23rd Session (2001)
General Debate: Mexico, on behalf of the 20 Spanish-speaking countries of the Organization
Statement by H.E. Mrs. Roberta Lajous, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico, on behalf of the 20 Spanish-speaking countries of the Organization (3 May 2001)
It is an honor for the Delegation of Mexico, to speak in this meeting of the Committee of Information on behalf of Andorra, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Uruguay and Venezuela, all Spanish speaking members of the United Nations, in order to express our deep concern for the increasing gap that exists in the information that our Organization makes available in Spanish and other official languages, with respect to the one distributed in English. Furthermore, it is very troubling to realize that this breach, as the Secretary-General himself points out in his report about this matter, regardless of all the efforts that have been made, will continue to grow.
As we all know, Spanish, like other official languages, has been recognized as an official and working language of this Organization, according to articles 51, 41, and 31 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, of the Security Council and of the Economic and Social Council, respectively. Furthermore, aside from being one of the UN six official languages, Spanish is an international language spoken all over the world by over 400 million people, a figure that, according to demographic predictions, will rise to 550 million by the year 2050. In addition, it is a language that already counts with 21 million users on Internet.
Nevertheless, its present treatment in the realm of public information at the United Nations not only disregards the current rules of procedure of our Organization, but it also seems to underestimate the extraordinary impact that Spanish has both, because of the number of Spanish-speaking people and countries in the world that utilize it as its means of expression, and because of its expanding role in the process of globalization.
We welcome the fact that the increase in the use of Internet, together with the traditional means of information, has contributed to extend the reach of the message of our Organization around the world. However, we consider that the tendency to prioritize the use of a single language limits and, what is even more serious, diminishes the enormous potential that this innovative cybernetic technology can have in creating bridges between our Organization and the civil society around the world, allowing the UN global message to attain a truly local voice and meaning.
As it has become noticeable in recent meetings regarding the Internet, organized this year in the United Nations by the Economic and Social Council, "only a tenth of the world population speaks English, but at present 80% of the contents in the Web are in this language". For this reason, it is troubling to find out similar, and sometimes even larger figures, in the use of English with respect to the other languages, in the content of the public information material that the United Nations makes available. An Organization such as ours should seek to attain a more equitable distribution of its information; one that truly reflects the diversity of the world that it is here represented.
We concur with the Secretary-General when he states in his report that the improvement, maintenance and accomplishment of the multilingual site in the United Nations web is a priority of the Department of Public Information. Nevertheless, we regret that the progress in this respect has been slower than anticipated, due to the lack of practical knowledge of and resources available within the Organization for those languages that are not the working languages of the Secretariat.
We think that the reason given for the decline in the use of the remaining official languages within the area of public information, cannot be fully explained with this argument. As it is clearly acknowledged by the Permanent Representatives of the Spanish speaking countries in the letter recently addressed to the Secretary-General, this negative evolution is just another indication of the increasing unbalance inside the UN system regarding the use of the official and working languages. It is also indicative of the trend to privilege the use of a single official language inside the Secretariat of the organisms of the United Nations system.
As we mentioned in our letter, "the countries belonging to our linguistic community take note and regret that this is also true in the drafting and distribution of important documents, as well as during the negotiation of resolutions and decisions by the UN bodies. It has also sometimes become apparent even in the relationship of the secretariats with some Member States".
Regarding public information, we share the view expressed in the report of the Secretary-General that, starting from a zero budget increase, it is senseless to "continue elaborating proposals that carry a significant cost". Nonetheless, we respectfully disagree with his consideration that only through the utilization of "more resources" can the Organization adapt to the use of new technologies in a plural world. On the contrary, we believe that the Organization can and should develop a plan, to adapt itself with its current available resources, and in a reasonable period of time, to the needs of all its State members.
It is evident that the different national audiences can only receive current, relevant and useful information about the activities of the United Nations, if it is issued in their own languages by an experienced staff, and it is readily available in an Information Center of the UN. Whichever medium is used, it is clear that the message should be expressed in the local language for it to have a greater impact in a newspaper, radio or television station, a bulletin, a book, a website, or any other mass media. For this reason, it is evident that the technological and informatics revolution makes it increasingly essential for any international organization, to incorporate human resources capable of expressing and communicating in the main languages spoken in our world. The United Nations should adapt to this new reality.
The number of public and official documents to be translated cannot measure the multilingual development at the United Nations. Actions to address this goal cannot be limited to the options presented to this Committee, which involved additional budgetary resources. We believe that through some adjustments in the information structure of the United Nations information structure, particularly in the field of human resources in all six official languages, will contribute to enhance the dissemination of information to a wide and diverse linguistic public. Our Organization must face the challenge imposed by Internet. In doing so, the United Nations must stop working in just two languages or, even worse, in just one of them.
The Spanish-speaking members of the United Nations cannot accept the fact that our Organization limits its information channels to a single language due to a lack of financial resources. That is why we want to express our deep commitment to contribute with creative and positive proposals that can be transformed, eventually, in General Assembly resolutions supported by all members of this Committee. As part of this constructive spirit we wish to conclude our statement by underlying some proposals prepared by this group of twenty Spanish-speaking countries, expressing our hope that these ideas could be transformed into future actions of this Committee:
- We reaffirm that Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish are all official languages to be used by the Secretariat in all its activities related to public information.
- We request the Secretary-General to report to the Committee on Information, before the beginning of the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly, updated figures on the use and command of the six official languages by the Secretariat staff.
- We encourage the Secretary-General to present a plan of action towards achieving parity in all six official languages in all United Nations public documents, including the United Nations web sites.
- We request the Secretary-General to take into account the command and use of all official languages of the United Nations, in the recruitment and appointment of personnel to be assigned to the Department of Public Information, and all United Nations departments involved with the preparation and dissemination of public information and United Nations official documents.
- We request the Secretary General to report to the next session of the Committee on Information on the United Nations policies related to the planning, publications, registration of domains, and contents of United Nations web site, including criteria to guarantee the availability, integrity and authenticity of UN documents in all six official languages.
- We underline once again the importance of having the press releases issued in all official languages of the United Nations.
- We request the Secretary General to consider providing interpretation services to the Secretary General Spokesman daily briefing in order to reach a broader audience in the six official languages of the United Nations.
- We express our deep appreciation to the Secretary General for his initiative of uploading materials related to the United Nations meetings in the United Nations web site in all official languages. In this regard, we highlight the importance of applying the same criteria to other public information documents, including the United Nations Treaty Series;
In conclusion, we would like to emphasize that the 20 Spanish-speaking countries members of the United Nations, believe that multilingualism is not only a question of principle but also an indispensable tool in the dissemination of the image and activities of the United Nations, an Organization which speaks and communicates its message in all its official languages.