Created: Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Chair 2013 Session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean
11th July 2013
In 1971, the States and people of the Indian Ocean region came together to preserve their regional interests for mutual benefit. The General Assembly declared the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace in resolution 2832 (1971). A year later, in Resolution 2992 (1972), the Assembly implemented practical measures to further the objectives of the 1971 Declaration by establishing the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean. The Declaration obliged the Committee, inter alia, to consult with the great Powers in order to abstain from further military expansion in the Indian Ocean.
Over the years since the adoption of the Declaration, the situation in the Indian Ocean has transformed significantly. The Cold War superpower rivalry has ceased and socio-economic development within the region has flourished. The economic and military clout of the regional countries has increased substantially. Initiatives such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have begun to blossom and impact on the region and have fostered a myriad of economic and security partnerships.
New threats have emerged: terrorism and piracy challenge regional stability, threaten security and impose far-reaching economic costs. Nevertheless, these challenges, though new, endanger the same interests that the 1971 Declaration aspired to protect. Geographical proximity and shared challenges among the Committee Members give rise to economic, political and social commonalities. Thus, the original mandate of the Committee remains pertinent to ensure regional peace, security and economic growth.
Three important areas that pose common challenges are energy resources, climate change and piracy. The promise of collaboration for mutual benefit in the area of energy production is tantalizing. Many energy producers are from the Indian Ocean region. The committee may be used to foster new partnerships in energy for Indian Ocean States.
Partnerships in energy consumption may yield further mutual security benefits for States. The likely increase in energy demand in India, China and elsewhere in the region acts as a considerable opportunity for energy producers.
Cooperation in environmental issues would substantially impact on related challenges. Since close to forty per cent of Asia’s roughly four billion inhabitants live within 100km of the coast, climate change is likely to affect their lives and security. Broader environmental issues will impact on the management of coastal marine systems and freshwater resources. The prospect of environmental refugees fleeing natural disasters looms as an emerging problem.
Sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean are rising faster than anywhere else in the world. More severe weather patterns and swelling sea levels threaten the very existence of communities in low-lying areas, such as the Maldives. By 2050, 40% of Bangladesh’s land area will be affected by sea level rise. The warming of the ocean is likely to seriously affect fish habitats, which will impact the livelihoods of millions of fishermen.
Piracy is a pressing issue that warrants collaboration among Indian Ocean States. Although a coalition of world navies seeks to protect the Gulf of Aden region, in 2011, pirates staged 439 violent attacks and held 802 crew-members hostage across the globe. The extensive reach of piracy forces vessels to travel around the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Suez Canal, incurring costly security measures and insurance fees. Notably, the majority of piracy incidents reported in the Indian Ocean region occurred while ships were anchored. Piracy, of course, has its roots on land and economic circumstances.
The Committee notes the improved intelligence gathering and sharing, and the assistance from private security agencies, both on land and at sea. Such efforts likely helped to curb the number of piracy attacks to a five-year low of 297 in 2012. In the long term, piracy can only be addressed by a comprehensive, multi-layered approach that involves political, military and societal measures.
The Committee is suited to addressing the myriad of security issues in a broader sense involving all interrelated aspects. Further definition of its scope and focus will determine the relevance and sustainability of its solutions. With time and adequate resources, the Committee can serve as a vital political, economic and social strategic forum.
I thank you.