President Zia’s address at UN General Assembly

President Ziaur Rahman at UN General Assembly 1980. (Courtesy- UN Photo Archive)

President Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttam delivered a historic address on August 26, 1980, at the General Assembly of the United Nations where he particularly emphasized the adoption of the suggestions by the Brandt Commission during the Second Oil Crisis. The text of the speech is available for the readers here.

I bring the Assembly the warm greetings of the people of Bangladesh. My pres­ence here today reflects the importance which Bangla­desh attaches to the eleventh special session of the United Nations General Assembly. The road to this spe­cial session has indeed been long and painful. The years since the sixth and seventh special sessions have seen very little progress towards the establishment of a new international economic order. Far from seeing the dif­ferences between the rich and the poor narrowing down, we find that the gulf between them has further widened.

Why is it that, in spite of our common commitment to the principles of the Charter and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [General Assembly reso­lution 217A (111)1, our commitment to the basic human rights of freedom from hunger and want, to promoting higher standards of living, full employment and condi­tions of economic and social progress and development, we have made so little progress so far?

Why is it that, once we had committed ourselves unanimously to the goals and objectives of the First and Second United Nations Development Decades, the num¬ber of the poor and hungry, instead of decreasing, has considerably increased?

What is it that makes this most august body, the General Assembly, pledge itself in countless resolutions every year to promote international peace and security, and yet ignore what constitutes the single biggest threat to international peace and security?

What are the compulsions under which global defence expenditure has climbed to nearly $500 billion a year while the flow of economic assistance in real terms has been steadily on the decline?

What should we say to the hundreds of millions spread throughout the world, the deprived, the hungry, the destitute, the wretched of this earth for whom day in and day out life is a ceaseless struggle for survival? Would you have us say: Yes, let our planet be divided into two worlds, one in which we accept a life-style based on wasteful consumption, using up precious non-renewable resources, polluting the environment and die of starvation and are bodily and mentally crippled by malnutrition, where people are doomed to a subhuman life haunted by poverty, disease and despair?

We welcome the admission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations. Since Bangladesh had the privilege of being closely associated with the Lusaka initiative, it naturally hails the emergence of Zimbabwe as an independent, sovereign State.

Mankind has made remarkable progress during the course of this century. The days of colonialism have all but ended. Membership in the United Nations has increased nearly threefold during the past 35 years. The advances in the fields of science and technology, medicine and communication are indeed phenomenal. We have explored the depths of the oceans and the mysteries of outer space. Yet I should like to remind representatives of what was said in this very hall by a former president of the United States two decades ago:
“But the mysteries of outer space must not divert our eyes or our energies from the harsh realities that face our fellowmen. Political sovereignty is but a mockery, without the means of meeting poverty, illiteracy and disease. Self-determination is but a slogan if the future holds no hope.”

During the three and a half decades since the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, we have been working towards a better world, a better future for both the rich and the poor. The Charter and the evolution of the entire United Nations system are based on the concept. of global interdependence and cooperation. Why did we opt for global interdependence? What was the rationale behind it? Because we wanted collectively to maintain international peace and security, to build a world ensuring freedom, human dignity and justice; because the evolution of international society has made it manifest, more than ever before, that most problems today are closely linked and global in character, and that there can be no piecemeal solutions to these problems. Just as there can be no fragmentation of peace, there can be no fragmentation of the world into segments of rich and poor, without a serious threat to peace. If we believe in the community of mankind, we must accept mutual obligations and responsibilities towards that community.

But there are far more compelling arguments in favour of global cooperation, as has been forcefully brought out in the report of the Brandt Commission. We commend Mr. Brandt and the other members of the Commission for their understanding of the global problems and their constructive proposals for over­coming them. What is particularly significant is that that report demonstrates that it is to the mutual advan­tage of both the North and the South to establish a New International Economic Order. The concessions that the North is required to make in the fields of trade, finance, transfer of resources and technology have been sug­gested, not out of any sense of altruism, nor by way of compensating the South for the past misdeeds during the colonial era, but because it is in the interest of the North to do so.

I would venture to say that the mutuality of inter­ests has many facets. It is not simply a case of helping to build the purchasing power of the South so that the North may offload more and more of its surplus exports. While there are, no doubt, very convincing economic arguments, we must not for a moment ignore the far-reaching political implications. Less than a year ago at the Sixth Conference of Heads of State or Gov­ernment of Non-Aligned Countries, held at Havana from 3 to 9 September 1979, the late President Tito reminded us that:

“Security, peace and stability in the world can hardly be ensured without fundamental changes in present international economic relations which, expose the developing countries to discrimination and inequality. The material resources at man’s disposal, instead of promoting the welfare and harmonious development of all, are being made to do just the opposite. Unequal economic relations are be­coming to an increasingly dangerous source of new complications and conflicts.”

Can there really be any doubt in the mind of anyone that peace is indivisible? Does the North believe that it can immunize itself from the turbulence and the cataclysms originating in the South; that in its half there will be peace, progress and prosperity, while in ours there will be war, deprivation and stagnation?

The recommendations of the Brandt Commission are balanced and realistic. We find great force and rea­son in the proposal for a special action programme for the least developed countries and also in the proposals for increasing food production; achieving a satisfactory balance between population and natural resources; tax­ing armaments and increasing efforts to control dis­armament; strengthening co-operation among the coun­tries of the South, including regional co-operation for the greater participation by those countries in the pro­cessing, marketing and distribution of their commod­ities; establishing an international strategy on energy; industrializing the developing countries; removing tariff barriers; establishing an international trade organiza­tion; reforming the-world monetary order and adopting a new approach to development finance. Of course, where we find it necessary, we can agree to some modifications. But we must act, and act quickly.

What is it that moves us to speak with such urgency? Why this sense of desperation? We feel so des­perate because of the escalation in the arms race. The current global military expenditure is nearly $500 billion a year, and is increasing at the rate of $40 billion annu­ally. By contrast, official development assistance is on the decline and is today less than 5 per cent of the amount spent on armaments. The economic picture for the developing countries as a whole fills us with fore­boding and gloom. The combined foreign debt of the developing countries is now in excess of $300 billion. Forty billion dollars a year is spent on servicing the foreign debt, which accounts for more than 20 per cent of the total exports of the developing countries. Partly owing to this and partly owing to the trade policies of the developed countries and the increase in the price of their products, the developing countries suffered a balance of payments deficit of $45 billion in 1979. In 1980, this figure is likely to increase to $60 billion.

The North, including the Eastern European countries, has a quarter of the world’s population but commands four-fifths of its income. Over 90 per cent of the world’s manufacturing industry is in the North. The latest technological developments are jealously guarded by the transnational corporations of the North. Over a billion people in the South live in abject poverty; of these, over 400 million live on the verge of starvation. In 1978 alone, more than 12 million children under the age of 5 died of hunger. Unless some radical measures are adopted, the already grim state of affairs in the South can only grow worse.

In the midst of this picture of gloom and despair, we have a group of 30 countries classified by the United Nations as the least developed countries. The plight of these countries is, to say the least, frightening. The least-developed countries have a total population of approximately 260 million people or 13 per cent of the population Of all developing countries. Whilst the per capita income among all developing countries increased from $406 to $505 during the period 1970-1977, in the case of the least developed countries the increase was a mere $6, from $133 in 1970 to $139 in 1977. During this period, the average annual growth rate of per capita real gross domestic product at market prices for the developing countries was 3 per cent; in the case of the least developed countries, it was 0.2 per cent. According to the World Development Report, 1979, published by the World Bank, even assuming a most vigorous economic expansion in developing countries during the decade of the 1980s, the average income in these countries would be less than a twelfth of that in the industrialized coun¬tries; in the least developed countries, it would be less than one-fortieth.

It is estimated that the per capita manufacturing output in the least developed countries will increase from $7 in 1960 to $20 in 1990; in the case of all developing countries, the corresponding figures are $44 in 1960 and $174 in 1990. It is estimated that agricultural production in the least developed countries will decline from $69 per capita in 1960 to $62 per capita in 1990. While the export performance of all developing countries has shown an upward trend in constant prices during the period 1970-1978, it has registered a decline in the case of the least developed countries.

Unless some drastic steps are taken without delay, we fear the situation will soon reach a breaking point for most of these countries. It is for this reason that we urge the international community to implement speedily the Immediate Action Programme adopted at the fifth session of UNCTAD, held at Manila, which aims at providing an immediate boost to the economies of the least developed countries. We would propose that as a first step the developed countries immediately double their economic assistance to the least developed countries as they have recently pledged to do. It is not merely the quantity of such assistance that matters; the quality is equally important. As much assistance as possible should be in the form of untied grants. While a number of developed countries have written off their loans or provided debt relief to the least developed countries in accordance with the decision of the Trade and Develop­ment Board in 1978, some countries have lagged behind. We would urge these countries to implement this decision without any further delay. All tariff bar­riers should be removed, and a special effort should be made to enhance the volume of exports from these countries. International banking and financial institu­tions should provide assistance on a priority basis, and the members of the Organization of Petroleum Export­ing Countries (OPEC) should undertake to meet the entire requirement of the least developed countries for crude oil and petroleum products on special conces­sional terms. A special effort should also be made to absorb the surplus manpower from those countries.

What is it that we, the least developed countries, seek? To provide our people with the basic necessities of life—food, clothing, shelter, education and medicine. We want to be able to develop our own resources to the full. Many of us are rich in natural resources, but we lack either the know-how or the capital—frequently both—to develop these resources properly. According to the Brandt Commission, the total requirements to meet the annual development costs of the least developed countries would constitute less than 1 per cent of the present expenditure on armaments. For the price of one tank we could create storage facilities for 100,000 tons of rice; for the price of one jet fighter we could set up 40,000 village pharmacies.

We are told by our friends in the North that, much as they would like to cooperate with us, their hands are tied; their Governments have no mandate for making such far-reaching concessions; their Parliaments would not accept it; the electorates would not understand; their coffers are empty, and we should turn to the OPEC countries for salvation.

I would say in reply that we are prepared to help them to overcome these problems and obstacles in the same manner that the members of the Brandt Commis¬sion, led by Mr. Brandt himself, have done by speaking to a broad cross-section of people in the North. We shall be happy to send envoys, delegations, students and trade union leaders, journalists and educators who will go on lecture tours, who will speak and explain and, I hope, eventually convince their more prosperous colleagues that, if we cannot break the present impasse and do so speedily, the world will be faced with a disaster that would spare neither the rich nor the poor.

We must be honest with ourselves. If we can be of any help, let them please speak to us frankly. If we feel that the problem is essentially a political one and that the far-reaching decisions that are required are beyond the competence of this special session, then, by all means, let us have a summit. But, I urge the Assembly, let us not prevaricate, let us not find excuses for inac¬tion, for we are sitting on a live volcano and time is of the very essence.

It is particularly important that the views of the least developed countries should be given careful consideration and that those countries should be allowed to participate in the decision-making bodies of the United Nations on an equal footing. Special efforts must be made to develop the resources of such countries so as to reduce their vulnerability to external pressure and manipulation. Above all, it is essential that such countries should be allowed to build their own future without outside interference or intervention.

It is hoped and expected that due attention will be given to incorporating the substantial action programme for the least developed countries, adopted at Manila, into the international development strategy and that the United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which is scheduled to take place next year, will be able to spell out in detail this programme and the ways and means of implementing it. In preparing for that Conference, we in Bangladesh have already undertaken detailed studies and the formulation of a special programme, which will be geared to the acceler¬ated development of Bangladesh. In the meantime, it is essential that concrete measures should be adopted without delay within the purview of the Immediate Action Programme.

The Assembly will bear with me if I say a few words about Bangladesh, which accounts for one-third of the population of the least, developed countries. Twice as densely populated as Japan and the Nether¬lands, Bangladesh today has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world. Over 50 per cent of the population is either unemployed or made up of landless peasants who are only seasonally employed. Every year we have 2 million more mouths to feed; more clothes, more schools, more homes to provide. Yet, we have not per¬ished and we shall not perish. We are determined to double our food production in about five years. We shall cut down the birth rate from 2.5 per cent to 2 per cent by 1985. We shall build more schools and more hospitals; no man, woman or child will go without food, shelter or clothing. Our priority is agricultural and rural development. Our aim is to galvanize our entire population of nearly 90 million into action. Our commitment to the democratic process will not be shaken. Our motto is self-reliance. We must succeed because we cannot afford to fail.

Those objectives have been spelled out within the framework of our second five-year plan, which we have already launched. We welcome the wide-ranging support that has been extended by our friends for the fulfil¬ment of the targets of the plan, but we are still far short of our requirements.

We have been doubly hit by the present world economic situation. We have to pay increasingly more for oil, on the one hand, and for imported capital goods and industrial raw materials, on the other. The cost of our import • bill for oil and petroleum products will amount to more than 50 per cent of our total foreign exchange earnings. The cost of oil imports to the least developed countries was estimated at approximately $600 million in 1976. This year, Bangladesh alone will spend close to that amount to meet its crude oil requirements. I have taken the liberty of proposing that OPEC as a whole should assume concrete responsibility for the oil bill of the least developed countries, and we have all noted the decisions by Venezuela and Mexico to make available oil at concessional terms to the poorest countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region. I should like further to propose that an international con¬sortium be established with the support of both the developed and the OPEC countries with a view to developing the energy resources of the least developed countries. We gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance already extended by OPEC countries, bilaterally and through the OPEC Fund, to the least developed countries. Assistance from the OPEC Fund amounted to $263 million as of January 1980. There is particular appreciation for this assistance because we recognize that oil is a non-renewable resource and that the OPEC countries are developing countries and have to make optimum use of their oil revenues to develop their own economies.

We also welcome the growing interest among some of the States members of OPEC in investing part of their substantial assets in the developing countries. The proposal of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for recycling petrodollars in the third world and its readiness to participate in international measures to support such reinvestment by undertaking to mini­mize the investment risk to the OPEC countries is an extremely constructive proposal deserving careful study.

I have dwelt at length on the least developed coun­tries, and on the need for special attention being devoted to them, not because it is my intention to deflect attention from the problems of the developing world as a whole but because in many cases the needs and requirements of the least developed countries are different. Therefore, the solutions which we seek must also differ. But our belief in and conviction of the need for a New International Economic Order are unshak­able. We very much appreciate the support that our more fortunate brethren in the developing world have given to the special efforts and programmes directed at assisting the least developed countries. We are confident that such support will be forthcoming in an increas­ing measure from all countries, both developing and developed, East and West, North and South.

In recent years we have seen an abundance of ideas directed at solving the problems of mankind. We must conserve the world’s limited resources; that much has now been clearly established. We must increase food production and wipe out the scourges of poverty and hunger; on that we are all agreed. There are no dissent­ing voices when we speak of a fair price for the products of the South. It is indeed heartening that after all these years of painful negotiations we have finally given life to the Common Fund for Commodities. No matter that the size of the Fund is much smaller than what we had originally envisaged: we have—albeit hesitantly—taken an important step forward towards the establishment of a New International Economic Order.

But we must not stop there. It is essential that we apply ourselves to seeking ways and means to cross the other hurdles, in the fields. of energy, trade, industry, financial institutions, employment, transfer of tech­nology, food and agriculture and the transfer of resources. Without a massive transfer of resources, we think it unlikely that many of us from the South, par­ticularly the least developed countries, will be able to break out of the vicious circle of poverty in which we find ourselves trapped. In addition to a sizeable increase in official development assistance from the industrial­ized countries, including those with centrally planned economies, we should consider an international system of revenue mobilization through taxation of interna­tional trade and expenditure on arms. We should also consider imposing a tax on the super-rich, both in the North and in the South. Hundreds of thousands of for­eign nationals, particularly from the developing world, are employed in different parts of the globe. These for­eign nationals generally pay income tax to the host Gov­ernments only. A percentage of that tax should be returned to the country of the foreign national. Special levies should be imposed on the transnational corpora­tions and a substantial part of the income to be derived from the extraction of minerals from the sea-bed should also be made available to the South. We fully support the idea for a world development fund put forward in the Brandt Commission’s report. It is also desirable that a comprehensive reorganization of international institutions, including the United Nations and its specialized agencies, be undertaken with a view to implementing better the structural and functional changes which will result from the establishment of a New International Economic Order.

To sum up, I should like to propose the implementation of the following concrete measures which I feel will greatly alleviate the present problems in the South, in particular among the poorest countries.

  • First, the South should extend all possible cooperation in informing and educating public opinion in the North about the need for a New International Economic Order.
  • Second, the developed countries, including those with centrally planned economies, should immediately double their official development assistance to the least developed countries and provide such assistance in the form of untied grants.
  • Third, OPEC countries should effect a 50 per cent reduction in the price of oil for the least developed countries.
  • Fourth, an international consortium should be established to develop the energy resources of the least developed countries.
  • Fifth, OPEC countries should, with the possible participation of developed countries, invest a part of their assets in the developing countries.
  • Sixth, there should be a massive transfer of resources from the North to the South through taxation of international trade and arms expenditure.
  • Seventh, the North should compensate the South for the services of its manpower now making a positive contribution to the economies of the North.
  • Eighth, special levies should be imposed on transnational corporations, and the super-rich should pay a special tax to help the poor in the South.
  • Ninth, the United Nations, its specialized agencies, IMF and IBRD should be reorganized and restructured so as better to serve the interest of the developing countries, including the creation of appropriate institutions to implement the action programme for the least developed countries.
  • Tenth, a world development fund, with universal Membership, should be established; it would receive the worldwide levies and would be responsible for the allocation and proper utilization of those funds.

The deterioration of the international situation due to foreign military intervention in the region, far and near, is totally incompatible with the objectives of the New International Economic Order. There is an imperative need for the concentration of efforts on national development and internal stability, as well as regional peace and cooperation. It was in this context that Bangladesh recently proposed a South Asian sum¬mit conference. We find that, while regional cooperation has successfully struck roots in different parts of the world, there have been no serious efforts to promote cooperation among the countries of South Asia on a regional basis. Our first objective will be to get together and explore the possible areas of cooperation for the mutual benefit of all the countries of the region. We have seen elsewhere in the world how regional cooperation has helped to remove tensions and soften the position of adversaries in the common interest. It is time we made a start in South Asia.

I hope I ‘have succeeded in conveying my anguish and agony, which I have no doubt are shared by many of the representatives present here. I can only agree with Mr. Brandt when he says:

“The shaping of our common future is much too important to be left to -governments and experts alone. Therefore, our appeal goes to youth, to women’s and labour movements; to political, intellec­tual and religious leaders; to scientists and educators; to technicians and managers; to members of the rural and business communities. May they all try to under­stand and to conduct their affairs in the light of this new challenge?”

We must face the challenge of the contemporary world. The need of the hour is for bold and imaginative action. We will not find solutions if we cling to outdated concepts and institutions. We must act in concert and work for a better and nobler life for all sectors of the family of mankind. The nations of the world, taken together, have the resources and technology to achieve that goal. Along the path of cooperation, that goal can be attained much faster than many would believe. Rea­sons of both economic and political security dictate that we follow that path. I sincerely hope and pray that we make the right choice at the right time.

The original copy of the text can be found here 1980, 26 Aug.: A/S-11/PV.3: President Ziaur Rahman.


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