Michelle Nichols | UNITED NATIONS

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe used an address on Monday at the opening of the first United Nations conference on oceans to call for an end to sanctions on his landlocked country so it can implement a series of global goals on sustainable development.

The 93-year-old was among about nine leaders to attend the New York conference, which is due on Friday to adopt a “Call to Action” committing to “conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources.”

“The effects of climate change are not discriminatory, so please down with your sanctions,” Mugabe said. “My country is committed to implementing the (sustainable development goals) and will do so within the means available to it.”

In 2015, the 193 U.N. member states adopted an agenda of 17 goals for the world’s sustainable development up to 2030. One of those goals was to safeguard the ocean, while another calls for “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.

“Allow my county to act freely within the context of our agreements and its sovereignty,” Mugabe said.

Western countries imposed sanctions in 2001 on Mugabe’s government over allegations of vote-rigging and human rights abuses, which he rejects.


Mugabe’s travel to international conferences such as the ocean summit has raised eyebrows in cash-strapped Zimbabwe. Last year Mugabe made at least 20 trips abroad, spending $36 million in the first 10 months, according to government figures.

Bolivian President Evo Morales used his address on Monday to denounce neighboring Chile for failing to provide his landlocked country with unfettered commercial access to its ports.

Bolivia lost access to the Pacific following an 1880s war. Under a 1904 treaty, Chile has to allow Bolivia to cross its territory for trade access.

“The broad and free commercial transit that Chile is obliged to provide us suffers from constant interruptions through strikes, stoppages for various reasons, but above all because our access has become a profitable business for private companies that benefit from the port monopolies,” Morales said.

The U.N. ocean conference will also promote partnerships, such as between governments and businesses, to address issues such as marine pollution, ocean acidification, and marine research. It will also compile voluntary commitments.

“Unless we overcome the territorial and resource interests that have blocked progress for far too long, the state of our oceans will continue to deteriorate,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “We must put aside short-term national gain, to prevent long-term global catastrophe.”


(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)