It is an honor to be part of the commemoration of the legacy of Nelson Mandela at his centenary. He was a man of great wisdom and courage who has become a global symbol of freedom and peace. He continues to inspire all generations. It is very pertinent that in the times when we face many global challenges, we all come together to reflect on so much needed global peace that was strong pursuit of Nelson Mandela throughout his lifetime.
Latvia supports the political declaration adopted at this summit. We hope all countries will embrace the principles and values therein.
Peace cannot be taken for granted. It is at risk in many places around the globe - with conflicts, tensions, terrorism, as serious wounds on our collective consciousness. We must fight for peace. We must do more to translate our commitments to end conflicts and people’s devastation into clear priorities and concrete actions. Nelson Mandela has said: "It always seems impossible until it is done."; "Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."
In early 1990s, Nelson Mandela rejected violence and steered South Africa - a country in turmoil - toward a negotiated settlement aimed to end the era of apartheid and laid foundation for reconciliation and a truly inclusive democracy.
These transformational changes in South Africa occurred along with the historic liberation of the former captive nations in Central and Eastern Europe. During the peaceful and non-violent independence movement called “The Singing revolution”, the peoples of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania ultimately succeeded in overcoming the brutal foreign occupation and totalitarian regime that lasted for more than 50 years.
Since restoration of independence and joining of the United Nations in September 1991, Latvia has been a staunch supporter of international law and a promoter of democracy and human rights. These principles are fundamental to maintaining the international order based on predictability, stability and security of States.
There are great expectations for the United Nations - as the only truly universal organization - to meet the rising challenges for peace, development, and human rights, and deliver results effectively. Latvia is a strong advocate of multilateralism, and we all must work together to restore trust in the multilateral system’s ability to deliver solutions to pressing global issues.
Latvia sees the conflict prevention as the backbone of the United Nations agenda. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is important to remind ourselves that human rights and promotion of tolerance within society are the best tools for prevention of violent conflicts because inclusive societies guarantee peace and security. With effective and accountable institutions and justice system in place, with fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and association, every society can strive. Latvia will continue to promote and protect these values both at home and internationally.
At the beginning of the 20th century, combatants accounted for 90% of conflict related casualties. Today, 90% of casualties in armed conflicts are civilians. Conventional weapons kill around 500 thousand people per year, out of which 70 thousand are killed in conflict zones. These figures clearly prove that the international community must focus not only on weapons of mass destruction but also on conventional and light weapons.
With that in mind Latvia assumed the Presidency of the Arms Trade Treaty for the next year and will spare no effort to promote its objectives. I call on all States to become parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which would also contribute in a direct way to the legacy of Nelson Mandela and attainment of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
This year Latvia celebrates the centenary of the modern democratic republic. Latvia’s greatest resource is our people. Those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, those who have dedicated their lives to the creation and maintenance of an independent state, create our present reality with the work they do on a daily basis, and, together with the new generation, are laying the foundation for our future.
To reiterate my message I would like to quote the great Latvian poet Rainis, who said in 1911: "We are as great as is our will". The awareness of this simple truth has followed Latvians through an entire century of joy and suffering, destruction and renewal. This simple, succinct truth expresses the essence of our national will, belief in our strength, and the desire to be free. Today we can also achieve all we believe in.