St. Vincent envoy reflects on tenure

Amb. Rhonda King with President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson.
SVG Mission to the UN

Some diplomats are, clearly, more vocal. Others are taciturn, preferring to let their work reflect in their accomplishments. I. Rhonda King, St. Vincent and the Grenadines ambassador to the United Nations, is, seemingly, the latter, with strong proclivity for not being in the limelight, despite her position.

In her first major, wide-ranging interview with Caribbean Life, since presenting her credentials to former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on Sept. 13, 2013, King discussed, among other things, her role, accomplishments and challenges to date.

Since her arrival at the UN, King said she has played a central role on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Caucus of Permanent Representatives in the Implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, which began on Jan. 1, 2015, and its accompanying Program of Activities, during which she was the lead negotiator for CARICOM.

“We successfully negotiated for the inclusion of language that allows for discussions on the issue of reparatory justice to take place during this decade,” said King, who succeeded Camillo Gonsalves, now Minister of Government in the incumbent Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration, led by his father, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves. Camillo Gonsalves was ambassador to the UN for about six years, then foreign affairs minister, before elected to the Vincentian Parliament, representing the constituency of East St. George.

King is currently the chair of the UN’s Fifth Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the Administrative and Budgetary Affairs of the entire United Nations. She said St. Vincent and the Grenadines was the GRULAC- [Spanish synonym for the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean] endorsed candidate and elected to serve as chair for one year, beginning September 2016.

The UN envoy is also the only second woman ever elected to chair the Fifth Committee in the history of the United Nations, stating that it is a committee that has “the dubious distinction of being the most difficult committee to chair, characterized by its long hours and difficult negotiations between the partners and the developing world.”

King — who has lived and worked in several Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago — said she is “ably assisted” on the Committee by Counsellor Marsena Ballantyne, of Sandy Bay, a former King aide at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Mission in midtown Manhattan, “who has applied her supreme organizational skills to this task.”

Additionally, King is the chair of Island Women Open Network (IWON), which is part of the SIDS DOCK Secretariat platform that connects the energy sector in SIDS with global markets for finance, sustainable energy technologies and carbon. SIDS is the acronym for Small Island Developing States.

SIDS DOCK is an initiative among AOSIS member-countries, providing SIDS with a collective institutional mechanism to assist them transform their national energy sectors into a catalyst for sustainable economic development and help generate financial resources to address adaptation to climate change.

AOSIS is a coalition of small-island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and concerns about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. It functions primarily as an ad hoc lobby and negotiating voice for SIDS within the United Nations system.

King was appointed to IWON for a three-year term last September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly Debate, during the Second SIDS Dock Assembly of State Parties.

Before her official appointment, she served as interim chair, for about two years, having been first nominated in Apia, Samoa in September 2014. IWON is an initiative that promotes gender mainstreaming in the renewable energy sector of SIDS by building capacity at the community and grassroots level.

In this nexus, King said several projects for St. Vincent and the Grenadines are already in the pipeline, which she said will become operational this year.

In November 2016, King said she became the spokesperson for the largest and most diverse reform group of 42 member-states focused on United Nations Security Council Reform, L69.

“As a small nation, with no standing army, it is our duty to ensure that we have a properly functioning and fully representative Security Council,” she said, noting that Camillo Gonsalves also held that position during his tenure.

Prime Minister Gonsalves told Caribbean Life last September that the nation was still pursuing its “ambitious” bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

He said there is dire need for a SIDS to sit on the Council “to assist with the articulation of issues, such as climate change.”

“It’s a matter that we’re pursuing very, very much,” said Gonsalves, adding that the nation’s pursuit is done through AOSIS and SIDS DOCK.

King said St. Vincent and the Grenadines was elected unopposed last June to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for 2017-2019, stating that the country was elected with the highest number of votes in GRULAC and the fourth highest number of votes among the 18 members elected during that period.

“This good showing was due in no small measure to the efforts of our election officer and Deputy Permanent Representative, Nedra Miguel, who headed the campaign and played the essential role in securing our place on ECOSOC,” she said.

During the main session of the 71st General Assembly, Minister Counsellor Sehon Marshall, a former Deputy New York Consul General, was coordinator, on behalf of the Group of 77 (G77) and China, of the resolution, “Protection of the Global Climate for Present and Future Generations.”

King said that illustrates that “we are fully engaged across our Mission.”

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