Address by the President in the general debate at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly
Distinguished Mr. President,
I congratulate Mr. Tijani Muhammad-Bande, the President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, on his election to this honorable position, and I would like to pledge Poland's full support for his mission. At the same time, I would like to thank Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés for her active work as the President of the General Assembly during the 73rd session.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Peace, environmental protection and welfare – these are the three concepts on which I would like to center my message today. These three concepts should also serve as a cement binding the entire international community: peace through respect for the law; environmental protection achieved through cooperation and co-responsibility; welfare through engaging for sustainable development.
On September 1, we commemorated in Warsaw the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. The war that began with an attack on Poland by two totalitarian states and two criminal ideologies - German Nazi Hitlerism and Soviet Stalinist communism. The II Warld War, which violated the fundamental rights of nations and states to self-determination, claimed nearly 80 million victims worldwide and became a long-term trauma for millions more.
This extremely painful historical experience has left its mark for decades to come - not only on international relations, but has also greatly affected cultural and social consciousness, shaping both the ideas that we profess today and the goals we are setting and pursuing. What I said during the international commemoration ceremony of the outbreak of World War II in Warsaw, I would like to reiterate to resound in this forum: - that despite the progress of civilization, despite that terrible lesson, today, in the 21st century, there are still acts of incomprehensible barbarity perpetrated all over the world: ethnic cleansing, mass murders and even genocide.
Moreover, there are also attempts aimed at sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, and borders are moved by force. Looking at this, one cannot help noticing some historical analogies: there is also the temptation today to "buy time" for peace through passiveness and submission, and sometimes even parleying with aggressors in the name of one’s own interests. Submission, or appeasement - succumbing to dangerous illusions that one can deal with an aggressor at the expense of others in order to prolong peace for oneself. Parley, i.e. searching for particular interests, often economic, in one’s relations with aggressors, while at the same time invoking solidarity with the victims of aggression in grandiloquent words.
When creating the United Nations on the ruins of the world order, we were guided by a completely different set of tenets - the guiding principle was never again. It would seem that apparently not all of us have learnt from the cruel lesson of World War II. Unfortunately, as recent years have shown, the same temptation to deal with the aggressor existed then, as it does today. I firmly believe that it is high time to shake off the state of lethargy, learn from the past and stop repeating the same mistakes.
In this vein, as President of the Republic of Poland, I cannot fail to refer to the situation in our part of Europe. I want to make it clear once again that every country has an equal right to self-determination. Poland has been and will continue to be a champion of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, both of Ukraine and Georgia. State borders must not be changed by force.
Poland, so gravely affected as it was in the previous century, has a moral duty to speak out very clearly on this matter, and we are doing so. In the name of peace and freedom, which is so dear to us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year we are ending the two-year Polish membership in the UN Security Council, the experience which we regard as valuable and meaningful. It has emphasized the role of my country, which, as a founding member of the United Nations, considers itself an integral part of the great international system of cooperation between nations and states. It is primarily the common values, objectives and legal norms that bind the system together. The last few years have unfortunately shown that international law is often challenged and disavowed today. While it is precisely international law that provides the basis for the implementation of principles such as sovereign equality of states, justice, responsibility and security.
The law is not only for the benefit of states, but for the benefit of humanity as a whole and for the benefit of each individual. A violation of its norms must produce consequences, and individuals responsible for such a breach must be held accountable.
It was in this spirit, during last year's monthly Presidency of the Security Council, that Poland organized a high-level debate on the strengthening and upholding international law in the context of maintaining peace and security, which I chaired as President of the Republic of Poland. I would like to make it very clear that international law is the strongest tool in the hands of civilized nations, ensuring long-term peace. Peace through law. There can be no peace without the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Poland, tragically experienced in its history by acts of aggression from other countries, genocide and war crimes, will always unalterably be on the side of the law and on the side of the victims of violence.
We strongly and consistently emphasize this point in international fora.
First of all, in our work in the UN Security Council, we emphasize the indisputable role of international law in maintaining the global security architecture created after World War II, and of the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.
Secondly, we remain a consistent advocate of children's rights. This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Poland initiated. It has a special dimension for us. It is a universal and historically first international document that relates solely and exclusively to children. This ground-breaking Convention has changed the way we think about children. It has given children the protection they need and deserve.
Children are the most vulnerable group in terms of exposure to consequences of conflicts. In this connection, we are placing particular emphasis on the problem of the reintegration of children previously enrolled by armed groups, and of children born as a result of sexual violence in wars.
Thirdly, we call for the strengthening of protection of persons with disabilities in conflicts. They are particularly exposed to a range of negative phenomena associated with conflicts and post-conflict situations: violence, threat to life and health, difficulties in accessing health care, education, rehabilitation, in extreme cases life-saving humanitarian aid. In June 2019, on the initiative of Poland, the Security Council unanimously adopted the first ever resolution devoted to persons with disabilities in armed conflicts.
Fourthly and finally, we promote the protection of the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities. We are concerned about the surge of violence and religious hatred. We are particularly painfully aware of the spreading violence against Christians. And yet, freedom of religion is one of the fundamental human rights and fundamental human freedoms. Enhancing mutual understanding and cooperation between ethnic, cultural and religious groups is more important than ever before.
That is why, for several years now, Poland has been calling for an increased engagement of international organizations to promote full respect for the rights of religious minorities and to ensure freedom of religion and belief. A living testimony to the Polish commitment to the cause is the fact that this year, the United Nations General Assembly decided to designate 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, as President of the Republic of Poland, I would like not only to take stock of Poland's achievements in the field of promoting peace in the world, but also to emphasize our contribution to solving the second key challenge of the contemporary world, which is care for natural environment.
We will soon be handing over to Chile the presidency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our term in office has produced a significant contribution to global climate policy. At the COP24 Conference organized in Katowice, the Katowice Rulebook was adopted. The COP24 climate conference was meant to provide a 'handbook' on how the Paris Agreement should be implemented. And that is what we have achieved.
Therefore, I would like at this point to thank all political leaders for their personal commitment, their presence and our meetings both at the COP24 Leaders’ Summit and in the closing stretch of the negotiations in Katowice. Thanks to the Katowice Climate Package, the world has a set of guidelines available to take actions and operationalize the Paris Agreement.
I realize that many of us believe that more needs to be done to protect the environment; that our ambitions should be greater. However, I also believe that the essence of the fight with negative processes taking place in the natural environment primarily consists in building international consensus on this issue. And one cannot prescind from its limits.
Ambitions must be expressed together, because only then can they be realized; only together can we save our natural environment. The fact that the document crowning COP24 was adopted unanimously is all the more gratifying.
A part of this arrangement, worked out in the course of laborious negotiations, was also the acceptance of the Just Transition declaration. For me the fact that this concept, which was coined during the Katowice conference, is now becoming part of the official language of the European Union and of the environmental program of the newly formed European Commission is a source of great satisfaction. Let me assure you that Poland will support the European Commission in the implementation of the Just Transition concept, as it was defined during COP24.
Responding to the call for a higher level of ambition on environmental protection, in conjunction with yesterday's climate summit convened by the Secretary-General, I have tabled on behalf of Poland five initiatives which are already under way or are about to be taken at national level. They are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in pursuit of sustainability, where their production will be balanced by their absorption by ecosystems, and adaptation to climate change.
In the first place, we have created a program that aims to reduce emissions from households; secondly, we will seek to reduce emissions from public transport; thirdly, through large-scale afforestation programs, we want to enhance absorption of emissions by the ecosystem, which should bring us closer to climate neutrality; fourthly, we have developed plans for adapting cities to climate change and, fifthly, we have crafted a long-term program to change economic profile of one of the economically strongest regions in Poland: Silesia. Poland puts emphasis on the issue of a solidarity-based and just low-carbon transition. We are also convinced that building green economy is only possible when voices of all social groups are duly taken into account.
Environmental policy must be understood as a social policy and cannot be instrumentalized in order to gain economic advantages derived from different energy mixes of individual economies or reserves of natural resources at hand.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The issue of environment should be seen in the wider context of debate on sustainable development. In this vein, I do believe that time has come to launch an international discussion on the modern model of welfare policy. It is worth reflecting on the meaning of the term today, as well as how to locate it in a globalized world, what goals we should set ourselves on the road to its achievement and what model of a modern welfare state we would adopt, the model against which we would pitch our political ambitions.
In Poland, we have now started such a debate, which is facilitated by the dynamic development of the country’s economy and extensive social aid programs implemented by the Polish authorities.
Welfare policy should be based on the concept of sustainable development as set out in Agenda 2030 we have all adopted. In other words, it means responsibility, solidarity and justice.
At the July session of the High-Level Policy Forum, we noted significant progress in achieving Agenda 2030 and its goals. However, the discussion has shown that implementation of many of its goals is falling behind. This is confirmed by the UN Secretary-General's report, which states that Goal 4, concerning education, is at risk. This delay is an acute problem and should be eliminated as soon as possible. We all agree that education is fundamental.
The second key aspect, according to which our citizens define the quality of life, is the level of health protection. In this area, we must, both in individual countries and on a global scale, make immense financial investments and achieve a much higher level of fair and effective distribution. Negligence in health care in some parts of the globe has led to the reappearance of diseases that are already considered to have been eradicated. And in developed countries, the level of medical services is still under strong pressure from social expectations. This is mainly due to the ageing of population and the consequent increase of health needs. This problem is currently being addressed in Poland as one of the most pressing challenges for the country’s social policy.
Next to increasing educational opportunities and health protection, the third, equally important, aspect of sustainable development and the welfare state is harmonization of the standard of living. Policies should aspire to systematically combat poverty and prevent exploitation, including economic exploitation, and to reduce social disparities through a systematic increase in the average standard of living of families.
Only an economy based on harmonious cooperation between all social groups, fair sharing of fruits of labor, respect and honesty can bring about sustainable development in individual countries and the international community as a whole. We must introduce the concept of common wealth into the language of economic debate.
These issues are particularly important not only in developing countries. Today, even in some rich Western states, we are witnessing mass protests of citizens demanding respect for their social rights and highlighting the deterioration of their living conditions. They face police violence instead of respect.
I believe that a sincere dialogue devoted to modern welfare policies would help prevent such tensions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Shared responsibility should be the starting point for our efforts to achieve a better future for future generations. Poland is determined to continue its endeavors to ensure security and peace, development, respect for human rights and support for vulnerable groups in need of special protection.
I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to call for the promotion of peace through law, care for natural environment through shared responsibility, and engagement for welfare policy through sustainable development.
There is no doubt that, as international community, we are faced with mounting and often unprecedented challenges. However, I am convinced that by working together we are able to meet these challenges.
Thank you very much for your attention.