SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
FIFTY EIGHT SESSION
OF THE UNITED NATIONS
AT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CONFERENCE OF NON GOVERNMENTAL
ORGANIZATIONS IN CONSULTATIVE RELATIONSHIP
"INCLUSIVE GLOBAL GOVERNANCE: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
FOR CONGO IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE UNITED NATIONS."
4 DECEMBER 2003
President of CONGO, Mr. President of the Geneva Cantonal
Government, Mr. Director General of the United Nations Office
at Geneva, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am pleased, as President of the Fifty-eighth Session of
the United Nations General Assembly, to have been invited
to address this CONGO General Assembly, as it takes up critical
issues on the international agenda under the apt and thought
provoking theme, "Inclusive Global Governance: Challenges
and Opportunities for CONGO in Partnership with the United
Nations." I wish especially to greet your President,
Renaté Bloem, for communicating, very effectively,
that difficulties in the schedule of the President of the
United Nations General Assembly can be surmounted, in the
interest of building partnerships.
The key concepts in the theme of this General Assembly,
I believe, sums up appropriately the juncture at which the
United Nations, and indeed the international community,
now stands. This is a time of immense challenges, and also
a time of great opportunity. As well, it is a time when
the United Nations can accomplish its goals and objectives
only through cooperation. An essential element of this cooperation
is building viable and mutually beneficial partnerships.
I was encouraged by CONGO's approach to the issues before
its Assembly to reflect on the changes and challenges facing
the international community today, focusing especially on
the United Nations and civil society. This is a welcome
opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the
contribution civil society is making, and can make, to the
work of the United Nations, as well as ways we might work
together to more effectively adapt to change, and to meet
global challenges head on.
The dramatic changes that have occurred in the fifty-eight
years since the United Nations Charter was framed and signed
at San Francisco have not escaped any of us. The most visible
difference has been the almost fourfold increase in the
membership of the United Nations, from the fifty-one members
at San Francisco, to the one hundred and ninety one members
today - the consequence of a successful decolonization process.
Decision-making among fifty-one states is definitely less
complicated than decision-making among one hundred and ninety
one. Notwithstanding, there is, surprisingly, much common
ground among United Nations Member States on global issues.
But many of the difficult issues that demand hard choices,
be they in the area of peace and security, socio-economic
development or United Nations reform, still confound us.
Today, we have as the foundation of our global society the
principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the
Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We also have the
obligations arising from the range of international declarations,
treaties and conventions that the United Nations has adopted
over the years. The challenge, of course, is to give full
expression to the principles to which we are committed by
the provisions of these documents, principles such as equality,
tolerance, dignity, social justice, economic development,
the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the maintenance
of international peace and security.
When we reflect more broadly on the changes that the United
Nations and the international community as a whole face
in the early years of the twenty-first century, we cannot
help but conclude that it is the rapid pace of change, as
much as the change itself, that is impacting the organization.
Modern technology is changing the world in ways that would
have been unimaginable when the United Nations Charter was
signed. Transportation and the information age, in particularly,
are truly turning our world into a global village. Instantaneous
communication, for example, is bringing world events - disasters,
human rights violations, crime, war and human suffering
- to the very doorstep of people the world over.
Globalization and trade liberalization is proceeding at
such a pace that a majority of developing countries, in
particular, are having grave difficulties keeping up. Numerous
developing countries are also asking themselves where are
the improvements in the socio-economic situation that these
two developments were to bring. For most, they have simply
not materialized. Grave inequalities in the global economic
system persist, in too many instances further improvishing
the poor and enriching the rich. The breakdown in trade
negotiations in Cancun has certainly not helped at all.
Deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS threaten to engulf entire
countries and regions, unleashing untold suffering, and
threatening development gains particularly in Africa, the
Caribbean and increasingly in Asia. The promotion of human
rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule
of law are also issues commanding our attention, as in some
instances, they bear fundamentally on the avoidance of war
Issues that transcend national boundaries are becoming more
increasingly complex and insidious. Transnational organized
criminal organizations engaged in activities such as drugs
and arms trafficking continue to expand their networks,
and have the potential to impact virtually all states. All
states - and indeed, even the United Nations - are not immune
from international terrorism, as we so ruefully found out
in Baghdad, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The international
community must answer these grave transgressions.
This year in which I took up the Presidency of the General
Assembly was a particularly challenging one for the United
Nations. In this year, it became patently clear that no
nation acting alone could solve critical global problems.
It has been a year for reiterating compelling questions,
Why, despite global efforts, the number of people afflicted
with HIV/AIDS is increasing, and all indicators suggest
that the pandemic will get worse, before it is brought under
Why is it that in 2002, for the sixth consecutive year,
developing countries made a net transfer of financial resources
to developed countries?
Why is it that the Food and Agricultural Organization of
the United Nations (FAO) tells us that the world produces
enough food to feed all its inhabitants, yet some 20,000
people die each day from hunger related causes?
How we ask these questions is as important as how we answer
them. If indeed we ask them rhetorically, then the hope
of addressing the critical problems to which they refer
becomes moot. If we answer them honestly, we are on our
way to solving problems which make people, countries, particularly
developing countries, and indeed the international community
as a whole most vulnerable, problems that have continued
to manifest themselves this year.
That we needed to find common ground to reach our common
objectives was evident from the overwhelming support expressed
for the United Nations and for multilateralism, particularly
by Heads of State and Government and other high level participants
in the September/October General Debate of the Fifty-eighth
Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Heads of State and Government have also sent a clear message
on the need to reform the United Nations, including revitalizing
and strengthening the General Assembly and reforming the
Security Council. Episodically, we have raised the issue
of reform of the United Nations, and from time to time have
taken important decisions on the matter. Unfortunately,
in the case of the General Assembly, we often do not act
fully on these decisions.
the resurgence of interest in, and momentum for, revitalization
of the United Nations sole universal forum, we are working
assiduously to adopt a resolution on this matter by the
middle of this month. The revitalization initiative is centered
on building on the General Assembly's strengths, enhancing
its authority, role and functioning, and ordering its agenda
that it may bring to centre stage development and other
I have said in other fora that reform of the Security Council
is another, and very difficult matter. Yet, I am mandated
by the General Assembly to take up this matter, and hope
that notwithstanding the challenges it presents, Member
States will seriously turn their attention to it. Our stocktaking
efforts are near completion. We will soon present the matter
for consideration by Member States of the Assembly. I thought
I should also let you know that will be setting up a website
shortly, to deal specifically with revitalization and reform.
As you are all aware, the United Nations Secretary General
has appointed a panel of eminent persons to examine ways
to further strengthen the United Nations, especially in
the context of major threats to international peace and
security. The panel is to consider possible collective solutions
and response to these threats. Its recommendations will
be placed before governments for their consideration when
the panel concludes its work.
Civil Society - people who share a sense of commitment to
the values espoused by the United Nations in all fields
of human endeavour - no doubt has a place in the global
approach to the solution of global problems advocated by
high-level participants in the General Debate. This, I believe,
is in keeping with the United Nations Charter, which clearly
identifies "We the People of the United Nations"
as contributors to, and beneficiaries of, international
cooperation in areas including peace and security, socio-economic
development, and the promotion and protection of human rights.
What we have come to call "civil society" and
its organizations have, of course, been involved in the
work of the United Nations from the outset. Many of the
United Nations most successful agencies and programmes have
historically benefited from the efforts of organizations
such as CONGO. In the last two decades, but especially in
the 1990s, the work of civil society has been particularly
visible. Constructive contributions have especially been
made in the context of United Nations Conferences addressing
issues from the environment and sustainable development,
to the situation of women and children.
It is notable that conference participation has increasingly
come to include representatives from the developing world,
allowing them to directly share experiences among themselves.
This has served to promote both South/South exchanges, even
as North/South exchanges continue, thus strengthening cooperation
and understanding at the practical level. Importantly, participation
in conferences and other international events has allowed
civil society in developing countries to speak for themselves,
and for a new and dynamic assessment to be made of their
potential to mobilize people in their own countries, where
ultimately action must take place.
Let me now share some of my perspectives on the contribution
CONGO and civil society in general. A more active civil
society is an important development for the United Nations
in the work it must do in the twenty-first century. Groups
such as CONGO can be a key source of support for the United
Nations. CONGO brings together people from all over the
world, each of whom in turn is linked to hundreds more people
through organizational networks and communities.
I believe that civil society, including organizations such
as CONGO, helps to extend the reach of the United Nations.
They bring into focus issues of concern to people, encourage
people to work in their own interest and raise the consciousness
of people in respect of decisions taken, and work done in
their behalf, at the United Nations.
Civil society can help to shape the Agenda and formulate
the strategies the United Nations adopts in critical areas
of international concern, including in key technical areas.
I recall, in that regard, the important role that civil
society played in the formulation and adoption of the Monterrey
Consensus, adopted by the International Conference on Financing
for Development, Convened in Monterrey Mexico in 2001.
I must say that civil society organizations distinguished
themselves in continuing the partnership as major stakeholders
with Governments, the International Financial Institutions
and other Agencies in the High-level Dialogue on Financing
for Development, convened by the United Nations General
Assembly 29-30 October 2003. The Dialogue and its related
panel discussions and interactive sessions were enriched
by the frank and forthright manner in which civil society
representatives addressed the issues. Their inputs are receiving
due consideration, in follow-up strategies of the General
Assembly on financing for development.
Civil society representatives also played a specific role
in the High-level Plenary on HIV/AIDS, convened by the General
Assembly in September of this year. With commitment and
competence, they made their essential contribution to the
development of efforts to halt and reverse this deadly disease,
in keeping with the commitments made in the Special Session
on HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
On this note, let me commend CONGO on its decision to establish
a committee on HIV/AIDS.
There was a time, earlier this year, when in the aftermath
of the military action in Iraq, some were questioning the
relevance of the United Nations. I am pleased to say that
such sentiments are fading in light of developments since
then. Civil society continues to be a vital and powerful
intermediary between the United Nations and public opinion
- bringing the urgent concerns of the global public to the
United Nations and taking back to that public the sense
of what is being done to meet those concerns. I believe
it safe to say in this vein, that civil society organizations
such as CONGO would have mobilized their constituencies
in support of the United Nations in that particularly trying
time, and continue to do so.
Civil society also contributes towards United Nations efforts
to keep its commitments and Member States to meet their
obligations to the world's people, obligations that are
embodied in international treaties and conventions. Whether
through focused public attention, mobilization of resources
or helping to transform resources into action, civil society
can and does play its part.
Importantly, civil society can helps build strong support
for negotiated settlements, oftentimes in seemingly intractable
situations. Where there efforts impartially support consensus
building on the issues, civil society's opinions on the
policy issues and options could be quite pivotal.
I am well aware that for CONGO and most non-governmental
organizations, your consultative status is with the Economic
and Social Council. No conclusion has been brought to the
matter of consultative status with the General Assembly.
I know that the United Nations is challenged by the significant
numbers of civil society groups, including non-governmental
organizations, that want to participate and the matter of
the quality of participation has also been raised. As you
know, the Secretary-General felt that some stocktaking was
in order, and appointed a panel of eminent persons to study
the United Nations - civil society relationship in all its
aspects. That panel, chaired by former President of Brazil,
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, is expected to report early next
The observations I have made are to indicate that civil
society does come to the place for partners at the table
of international affairs. Their partnership with the United
Nations has been strengthened over the past decade or more,
with very good results overall.
Speaking of asking and answering questions, let me conclude
by asking and answering two. Where does the United Nations
need the support of civil society in its work? My view is
that constructive contributions are needed in every aspect
of the organization's work.
The second question is; "How can civil society best
deliver that support?" In my view, it can do so by
continuing to use the expertise and energy of its representatives
to impact policy making processes, whether through United
Nations Conferences, consultative status with the Economic
and Social Council and other agencies, in the Security Council
debate under the "Arria formula" or simply in
The objective should always be, as I am sure it is, contributing
towards making the United Nations more relevant, more effective,
and better able to fulfill the principles and purposes of
the Charter, no matter what the change, no matter what the