizing relations with Russia.
Some political leaders are raising an idea to create a new geopolitical space from the Atlantic Ocean to Vladivostok, drawing Russia in. It may sound interesting, but do we have common ground for it? Do we have shared values? The answer is no!
We have to remember the hard lessons of history. There was a time when left-leaning intellectuals congratulated Vladimir Lenin’s ascent to power during the Russian Revolution. There was a time when the independence-seeking Baltic States were being instructed not to rush so as not to harm Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika. Both times it all ended in a bloodshed of innocent people.
As a matter of principle, we should not endorse unions in which some states become subjects of history, and some others – merely objects. As of today, Russia has done nothing to inspire our confidence. Could this yet change? Yes! We would be the first to congratulate this turn of events – a democratic Russia respecting international law and the sovereignty of other countries.
Today we need to realize that open disrespect to international law endangers global security. It often comes with blatant violations of human rights and undermines our efforts to build prosperous societies.
We know that there is no peace and no security without responsibility. We have repeatedly witnessed that impunity breeds new violence. Those who have committed crimes against humanity must know that they will not go unpunished.
Lithuania is one of those countries that are still waiting for justice. During the brutal January events in 1991, Soviet military tanks attacked peaceful protesters in newly independent Lithuania. Fourteen civilians were killed and more than 800 injured. Twenty-eight years on, the Lithuanian court convicted 67 former Soviet officers and military personnel for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, Russia continues to shield the perpetrators from justice and has even initiated criminal proceedings against those Lithuanian judges and prosecutors who investigated the case. We see it as impermissible interference in a sovereign state’s delivery of justice.
Knowing the true significance of justice, we will continue working to ensure the universality and indivisibility of human rights. Lithuania’s key priorities as a candidate for the Human Rights Council in 2022-2024 will be women’s and children’s rights, as well as the protection of freedom of expression. We hold that every nation – small or large – has the right and the duty to strive for a better world for all. During Lithuania’s presidency of the United Nation’s Security Council in 2015, we reinforced our commitments regarding the use of small arms and light weapons as well as the protection of journalists in zones of conflict. Responding to the violations of international law, we kept the Council’s attention on the ongoing aggression against Ukraine.
Lithuania will continue its active participation in the UN peacekeeping operations as well as its contribution to military training and humanitarian actions in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia. We actively support all efforts to strengthen UN peacekeeping forces, including Action for Peacekeeping and the Secretary General’s initiative to fight sexual exploitation in military conflicts. Recognizing the irreplaceable role played by women in building and maintaining peace, we will work to expand women’s engagement in peacekeeping operations.
Our common efforts to seek security and justice create the pre-conditions to fight poverty, income inequality, social exclusion, and climate crisis. Only lasting stability across societies and nations as well as greater democratic inclusion of all citizens will ensure the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals.
At the time when general welfare is threatened by new challenges globally, with social exclusion continuing to increase and the gap between the rich and the poor standing at a 30-year high, we should all search for long-term responses. Now is the time for every UN member country and head of state to demonstrate true leadership on the national, regional and global scenes. The input of each and every nation counts.
That is why I launched the idea of Welfare State in Lithuania as a focal concept for the next five years of my presidency. This initiative is built on the core principles of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. The most difficult challenge is to translate it into reality. Only specific and streamlined action can bring us closer to success.
At the international level, I would call on everybody to identify the biggest threats to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and to come up with adequate solutions. In Lithuania’s view, violations of a rule-based global order, the transformation of cyber space into a new field for arms race, disrespect for international environmental and nuclear safety standards, as well as neglect of climate change, should be considered as most serious impediments.
Critical for Lithuania’s long-term strategy remains our commitment to the Paris Agreement. Our climate change mitigation policy is based on the sustainable use of renewables and increased energy efficiency.
Along with developing wind and solar energy, we are also determined to switch from fossil fuels to biomass in the heating sector. In just five years, Lithuania has built an effective network of small biomass boilers, demonstrating that cities and towns can easily transform their district heating, that the local energy potential can be exploited in a sustainable way and that green jobs can be created fast.
We have presented the sustainable heating initiative – supported by a number of countries – at the UN Climate Action Summit and we are ready to share our experience with all interested parties.
In the upcoming UN discussions on environmental issues, we will speak in favor of enhancing climate and security elements. We speak out very strongly on the threats and negative environmental effects posed by chemical weapons dumped at sea. Technological development creates conditions to reach the seabed more easily, and this entails new risks. Lithuania will not remain silent and will submit – for the fourth time – a resolution aimed at assessing those risks. We hope that our efforts will encourage the international society to become more engaged in creating a safer, cleaner and sustainable environment both on land and at sea.
Only by acting together, we can build a better future. Our shared spirit of humanity commits us to treat each other with integrity, to treasure and protect our planet.
I believe that inventiveness and international collaboration will enable us to turn the emerging challenges into new opportunities and to contribute to universal prosperity.
I would like to conclude my speech by quoting former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: “We will not enjoy development without security, or security without development. We will not enjoy either without universal respect for human rights.”