United Nations
General Assembly
Third Committee

Statement


STATEMENT TO THE THIRD COMMITTEE
by MR. NITIN DESAI
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS

25 September 2000

 

Chairperson,

May I begin by congratulating you on your election to the Chairmanship of this very important Committee particularly this year when we will be looking at the outcome of the review processes of the Beijing and the Copenhagen Summit. I would also like to congratulate the other members of the Bureau and to assure them that we look forward to working very closely with them in ensuring a successful meeting for the Third Committee.

Chairperson,

The Third Committee does not have a tradition of a general debate; you clearly are very business like and go directly into the agenda items before you. But I thought I would take this opportunity to place your agenda this year in the broader context of the discussions on development which are taking place at the global level, and particularly, in the United Nations.

Distinguished delegates,

The current session of the General Assembly is meeting in what I would describe as the glow of the Millennium Summit. This event was by all standards exceptionally successful - in the level of participation that it attracted, in the nature of the discussions that took place both in the Plenary and the Roundtables, in terms of the reception accorded to the Secretary-General’s report, "We the Peoples", and in terms of the outcome as reflected in the Declaration of the Millennium Summit. In many ways this is the framework within which all the Committees of the General Assembly will function this year. One of the challenges is to carry forward the momentum generated by the Millennium Summit, a momentum which focused much attention on the strengthening of the United Nations so it can respond better to the types of global challenges outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.

From the point of view of development, if there was one theme that dominated discussions in the General Assembly, and in fact also dominated discussions in the Beijing+5 process as well as Copenhagen+5 this theme was globalisation. Wherever one went, this was what was the principal area of concern voiced by the leaders who who came to the Millennium Summit, and by the others who came to the +5 processes. It is also a theme which is dominating the concerns of a large number of groups outside governments, particularly activitist groups. You saw this in Seattle, in Washington and you are seeing this right now in Prague.

I believe this theme is relevant for the entire agenda of the Third Committee, not only for the agenda which my Department is directly responsible for, the agenda which deals with social development and the advancement of women, but also for the agenda which concerns human rights, drugs and transnational crime.

Chairperson,

I believe the Third Committee has made a major contribution in bringing this broad set of concerns about the consequences of this phenomena we call globalisation into the policy agenda. I sometimes remind people that many of the concerns now being expressed were actually articulated very effectively in the debates which took place in the Third Committee in the run up to the World Summit on Social Development in 1995. The World Summit on Social Development and its outcome anticipated many of the concerns today being much more widely recognized and expressed. But my purpose here is not to say "I told you so". What we ought to ask ourselves now is what are the areas where we need to take action in order to address these concerns.

I am not going to go into the morphology of globalisation – its trade, investment, technology, the social and cultural dimensions. I would just like to stress one aspect of the morphology: in many ways the reaction to these processes of trade and financial integration by the NGO movements, and as reflected in the discussions which take in the United Nations in the Third Committee and in the processes concerned with the World Summit on Social Development and the World Conference on Women, is also part of globalisation. It is precisely the mechanics of the globalisation which have made it possible for us to find the mechanisms and political processes for addressing the problems connected with globalisation.

And what are these problems? What is it that is of concern to people? I will focus on some of the ones which are directly relevant to the work of the Third Committee and which I believe you can address very effectively in your policy debates.

First, there is clearly a concern about inequality, about the fact that the processes of globalisation are adding to global inequalities, both between countries and within countries. The numbers are well known. Twenty per cent of the world’s population commands 80% of its income. The difference between the income level of the top 20% and the bottom 20% has been widening and is now around 1 to 37. When you look at the very top and the very bottom the gap is even greater. And when you have inequality, even the person who is gaining perceives a sense of unfairness and injustice when somebody else is gaining far more. This major area of concern, the focus on inequality, has to a certain extent has been lost in public policy both at the national level and at the international level.

Second, there is deep concern about the persistence of poverty and deprivation. It is widely accepted that globalisation has expanded the potential of the world economy, and has generated additional jobs and income in many parts of the world. It is precisely because globalisation is generating new possibilities of growth of production, of income, of solidarity that the persistence of poverty, the 1.3 billion who live on less that $1.00 a day, seems less and less acceptable. A related area of concern which I believe is worrying people is the fact that the positive contributions of globalisation are not necessarily getting reflected in the actual flows of support and assistance for anti-poverty programmes at the country level, at the regional level and at the global level.

A third area of concern is a weakening of social cohesion as a result of the increasing inequality and the persistence of poverty. When inequalities start being associated with groups which can acquire political salience, this can translate into social stress and anarchy. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, has social consequences which have been recognized frequently in the work of the Third Committee.

Linked to this there are concerns about the processes of managing globalisation. There is a perceived governance deficit, a feeling that there are many elements of decision-making that are now increasingly outside the purview and influence of national governments and international organizations. The growing transnationalisation of ownership of capital, the growing shift of influence from the public sector to the private sector, are examples. Even more important, there is a perceived "democracy" deficit - a feeling that whatever processes of governance that do exist for these mechanisms of integration in the spheres of trade, finance, technology and other areas, are mechanisms which are not fully democratic, which do not fully reflect the perceptions, concerns and interests of all countries, small and large, rich and poor.

These perceived deficits are in the minds of groups outside governments, which is precisely why those groups are increasingly demonstrating outside council chambers, in the streets as they did in Seattle, as they did in Washington, as they are doing now in Prague. The Millennium Summit has focused attention on the potential of the United Nations, of this universal institution, which in many ways was ahead of the curve in identifying, for instance, the need to integrate the social and the economic dimension of policy, to provide the world with the type of political process necessary to manage these processes of globalisation. The United Nations has the democratic structure and the concern about the social and environmental issues, about the advancement of women, which are central concerns being expressed about the globalisation phenomena outside. I sense that at the Summit there was a willingness to renew the capacity of the United Nations to address these concerns. You have an opportunity to do so in this session itself. When you look at the outcome of the five-year review of the Beijing conference, you will see many of these concerns reflected. When you review the outcome of the World Summit on Social Development you will see many of these concerns reflected and many specific proposals for addressing them.

I hope you will be able to deal with these issues during your discussions and not only in terms of the outcome of the five-year review processes. Other areas that are on your agenda, such as the issue of ageing, the question of youth employment, the issue of disability, are also connected with this agenda of increasing the focus on people-centered development, an agenda which has long been a basic theme of the work of the Third Committee and the work of the United Nations. The United Nations has done an enormous amount to place these issues on the policy agenda and it has the potential in this Committee and elsewhere to provide the world with a credible forum for addressing these problems. That, I believe, is the common theme which has to underlie your work both in the areas that are dealt with in my Department, the advancement of women and social development, as well as in the other areas that you will be considering - human rights, drugs and transnational crime.

I look forward to your continued involvement and hope that just as you have played a pioneering role in placing these on the policy agenda, you will continue to play a pioneering role in helping the world to identify viable options for addressing many of the concerns that you have articulated.

Thank you.


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Date last posted: 28 September 2000
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