24 May 1999
BEIRUT, 23 May (UN Information Centre) -- The first regional hearing for the United Nations Millennium General Assembly, organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), opened this morning in the presence of over 70 prominent Arab civil society representatives and ESCWA member states representatives, who gathered at the United Nations House, Beirut, to discuss the role of the United Nations in the ESCWA region in the twenty-first century.
Hazem El-Beblawi, Executive Secretary of ESCWA, said in an opening statement that the "hearings", as the meetings have been called, are an opportunity for members of civil society and representatives of ESCWA member countries to review the developments that need to be reconsidered for the next century. Mr. El-Beblawi remarked that "we must take into consideration the political and social developments which took place since the creation of the United Nations".
In preparation for the new millennium, the General Assembly has designated its fifty-fifth session as the "Millennium Assembly of the United Nations", with an accompanying Millennium Summit, expected to be the largest gathering of heads of States and governments ever, to be held in New York in the autumn of the year 2000.
Assistant Secretary-General Miles Stoby, coordinator of preparations for the Millennium Assembly and Summit, who is in Beirut on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General for the first of five regional hearings to be held at the seats of United Nations regional commissions, reiterated that the hearings were designed to contribute to the strengthening of the United Nations. "The Secretary-General is convinced that the advent of the third millennium is a unique opportunity to reflect and, where necessary, recast the vision that we have for the role of the United Nations against the background of the significant changes the world is experiencing, be it in the political level, economic, social, technological or cultural spheres", said Mr. Stoby. The ESCWA hearing, added Mr. Stoby, is a "novel format", bringing together, on an equal footing, civil society and member States to discuss priorities of the region, and the role of the United Nations "in promoting regional endeavours".
The opening of the two-day meeting was immediately followed with the first thematic session of the hearing on "Peace and Security", which was chaired by Under-Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi.
During the panel, Adnan Omran (Syria) stressed that peace and security preoccupations were central to a region which had not enjoyed either for over a century. He questioned the role of the Security Council in view of its selective implementations and enforcement of resolutions it has adopted. "The limitations of the Security Council have been demonstrated time and time again", he said. "Over the years, we have learnt that the victim had to be an Arab country. The call to reform the United Nations system was not surprising and any changes should allow for more democracy and increased transparency of the Security Council. The United Nations remains the hope of all countries of the world and it must defend itself from marginalization."
Ghassan Salame (Lebanon) noted "the general feeling that we have been let down by the United Nations is not being helped by the current situation in the Balkans". Since the end of the cold war, he added, the United Nations had prompted high hopes, which had succumbed to a sentiment of despondency. Reform of the United Nations should also include a "revision of the concept of sovereignty", he suggested.
The numerous comments and proposal from participants centred on the need for the United Nations to redefine its role in light of the changing world. There was a broad criticism of the hegemony exercised by the remaining super- Power over both the General Assembly and the Security Council. "How can we render the United Nations effective and restore its credibility when we know very well what is happening in today's unipolar world?" asked one participant. Other civil society representatives were of the view that a source of the predicament in the Arab world were not to be found exclusively in exogenous factors, but also in the lack of democracy, human rights and good governance. Several speakers were of the view that the powers of the Security Council ought to be appropriate in comparison to the powers of the General Assembly, which represents "the peoples of the world".