UNITED NATIONS – Honduras, terrorized by drug gangs, railed against the world for ignoring the violence and lack of jobs that sends thousands of young Central Americans fleeing north to the United States.
Nepal, a poor landlocked country, called for bridging the "digital divide" along with a global code of conduct to regulate the flow of information.
These are just a few of the concerns of small countries whose voices and pleas at the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting are almost always drowned out by the agendas of the big powers. This year's top item was the fight against Islamic extremist groups whose tentacles have spread from the Mideast to Europe and Africa. Other hot topics were combating Ebola and climate change.
While most of the 191 countries that spoke touched on these issues, the concerns of smaller nations — some impacted by global warming, others by refugees, many by persistent poverty — rarely made headlines, and were often delivered in a near empty assembly hall.
At the conclusion of six long days of speechmaking Tuesday, General Assembly President Sam Kutesa tried to change the focus from terrorism to achieving U.N. goals to combat poverty by a 2015 deadline, and setting new targets for 2030. He also raised the problem of high unemployment, especially among the young, and its destabilizing effects.
By the time he had wrapped up the ministerial meeting, only a few dozen diplomats were sitting in the newly renovated assembly chamber that seats more than 1,800 people.
Here are a few of the speeches that went largely unnoticed in the wider world:
— The president of the transitional government in Central African Republic said the country hopes the new U.N. peacekeeping mission will help restore security and promote development, and asked the U.N. Security Council to re-examine the arms embargo on the conflict-torn country that was imposed in December, for a year. Catherine Samba-Panza said the success of the U.N. force will hinge on the involvement of the country's security and defense forces at its side
— Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh spoke of the plight of Africans who seek a better life and the impact of climate change on development. "While Africa is not responsible for the pollution and the factors causing climate change, it stands to suffer the most," he said. Jammeh raised what he called "the very frequent and mysterious sinking, capsizing" of boats carrying mainly black African migrants "looking for greener pastures in the West only to end up in body bags on European shores." He accused unnamed countries that preach good governance, the rule of law and respect for human life to African leaders of staying quiet "about the very dangerous, racist and inhuman behavior of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink only to select a few lucky ones to be rescued and sent to concentration camps, called Asylum Seekers Camps."
— Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez cited a drug war that his country didn't start and a dearth of job opportunities for parents and youth as factors driving Central American children and families to flee to the U.S. He proposed creating "a multinational force" to fight drug trafficking cartels. "Today, we talk about what is happening in other regions to children, young people, families displaced by war, violence and radical extremists," Hernandez said. "But little is said about the situation of thousands of families in the northern triangle of Central America."
— Kyrgyzstan Foreign Minister Erlan Abdyldaev stressed that climate change isn't affecting only island nations and coastal areas. "Rapidly melting glaciers, rising temperature, land degradation, landslides, mudflows and floods cause significant economic damage and serve as vivid reminders of mountain ecosystem vulnerability," he said. "According to reliable forecasts, in 2025, the ice cover in Kyrgyzstan would be reduced by a 40 percent average, with a one-third reduction of regional water availability."
— Nepal's Prime Minister Sushil Koirala urged the international community to address the special needs of the world's poorest countries, and to provide financial and other support to promote development. One way, he said, is to support wider dissemination of information technologies. But he stressed that modern technology "must not be used to interfere in other countries' internal affairs" and urged agreement on global rules of conduct to regulate the flow of information.
The United Nations, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary, also came under criticism from many countries for failing to bring its key organs, especially the powerful Security Council, into the 21st century.
"It remains thoroughly dominated by the few and has marginalized the overwhelming majority," said Eritrea's Foreign Minister Osman Saleh. "Its institutions and structures are an anachronism in the modern world."
Associated Press writers Alexandra Olson and Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations