United Nations
General Assembly
Third Committee

Statement


     

                                STATEMENT TO THE
                                 THIRD COMMITTEE

                                       by

                                 MR. NITIN DESAI
                             UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
                         FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS


                                                          5 October 1998


Mr. Chairman,

      May I first of all congratulate you on your assumption to this
office in this very important year when this Committee has so many
crucial issues to discuss and may I also convey my congratulations to
the other members of the bureau from New Zealand, Guatemala, Romania
and Lebanon.

      The Committee has before it this year a series of important
issues.  Besides the consideration of the processes for the five-year
reviews of the World Summit on Social Development and the Beijing
Conference, it will be meeting in the fiftieth anniversary year of the
Universal Declaration of Human rights, which will undoubtedly be an
important element in your agenda.  You also have to address the issue
of the follow-up to the Special Session on Narcotics held in June of
this year. Other key issues before you include the preparations for
next years' International Year of Older Persons and the outcome of
major events like the Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth
and the World Youth Forum, held in Portugal.  So your agenda for this
year covers the full complex of issues dealt with by the Third
Committee.  

Mr. Chairman,

      You will have to conduct these deliberations in the context of a
world situation which is extremely uncertain.  It is now recognized
that the world economy has never been in a more perilous state than
now at any time in the past fifty years.  We know what the depth of
this crisis is.  We are talking in terms of growth rates which, for
the world as a whole,  are likely to be very much below what they were
expected to be a year ago.  We are talking of a substantial decline in
national incomes in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia, substantial
slackening of growth in Latin America and of course, a deep recession in a
major industrial country, Japan. 

      All this is translating in many of these countries into a huge
increase in poverty and unemployment.  In Indonesia, for instance, we
are seeing an increase in the number of people below the poverty line
from around 20-22 million to over 60 million.  Unemployment is
widespread; social services will come under pressure.  Above all, the
capacities that have been built up with great difficulty over many
years will be eroded and lost.  What confronts many of these economies
is an economic and a social crisis of a magnitude which they have not
ever had to face.  Your deliberations will be conducted in the context
of a world economic and social situation which for many countries may
be worse than it has ever been in the history of this committee.  


Mr. Chairman,

      The system that we have built up in the past fifty or so years
rested on an implicit social compact.  Let us remember that it was not
simply a product of a response to the horrors of the Second World War. 
In its economic dimension, it was a response to the consequences of
the Great Depression of the thirties.  And the implicit social compact
in the system that we had built up was that if national economies were
to be opened up to global competition, in order to maximize the
possibilities of growth and in order to promote efficiency,
governments would also accept an obligation to protect social 
standards.  And it is no accident that the globalization and
liberalization of the world economy was matched by the development of
a welfare state in the industrialized countries.

      Even in the developing world there was a different type of
compact which was implicit.  And that implicit compact was that the
opening of the economy, globalization and liberalization would lead to
more rapid growth, and through more rapid growth, to a more rapid
reduction in the incidence of poverty and unemployment, a greater
capacity to meet basic needs and to promote social cohesion. The
crisis of the past year is eroding both these social compacts.  That
is why this is a matter which is crucial to the agenda of this
committee.  I will say more on this matter tomorrow when I address the
Second Committee on the economic issues that confront us.  But I
believe that this crisis cannot be viewed simply as a financial crisis
nor as an economic crisis by itself but as a social crisis, as a
crisis which has challenged the underlying compact on which the whole
system of post-war policy in the sphere of development has been built.

      When we look for solutions to address this crisis, this is the
dimension we will have to keep in mind.  We have to look for more than
just stability in financial markets.  We have to look for the policies
which can revive the prospects for development and growth, policies
which can revive the prospects for enhanced action on poverty
eradication and on social development.  This relates to much of what
we will discuss in the context of the five-year review of Copenhagen,
or five-year review of Beijing or for that matter on the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which includes an economic, social and
cultural element as well as the political and civil liberties
dimensions.  And it should be remembered that what you discuss has to
make sense for the millions who have been thrown out of work, for the
millions who are migrating away from urban back to rural areas, adding
to the burdens on the rural economy, and to the clear exacerbation of
social and ethnic tensions that is arising from the impact of this
crisis in many countries.

      I do not believe the answer to this crisis is necessarily
retracting from the forces of globalization or for that matter,
liberalization. This has been tried in the past and it has not worked. 
At the same time, the answer to the crisis cannot be found only in
terms of measures directed at maintaining or reviving the sense of
confidence in capital markets.  It has to look beyond capital markets
into the real economy of production, into issues of distribution, of
employment and poverty.   This is where the work of your Committee is
of central consequence.

      We in the United Nations have sought to push discussion on this
issue forward.  As you know, on the 17th and 18th of September this
year we had a high-level dialogue of the General Assembly on
globalization.  One of the panels for that dialogue was on the social
impact of globalization.  It dealt with the impact on social cohesion
and issues like the universality of social programmes, targeted social
safety nets, and the compatibility between the measures to mitigate the
financial impact with long-term developmental concerns.

      Recently, moreover, those of us who head the economic and social
secretariats of the United Nations, submitted a statement to the
Interim Committee of the IMF and Development Committee of the World
Bank on these matters .  We have sought to inject into the debate the
types of concerns about social issues which this Committee has played
such a prominent role in injecting into the global policy agenda.

      I would therefore urge that your debates this year help
contribute towards this end, towards asserting the social dimension in
consideration of the current crisis facing the world economy.

Mr. Chairman,

      I also want to turn to a second area which I believe is important
in the work of this Committee.  As I said earlier, this year we will
be celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights.  There has been a tendency to see human rights issues
largely in terms of political and civil rights.  But there is also a
covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.  In fact, the
Universal Declaration itself refers to a social and international
order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration
can be fully realized.  In 1950, the General Assembly declared that
the enjoyment of civil and political freedoms and of economic, social
and cultural rights are interconnected and interdependent.  The 1986
Declaration on the Right to Development also connected both
of these elements, and in 1993 the Vienna Declaration reinforced this
connection.  Because of this connection, there is a growing interest
in looking at the whole of development in terms of what could be called a
"rights based approach".  Social development in particular is seen not as a
discretionary matter, not as an act of charity, but as something which
reflects the rights of individuals on society.  This has been very
strong in the work of this Committee and in related work outside.

      We have seen that when this "rights based approach" is asserted,
progress is in many ways faster and more definite.  I'll give you two
examples.  First, the rights of the child.  In the early phases, much
of our thinking relating to this was based on what one could loosely
describe as altruism or charity.  We moved from there to a globally
agreed programme of action.  More recently, the focus has been on
seeing our programmatic actions relating to children in the context of
the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Second, the advancement of
women.  Here, the rights-based dimension and the programmatic
dimension of providing support for the exercise of these rights has
moved in parallel, and in Vienna, women■s rights were recognized as
part of the corpus of human rights.

      There are other areas of work which this Committee has undertaken
where in some ways it has expressed and used what one could describe
as a rights based approach.  One example in the field of disability,
the Global Standards on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with
Disabilities is not a human rights instrument, but it has some of the 
characteristics of a rights-based approach to development.  Similarly,
some of the work on ageing has the same characteristics.

      What we are trying to do here is on the one hand, get a shared
agreement on the scope of this corpus of rights which people have,
whether we are talking of women, of children, of the  disabled or the
elderly.  On the other hand, we are trying to design our programmatic
work so as to reinforce these rights.  It is not enough to enact
economic, social and cultural rights in law.  While that is important
and very useful, it is no use my saying that every disabled child has
the right to attend school if my schools do not have facilities to
teach a blind child or a deaf child.  We need programmatic
intervention to reinforce these rights.  I believe the potential of a
rights-based approach is to bring the two strands of discussion on
social development together: the discussion on rights and the
discussion on programmatic initiatives.  As I have indicated, in the
case of the rights of the child this has to some degree occured.

      Our real challenge is to give real content to this notion of
bringing together these two strands.  How do we give it content in
terms of our analytical work?  In the work which you would do at the
legislative level?  In terms of the operational work?  I believe that
your discussions on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and on
social development can provide the basis of bringing these two strands
together.  There are very few committees like yours which have a
mandate in both the rights-based area as well as the programmatic area
relating to social development.
Mr. Chairman,

      This Committee has a heavy agenda before it.  It is very
important that at a time when the world■s attention is largely on the
vast amounts that are being lost in the financial markets, the crucial
and vital issues which this Committee handles are not put on a back
burner, but  recognized as central to the solutions that we seek for
the present crisis.

      I thank you and look forward to your deliberations.
    
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