GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS FIFTY-FOURTH SESSION

14 September 1999
GA/9591

GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS FIFTY-FOURTH SESSION

14/09/1999
Press Release
GA/9591


Fifty-fourth General Assembly                                    

1st and 2nd Plenary Meetings (PM)                                  

 and 1st Main Committees Meetings (PM)


GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS FIFTY-FOURTH SESSION


Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Nauru and Kingdom of Tonga

Admitted as Members; Theo-Ben Gurirab of Namibia Elected Assembly President


Despite advances in health care, education, science, technology and the ratification of international conventions and protocols governing the legal rights and social welfare of children, their lives were daily at risk of being snatched away by the cruelty and indifference of adults, Theo-Ben Gurirab, the newly elected President of the General Assembly, said this afternoon in his opening statement at the start of the fifty-fourth session.  


"The ever-increasing numbers of children forcibly turned into soldiers to serve in national armies, tribal, ethnic or racial gangs should outrage us all", he stated.  Prolonged civil conflicts relied heavily on child soldiers.  Children had even come to be "preferred recruits" over adults.  The reasons given were insidious and immoral -- children were numerous and readily available, more malleable, impressionable, learned quickly, were small and agile and required less food and supplies than adults.  Their horrendous fate demanded that the United Nations show renewed commitment and redouble its efforts as the repository of humanity's conscience and social justice in the world.


On the ongoing reform of the Organization, he said that the process should be consistent with the end product desired by everyone, including the review of the veto power of the Council.  "At the end, we should be satisfied that the United Nations belongs to all its Member States collectively and individually", he stated.  While reform negotiations must continue, any quick fix which smacked of apartheid could not be tolerated.


Also this afternoon, by adopting three resolutions by acclamation, the Assembly admitted as the 186th, 187th and 188th Member States of the United Nations the Republics of Kiribati and Nauru and the Kingdom of Tonga respectively.  The President informed the Assembly that the flags of the three new Members would be raised at a ceremony to take place in front the delegates' entrance immediately following the adjournment of the second plenary meeting this afternoon.


Expressing gratitude to the General Assembly on the occasion of his country's admission to the United Nations, President of the Republic of Kiribati, Teburoro Tito, said that his country had recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its independence, and today's event was a continued manifestation of its maturity as a nation.  Admission to the United Nations reflected the future direction of Kiribati as a nation ready to become more actively involved in international affairs.


Rene Harris, President of the Republic of Nauru, said his country could not make its call for international equity any stronger than in the United Nations.  Today it was privileged to assume its rightful place in the family of nations.  As the smallest Member of the Organization in terms of both territory and population, one of Nauru's greatest challenges was in rehabilitating 75 per cent of the island that had been mined of its phosphate deposits.  It would welcome the support of the international community in addressing the twin challenges of economic diversification and physical rehabilitation.


Also expressing his gratitude, Prince Ulukalala Lavak A Ata, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Kingdom of Tonga, said that membership in the United Nations would enable his country to strengthen its relations within the Organization and to forge and develop new relationships with other Members of the United Nations community.


Representatives of Botswana (on behalf of the African States), Turkey (on behalf of the Asian States), Bosnia and Herzegovina (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Paraguay (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), Iceland (on behalf of the Western European and Other States), United States (as Host Country), Federated States of Micronesia (on behalf of the South Pacific Forum) and Israel congratulated the three new Members on their admission.


In addition to electing its new President, the Assembly elected its 21 Vice-Presidents and appointed nine members of the Credentials Committee.


The Assembly's six Main Committees also held brief consecutive meetings to elect their Chairmen.  The following were elected by acclamation:  Raimundo Gonzalez (Chile), First Committee (Disarmament and International Security); Roble Olhaye (Djibouti), Second Committee (Economic and Financial); Vladimir Galuska (Czech Republic), Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural); Sotirios Zackheos (Cyprus), Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization); Penny Wensley (Australia), Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary); and Phakiso Mochochoko (Lesotho), Sixth Committee (Legal).


The 21 States elected to Vice-Presidencies of the Assembly were: Algeria, Bolivia, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, France, Grenada, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Lithuania, Monaco, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Seychelles, Tajikistan, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.


The nine Members appointed to the Credentials Committee were Austria, Bolivia, China, Philippines, Russian Federation, South Africa, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.


Also this afternoon, the Assembly adopted the recommendation by the Committee on Conferences that two subsidiary organs -- the Committee on Relations with the Host Country and the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) -- be allowed to meet during the main part of the fifty-fourth session. 


The Assembly was also informed that the following 25 Member States were in arrears in the payment of their contributions to the Organization under Article 19 of the Charter:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Gambia, Georgia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kyrgystan, Liberia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Niger, Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tajikistan and Vanuatu.


       [By Article 19, a MemberState in arrears in the amount equal to, or exceeding, contributions due for the preceding two years shall have no vote in the General Assembly.]


At the beginning of the session, the Assembly observed the traditional minute of silent prayer or meditation which also served as an observance of the International Day of Peace.  The Day was proclaimed by the Assembly in 1981 to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.


The first meeting of the Assembly's General Committee will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 15 September, in Conference Room 3.


Assembly Work Programme


The General Assembly met this afternoon to open its fifty-fourth session, appoint the members of the Credentials Committee; elect the President and Vice-Presidents of the Assembly; and take action on the admission of new Members to the United Nations.  It was also expected to take up the item on its organization of work.  The Chairmen of the Assembly's six Main Committees are also to be elected today.


The Assembly had before it a letter from the Chairman of the Committee on Conferences on the organization of work of the fifty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly (document A/54/313), in which he requests the General Assembly to authorize the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to meet, in accordance with their requests, in New York during the main part of the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly.


According to the provisions of section I, paragraph 7, of General Assembly resolution 40/243 of 18 December 1985, no subsidiary organ of the General Assembly may meet at United Nations Headquarters during a regular session of the Assembly, unless explicitly authorized by the Assembly.  Those subsidiary organs that wish to meet submit their request through the Committee on Conferences.  The letter states that the Committee on Conferences does not object, on the strict understanding that such meetings would have to be accommodated within available facilities and services so that the activities of the General Assembly itself are not adversely affected.


Also before the Assembly were three draft resolutions on the admission of new Members to the United Nations:  Republic of Kiribati (A/54/L.1); Republic of Nauru (A/54/L.2); and Kingdom of Tonga (A/54/L.3), by the terms of which the Assembly would decide to admit those countries to membership in the United Nations.


The draft on the Republic of Kiribati was sponsored by Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Chad, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vanuatu and Venezuela.


The draft on the Republic of Nauru was sponsored by Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Chad, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vanuatu and Venezuela.


The draft on the Kingdom of Tonga was sponsored by Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Chad, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Syria, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vanuatu and Venezuela.


Statementby Assembly President


THEO‑BEN GURIRAB, the newly elected President of the General Assembly, said the current session was the first ever to straddle two millennia.  The aspirations, hopes and expectations of the world's peoples were high as they anticipated the future.  They yearned for a world which was peaceful, humane and prosperous for all.  Without the United Nations, such an inclusive world, led by inspiring leaders, could not come about.  The ongoing process of reforming, restructuring and democratizing the Organization should be consistent with the end product that everyone wanted, including review of the veto in the Security Council. 


"At the end, we should be satisfied that the United Nations belongs to all its Member States collectively and individually", he said.  Ownership of the United Nations must be shared equitably.  It also went without saying that all Member States should pay their contributions on time and in full without preconditions.  Without adequate resources, the Organization could not perform effectively.  Reform negotiations, nevertheless, must continue.  Any quick fix, however, which smacked of apartheid could not be tolerated in the interest of all.


He said it was perhaps a fortuitous but fitting coincidence of history that, at the century's end, both the Secretary-General and the Assembly President were from Africa.  They both represented the struggles to end colonialism, achieve liberation and independence and the final triumph of the human spirit.  Democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and environmental protection were common values now widely shared in Africa.  On another front, however, warlords driven by blind ambition for power had destroyed Somalia.  Africa and the United Nations should help to reconstruct that country and give its people another chance to rebuild their lives.


The Organization also remained firmly committed to the early and peaceful transition of Western Sahara to self-determination, he said.  While the latest developments concerning the Question of Palestine were encouraging, the United Nations should not be sidelined, but play its legitimate role in the creation of an independent PalestinianState.  While he also welcomed the holding of the referendum and its results in East Timor, he was saddened by the bloodshed and devastation and called for an immediate cessation of the violence to pave the way for the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force to the Territory. 


He said he would not shy away from calling upon the children of Africa's invaders and slave traders for an honest and sincere apology, and upon the children of the victims for forgiveness.  The horrors of slavery and destruction wrought upon Africa could not be forgotten.  Now was the time for reconciliation and healing.  Such an act of mutual affirmation would also never be complete unless Africa's sacred relics, icons, artworks and other priceless cultural objects were returned to the rightful owners. 


The issue of globalization was one of the first challenges to be faced, he said.  One fear existed -- that the unrelenting power of transnational corporations was overwhelming governments, particularly in the developing world.  African leaders had recently adopted the Algiers Declaration, in which they had stated that globalization should be placed within the framework of democratically created social dynamics -- globalization with a human face.  Globalization should be about empowerment of the people, especially the youth -- the future leaders.  It should not cause further impoverishment or marginalization of the poorest of the poor in the third world.


He said the second challenge was sustainable development and the protection of the environment.  Growth prospects in developing countries were bleaker than they had been in years. The degradation of the environment had further compounded the situation.  Other handicaps abounded -- high unemployment, inadequate social and physical infrastructure, as well as the debilitating debt burden.  Debt write-off was a necessary first step.  Against that background, development assistance was still required and should be supplemented by private-sector initiatives. 


The third challenge was war, he noted.  The Security Council had the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security and should speak with one voice.  Its actions should be based on consensus-building and collective commitment.  Better coordination between the Security Council and the Assembly was now more necessary than ever in streamlining their relationship as they dealt with armed conflicts and humanitarian crises.  Neither one of them could really be effective or successful at the expense of the other.  Furthermore, the role of the Economic and Social Council was indispensable both in conflict situations and in reconstruction, he stressed.


He said the fourth challenge was that of the ever-deteriorating refugee crisis.  Reports indicated that there were currently about 12 million refugees in the world, with more than half of them in Africa.  "We should be asking ourselves what else the world community can do beyond providing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with needed, albeit usually limited, resources to lessen their suffering", he said.  He cited gender equality and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which had declared a nasty and unrelenting war on humanity, particularly in Africa, as other challenges that needed to be addressed.


The last challenge concerned the future of children in a globalized community, he said.  Despite the advances in health care, education, science, technology and the ratification of international conventions and protocols governing the legal rights and social welfare of children, their lives were daily at risk of being snatched away by the cruelty and indifference of adults.  In the South, children continued to die of diseases long eradicated in the developed world.  Moreover, both in the North and the South, children were also victimized by drugs, crime, sexual abuse and other adult vices.  Millions of the world's children continued to face a future of hunger, poverty, illiteracy and child labour.  More and more of them were forced to work under difficult conditions rather than study and play. 


In both the developed and developing countries, children were also the easy targets of the violence and neglect that characterized life today, he continued.  "The ever-increasing numbers of children forcibly turned into soldiers to serve in national armies, tribal, ethnic or racial gangs should outrage us all", he stated.  While that was an old problem, its new trends were most disturbing and could not be tolerated.  Prolonged civil conflicts relied heavily on child soldiers.  Worse still, children had come to be "preferred recruits" over adults.  The reasons given were insidious and immoral:  children, the soulless recruiters boasted, were numerous and readily available, more malleable, impressionable, learned quickly, were small and agile and, quite simply, required less food and supplies than adults.  That was the horrendous fate of many of the world's children today. 


The United Nations must therefore show renewed commitment and redouble its efforts as the repository of humanity's conscience and social justice in the world, he said.  While the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child provided protection for children under 18 years of age, it still allowed for recruitment for military service at age 15, he noted.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict had left no stone unturned to make the world a better place for children. "They and their many allies in the field must continue to blame and shame governments for not doing enough to protect our children's lives and their future", he said.


Admission of New Members


The Assembly then took up the draft resolution on admission to the United Nations of the Republic of Kiribati (document A/54/C.1).  Additional co-sponsors for that draft were Algeria, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Jamaica, Kuwait, Monaco, Netherlands, Palau, Peru, Qatar, Uruguay, Viet Nam.


The draft was adopted by acclamation, and the delegation of the Republic of Kiribati was escorted to its place in the Assembly Hall.


The Assembly then turned to the draft resolution on admission of the Republic of Nauru (document A/54/L.2).  Additional co-sponsors for the draft were Algeria, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Jamaica, Kuwait, Monaco, Netherlands, Palau, Peru, Qatar, Spain, Uruguay and Viet Nam.


The draft was adopted by acclamation, and the delegation of the Republic of Nauru was escorted to its place in the Assembly Hall.


The Assembly then took up the text on admission of the Kingdom of Tonga (document A/54/L.3).  Additional co-sponsors for the draft were Algeria, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Iceland, Jamaica, Kuwait, Monaco, Netherlands, Palau, Peru, Qatar, Spain, Uruguay and Viet Nam.


The draft was adopted by acclamation, following which the delegation of the Kingdom of Tonga was escorted to its place in the Assembly Hall.


TEBURORO TITO, President of the Republic of Kiribati, thanked the Assembly for allowing Kiribati to become the 186th Member of the United Nations and congratulated the Republic of Nauru and the Kingdom of Tonga on their admission.  The number of Pacific countries represented at the United Nations had increased.  His country had recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its independence, and today's event was a continued manifestation of its maturity as a nation.  The admission to the United Nations reflected the future direction of Kiribati as a nation ready to become more actively involved in international affairs.


As a small island State, the Republic of Kiribati had learned that its fate was subject to the events happening in the world around it, he said.  It depended on the state of the world economy, and some policies of international financial institutions could easily frustrate its development aspirations.  The situation was similar as far as the environment was concerned.  Another serious concern for Kiribati related to the different perceptions of such concepts as globalization, privatization and free trade. 


Continuing, he requested the General Assembly and other international bodies to be more sensitive to the need for a more balanced approach.  There was also a need for a more democratic approach, a more united and a more proactive United Nations in order to further advance the common goals of development and deal with the common threats.  On the question of sustainable development, it was pleasing to note that in a few days a special session would be convened to address the issue of small island developing States and to review progress in the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action.  His country eagerly looked forward to taking its place in the Organization and participating in the shaping of international and global dynamics that would have an impact on the economies and peoples of different countries.


RENE HARRIS, President of the Republic of Nauru, said that in this struggle towards independence, the people of Nauru had become aware that it was only through the United Nations that their right to self-determination could be successfully heard with application of the principles of universality and equality between nations.  In recent years, his country had been alarmed by developments, which, it was feared, were not acts of God, but acts of man.  As an island nation, the country was concerned with the threat that overfishing of fishing stocks by larger nations placed on Nauru's economic development.  The emission of greenhouse gases and the destruction of the environment were also a cause of concern. 


Nauru could not make its call for international equity any stronger than in the United Nations, he continued.  His country was privileged today to assume its rightful place in the family of nations.  He also congratulated the Republic of Kiribati and the Kingdom of Tonga on joining the Organization and serving to strengthen the voice of the small island developing States.


As the smallest Member of the United Nations, in terms of both territory and population, one of Nauru's greatest challenges was in rehabilitating 75 per cent of the island that had been mined of its phosphate deposits, he said.  Nauru would welcome the support of the international community in addressing the twin challenges of economic diversification and physical rehabilitation.  Nauru also had to voice its increasing awareness of threats to the long-standing peace in the Pacific region.  Any threat to peaceful co-existence demanded decisive but sensitive action by the international community.  It was also crucial that the principle of equality between all nations be an integral factor in shaping a more effective and egalitarian United Nations for the millennium.


Prince ULUKALA LAVAK A ATA, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense of the Kingdom of Tonga expressed his country’s gratitude to the General Assembly for favourably considering its application.  Membership in the United Nations would enable Tonga to strengthen its relations within the Organization and to forge and develop new relationships with other Members of the United Nations community.  He recognized the benefits afforded by membership in the United Nations and emphasized Tonga's commitment to fulfilling its obligations and responsibilities.


He also expressed a desire to maintain solidarity with neighbouring Pacific nations on issues concerning the long-term preservation and protection of the islands environment; the thoughtful management and conservation of shared ocean resources; and, most emphatically, the suitable economic development of small Pacific island nations.  To that end, issues that impact upon small island developing States and their peoples should be addressed during the upcoming General Assembly special session on small island developing States. 


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For information media. Not an official record.