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President Zurabishvili’s UNGA Speech

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On September 25, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili addressed the General Debate of the 74rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Below is the full address of the Georgian President as delivered:

“Mr. President,

Excellencies, 

Distinguished delegates,

It is an honor to address you today as the President of Georgia.

Georgia is a small country, on the edge of Europe, which for the past 28 years has experienced quite a few shocks and transformation – recovering its independence, opening of borders, first wave of globalization, shifting to market economy, and it has endured open or protracted conflicts, war and occupation.

At the same time, and despite all, Georgia is one of the democratic countries of the world, which develops economically and socially and remains one of the main islands of stability in a complex region. 

We are a country with a small population, but we know very well the price of solidarity. Given our location, we know that we are an integral part of a region, where without peace global challenges cannot and will not be overcome. We are also fully conscious that the destiny of the planet is also our destiny.

Mr. President,

Georgia, as all here present, faces the global challenges that defy today’s world: climate change, erosion of biodiversity, universal and accessible health, education for all, overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequalities. 

The 17 SDG’s, as inscribed in the Agenda 2030 to counter these challenges, are all essential. They are the path towards a radical transformation both of the way we look at the world and of our own behavior patterns. The only way to overcome the global challenges is seeing and treating them as a whole, as a complex multifaceted threat. And this is far from easy.

The world is much more complex and so is the answer to be found to these challenges. We need more systemic approaches and holistic thinking. 

Georgia will put all its efforts to progress towards the 2030 agenda goals. Together with all actors in the society, be they public or private, together with its neighbors and partners. For solidarity and joining efforts are key to success. 

That is why we are all here today. That is why we believe in the necessary conciliation between sovereignty and multilateralism.

Mr. President,

While we are looking towards 2030 and determined to achieve our common goals, there are some more immediate challenges that we have to overcome in order to succeed. 

We need new thoughts, we have to dare and experiment, elaborate new options and we can no longer be afraid of initiatives. And what is true for the world is true for Georgia.

Our very first challenge and hence priority is peace.

Peace is the ultimate goal of every society. But it is the very essence and the “raison d’être” of the United Nations.

Global security is a global challenge. Wars, conflicts and terrorism pose a clear and massive threat to the lives of millions of citizens and provoke massive migrations and hordes of refugees. We share the grief of the families of the victims of terrorism, we understand the fear and the anger, and we take our share of the common fight against this invisible enemy.

Georgia is contributing substantially to the peace missions be it yesterday in Iraq, or today in Afghanistan, in Mali or in Central Africa, far from our borders but close to us, out of our duty of solidarity.

War and conflicts have been part of our history. For centuries, Georgia suffered numerous invasions and numerous invaders. Tbilisi, its capital city was burnt down 26 times, its territory was occupied for short or long periods, its religion and identity were actively suppressed at times. But it survived and today we proudly remain on the map of independent, sovereign and democratic countries.

This resilience is still our answer when confronting the tragedy that has been the 2008 war, followed by the occupation of 20% of our territory by Russia. 

As the President of Georgia, 

I have to speak out here on the plight of our people living on the administrative boundary line that divides relatives between themselves, villages, where incidents and provocations have become constant, where illegal borderization is actively pursued, preventing normal peaceful life for our citizens. 

I have to speak out for our citizens living in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, where continuous are the violations of human rights, restrictions to freedom of movement, of access to health and education services. The crossing points to both regions are closed on and off, causing immense humanitarian suffering. 

I have to speak out and warn the world: in the occupied Abkhazia, not only the Georgian language but Abkhaz language, which the Georgian Constitution recognizes and which I have to defend as the President of Georgia, and their identity are on the verge of disappearance. Abkhazian people suffer a drastic demographic reduction. And may I warn you: the world without Abkhazian language, identity and traditions will be a much poorer place. We all have to unite to protect and save this rich cultural diversity that made that one time the Arabs call the Caucasus “the mountain of languages.”

I have to speak out for our own IDPs and refugees that for now decades have been unable to return to their homes and land.

Mr. President,

Our answer to the tragedy of war and occupation has been multifold.

Our answer has been to preserve peace and development, by keeping our word and respecting to the latter, our commitments under the ceasefire agreement of 2008. Hence, we have no military forces whatsoever close to the occupation line, and Georgia has unilaterally renounced the use of force. 

Our answer has been our extended hand the peace program “step to a better future” allowing citizens from the occupied territories access (whenever they are not prevented from doing so) to health or education, sharing business opportunities and to take part, albeit marginally, in Georgia’s economic development. 

Our answer has been openness and tolerance. Last year for instance we received 1,500,000 Russian tourists without any incident to be recorded.

Our answer has been to maintain our determined path of development, both economic and democratic, not to let anything divert us from our ambitions and concrete goals of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. And we have managed to make a remarkable progress in all these directions without ever changing our course, without ever counting our efforts, with always a clear vision of our destiny. 

That is to some extent, our peaceful victory over war and occupation, over tragedy and destructions. 

But when we talk about the goal of peace and about ending conflict and occupation, we have also to act.

We need movement and we need diplomacy. 

We have renounced the use of force, but we have not renounced dialogue.

We are resilient, but we are not reconciled and resigned to the status quo. 

We need to make changes happen and that is what we cannot do alone. 

We need the engagement of all towards the objective of a sustainable peace in this region.

We need to raise the political dimension of the existing formats in order to allow finally discussions on substance. We need to move from experts discussion to a real political negotiation. Political will from all sides is needed to make the Geneva format, for instance, an instrument for solving the conflict and not solely managing it. Political will is needed to invent if necessary new formats.

And every forum and dialogue, formal or informal, should be used to engage Russia in discussions on the strict implementation of the ceasefire agreement, on allowing the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), as was agreed, to monitor the whole of the Georgian territory. For de-escalation on the occupation line is our very first priority and that should pave then the way towards an effective settlement.

It should also be very clear that new conflicts should not make the old ones be forgotten, for that would be a destructive message for peace is not divisible.

Mr. President,

Peace is not only challenged by war, but it is also increasingly challenged by a new internal threat, that is gradually affecting all of our states and societies: polarization, erosion of civil values and of mutual respect, hate speech, fake news, conspiracy theories are creating a black hole undermining the fabric of our society, eroding the foundations of democracy.

The answer is there in front of us, in revamping our traditional values: tolerance is one and is very essential one. For pluralism is only an empty word, if it does not mean respect for the ideas of others.

Georgia which has been for centuries a model for religious, ethnic and cultural tolerance and openness could be at the forefront of a battle that needs to involve us all. International society has to be made of free citizens and healthy societies. We cannot achieve anything, not SDG goals if, from within, we are weakened, divided and fighting each other. 

That is my appeal to my fellow Georgians but not only to Georgians! 

Mr. President,

Overcoming poverty has been the major concern for Georgian governments. Struggling to modernize and raise our economy to international standards is to make its place on world markets, better using its unique standing between the European and the Asian markets, to which it has free access. Georgia is on the right path to sustainable growth, but we need more.

Education and qualification is key to overcoming unemployment and poverty.

It is not only a fundamental right of any human being, but a vital condition for sustainable development of any country. Ensuring quality and affordable education is one of the main priorities of Georgia today and a declared cornerstone for the development. 

Our priority is not only in words, but is also in numbers and the education budget is planned to increase and reach 6% of the GDP in 2022. 

We have undertaken a number of reforms aimed at transforming our education system to raise free citizens and be competitive on the international platform.

Science and technology, research and innovation are the basis for our future development and we attach a great importance to the internationalization of education, by cooperating with leading European and American institutions and opening also to foreign students. Georgian students are eager to become part of the larger world and 3600 students have taken part in the Erasmus European programs. 

Distinguished delegates,

Migration has become our common plight, generating fears and anxieties all over.

Some countries, because they are losing their vital forces, their brains, their younger generation to the outside world and fear for their future decline. 

Others because they see foreign migrants arriving massively, fear they are going to take the natives’ jobs and dilute their national identity. 

Some migrants are legally moving to countries with better opportunities, most are illegal and looking for what they do not find in their home countries. But most are still fleeing their native countries because of war, destruction, persecution. 

In addition, climatic changes are on the verge of producing a massive new category of migrants. Those that will leave territories turning to deserts or flooded by rising seas, or destroyed by hurricanes or by fires. 

On this issue too, the answers need to be global. States need to find common approaches to regulate what cannot be stopped.

Georgia, which today is confronted to both emigration and immigration, in addition to its 300,000 internally displaced persons, is actively looking for solutions. 

Reducing illegal migration is a necessity in order to preserve one of the most precious benefits of our European integration process and that is the visa liberalization. 

Beyond better controls at the borders, which are needed and are under way, but short of reinstating a strict visa procedure, there are solutions. 

One is to increase the standards of living and bringing in the country social protection, job security, and the quality of life that most emigrants are seeking elsewhere. And Georgia sees its European integration path at the most direct way in that direction and we on that road. 

The second path is to regulate these flows by bilateral or multilateral agreements between states to allow for legal and temporary employment in the fields that are of mutual interest. Georgia is actively working to develop agreements on circular migration with its main partners.

Uncontrolled, unregulated, migrations will remain a factor of major disruption that could affect peace and stability, but managed and regulated migrations can become assets for better mutual understanding and communication between cultures and civilizations, vectors for more tolerance and mutually enriching experiences. 

Mr. President, 

I represent a country, which by mythology is linked to health and medicine through Medea, the goddess of medicine, therefore it is not surprising that we attach traditionally a major value to health. 

Not surprising that we have produced outstanding doctors that have spread through the world. Georgia is increasingly becoming a destination for health tourism because of its numerous thermal resorts which are being modernized. 

We share the core principle that health is the inalienable right of every human being and that means providing universal and affordable access to quality health services. 

This inalienable right is threatened today by the rising cost of treatments and medicines. In today’s world, we cure more and more illnesses, medicine makes incredible miracles, but the costs are rising exponentially, challenging social budgets, public services and individual resources. 

Georgia has made the political choice of moving towards a universal health coverage system, has tripled health allocations over all sectors and today 90% of our population has access to essential primary care services. We have also reached notable progress in the fields of maternal and child health, TB, resistant TB; HIV/AIDS is almost eradicated.

And we are implementing successfully a program of Hepatitis C elimination with the support of US CDC, WHO and other private partners, creating thus the first ever precedent of nationwide chronic illness eradication through treatment in the world. And that is a big hope.

We still have important challenges to overcome, but I am proud that just two days ago we announced the launch of a center for child oncology with wthe support of USAID, and We hope that this project will be the basis for international cooperation in Georgia. 

Excellencies,

Climate changes, it is clear to us all, affect each individual, each country, and we are already feeling directly its effects and we understand our responsibility to act and preserve our planet, so that our children have a place to live. 

There are territories turning into deserts or flooded by rising seas, or destroyed by hurricanes like we have just witnessed or by fires. 

Georgia, as a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is fully committed to the objectives of the Convention and aligns with the findings of the IPCC.

Subsequently, Georgia has updated its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in parallel with the elaboration of the Climate Action Plan for the period 2021-2030, ensuring the GHG emissions by 2030 will stay by 40% below the recorded level in 1990. 

The Climate Summit, demonstrated the momentum and showed the potential to leap forward by giving the climate community more ambitious measures for implementing the Paris Agreement. 

Georgia, as many small countries, does not have industries that produce greenhouse gases, but like any other state, we feel the impact and we adapt. We aim to build a climate-resilient Georgia and to reduce climate-driven losses.

Georgia represents today unique reservoir of biodiversity of fauna and flora, with a great number of endemic species. We are conscious that this unique geographic situation and our unique biodiversity has to be preserved for the future of our planet. 

And thus we are developing an integrated climate policy process, led by the inter-ministerial committee on climate change and putting in place climate-friendly incentives in the energy sector as well as green economy and energy efficiency policies.

Prevention is key. It’s true that we can’t control the weather, but there’s nothing inevitable about natural disasters. What’s more, by helping local communities to understand and reduce disaster risk, Georgia is strengthening a culture of resilience that is a core value of democracy and self-government. 

Finally, Mr. President, 

Distinguished delegates

We cannot fight together if we do not share the same basic values. One of them is democracy. It is what allows for the full involvement, the full responsibility and commitment of each and every citizen in this global war against global threats that we are embarking upon. 

It has been 28 years that Georgia chose to become or to re-become a democratic country. Gradually, we have moved from a Presidential Republic, to a fully Parliamentary system.

We have moved through peaceful transitions of power, to more and more transparent and open electoral system. The adoption of a fully proportional system for the upcoming 2020 parliamentary elections might even result in a coalition government. 

Pluralistic and vivid media has become a reality in today’s Georgia. Reporters without borders ranks Georgia 60th, a staunch progression from ranking 104th. The last decision of the Strasbourg court reinforces the property rights including in the media sector and has resulted in more pluralism.

The new Constitution, adopted last year, reaffirms a strict principle of separation of powers, all fundamental rights and sets a high standard by introducing a large set of new social rights, making it one of the progressive Constitutions of the world. And so was the 1921 Constitution of Georgia, which recognized early on the right of women to vote and to be elected. 5 women were participating in the first Constituent Assembly. Georgia was a country, where the first ever Muslim woman was elected. And today I am among the 11 women presidents of the world, and the first woman President in the region.

Georgia is now embarked on the fourth wave of judicial reforms, which aims at ensuring a higher standard of independence of the judiciary, building public confidence in the court system. This stage is the most delicate and the one for which we need increased support and assistance from partners. 

Progress is already there and can be measured: the number of complaints submitted by Georgian citizens to the Strasbourg Human Rights Court of Justice has in the past 6 years decreased 11 times from 4,453 to 415. Georgia is rated 41 out of 126 states in the Rule of Law index survey 2019 published by World Justice Project. 

Beyond the law adopted in 2014 on elimination of all forms of discrimination, we are taking important steps toward ensuring equality and safety in labor relations, employment and occupation and prohibiting sexual harassment as well as developing the Code on the Rights of the Child fully aligned with the Convention. 

Mr. President, let me conclude, 

50 years ago, yes, we had a dream and man landed on moon.

We shall not forget how difficult this was in terms of human, financial, scientific resources and sacrifices. And we faced them.

Today, we have a new challenge, a new dream. The agenda 2030 is probably the most ambitious global agenda humanity never designed, and it could be summed up by the simple message “come back to earth.”

We have inherited one planet and it is where Georgians want to live, peacefully. We have all to remember that we have only one life to live and only one planet to save.

God bless you.”

The annual General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly is the occasion for world leaders to gather at UN Headquarters to discuss global issues.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)

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