17 September 2007
General Assembly
GA/10614

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Plenary

109th Meeting (AM)


OUTGOING GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT CLOSING SIXTY-FIRST SESSION CHALLENGES MEMBER


STATES TO STAND TOGETHER, ‘CARRY THE TORCH OF MULTILATERALISM FORWARD’


Assembly Also Adopts Text on African Union Cooperation, Defers Several

Items; Consideration of Security Council Reform to Continue during Next Session


While she thanked Member States for their dedication to the United Nations and to the people of the world during this past year, outgoing General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain today challenged delegations to abandon outdated ways of thinking, overcome differences and “carry the torch of multilateralism forward –- to bring light where there is darkness and hope where there is fear”.


“At times, like all families, some members can be disruptive and some fall out of favour with one another.  This is natural in such a large and diverse group,” said Sheikha Haya, the Assembly’s first woman President in 37 years, as she closed the 192-nation body’s sixty-first session.  She added that, despite the suspicion and mistrust that prevailed at times, it was clear that, when Member States stood together, the United Nations was stronger.  “When we pursue our common goals with purpose –- the General Assembly makes a real difference.”


She called on all delegations to accept their shared responsibilities -– and differences –- to work together for change, for there was still much work to do.  Indeed, the world was changing more rapidly and dramatically than ever, while civil wars and human rights abuses continued or were escalating.  Darfur was an ongoing humanitarian crisis, the threat of terrorism continued and natural disasters had increased in frequency and scale.


Climate change was no longer a matter of debate –- it had become a living reality for many.  And, the international community truly faced a “development emergency” if it was going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on time.  “Unless we act decisively, the planet will, by 2015, be suffering not less, but more environmental degradation,” she said, stressing that millions of people, feeling forgotten with misplaced hope, would still struggle on less than $1 a day, and millions of children would still go hungry.


Still, she urged delegations not to be disheartened for she believed that great hope arose from great hardships.  More importantly, “we have the means at our disposal to address and overcome” many of the world’s challenges.  That was why she had made implementation of the globally-agreed Goals the overarching theme of the session.  For their part, Member States had added to the Assembly’s list of accomplishments and had developed new tools the United Nations could use to tackle pressing issues.


By example, she said that Member States had strengthened the Assembly and other principle organs of the United Nations, and enhanced cooperation among them, and with regional organizations.  The Assembly had also adopted a new resolution renewing and broadening its engagement with civil society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.  Moreover, she had convened thematic debates on development, achieving the Goals and financing them, gender equality and women’s empowerment, civilizations and the challenge for peace, and climate change -– all of which had “boosted our credibility and revitalized our thinking”.


In addition, Member States had reaffirmed the need to reform the Security Council, since the status-quo was no longer acceptable.  During the next session, she hoped the membership would, on the basis of the progress made and on the positions and relevant Member State proposals, have the courage to begin talks on meaningful intergovernmental negotiations.  In the twenty-first century, the world demands a more representative, legitimate and effective Security Council, she said, adding that it also deserved a more coherent, effective and efficient United Nations system that could deliver more for the forgotten poor -- the most vulnerable who lack a voice, she added.


At the same time, she said that the Organization had not silenced all its critics, despite the progress that had been achieved this past year.  Indeed, there was a larger question looming over the United Nations:  “Are we satisfied that the decisions we take have an impact on the ground to ease the suffering of the many who are in dire need of our support?” she asked.


In part, the answer was yes, but the international community needed to do much more.  While the United Nations could guide the way and point out the futility of military confrontation, ultimately it was the responsibility of sovereign Member States to work out solutions to crises, particularly those in the Middle East and in Darfur.  The promises made by Member States of the United Nations deserved to be kept, she added.


Before handing over the traditional gavel to incoming Assembly President, Srgjan Kerim, of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sheikha Haya said:  “We must tackle these issues squarely and, in doing so, we will have to move beyond the outdated mindset that separates the world into donors and recipients –- North and South.  Declaring that this was a new age, with new possibilities, and that “each of us here today has a responsibility”, she said:  “We are all accountable.  Only the passage of history will judge whether we have been successful.”


Wrapping up the work of the session, the Assembly adopted a draft decision included in the report of the Open-Ended Working Group on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council (document A/61/47) by which it would urge the Group to exert efforts during its sixty-second session, “aimed at achieving general agreement among member States in the consideration of all issues relevant to the question…”


The decision would also have the Assembly consider the question of equitable representation on and increase in the Council’s membership during its sixty-second session so that “further concrete steps might be achieved, including through intergovernmental negotiations; building on the progress achieved so far, particularly at the sixty-first session, as well as the positions of and proposals by Member States.” 


Speaking after action, the representative of South Africa said his delegation had joined the consensus, without much enthusiasm.  While it was true that the Open-Ended Working Group had come a long way on the question of equitable representation in the Council, South Africa and some 29 other countries had wanted results-oriented, element-based, intergovernmental negotiations to be reflected in that decision.


Nevertheless, those countries were satisfied that the measure had taken into account some of their concerns, including the need to take concrete steps, the need to consider the proposals made by Member States, as well as a reference to intergovernmental negotiations.  With that in mind, South Africa, main sponsor of a draft resolution before the Assembly on Security Council reform, would not pursue that text at this time. 


[By that resolution (document A/61/L.69/Rev.1) the Assembly would urge the President of its upcoming sixty-second session to take immediate steps to facilitate results-oriented, intergovernmental negotiations, taking into account all options and elements, including, in particular, expansion in both permanent and non-permanent membership categories; greater representation of developing countries, including island and small States; representation of the developed countries and transition economies reflective of contemporary world realities; and equitable geographical distribution.]


South Africa was also pleased that, in spite of resistance by many, the Assembly had agreed that there would be intergovernmental negotiations on the matter of equitable representation in the Council, just as there were such negotiations on other issues in the United Nations.


He was especially proud that a number of small States –- African, Caribbean and the Pacific region –- had stood firm and tall in the face of pressure and dismissive language of the kind not often heard in international negotiations.  They had stood firm because the issue of Security Council reform was so important.  South African and those other developing States intended to pursue it during the current session until there was wide agreement on the way forward.


Japan’s representative said that last week’s meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform had been indicative of the momentum building towards the early realization of such changes.  Japan believed that there was broad agreement to move on to the next stage, namely intergovernmental negotiations.


Japan continued to stand by its position on the matter, including the expansion of both permanent and non-permanent membership categories, to ensure better representation, transparency and enhanced effectiveness and legitimacy.   Japan would participate in the up-coming negotiations constructively and would call on other delegations to do likewise.


Brazil’s representative welcomed the consensus decision, which recognized that the next stage would be a process of result-oriented intergovernmental negotiations.  She expected the process would enable completion of the Council reform during the next session.


The representative of India said the consensus decision included the clarifications and amendments approved last Friday by the Working Group, as well as the concepts of achieving results and intergovernmental negotiations.  The voices of the developing nations, the small and the marginalized had been heard and would “continue to disturb the comfortable sleep of the status quo”. 


The representative of France said that reform of the Security Council was key to wider United Nations reform.  The decision just taken should now serve to drive the Assembly’s efforts to ensure that the Council be more representative.  While France would have hoped for more concrete results, it would urge Member States not to downplay what had been achieved and looked forward to the coming start of intergovernmental negotiations.   France was prepared to take place in any negotiations, particularly those based on presentations by non-Council Member States.


Pakistan’s representative said that the Assembly must preserve and build on the positive spirit in the sixty-first session.  At the same time, all must be aware that the negotiation process had been interrupted by the introduction of a “unilateral proposal seeking to prescribe unilateral elements and modalities for the process”.  Fortunately it had evoked mixed support and had not been pressed for a vote.  The reason that was the case was because the majority of States believed that voting on such an important issue was not an option.


Pakistan and the other members of the “Uniting for Consensus” group had always supported a negotiated outcome.  Consensus could only be achieved through negotiations, not a vote.  The foundation for consensus was to be found in the recommendations of the report of the Working Group.  Those recommendations were aimed at achieving general agreement in consideration of all issues relevant to Security Council reform and that called for concrete results by building on progress achieved so far, particularly in the sixty-first session.  The Assembly must now be prepared to move forward on next steps.


The representative of Germany said that, although nobody was 100 per cent satisfied, the adopted text opened the door to the next stage, one of intergovernmental negotiations, in order to achieve a Council truly representative of today’s geo-political situation.


The representative of the United Kingdom said that her delegation’s position remained unchanged.  It was important to expand both categories and it should be more representative in reflecting global realities.  Germany, India, Brazil and Japan deserved permanent membership.  The United Kingdom also supported permanent representation for Africa.  She said that her delegation would remain open to all options, including those that might break the existing deadlock.


Italy’s representative was among the speakers who praised the efforts of Assembly President Sheika Haya in taking the issue farther forward than ever before.  Today was a day of success not of one group over another, but for “all of us”, he said, urging Member States to live up to the challenge of the decision just taken.


In other action, the Assembly adopted a resolution on cooperation between the Organization and the African Union, by which it would request United Nations programmes, agencies and funds to intensify assistance to the African Union, as appropriate, in strengthening the institutional and operational capacity of its Peace and Security Council and in coordinating with other international partners when needed, including, among others, the development of its early warning system, including the Situation Room of the Peace and Security Directorate; training of civilian and military personnel; and capacity-building for peacebuilding before and after the cessation of hostilities on the continent.


In explanation of position before action, the vote, the representatives of Japan and the United States, while expressing support for the African Union and many of the paragraphs in the draft, expressed reservations with the procedures leading up to the text.  Some interested delegations had not been included in consultations and insufficient time had been allocated to consultations on some paragraphs.  The representative of the United States disassociated his country from the text.


Further on matters of cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations, the Assembly decided to consider, every other year, starting with its sixty-third session, respectively, cooperation between the Organization and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCA); the Latin American Economic System; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and the Organization of American States (OAS).


Also this morning, acting on the request of Azerbaijan’s representative, the Assembly decided to defer the items “the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and “protracted conflicts in the GUAM area and their implications of international peace, security and development” to its sixty-second session. 


Explaining his delegation’s position, Armenia’s representative disassociated himself from the consensus, saying that an item dealing with four completely different conflicts could not appropriately address the specific circumstances of each, and that any steps undertaken within the agenda items could be detrimental to the ongoing negotiations on the settlement of the Nogorno-Karabakh conflict mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group.


Regarding the Assembly’s decision to defer the item “follow-up to the recommendations on administrative and internal oversight of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil for Food Programme”, the representative of Costa Rica said that, unfortunately, the image of the United Nations and its effectiveness had been affected by acts of corruption involving high-level staff members.  In order to avoid a repeat of those “shameful actions”, an in-depth analysis of the events, based on the Volcker-report, should be conducted by the Assembly, the Organization’s prime legislative body.  He, therefore, asked to retain the item on the next session’s agenda.


The Assembly also adopted a draft decision on the role of the United Nations in promoting a new global human order, deciding to defer consideration of that item to its sixty-second session.  It also decided, without voting, to defer items on improving the financial situation of the United Nations, and on financing the United Nations Mission in East Timor.


Also placed on the draft agenda for the sixty-second session were matters related to the situation in Central America:  progress in fashioning a region of peace, freedom, democracy and development; the question of Cyprus; armed aggression against the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas); the situation of democracy and human rights in Haiti; and armed Israeli aggression against the Iraqi nuclear installations and its grave consequences for the established international system concerning the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and international peace and security.


Matters related to the consequences of the Iraqi occupation of and aggression against Kuwait, and the Declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity on the aerial and naval military attack against the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by the present United States Administration in April 1986 were also placed on the Assembly’s draft agenda for the next session.


The Assembly began its work on a sombre note, paying tribute with a moment of silence in memory of Sir John Compton, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, who passed away this past Friday.


Paying tribute were the representatives of the Philippines (on behalf of the Asian States), Montenegro (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Paraguay (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), Switzerland (Western European and Other States), United States (Host Country), Saint Lucia and Zimbabwe (on behalf of the African States).


The representative of Zimbabwe, speaking on behalf of the African Group, introduced the draft resolution on Cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union (document A/61/L.70).


The General Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow to open its sixty-second session.


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For information media • not an official record