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United Nations Association UN Day Function

Issue date: 
Thursday, 23 October 1997
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Lady Jansen, Mr Lewis, Mr Head, Your Excellencies.

New Zealand's commitment to and participation in what was originally called the United Nations Organisation, goes back to San Francisco, to the UN's birth, on the other side of the International Dateline, on October the twenty fourth, 1945. And it is still a matter of some national pride, that this country was one of the first adherents to the United Nations Charter.

I have always believed that small nations with no axe to grind, committed to the principles of the Charter, can exercise and influence for good that is not in proportion to their size or wealth.

And so it is a matter of pride that New Zealand has eight current peacekeeping commitments, coming after thirteen other such commitments, in the past. We have people in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia, in Iraq and New York, in Angola and Mozambique, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, the Sinai, Cambodia and Laos, a total of 75 personnel. Our future capacity to be involved in more extensive peacekeeping operations, or even to maintain our current level of participation, is something which we must address as a nation.

There are, happily, many other ways in which New Zealand has shown its support for the United Nations. Last year, we contributed just under $15 million to the UN budget and to peacekeeping operations. We honour our financial obligations.

New Zealand is a member of all of the major specialised agencies of the United Nations, including the FAO, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO. We play a full part in other UN undertakings and programmes.

Out of both self-interest and conviction, New Zealand campaigned in several rounds of international trade liberalisation talks, talks that eventually led to the establishment of the World Trade Organisation.

We make regular contributions to the lending funds of the International Development Association, the IDA being one of the five institutions known collectively as the World Bank.

Many distinguished New Zealanders, both currently and in the past, both full-time and on an ad hoc basis, have served on the central UN bodies in New York, Geneva and the like, and joined in the huge range of the UN's work out in the world.

And this all occurred even though, in the decades that followed the UN's launch in post-Second World War optimism and hope, the organisation did not always live up the expectations the founders had for it. Granted, there were many reasons for that, some of them, in hindsight, understandable.

But now that the long Cold War is over, we can more readily see that the world's governments and peoples have indeed become interdependent. After 1989, attention could again be paid to resolving some of the original philosophical challenges of the United Nations enterprise. Almost all of these, have their origin in a very fundamental issue : the issue of how completely nations will accept that there are limits to their sovereignty; and that national independence and liberty do not also permit, or encourage, international licence or irresponsibility. Sometimes, and naturally under agreed rules and through acceptable processes, the claims of "outsiders" on previously-absolute sovereign discretion must begin to be allowed.

For large and influential nations in particular, this has proven to be something of a sticking point. "Why," say the great powers, sometimes in public, sometimes under their diplomatic breath, "why is it incumbent upon us to satisfy every quibble from even the smallest of small states? Their interests are so much less than ours, that for us to pay too much heed would be inequitable." And to an extent, this is true. Yet all the small states still have a legitimate worry. It is that while they are expected, always, to play by accepted UN or international rules, the greater powers sometimes evade them. "Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?- but who supervises the arbiters?" Permanent powers of veto must surely, one day, be disallowed. Proper, full and truly parliamentary consultative processes must, in time, be instituted. The physical and economic power of the large and wealthy nations must be exercised responsibly, in the international interest.

But as you might expect of an ex-Judge, my greatest hope for the future of the UN, is that a credible system of international legal administration come into being. The rule of some international body of law, and the means to administer and enforce the rule of that law adquately, is necessary for the UN to attain the lofty aims set for it, fifty two years ago.

Those are just some of the hopes that the United Nations Association of New Zealand continues to keep bright.

As the Patron of the Association, and on behalf of all New Zealanders, I commend the ideals that the Association upholds. May the year preceding the half-century anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights be an active and productive one.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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