BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
FIFTY EIGHT SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS
TO THE WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL FORUM
21 OCTOBER 2003
Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is indeed a pleasure for me to join the Women's International
Forum at your meeting today, and especially to have the
opportunity to address you on the issue of United Nations
Reform. I wish to thank you for this opportunity. I look
forward to a frank and rewarding exchange of views with
you on this matter. As most of you are not directly involved
in the daily diet of debates, consultations and negotiations
that take place in the United Nations and are accomplished
members of the non-governmental community, I know that you
will bring fresh and important perspectives on the issue
of United Nations reform.
the ten-day period of the General Debate of the Fifty-eighth
session, one hundred and thirty speakers - over half of
whom were Heads of State and Government - urged that the
pace of United Nations reform be accelerated. I made clear
in my policy statement to the General Assembly on 16 September
that reform of the organization remained an imperative which,
in the current international environment, assumes greater
urgency. Reform of the United Nations is, of course, one
of the priorities of my Presidency.
I have found interesting, however, is that while every one
believes that reform is necessary, "reform" means
different things to different people. Some focus on reform
of the United Nations generally. They contend that a fifty-eight
year old organization created in a post war scenario by
fifty-one states soon to be would be divided by the Cold
War, and that has seen a dramatic increase in its membership,
needs an overhaul of its principal organs in order to deal
effectively with current realities.
place the revitalization of the General Assembly at the
heart of their reform concerns. For some this entails enabling
the General Assembly to better perform its Charter functions.
It also bears centrally on the Assembly's authority as the
only United Nations organ with universal membership, the
relationship of the General Assembly to other organs and
the further institutionalization of the Office of the President,
another perspective, the focus of the revitalization issue
should be the work methods and procedures of the General
Assembly. This includes ideas such as reducing the Assembly's
agenda; streamlining the work of the Main Committees; improving
the form and substance and reducing the number of resolutions;
improving the quality and reducing the quantity of documentation;
adjusting customary 'set piece' debates to make them more
interactive; and establishing genuine partnerships with
Council reform has been more challenging. Two essential
elements have emerged from the various viewpoints of what
the focus of Council reform ought to be. There are those
for whom expanding the membership of the Council to make
it more representative of the general membership of the
United Nations is the key issue.
others, the focus is on the further democratization of the
Council, including dispensing with the veto of the permanent
five members or at least confining it strictly to Chapter
VII issues. Still others are of the view that new permanent
members should be appointed to the Council to ensure that
all regions are represented among the Council's permanent
members. Some take the position that such members should
also have the veto, while others are of the view that they
I have attempted to break down the essence of the debate
on United Nations reform, let me hasten to say that, for
most, what "reform" means would not be one or
the other of the positions I have outlined, but a combination
of several of those positions.
we speak of reform of the General Assembly, the Security
Council or of the United Nations generally, the reform agenda
is the responsibility of the General Assembly. Both the
Working Groups on Revitalisation of the General Assembly
and Reform of the Security Council function out of the Assembly
and United Nations reform is brought to the Assembly to
be decided on by member states. Therefore, as President
of the Assembly it is my responsibility to provide leadership
to the reform exercise during this Fifty-eighth Session.
the reform issue, I ask myself: what has led to the current
fervour for United Nations reform? After all, the idea of
reform is not new. For the General Assembly it is an ongoing
undertaking, with varying intensity since the Forty-fifth
Session of the Assembly in 1990. The Security Council reform
initiative is a decade old this year.
I am on safe ground in saying that the reform debate has
gained considerable impetus because of what many regarded
as the United Nations failure to reach a decision in respect
of military action in Iraq. In light of the action taken
in Iraq, questions were raised about the relevance of the
organization, particularly its ability to maintain international
peace and security. Ongoing crises, particularly in the
Middle East but worldwide as well, also caused the organization's
relevance and effectiveness to be called into question.
to the General Assembly, in particular, charges of an Agenda
overcrowded with outdated issues, resolutions that called
for no particular action, the lack of energy of its debates,
the low level of participation of Permanent Representatives
in its work and the overshadowing of the Assembly by the
Security Council, remain among the issues underpinning the
call for urgent reform. There is validity to these charges.
recognize, however, that progress has been made in response
to the demands for reform. The office of the President is
one good example. A structured and institutionalized Office
of the President is a recent development and a product of
a reform initiative. The early election of the President
and the General Committee is also making a contribution
to the smooth transition from one President to the other.
And considerable efforts have been made to reduce the agenda
of the General Assembly.
can be no dispute, however, that much more needs to be done
in the area of United Nations reform. But we must ask ourselves
the question: reform, with what purpose? Any reform must,
I believe, make the United Nations a more credible, a more
representative and a more effective organization. It must
be directed towards reaffirming the United Nations relevance
as the sole global organization that can take decisions
on all issues on the international agenda, including the
maintenance of international peace and security.
should ensure that the Organisation can take decisions swiftly
and efficiently and that its decisions can and will be fully
implemented by member states. Reform should also provide
a space for external actors, including NGOs to participate
in the Assembly's work.
Secretary-General has made known his intention to assemble
a panel of eminent persons to advise him on United Nations
reform, and to make recommendations that he may bring to
the membership for consideration and decision. I, too, have
clear ideas in respect of United Nations reform. I am proceeding
with the reform initiatives currently before the Assembly
on which I have clear ideas.
as President, I am mindful of the need to consult widely
so that reform initiatives would receive the widest possible
support. I began that process on 17 October in an informal
meeting on Revitalisation of the General Assembly, in which
representatives freely exchanged views on the matter of
reform, on the basis of issues I had put to them for consideration
on the range of reform issues. I will conduct a similar
exercise in respect of the Security Council next month.
say, however, that the process of reform is not easy. If
it were, the General Assembly would have been revitalized,
the Security Council reformed, and the United Nations transformed
a long time ago. But I do believe strongly in the need for
reform, in our reform efforts, and that substantial progress
is possible. Certainly, I intend to make every effort during
my Presidency to pursue the reform agenda.
important to bear in mind, however, that institutional and
procedural reform is not a panacea for the world's ills.
It takes political will not only to reform the organization
but also to ensure that a reformed organization functions
as the Charter intended - to maintain peace and security,
promote development, protect human rights and uphold respect
for international law.