14/10/2004
Press Release
GA/SPD/292


Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

10th Meeting (AM)


fourth committee postpones action on western sahara draft resolution,

 

Two other texts on decolonization questions


Committee Also Begins General Debate on Effects of Atomic Radiation


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning postponed until Monday action on a draft resolution concerning the question of Western Sahara following a heated discussion arising from a lack of consensus on the text.


As the Committee took up its remaining drafts on decolonization, it also postponed until Monday action on texts concerning New Caledonia and expansion of the Special Committee on Decolonization.  Earlier, the Committee had begun consideration of its agenda item on the effects of atomic radiation.


The revised text on Western Sahara would have underlined Security Council resolution 1495 (2003), in which the Council expressed its support of the peace plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara as an optimum political solution on the basis of agreement between the two parties.  Also by the draft, the Council continued to support strongly the efforts of the Secretary-General in order to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution to the dispute over Western Sahara.


Kyaw Tint Swe (Myanmar), Fourth Committee Chairman, said in announcing the postponement of action that the Committee had entered “uncharted territory” since it had approved the text on Western Sahara by consensus in all previous years.


Earlier this morning, Takeomi Yamamoto (Japan), Chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), introduced the annual draft resolution on support for that body’s activities, pointing out that the Committee had extended its role beyond its original mandate to assess and report levels and effects of exposure to radiation, by tackling new challenges such as radioactive waste, hereditary risks and low-level radiation.


Speakers in the ensuing general debate strongly supported the UNSCEAR and urged that it receive adequate funding.  The representative of Myanmar said the Committee’s work was of great importance to developing countries in particular, as they could reap much benefit from nuclear energy.  However, they had limited financial and scientific capabilities to counteract such risks as radiation in the environment.


Also speaking in that debate were representatives of the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) and Brazil (on behalf of the Southern Common Market).

Representatives of Niger, Bahamas, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and Gabon spoke with regard to the text on Western Sahara.


The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday 15 October, to continue its general debate on atomic radiation.


Background


As the Fourth Committee began its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation (item 74), it had before it the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/59/46), covering that body’s fifty-second session held in Vienna from 26 to 30 April.  That session continued the previous session’s development of new documents on the sources and effects of ionizing radiation.  The Committee had identified the most important topics for further study, including exposures of workers and the public to various sources of radiation; sources-to-effects assessment for radon in homes and workplaces; radioecology, methodologies for dose assessments and effects of radiation on non-human biota; health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident; and evaluation of new epidemiological studies of radiation and cancer.


According to the report, the Committee’s operating budget, expressed in General Assembly resolutions, remains a cause for concern.  Assembly resolution 58/88 urged strengthening of the present Committee funding to the level originally requested for 2004-2005.  However, sufficiently improved funding for the Committee to discharge itself of its responsibilities and mandate has yet to be delivered.


[The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) was established by the General Assembly in 1955, with the mandate to assess and report levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and their effects.  According to its website, governments and organizations throughout the world rely on the Committee's estimates as the scientific basis for evaluating radiation risk, establishing radiation protection and safety standards, and regulating radiation sources.  The Committee comprises scientists from 21 Member States and consults with scientists throughout the world in establishing its databases.  More information about UNSCEAR can be found on www.unscear.com.]


Introduction of Draft Resolution


TAKEOMI YAMAMOTO (Japan), Chairman of the fifty-second session of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, introduced a draft resolution endorsing UNSCEAR’s mandate and encouraging its activities.  Since its establishment, the scientific Committee had been vital in the study of sources of ionizing radiation.  Although its original United Nations mandate had been to assess and report levels and effects of exposure to such radiation, the Committee had extended its role by tackling new challenges such as radioactive waste, hereditary risks and low-level radiation.


As a result, he said, governments and organizations throughout the world now relied on the Committee’s estimates as the basis for evaluating radiation risk, establishing radiation protection and safety standards and regulating radiation sources.  Within the United Nations system, those estimates were used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its functions, as well as assisting the General Assembly in making recommendations relevant to international cooperation in health and other areas.


The draft resolution just introduced followed the structure and wording of the previous year’s text and requested NSCEAR to continue its review of issues in the field of ionizing radiation, while requesting the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to continue supporting its work.


Statements


ALEXANDER GERTS (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that UNSCEAR’s most recent report confirmed the Committee’s status as the principal international body in its field.  Despite certain budgetary constraints, it had succeeded throughout the years in publishing reports of the highest standards, addressing a vast array of topics related to the effects of ionizing radiation.


UNSCEAR’s studies, particularly on the application of radioactive sources for medical purposes and the longer-term effects of exposure to radiation on human health, such as in the case of the Chernobyl accident, were a valuable source of reliable information for professional users.


Lauding the Committee’s dissemination of such information to the wider public by making its findings available through the Internet, he said that service filled an existing need.  The European Union also welcomed the continued exchange of information and cooperation between the relevant international organizations.  The Union supported the Committee fully on the basis of its scientific authority, in providing the international community with essential and independent information towards evaluation of the levels and effects of exposure to atomic radiation.


U LINN MYAING (Myanmar), associating himself with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that nuclear power was an important source of energy, but it came with the risk of exposure to radiation and proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Those negative effects posed a great threat, not least to the developing countries with their limited financial and scientific capabilities.  UNSCEAR’s work was, therefore, of great importance.  He expressed satisfaction that the Committee had been able to continue its work, while also expressing concern over the inadequacy of its operating budget, as well as the hope that UNEP would be able to address that issue.


Myanmar had been exercising its legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy for development in cooperation with the IAEA, he said.  The Atomic Energy Law had been regulating such activities in the country since 1998, to counteract the negative effects of atomic radiation and enhance communication with foreign research institutions.  Myanmar was also participating actively in related regional and interregional efforts and had ratified the South-East Asia weapons free zone treaty.  Through such efforts and the work of UNSCEAR, atomic energy could contribute significantly towards the development of poorer nations.


RODRIGO CARDOSO (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the grouping deemed it very important to be able to evaluate scientific conclusions regarding atomic radiation, and that society’s concern about contamination underscored the usefulness of UNSCEAR’s work.  Over the past 49 years, the quality of its reports had made decisive contributions towards establishing a safer environment.  The conclusions of those reports had been used in numerous bodies, including the IAEA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


Welcoming UNSCEAR’s new work programme, which would include a study of the effects of radiation on workers, radioecology and effects of radiation on the immunological system, he underscored the need to insure that the Committee had


adequate resources to comply with its mandate.  MERCOSUR was committed to the use of nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.


Decolonization Issues: Question of Western Sahara


The Committee then turned its attention to the agenda item entitled “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People’s” taking up a draft resolution on the “Question of Western Sahara”, contained in document A/C.4/59/L.4.


Before the Committee took action on the draft, the representatives of Nigerand Bahamas called attention to the fact that they did not wish to co-sponsor the text.


The Committee was then informed that Belize, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Uganda, Venezuela, Barbados, Botswana, Burundi, Dominica, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Malawi, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niger, Palau, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Tonga and Trinidad and Tobago had become co-sponsors of the draft resolution.  The Committee was subsequently informed that Bahamas, Barbados, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Niger and Saint Kitts and Nevis would not be co-sponsors.


A heated procedural discussion then ensued due to lack of consensus on the text and the necessity for a vote.  It was sparked by an exchange between the representatives of Morocco and Algeria.  Representatives of Egypt and Senegal also participated in the discussion.  In response to a call for proposals from the Chairman, the representative of Senegal proposed that action be postponed in an effort to reach consensus.


The meeting was then suspended for 30 minutes.


When the meeting resumed, the representative of Gabon urged the Committee to preserve the “tradition of consensus”.


The Committee then decided to postpone its consideration of the draft resolution until Monday, 18 October.  KYAW TINT SWE (Myanmar), Committee Chairman, said the Committee had entered “uncharted territory” as the text on Western Sahara had traditionally been adopted by consensus as a Chairman’s text.  He requested any assistance that delegations, particularly the concerned delegations, could give in the search for consensus.


A representative of the Office of Legal Affairs then explained the procedure to be followed if no consensus had been reached by Monday.  Manifestations of no-consensus were three-fold, she said:  a request for a vote; objection to adoption without a vote; and an indication that there was no consensus.


The representatives of Senegal, Algeria and Morocco expressed their satisfaction with the Chair’s action.


The Committee then also postponed action on the remaining draft resolutions until Monday.


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