Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Third Committee of the General Assembly
New York, 6 October 2008

Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the new bureau on your election. I would also like to thank Ambassador Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica, and members of the outgoing bureau, for providing skilful leadership to the Committee during the 62nd session of the General Assembly.

We depend on the work of this Committee for guidance and ensuring that social and human rights considerations lead the work of the United Nations in all areas of development.

The internationally agreed development goals -- together with international human rights instruments -- provide a shared framework for common efforts to build better and prosperous societies for all, and to put people at the centre of development.

The recent High-level events on the Millennium Development Goals and on Africa’s development needs reaffirmed that, in order to achieve enduring development for all, we need to build on a shared strategy for economic and social development, articulated from these commitments.

As I said earlier this morning to the Second Committee, the projected global economic slowdown, and the food and fuel crises, jeopardize gains made towards the MDGs and prospects for further progress. It is too early to assess the full impact of these crises on global poverty. What is certain, however, is that they pose serious challenges to the social development agenda.

Past the midway point to the MDGs’ target date of 2015, and despite some significant progress in various areas, we continue to face serious challenges that affect the well-being of all people – young and old, women and men, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and other groups who suffer from social exclusion, in particular, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Over a billion people still live in poverty and hunger. Many more do not have productive and decent job opportunities, let alone social protection. Many lack access to adequate health, clean water and sanitation and quality education. We must scale up efforts to guard against back-sliding in social development and human rights in a period of increasing economic uncertainty.

We need concerted efforts to foster pro-poor growth. We need strong global partnerships to promote social development and to advance social protection. The first Report of the MDG Gap Task Force, by DESA and UNDP, reveals how far Member States are falling short in meeting their commitments to the global partnerships in support of the MDGs.

As global leaders and development partners affirmed at the high-level events last month, we must re-double our collective efforts to meet our international commitments.

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,

Let me turn now to some of the important items before the Third Committee.

This Committee plays a major role in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. I am delighted that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force on 3rd May this year, only 14 months after it was opened to signature. As of today, 41 Member States have ratified the Convention, and 25 its Optional Protocol. This is encouraging, but let me remind you that this Convention responds to the needs of 650 million persons with disabilities, of whom 80 per cent live in developing countries.

Our goal should be universal ratification. I call upon the Member States who have not yet signed or ratified the Convention, to do so swiftly. And I urge Member States who have ratified it, to implement it fully.

The first Conference of States Parties to the Convention will meet at the end of this month to elect members of the expert committee who will review State Parties’ compliance with the Convention, and provide guidance for its implementation and the development of national capacities. The role of the expert committee will be critical in ensuring success for the Convention. I, therefore, wish State Parties all the wisdom in electing the experts.

Also before you is the fifth five-year review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. Obviously, there has been progress. Yet, the challenge of providing persons with disabilities with opportunities to get education and jobs, and to fully participate in society remains unchanged.

We have not advanced much in our efforts to mainstream the disability perspective in development programmes and policies. I, therefore, urge you to act on recommendations to that effect in the Report of the Secretary General on the fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons.

Last month, I attended the Paralympics in Beijing. I was inspired by the achievements, skills and sheer determination of the athletes. These athletes deserve our admiration. But the same level of achievements, skill and will are routinely displayed in their daily lives by many persons with disabilities. The world is missing out greatly by not providing persons with disabilities with equal opportunities to contribute to society.

Distinguished delegates,

Last month marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although it took the United Nations more than twenty years to create this instrument, we must not delay its implementation. Indigenous peoples and their communities cannot continue to live in extreme poverty and discrimination, excluded and even threatened with extinction. This Declaration is a global normative framework for their well-being and their human rights.

An important step was taken earlier this year, led by DESA, with the enthusiastic cooperation of agencies – the adoption of the United Nations Development Group Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues. The Guidelines have been distributed to all UN Country Teams, and reflect an approach to development for and with indigenous peoples – based on human rights, and culturally sensitive.

The challenges are many, for governments and the United Nations system alike. These include lack of awareness and capacity, ‘doing business as usual’ and, of course, limited resources. But the momentum is now present, more than ever before, with normative instruments in the hands of policy-makers and officials responsible for operations. We, in DESA, are doing our best to prepare capacity-building and other technical cooperation programmes for all interested.

I call for robust cooperation between Member States and the United Nations system to accelerate implementation of the Declaration. And I call for continuing, constructive political will and resources to make a real difference in the lives of indigenous peoples.

Let me now move on to another issue in which I have a personal and unavoidable interest -- ageing.

Ageing is one of the most pressing economic and social issues in developing and developed countries. Increases in life expectancy, amid decreasing fertility rates, have led to shifts in the age structures of populations in all countries, although to different degrees. As underscored in the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, this transformation brings, with it, both opportunities and challenges for all societies.

The first review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing revealed many achievements and innovations in the legislative field. But we should not forget that much more needs to be done to improve national capacity to deal with ageing issues. In many countries, older persons belong to a highly vulnerable group of the population whose income remains well below the national average. Age discrimination remains widespread, preventing gainful employment of older persons and their active participation in society. Neglect and abuse of older persons also cry out for urgent joint action by national legislatures, governments and civil society organizations.

It is important that this Assembly provides strategic directions to step up implementation of the Madrid Plan in the next five years. We need bold new social protection initiatives to promote older persons’ empowerment and participation in society, to ensure that the concerns of older persons are addressed in national development projects and programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The High-level Event on the MDGs reaffirmed gender equality and the empowerment of women as important goals in themselves, but also critical for achievement of all the MDGs. I encourage Member States to redouble your efforts at the national level to accelerate the pace of change. States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) must comply with their treaty obligations to ensure meaningful realization of the equality of men and women. Particular challenges include ensuring that at least as many girls complete their education; preventing the deaths of more than half a million women during childbirth every year; and strengthening women’s economic, social and political emancipation.

This Committee has an important role to play in combating violence against women, a serious violation of women’s human rights, which persists in all countries. Such violence remains a significant impediment to progress towards the MDGs, with serious costs for victims, their families, communities and nations.

The Secretary-General is leading global efforts -- through his campaign launched earlier this year -- to “unite to end violence against women and girls”. Member States are taking concerted action, strengthening legal and policy frameworks, and ensuring effective enforcement and implementation. I urge all Member States to intensify these efforts, and to share good practices and lessons learned.

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,

I wish to conclude by reassuring you all of the full support of my Department to assist you in your important work.

Thank you.