BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
FIFTY EIGHT SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS
AT THE OPENING SESSION OF THE INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION
HEARING AT THE UNITED NATIONS
27 OCTOBER 2003
President, fellow Parliamentarians:
particularly pleased that I have this opportunity, at this
early stage of my term as President of the General Assembly,
to meet with this distinguished group. I have long been
familiar with the activities of the Inter-Parliamentary
Union and have been a supporter of its aims and objectives.
I am aware too, Mr President, of the role you are playing
to ensure that the IPU retains its dynamism and relevance.
As a parliamentarian myself of more than 13 years standing,
and having been in political life for some 35 years, I have
a natural empathy for your work as well as a sober appreciation
of the limits of the possibilities open to any one parliamentarian
to make change. What the IPU is doing so well, however,
is demonstrating how change can be made if individuals successfully
act together in pursuit of common goals.
also been pleased to learn of the recent deepening of the
institutional relationship between the United Nations and
the IPU. The United Nations can only benefit from expanding
its contacts with a wide variety of international and non-governmental
organizations. However, it is important, in this context,
to stress that such arrangements should be mutually reinforcing.
I therefore look to the United Nations to seek to benefit
from the wealth of knowledge and accumulated experience
that the IPU brings to the relationship.
have asked me today to speak on the topic, "Reforming
the United Nations as a pre-condition to greater world security".
It is a challenging theme, not least because the issue is
framed as an assertion rather than in the form of a question.
In a narrow sense, of course, it would not be an assertion
that all would agree with - process, after all, must be
the handmaiden of substance and not the main attraction.
But I would prefer to interpret the topic in another sense,
and that is to consider whether a significant attitudinal
adjustment on the part of Member States is not a pre-requisite
in order to permit the United Nations carry out its responsibilities
as envisaged in the Charter.
It must be frankly acknowledged that the United Nations
is enduring a period of considerable stress. The events
leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and the apparent inability
of the Organization to play a meaningful role in the crisis
currently engulfing the Middle East region, have led to
intense questioning about the position and status of the
UN in the world. Although the questioning has recently become
more intense, doubts about the UN's ability to fulfill its
Charter functions have been apparent for many years. These
doubts brought about the establishment, some ten years ago,
of two UN mechanisms to look into reforming the work of
the two main organs of the Organization - the General Assembly
and the Security Council.
After over a decade of deliberation and review some useful,
though not far-reaching, progress has been made in respect
of General Assembly reform and revitalization; but very
little progress, beyond defining the dimensions of the problem,
has been made with regard to Security Council reform. Upon
becoming President of the General Assembly, I was aware
that I was expected to take the lead in moving these processes
forward as Chairman of two separate Working Groups. I am
treating these responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.
I determined upon my election in June that UN reform would
constitute one of the priorities of my Presidency. This
assessment of the relevance of reform at this moment was
confirmed during the General Debate which concluded recently.
Speaker after speaker stressed that the UN was an indispensable
instrument which, nonetheless, was in need of serious examination
with a view to enacting necessary changes. The United Nations,
and I as General Assembly President, have thus been given
a clear call to action. Member States have re-affirmed their
commitment to the Organization while demanding that it adapt
to contemporary reality. The first task to be tackled is
General Assembly reform.
Not unlike national parliaments, the General Assembly has
a gamut of different functions established by the Charter
and by the practices of the last 58 years. These functions
of the General Assembly are understood by countries in many
different ways: an opportunity to make domestic or regional
issues known worldwide; a democratic assembly in which the
weak can confront the strong wielding the sovereign equality
provided by the Charter; an organ responsible for policy-formulation
on a wide variety of global issues; and an Assembly meant
to take practical decisions to improve the work of the Organization.
different perceptions make reform a difficult exercise of
conciliation. Naturally, Member States will implement resolutions
that have taken into account their particular concerns more
eagerly and swiftly. But, a national parliament that takes
even the most contentious decisions, counts on the Executive
branch to implement it. The General Assembly has no such
Executive branch. Its decisions do not have the force of
law. Implementation depends on the political and moral weight
it is perceived to carry.
my part I sense that this might be the right moment to bring
renewed vigour and determination to the reform debate. I
shall be going directly from this meeting to preside over
the plenary debate on the item "Revitalization of the
General Assembly". I shall be announcing later today
my choice of "Facilitators", who are a number
of Permanent Representatives whom I will ask to assume specific
responsibilities to negotiate key aspects of a negotiated
package of conclusions. I will be asking all Member States
to demonstrate a combination of imagination in proposing
solutions and of willingness to be flexible during the process
reform we envisage at the end of this complex process will
not change the essential nature of international relations,
but, if done well, it can transform the General Assembly
into a more viable instrument to secure consensus and to
follow-up the implementation of its decisions. We seek to
foster the building of a "global parliament" more
efficient in its decision-making process and more capable
of taking effective decisions. Above all, we need a United
Nations General Assembly whose decisions are respected and
have a decisive influence on the actions of Member States.
second great reform challenge is the enlargement of the
Security Council and further democratization of its way
of doing business. The Security Council reform exercise
differs from General Assembly reform in a most curious fashion.
By an large, Member States see the need for General Assembly
reform but are having not agreed on the framework to achieve
it. By contrast, most Member States are committed to Security
Council reform and agree in broad terms that it should result
in an expanded Council with membership increased from the
present 15 to a number in the low to mid twenties and that
the make-up of the Council should be more representative
geographically. But they do not know how to get to this
point as there are wide disparities of view as to actual
number, on adding new permanent members and on the continuing
role of the veto.
launch the process of negotiations on Security Council reform
in the middle of November. I fully recognize that this is
a complex task and that positions, in many instances, are
quite entrenched. On the other hand, I discern that the
generality of the membership is in favour of Security Council
reform and would wish to see it come about sooner rather
than later. I will be appointing facilitators to assist
intend to test the limits of movement on this matter at
this point in time. As with General Assembly reform, I will
be appealing to Member States to show flexibility in their
negotiating postures and to be willing to pay attention
to the importance of taking action which will benefit the
international community as a whole.
United Nations will not solve the problems of the world,
but such an organization will be able to muster more support
for credible proposals, and to have its actions carry more
result of the process of reform may well be the modification
of the UN Charter. In such an event, national parliaments
will be called upon to play their part, as an amendment
to the Charter needs to be ratified by two-thirds of the
membership, or, at present, 128 countries, including the
five permanent members of the Security Council.
an offspring of parliamentary life myself, I can foresee
the obstacles inherent in the process. But I am confident
that once agreement on the reforms are reached here in New
York, it will be deemed as a legitimate and worthwhile result
around the globe and will receive the approval of countries
represented by you in this room today.
you for this opportunity to address you and I wish you much
success in your deliberations.