Statement by Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, Hon. Fitz A. Jackson at the opening session of its 27th session in Strasbourg, France, 17 March 2014
Mr Evangelos Meimarakis, Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament
Mr. Louis Michel, Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly
Representatives of Observer Organisations to the JPA
Distinguished invited guests
It is a privilege and honour to address this Assembly for the first time in my capacity as Co-President, having been nominated only last November at the JPA session in the Addis-Ababa JPA to take the baton from my illustrious colleague Hon. Joyce Laboso of Kenya. I therefore wish to take this opportunity to thank my ACP colleagues for their support and confidence is according me the honour of representing them at the helm of this Assembly.
I also take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, Hon. Laboso for all the work that she did as Co-President, given that she took over at a critical time, and was immediately thrust into a very heavy calendar of JPA meetings.
I have been associated with the JPA since the late 1990s. I have found this Assembly to be a great opportunity for parliamentary exchanges on development and democratic processes. As representatives of our various peoples and as policy and decision makers overseeing government functions, we are in a unique position to engage with policy makers in ACP and EU institutions.
The theme based debates of our Assembly, as well as the interactive and participatory process of adopting resolutions provide a means and a common platform, cutting across ideology and different levels of development, for us to come together to discuss different views and concerns. It is also a good way to engage with experts and institutional representatives, and consequently bring convergent knowledge and ideas to influence the policy making processes at national, EU and international levels. Our prime role is to ensure that multilateral governance encompasses the values, rules, institutions, and processes through which people and organizations attempt to work towards common objectives, make decisions, generate authority and legitimacy, and ultimately exercise power for the benefit of the people who ought to be the object of all human endeavors.
Members and Partners
This is the reason why we are as much concerned about the nexus between democracy, peace, and development. Sustainable development and poverty reduction are impossible to achieve in the absence of democracy and peace. At the same time, the increasing connection between conflict and global security concerns puts development progress at risk, beyond the borders of the affected countries, fuelling the urgency to deal with conflict and promote a culture of conflict prevention and peace with great expediency.
Poverty reduction, which is one of the issues which regularly infuses all our debates, is not just about a country's economic development. It is also about a complex set of challenges, such as a lack of access to nutritious food, clean water, adequate health care, and basic education. But many times, these challenges are made even more difficult by conflict and environmental degradation.
With regard to this particular session of the JPA, we have, as is the practice, a number of themes that speak to the need to address in a comprehensive manner human development and human security issues. I am particularly saddened by what has been happening in the Central African Republic, where militias responding to rampant abuses by armed groups have committed atrocities against other communities. The religious connotations that this conflict has taken is tragic, but perhaps, it merely masks deeper fissures within society.
The inability of state structures to contain the violence calls for more dynamic international intervention. There are reports that armed Seleka commanders and fighters are regrouping in northeastern towns, and engaging in a new wave of horrific attacks against civilians. Allow me to place on record the appreciation of the ACP Group for the timely intervention of France and the African Union peacekeeping force in the country, without which the violence would have been much worse. However, it is clear that there is need to urgently bolster international presence to protect civilians from reprisal attacks and sheppard the transition to peace and democratic order.
Although it is not on our agenda, the situation in South Sudan is equally worrisome, and it is hoped that the two factions can resolve their differences so that this young country can address the challenges of development that still lie ahead.
Another security issue we shall be debating is the extensive use of the internet by terrorists to recruit, to train, to finance and to distribute information. Terrorism is a one of the most urgent security threats of modern times. It transcends national boundaries and cultures. Nigeria, for instance, has in recent times been plagued by the Boko Haram terrorist attacks, and Kenya has had to contend with Al Qaida associated factions from Somalia. Our sympathies go out to the victims and families of these terrorist activities. These attacks demonstrate that religiously inspired terrorism is especially pernicious. Fanatical recruiters are going to great lengths to recruit adherents to be used as tools of death in regions and countries far removed from their homes. As some writers and observers have pointed out, the dilemma in fighting terrorism is that it is conspiratorial and clandestine.
Terrorism feeds on fear, illusion, ignorance and above all, intolerance. It is also cowardly. It often targets the weak and defenceless in order to undermine their confidence in, and support for, democratic institutions and the rule of law. The challenge for law-enforcement agents and governments is to fight terrorism in all its forms while respecting human rights and the rule of law. Subverting or suspending democratic norms to fight terrorism risks making democratic leaders lose the moral battle. Seeking to ensure a reasonable balance in this regard, is an enormous challenge to well intended governments.
In keeping with one of our objectives, which is to promote awareness about development issues, we have had discussions on MDG related issues for quite some time now in this Assembly. In this regard, our focus in this particular session will be on education and HIV/AIDS. It goes without saying, but it needs to be restated, that the education sector plays a pivotal role in national development, and this should include education in all its facets, such as gender equality in access to education opportunities, eradication of adult illiteracy, and improvement of the quality of education.
A number of countries have made enormous improvements in education, but in others, conditions have actually regressed, due to factors such as civil wars, corruption and bad management. A number of countries have impressive policy documents on the importance of education, but in many cases the rhetoric fails to match the action. Currently, the United Nations estimates that there is almost a $40 billion annual external financing gap for basic and lower secondary education in developing countries, which is a reflection of what governments can reasonably be expected to fund and what international aid donors are likely to support.
It is therefore quite clear that while governments and international aid donors must be encouraged to do more, new actors are clearly needed to advance the status of education around the globe. The private sector has a vested interest in helping education systems develop the competencies of young people and, it is therefore time to call on the private sector to partner with governments to invest in education a bit more.
Dear Members, Colleagues,
In the area of the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is pleasing to note that there has already been some positive responses of industry and business. The enormous efforts poured into sensitisation and education campaigns have led to a drop in infection rates in most parts of the world.
Treatment has been expanded and about 10 million people living with HIV are now receiving treatment, with far fewer people dying from AIDS-related illnesses. Some 25 countries have reduced new forms of HIV infections by more than 50%, and new HIV treatment and prevention science promise yet more positive results. However, as health professionals themselves admit, the work is far from over.
There is need to keep the momentum and address in a more robust way, the social and cultural practices that impact on HIV/AIDS, as well as to fight the stigma and discrimination.
Dear Members, Colleagues,
One of the highlights of our session will be discussion on the state of play of WTO negotiations. As we all know, the WTO has never gotten good press in most developing countries. The negative perception first came to prominence with the failure of the 1999 Seattle Ministerial Conference, which seemed to have been vindicated by the failure to conclude the Doha Development Agenda. The Bali Ministerial Conference of 2013 seemed to have made some advances.
However there are those who still have strong reasons to believe that The WTO has failed to live up to its promises over the past decade, which reveals a wider systemic problem in the global community, perhaps going beyond trade. Many of us in developing countries still contend, and with good reason too, that true and lasting solutions to global economic problems can only come when the model of global competitiveness between countries with unequal capabilities becomes instead, one of genuine cooperation.
The pertinent question for developing countries is not whether the WTO system is relevant or not; the real issue is whether its processes and agreements can be instruments for development and poverty eradication.
I dare to submit than any arrangements that fail to achieve these goals, would not worth the very paper they are written on! And we all will be the worst off.
These are the questions that the WTO is best placed to answer for itself, and I am glad that we shall have an opportunity to hear from the Director-General of the organisation in the course of our session.
Dear Members, Colleagues,
As I end, I would like to emphasise that all discussions that will dominate our session in this particular instance, as well as those that we have held in the past as well as those that will dominate our agendas in future should be anchored in the global discourse on development and poverty eradication.
For instance, work has already started on the Post-2015 overarching framework, and ultimately, we should see how our Assembly, the European Parliament and indeed our national parliaments can play a role in pursuing and advocating for a transformative agenda for development and development cooperation, informed by our guiding principles and a human rights-based approach to development that prioritizes improved livelihoods for all people, environmental sustainability, human dignity, decent work, and justice. I have noted the remarks of my colleague Co-President on the matter of human rights and culture. And I wish to remind us members that we ought not to ignore the imperative of century’s old culture in defining human rights today. If we do, it exposes these countries to be the victims of cultural imperialism, in a modern form.
We need to protect and deepen the policy gains made on aid effectiveness by the Paris, Accra and Busan Agendas. We also need to continuously highlight the responsibility and accountability of our own governments and institutions to the broader development effectiveness agenda.
However, as legislators, we also need to continuously work to improve our own effectiveness and the realisation of an enabling environment for development, peace, justice and human rights in our countries. Let us all remember, this forum constitute the largest democratic expression of peoples in our collective geographic space. It is therefore of obligation to ensure our institutions of executive authorities do reflect as best as possible the outcomes of our deliberations.
As I close, in the words of a renowned Jamaican and ACP cultural icon Bob Marley, “lets get together and feel alright”!
I thank you for your kind attention and hope that we shall have a successful session.