Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Third Committee of the General Assembly
New York, 8 October 2007

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

It is a special pleasure for me to join you this morning. This is my first time addressing the Third Committee as Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Allow me, Mr. Chairman, to congratulate you and other members of the Bureau on your election. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is here to serve and to support you and this entire Committee.

Your work is special. Of the three pillars of the United Nations’ work, this Committee deals directly with two: development and human rights. These are also part and parcel of DESA’s work. Without development and human rights, there simply is no foundation over the long-term for the other pillar: peace and security. So we have, together, a very important mission.

Since the 1990s, this common endeavour has focused very much on achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, with their firm grounding in human rights. Another way to think of this work is promoting a society for all.

Since the historic UN conferences and summits began – with a focus, first, on children – fostering social integration and cohesion has gained increasing attention. Meeting the development needs and protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable groups requires our unflagging support. As long as deprivation, gross inequality, and discrimination persist – across and within social groups – the prospects of fulfilling the development agenda will remain distant and global stability at risk.

With this in mind, Mr. Chairman, let me turn to some key issues that this Committee will address: the challenges of poverty and unemployment, and the situations of youth, older persons, women, persons with disabilities, and indigenous peoples.

A major component of achieving a society for all is tackling, head on, the scourge of abject poverty. Creating productive employment is critical to reducing poverty and promoting social development. This was a central message of the World Summit for Social Development at Copenhagen, strongly reaffirmed at the 2005 World Summit.

Yet, recent developments in global labour markets have created economic insecurity and inequality, adversely affecting efforts to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. The quantity of jobs created has failed to match the demand for employment. And the quality of employment itself has also deteriorated in many countries, especially for workers with low education and low skills. The problem of youth unemployment is particularly acute. Unemployed youth make up almost half of the world’s total unemployed, although they form only one quarter of the total working-age population.

Productive employment and decent work for all must be placed at the centre of economic and social policy making. Our policies must seek, especially, to integrate youth into the global economy and to enable them to become active partners in an inclusive society.

Youth today confront an array of challenges, beyond unemployment. They face major problems in reaching responsible and healthy adulthood in a globalizing world. Many, especially young women, often encounter obstacles in accessing health services. And in countries severely affected by HIV/AIDS, young women bear a heavy burden of care for members of their households.

At about 20 per cent of the world population, however, youth contribute greatly to national development. And they are valuable, committed partners in the global effort to achieve the MDGs. Youth development must be a core objective of national policies and programmes. And youth must be actively involved in the policy process.

I am particularly happy to welcome the young people here today as part of their national delegations. We look forward to hearing your fresh ideas on the issues at hand.

At the other end of the age spectrum – where, my young friends, you would find me – we encounter the needs of older persons. Population ageing in developed and developing countries reflects, in large part, successes in lowering the risk of mortality. Healthy ageing and the ability of older persons to participate in the labour force contributes to the welfare and development of societies.

Yet, as older persons become more involved in society, they also face distinct challenges. Many experience abuse and discrimination. Older women, in particular, face challenges in maintaining independence, especially in their living arrangements. Legislation is needed to protect the rights of older persons and to prevent their abuse and neglect. So are mechanisms to prevent age discrimination in labour markets and to ensure intergenerational solidarity and cohesion.

The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing offers the framework for addressing both the challenge and opportunities of population ageing. It shows us how a society for all also means a society for all ages.

Mr. Chairman,

Regarding the situation of women, I would like to stress the especially pernicious and pervasive issue of violence against women. Such violence is a violation of women’s human rights and seriously impedes gender equality, social inclusion and development.

Last year, the Secretary-General’s in-depth study and the resulting General Assembly resolution raised the visibility of violence against women – and highlighted the urgency for action against it, at all levels. The Secretary-General is providing leadership by launching a United Nations system-wide, multi-year initiative to ensure a consistent and comprehensive response, especially in support of action at the national level. I urge Member States to place similar priority on this issue.

Let me also mention an institutional milestone in the UN’s work for the advancement of women. For 25 years, DESA and its predecessors have served as the secretariat for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. On 1 January, this function will be transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, where the Committee will join the six human rights treaty bodies already based there.

The previous session of the Assembly also brought a major achievement with the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention responds to the needs of 650 million persons with disabilities in the world, with 80 per cent of them living in developing countries. They experience persistent discrimination and denigration, and are often among the poorest of the poor. The Convention is thus a human rights instrument with a clear social development dimension.

Nearly 120 Member States have signed the Convention since it opened for signature in March. We look forward to its 20th ratification, when the Convention will enter into force. In the meantime, we are gearing up to support implementation at all levels, including within the United Nations system.

We have also reached a historic point in our efforts to address the rights of indigenous peoples. Just a few weeks ago, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, culminating over two decades of negotiations among Member States, with the strong participation of indigenous peoples.

The Declaration offers a roadmap for constructive relationships between States and indigenous peoples across the world, and for strengthening the engagement of the United Nations system with indigenous peoples and their issues. As Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, I hail the adoption of the Declaration as a major achievement. And I call on all stakeholders to work together towards its implementation.

Mr. Chairman,

Let me conclude with a message I shared earlier this morning with your colleagues in the Second Committee. The United Nations has made enormous contributions to forging consensus and specific commitments to development and human rights for all. That work will continue. Yet, we have moved, decisively, to implementation – to mobilizing and providing practical support to help translate these commitments into action, at the global, regional, and national levels. Let us proceed, with this session, in this spirit.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My best wishes and full support to you and the entire Committee in your important work ahead.