PACIFIC FIRST: Fiji diplomat elected President of the United Nations
Fifth generation Fijian, Peter Thomson, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations has been elected President of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
In the largely ceremonial but prestigious post, Mr Thomson’s election marked the first time a representative of a Pacific small island developing State will serve as UNGA President. A role in which he will advocate strongly for the issues of climate change and oceans, he told the 193-member organisation after his election. He will also oversee the process of finding a new UN secretary-general to replace Ban Ki-moon at the end of the year. Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark is one of the frontrunners for the job.
“We bring special perspectives on climate change and on oceans issues and you can expect me to be vocal on those in the 71st session,” said Thomson, who previously served as vice president of the General Assembly in 2011-2012. He was also the Chairman of the Group of 77 and China. And the adoption of a UN Resolution sponsored by Mr Thomson was key to granting the UN Permanent Observer status to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in 2014.
Congratulations have come from all quarters. Fiji’s Prime Minister, Mr Voreqe Bainimarama calling it a great honour for Fiji.
“Mr Thomson’s selection provides us with a unique platform to highlight those issues of critical concern to Fiji and the vulnerable economies, such as building our resilience to climate change and ensuring the sustainable development of our natural resources on land and at sea,” Mr Bainimarama told the Fiji Times.
The Ulu o Tokelau who is preparing to travel to the UN next week to report on its decolonization efforts said, “Tokelau and other low lying atolls, we are highly vulnerable, both physically and economically to climate change. Ambassador Thomson’s election will give Pacific nations and a new and stronger voice in New York advocating for our needs.”
One of the priority matters Tokelau will pursue next week is a request for an invitation as Observers to the COP22 meeting in Morocco, in November this year and to the UN Oceans PrepCom in Fiji early next year.
With Ambassador Thomson’s experience and role that led to SPC gaining Permanent UN Observer status in 2014, that a similar consideration could be explored for Tokelau.
In New Zealand, Su’a William Sio, the Pacific Climate Change spokesperson for the Labour Party told Pacific Guardians, “His Excellency’s appointment is such a pivotal one for Pacific representation on the global scene, especially post the Paris Agreement.
“Only a voice who knows what’s at stake to their homelands and families can provide the strength and integrity that is needed to secure urgent protection for people and ecosystems that are under immediate and present threat. And I think Mr Peter Thomson can do that, and will do that.”
Su’a highlighted that for the past 27 years, “the international community have known what harm has been caused by our carbon and fossil fuel emissions and the dangers that our human industrialized activities have placed the world in, yet nothing was done.
“And in that apathy, the Pacific and other low lying states are now facing the present threats and dangers of rising sea levels as a consequence of our polluting the atmosphere. The world can no longer sit back and do nothing.
“What I have been saying is that if New Zealand and other industrialised nations continue dragging their feet on reducing their carbon and fossil fuel emissions, then they must prepare for the inevitable forced migration of displaced communities who will lose their homes as a consequence of climate change.
“New Zealand and Australia not only need to do all they can to protect the Pacific and its ecosystems as a moral obligation, but it is also in our self-interest to do so.”
Su’a also emphasized, “I would hope that Mr Thomson’s leadership will also encourage Fiji and other Pacific nations to stand in solidarity with the rest of the world in supporting and implementing the Arms Trade Treaty, the convention to ban all biological warfare and so on. We all have to stand together globally to secure our planet and keep everyone safe, both from weapons of mass destruction and from climate change.”
FAMILY AND FIJI
In Fiji, Mr Thomson’s family were ecstatic when the news broke. Peter’s brother Andrew told Fiji Times the achievement was because of his brother’s hard work and perseverance.
“My personal feeling, I can say that he has done far more for Fiji than the previous 30 years of ambassadors. He really went to New York to put Fiji on the map and he has been very effective in making sure that alliances were made when Fiji was suffering from sanctions, not just from New Zealand and Australia,” said Andrew Thomson.
“He went to New York and got the support of many nations around the world at a time when Fiji was troubled. He worked very hard to get new friends for Fiji and he has been very successful in that task.
“I am extremely proud of the fact that he was able to achieve this for Fiji and I credit him as an individual so this honour of him becoming the president of the UN General Assembly is something well-deserved.”
Their Fijian family history dates back to the 1870s, when one of their original ancestors arrived in Fiji..
Their grandchildren today were seventh-generation Fijians Andrew Thomson explained.
“Our original ancestor, Captain William Petrie, came to Levuka, Fiji, in the 1870s and he was buried in Suva during 1892,” he said.
“So that’s our mother’s family and they spent most of their lives in Suva, Levuka and Taveuni.”
Their father, Sir Ian Thomson, arrived in Fiji from Glasgow at the cusp of World War II as an army officer. During this time, he was also the aide-de-camp (ADC) to the Governor of Fiji in 1941.
“He was with the third battalion of the Fiji Military Forces and they fought the Japanese in the Solomon Islands.
“When he returned to Fiji at the end of the war, he married my mother Nancy Kearsley.”
Following his return, he was quickly absorbed into the Fiji Government, where he was appointed the commissioner for the Native Lands and Fisheries.
After being knighted by the Queen in the years, Sir Thomson was subsequently made chairman of the Fiji Sugar Board, Air Pacific and Fiji Development Board.
He was also the acting Governor General for Ratu George Cakobau and Ratu Penaia Ganilau.