Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Third Committee of the General Assembly
New York, 5 October 2009

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

The Committee opens its session as a growing sense of increased uncertainty has emerged worldwide. Concerns about income insecurity, unemployment and weakening or non-existent social protection have been compounded by the global financial, food and fuel crises. Climate change is affecting the livelihoods of many, especially in developing countries.

These crises are having unparalleled negative consequences on social development. Unemployment is increasing worldwide and, this year, up to 100 million more people will fall below the poverty line than expected prior to the crisis.

These challenges call for an integrated approach so that policies can better address the most binding constraints on social development and human rights, and on opportunities for men and women to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. These are essential components in our efforts to eradicate poverty and advance inclusive social development. The agenda for this session reflects these intentions.

During this difficult time, we must focus on the basic needs and livelihoods of the poorest and most vulnerable, those who are least able to respond to the crisis. Failure to address their needs will lead to an increase in social exclusion and a rise in social tensions.

Mr. Chairman,

An important contribution of the Third Committee is its focus on the development challenges faced by social groups.

In the case of indigenous peoples, this past year witnessed an increase in international commitment to the vision of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, implementation at the national level is lagging. And the time has come for all Member States to fully implement the Declaration within their national development frameworks.

This Committee plays a major role in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. At present, issues related to persons with disabilities are not adequately integrated into MDG-related policies and programmes. The Committee can help to improve the situation of persons with disabilities by encouraging Member States to fill the information gaps in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the MDGs.

The special situation of youth has been underscored by the recent rise in youth unemployment and worsening working conditions. Clearly, the implementation of the World Programme of Action on Youth will be greatly enhanced if Member States are able to monitor their national goals with indicators relevant to their country situation. However, this requires the availability of good data. In this connection, my Department, in collaboration with Member States and other United Nations entities, is working to develop goals, targets and indicators for the Programme of Action. The General Assembly should consider giving additional impetus to this endeavour at the national level.

At the other end of the age spectrum, an overview of the existing infringement on the rights of older persons – and how their rights are articulated in existing UN human rights instruments – is underway. This Committee can contribute to this effort by identifying the main barriers to the full participation of older persons in social and economic life.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In addition to focusing action on vulnerable groups, advancing sustainable social integration also requires comprehensive national strategies for promoting growth and equity.

It also requires strong social protection systems. The current crisis is showing that we are all vulnerable to economic insecurity. It is particularly important to ensure that social protection measures focus on the well-being of the family, especially of women and children, so as to prevent the inter-generational transmission of poverty.

The current crisis has mobilized broad international support for a Global Jobs Pact to protect and promote decent work. This is highly encouraging. So is the commitment to strengthen social safety nets, especially at a time when public revenues are dwindling. Solid safety nets help reduce social tensions and promote social cohesion. The Vulnerability Financing Facility endorsed by the G-20 promises to be an effective vehicle to strengthen social safety nets.

But social protection goes beyond being a policy response to the current global crises. Ensuring access to social protection is a development imperative and a human right. This Committee can play a pivotal role in encouraging Member States to consider introducing a social protection floor for all.

Social protection systems encompass more than schemes directly provided by the State. Cooperatives, for instance, have been crucial to strengthening the resilience of those most vulnerable to the current crisis. In this regard, there is a proposal before this Committee for an International Year of Cooperatives. I would encourage Member States to support this important proposal because it will provide the opportunity to engage cooperatives as partners in the global recovery.

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to highlight the critical issue of violence against women and girls that the Committee will consider. Tragically, such violence persists in many forms around the globe, with enormous costs for the women and communities affected and putting significant constraints on development.

This Committee continues to play a critical role in combating violence against women, by providing overall global policy guidance and critically reviewing the contribution of Member States and the UN system. The Secretary-General is leading the system-wide efforts through his campaign “UNite to End Violence against Women”. I am pleased to note a marked increase in UN activity on this issue, and call on all Member States to join forces so that this scourge can be addressed and impunity eliminated.

We have on the horizon the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the CEDAW Convention, the 15-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, and next year’s ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review focused on gender equality and empowerment of women. I urge all Member States, UN partners, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, to effectively use these benchmark dates to bring about new partnerships and initiatives, leading to real change in the lives of women.

Distinguished delegates,

Member States have showed their commitment to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized social groups, those living in misery and subject to discrimination.

I am confident that, under your leadership, the Committee will advance a broader social development agenda, one that will foster social integration and promote the need for social protection for all. We must act now and take the necessary steps to bridge the gap between commitment and action.

Thank you.