Statement to the Third Committee by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs 4 October 2004

Mr. Chairman,

            At the outset let me congratulate you on your election as Chairman of this important session of the Third Committee. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my felicitations to the other members of the bureau. You may be assured of our fullest cooperation and assistance in your work.

The World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in March 1995 will have its tenth anniversary in 2005. The Commission for Social Development, as the primary intergovernmental body responsible for the follow-up and review of the implementation of the Summit, will conduct a review of the further implementation of the outcomes of the Summit and of the twenty-fourth special session held in Geneva in 2000.

This ten-year review is important in and of itself and important also in the overall framework of the five-year review of the Millennium Declaration and the special event to be held next year at the General Assembly. In this context, I would like to offer my reflections and views on the upcoming review.

 

The World Summit for Social Development called for a people-centered approach to development. People, and the improvement of their living conditions in dignity and freedom, are the ultimate objectives of public policies. Their degree of participation largely determines also the legitimacy and quality of these public policies.

The realization of a people-centered approach to development, which has also been recognized in the Millennium Declaration, particularly through the goal of eradication of poverty, requires, quite obviously, progress in achieving this particular goal, as well as the other two major goals of the Social Summit: achieving full employment and enhancing social integration.

This approach also requires a better integration of economic and social policies. While this is certainly not a new issue, the recognition of social goals in macroeconomic policies and in economic policies in general is still far from being a priority in national and international agendas. Progress in the realization of social goals, notably equity and social cohesion depends upon supportive and coherent short-term and long-term economic policies at the national and international levels. The core issue remains the design and implementation of economic policies which are explicitly geared towards the realization of social goals.

While there are different ways to integrate social and economic objectives, the Social Summit and the Geneva Special Session underscored an integration whereby

national and international public agencies would consistently and simultaneously keep in mind social and economic objectives and goals when elaborating and implementing their policies.

 

Almost ten years after the Social Summit, it has become clear that sustained and broad-based economic growth is critical to poverty reduction.  However, in the context of an equity-enhancing growth strategy, other fundamental aspects of development, such as employment, education, health care and social integration, including adequate and stable funding for social policies and programmes, need to be forcefully brought back into policy formulation if the causes of poverty –and not merely its symptoms– are to be successfully addressed. Without innovative conceptual and operational frameworks that ensure coherence and the balanced integration of economic and social policies, political commitment is unlikely to translate into integrated policy approaches. 

Central to the integration of social and economic policies are concerns about the impact of globalization on social conditions. The Social Summit acknowledged that globalization could offer “new opportunities for sustained economic growth and development” and the “cross-fertilization of ideals, cultural values and aspirations”, but observed that “rapid processes of change and adjustment have been accompanied by intensified poverty, unemployment and social disintegration” and that there are “threats to human well-being, such as environmental risks that have also been globalized”. It concluded that “the challenge is how to manage these processes and threats so as to enhance their benefits and mitigate their negative effects upon people”.  Five years later, at the special session of the General Assembly to review the commitments made at Copenhagen, Governments addressed the economic and financial aspects of globalization and concluded that “We must act now in order to overcome [the marginalization from the global economy] affecting peoples and countries and to realize the full potential of opportunities presented for the benefit of all.”

Over the last decade, these issues raised by the Social Summit and the Special Session have not been pursued to the extent that was foreseen. Increasing controversies surrounding globalization and the surge of security issues on the international agenda should not detract intergovernmental attention from the social and cultural implications of globalization and their impact on development. In this regard, the analysis and recommendations of the recent report of the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization, “A fair globalization:  creating opportunities for all”, should be the subject of priority attention.

Mr. Chairman,

            The Social Summit recognized that social development is a national responsibility, although it cannot be successfully achieved without the collective commitment and efforts of the international community. While the primary responsibility of countries and States for social development is widely acknowledged, the actual exercise of such responsibility is becoming increasingly difficult. Among the many reasons, two could be mentioned.

First, institutional and administrative capacities to design, implement and monitor social policies and programmes, are weak in many countries. Second, public authorities in countries appear to be losing some of their policy-making autonomy as they become part of a globalized and interdependent world economy. On this issue, the 24th special session of the General Assembly stated the following: “If anything, these forces [of globalization] have accelerated and often strained the capacity of Governments and the international community to manage them for the benefit of all…. National environments have been increasingly affected by global influences and forces beyond the control of individual Governments [….] The years since the Summit have also been marked by growing constraints on the capacity for public action. In some countries, increased constraints, including fiscal and political ones on governments, have resulted in a reduction in the programmes and activities of the State.” This diagnosis is still accurate today.

In conclusion, social development, as seen by the World Summit for Social Development, requires systematic efforts at all levels of policy-making to place people at the centre of public strategies and public actions. Such an approach is a condition for progress towards the attainment of the goals adopted by the international community, notably those contained in the Millennium Declaration. The social aspects of globalization, the contribution of economic policies to social development goals, and the capacity of national Governments to define and implement their own social policies, are related problems that are at the core of the search for equity and reduction of poverty and inequality. They deserve particular attention in the context of the ten-year review of Copenhagen and the five-year review of the Millennium Declaration.

Mr. Chairman,

            Linked to this people-centered approach to development is the goal of providing all social groups with the opportunity to contribute to society. This has been well recognized at the UN and remains one of the cornerstones of social integration and socially inclusive development. In this context, I would like to say first a few words about equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

For more than two decades, the United Nations has been at the forefront of promoting the full equality of persons with disabilities, and their full participation in the social, economic and political life of their countries. The adoption of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons in 1982, and of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1993, were instrumental in moving away from the traditional welfare approach towards a rights-based approach to disability.

            Recognition that much more needs to be done to remove barriers to social equity in this area at the national and international levels is one of main drivers in the quest to enhance social protection of people with disabilities. By and large this group of people continues to suffer from discrimination and lower standards of living. Last year, the General Assembly agreed it needed to take the rights-based approach to a higher level to reverse those trends. Since the decision to have an international convention on the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities was taken, significant progress has been made towards this objective, thanks to the efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations, human rights institutions, as well as disability advocates and experts.

            While much work remains to be done before the convention is adopted, consideration should also be given to devising innovative policy instruments that would contribute to the successful implementation of this convention if it is to provide a building block for the development of truly inclusive societies.

            In this context, I would like to touch upon the situation of older persons. The wide-ranging implications of population ageing for economic, social and, in many cases, political development, are well recognized. Whether we are talking about health and long-term care for older persons, sustainability of retirement income or labour market participation, the need for a well thought-out policy response geared at enhancing participation of older persons in the development process is evident. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing provides the framework for national and international efforts in this regard. To assist Member States in their implementation efforts, DESA is striving to provide technical assistance to support both national capacity-building and mainstreaming of ageing into policy formulation.

            Lessons learned from experiences in many countries suggest that striving for social equity and integrating the disadvantaged into society are not easy tasks. They are crucial tasks, however, in terms of achieving greater empowerment, greater social solidarity and much stronger social cohesion, all of which provide the underpinnings for successful economic outcomes, thus reinforcing “the virtuous circle” of development.

            Last but not least, I would like to mention some activities undertaken in the context of the Tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family which we celebrate this year. This anniversary is an occasion to recall the importance of the original principles and objectives of the Year at the national, regional and global levels and to evaluate what has been achieved. As we mark the anniversary, it is important to recognize one of the most far-reaching achievements of the Year, the greater awareness of what families contribute to economic development and social progress in societies all over the world.

             There has been progress in this area during the past ten years. Many Member States are instituting national programmes of action, through which efforts are made to integrate family perspectives into national legislation, policy formulation and programme development. More recently, a regional conference on the Family in Africa took place in Cotonou (Benin) in July 2004, with the active support of DESA. Another conference is planned later in year in Qatar. Research on issues concerning the family is informing and enriching policies and programmes, while collaboration across the United Nations system is contributing to an emerging framework for global action.

Civil society is mobilizing and coordinating programmes and actions in support of families. Indeed, the interest, commitment and resolve evident among major stakeholders at all levels indicate that the well-being of families, whatever forms they may assume, has become an important focus of  those concerned with national development and poverty eradication. Yet more can be done. It is necessary to continue to provide expertise and appropriate technical support on family issues. Therefore, efforts to integrate a family perspective into social policies need to be accompanied by continued advocacy of family issues, leading to a two-tier strategy that combines integration with advocacy.

Mr. Chairman,