GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS UN CONVENTION AGAINST CORRUPTION, OPENS TREATY FOR SIGNATURE AT HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE IN MERIDA, MEXICO, 9-11 DECEMBER

31 October 2003
GA/10199

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS UN CONVENTION AGAINST CORRUPTION, OPENS TREATY FOR SIGNATURE AT HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE IN MERIDA, MEXICO, 9-11 DECEMBER

31/10/2003
Press ReleaseGA/10199

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

50th & 51st Meetings (AM & PM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS UN CONVENTION AGAINST CORRUPTION, OPENS TREATY FOR

SIGNATURE AT HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE IN MERIDA, MEXICO, 9-11 DECEMBER

Assembly President Appoints Facilitators for Revitalization Debate; President of International Court of Justice, UNESCO Director General Address Assembly

Concerned about the seriousness of problems and threats graft posed to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice, the General Assembly today unanimously adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption and opened it for signature at the High-level Political Signing Conference to be held in Merida, Mexico, from 9 to 11 December 2003. 

Welcoming the accord, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it enjoined governments to return stolen assets to the countries that owned them and, if fully enforced, removed one of the biggest obstacles to development.  Negotiating the new Convention and adopting it were "remarkable" achievements, and the accord complemented another landmark instrument, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which entered into force a month ago.

The Assembly also decided that, to raise awareness of corruption and of the new Convention’s role in combating and preventing it, 9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day.  Determined to more effectively prevent, detect and deter international transfer of illicitly acquired assets and strengthen international cooperation in assets recovery, it also urged all States and competent regional economic integration organizations to sign and ratify the accord as soon as possible to ensure its rapid entry into force.

The anti-corruption treaty "makes a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen", the Secretary-General said, adding that, "Corrupt officials will, in the future, find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains.  This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries, where corrupt officials have plundered the national wealth, and where new governments badly need resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies".

The 71-article Convention was annexed to the report of the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee, which had been negotiating the treaty’s terms, scope and monitoring mechanisms for nearly three years.  The Convention, set to enter into force 90 days after ratification or accession by 30 States parties, covers topics that include public procurement, bribery, illicit enrichment, embezzlement, misappropriation, money-laundering, protecting whistle-blowers, freezing of assets and cooperation between States.

The Director of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared the Secretary-General’s views that the Convention could make a real difference to the quality of life of millions of people.  For Nigeria, the accord would aid the Government’s implementation of anti-corruption measures.  Corruption threatened sustainable development, the rule of law, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, depriving victim countries of much needed development funds.  He called on nations harbouring proceeds of corruption to remove all obstacles and return assets stashed in their midst.

Hailing the new Convention as a milestone achievement in the global effort to ensure transparency, fairness and justice, the representative of the United States said the accord was vital not only to the rule of law, but to the fundamental confidence citizens must have for representative government and private enterprise to succeed.

When the Assembly turned to other matters on its agenda today, Shi Jiuyong, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), introduced that body’s annual report and updated Member States on its work.  Currently there were      191 States parties to the Court’s Statute, more than 60 of which had accepted its compulsory jurisdiction under the Statute.  The 15-member Court -- the principal judicial body of the United Nations that settles disputes between countries -- remained as busy as ever, he said, with 23 cases on its docket.

As the Assembly took up issues related to cultural heritage and the return or restitution of cultural property, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koichiro Matsuura, said that only in nourishing and invigorating diversity could the societies of tomorrow be built –- that was the key argument for the indivisibility of diversity and development, both of which fostered democracy and equity.

Also today, Assembly President Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia) gave his final observations on matters related to the revitalization of the Assembly and the Organization as a whole.  He also announced the appointment of six facilitators for the revitalization debate, as the next step forward.  They were:  Abdallah Baali (Algeria); Stafford O. Neil (Jamaica); Dirk Jan van den Berg (Netherlands); Kishore Mahbubani (Singapore); Roman Kirn (Slovenia); and Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo (South Africa).

The representatives of Malaysia, Kenya, Philippines, Japan, Madagascar, Russian Federation, Mexico, Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Rwanda (on behalf of the African Group), China, Switzerland, Indonesia, Peru, Jordan, Norway, Colombia, Lithuania, Egypt, New Zealand, India, Greece, Ukraine, Cyprus, Libya, Iceland and Ethiopia also addressed the Assembly today.

The Foreign Minister of Mauritius also spoke, as did the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of a Convention against Corruption.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 3 November, to take up matters related to sport for peace and development and the Olympic ideal, as well as the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Background

The General Assembly met today to consider the following items:  the report of the International Court of Justice; follow-up to the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage; return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin; and the report of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Convention against Corruption. 

The Assembly was also expected to conclude its consideration of the strengthening of the United Nations system, including the revitalization of the General Assembly and other bodies.  For background on that issue, see Press Release GA/10182, issued on 27 September.

The report of the International Court of Justice (document A/58/4 and Corr.1) covers the period from 1 August 2002 to 31 July 2003.  The principal organ of the United Nations, the Court, consists of 15 Judges elected for a term of nine years by the Assembly and the Security Council.  Every three years, one third of the seats fall vacant and the last elections to fill such vacancies were held on 21 October 2002.  In line with the increase in the number of cases, the number of judges (ad hoc) chosen by States parties has also been increasing.  It currently stands at 37, with these functions being carried out by 25 individuals.

As of 31 July, 191 States were parties to the Statute of the Court and 64 of them had deposited with the Secretary-General a declaration of acceptance of the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with the Statute.  Over the past year, the number of cases pending before the Court has remained high.  As opposed to the 1970s, when the Court only had one or two cases on its docket at any one time, as of 31 July it had 25.  Among the judgments handed down in the past year were decisions relating to the land and maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, and sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/

Malaysia).

Beginning in 1997, the Court has taken various measures to rationalize the work of the Registry, to make greater use of information technology, to improve its own working methods and to secure greater collaboration from the parties in relation to its procedures.  These efforts have continued, states the report.  The Court has also taken steps to shorten and simplify proceedings.  In 2002, the Court reviewed its working methods again; they are subject to permanent

re-examination.

In December 2001, the Assembly approved the Court’s budget for the present 2002-2003 biennium, and adopted all the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) regarding personnel requirements.  The Assembly did not, however, approve all the other recommendations of the ACABQ, particularly regarding programme support.  That had created difficulties for the Court.

For the biennium 2004–2005, the Court has, in view of its ongoing and increased reliance on advanced technology, requested the expansion of the Computerization Division from one to two Professional Officers.  The Court further requested the conversion of five law clerk posts, to conduct research for the 15 members of the Court, from temporary to established posts, and the creation of two security posts, as recommended by the United Nations Security Coordinator.  In making these requests, which are presently under consideration by the ACABQ, the Court has restricted itself to proposals which are financially modest but also of the utmost significance for the implementation of key aspects of its work.

The report on the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund to Assist States in the Settlement of Disputes through the International Court of Justice (document A/58/295) highlights the significance of the Trust Fund that was established in 1989.  In accordance with the Terms of Reference, financial assistance is to be to States for expenses incurred in connection with a dispute submitted to the Court by way of a special agreement or the execution of a judgment of the Court resulting from such special agreement.

As at 31 July, the total balance of the Fund was $1,863,162.  This amount excludes awards which have already been paid.  Despite numerous appeals by the Secretary-General, the Fund has had decreasing resources since its inception.  States and other entities are, therefore, urged to give serious consideration to contributing to the Fund.  With a view to encouraging States to apply for grants from the Fund, a review of the existing procedures governing the use of the Fund is being undertaken in consultation with the Registry of the Court and the Controller.

      Also before the Assembly is a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, 2002, and its follow-up (document A/58/402).  The report provides an overview of activities carried out by UNESCO in the framework of the Year for Cultural Heritage.  Three objectives were set for the celebration of the Year, including to intensify the implementation of programmes, activities and projects aimed at promoting and protecting the world cultural heritage; to promote education and raise public awareness to foster respect for national and world cultural heritage; and to encourage voluntary contributions to finance and support activities aimed at promoting and protecting national and world cultural heritage.

For UNESCO, protecting tangible and intangible cultural heritage means ensuring its capacity for renewal.  Safeguarding cultural heritage does not solely imply preserving cultural monuments, but also reviving living culture worldwide, traditional festivals, performing arts and crafts, re-establishing theatres and cinemas, and promoting cultural industries to help people to recover their cultural identity, preserve their timeless traditions and invigorate their artistic and intellectual creativity.  The results of the Year will not be immediately measured, but there is no doubt it offered a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage worldwide.

By the terms of a related draft resolution (document A/58/L.11), the Assembly would invite UNESCO, in collaboration with States, observers, relevant United Nations bodies and other international and non-governmental organizations, to continue to intensify the implementation of programmes, activities and projects aimed at the promotion and protection of the world cultural heritage.  The Assembly would also invite Member States and observers to continue to promote education and raise public awareness so as to foster respect for national and world cultural heritage.

The note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Director-General of UNESCO on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin (document A/58/314) states that in its work for the return of cultural properties to nations of origin, UNESCO has promoted the legal and moral arguments favouring such restitution, increased public awareness of the issue and assisted in specific cases as appropriate.  In particular, efforts have been made to implement recommendations adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, at its session held in Cambodia in March 2001.

Among the specific cases before the Committee during the period under review was the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the United Kingdom to Greece, in which context Greece had submitted a proposal to reunite the Marbles for exhibition to coincide with the 2004 Olympic Games.  There was also the issue of the return to Turkey of the Boguskoy Sphinx, currently on display in the Berlin Museum, in which context the Committee invited both parties to continue meeting with a view to bringing the issue to a mutually acceptable solution.

Moreover, as the consequences of the recent war in Iraq included increased looting and illicit evacuations and trafficking in cultural property, the secretariat of UNESCO had contacted the United States Secretary and Department of State, the United Kingdom, countries neighbouring Iraq and Interpol, among others, and had requested them to take all necessary measures against that illicit traffic.

The Assembly was also expected to take action on a draft resolution contained in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Convention against Corruption (document A/58/422, chapter IV, para. 103 and A/58/422/Add.1).  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends to the Assembly the adoption of a draft resolution, entitled “United Nations Convention on Corruption”, annexed to which is the text of the Convention.  By the terms of the draft, the Assembly would adopt the Convention and open it for signature at the High-level Political Signing Conference to be held in Merida, Mexico, from 9 to 11 December.

The Assembly would also decide that, in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the Convention in combating and preventing it,

9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day.  It would also urge all States and competent regional economic integration organizations to sign and ratify the Convention as soon as possible to ensure its rapid entry into force.

Statements

SHI JIUYONG, President of the International Court of Justice, said that currently there were 191 States parties to the Court’s Statute, more than 60 of which had accepted its compulsory jurisdiction under the Statute.  The 15-member Court itself remained as busy as ever, he said, with 23 cases on its docket.  Those cases came from all over the world, with four being between African States, one between Asian States, 11 between European States and three between Latin American States.  The subject matter of the cases was varied, and covered territorial disputes between neighbouring States over either land or maritime boundaries, and disputes where a State complained of the treatment of its citizens in another State.

For example, Guinea had petitioned on behalf of its nationals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Liechtenstein against Germany; and Mexico against the United States, he said.  Other cases related to events which had been addressed by the Assembly and Security Council, namely Iran’s proceedings brought against the United States for the destruction of oil wells in the late 1990s, and in two separate cases, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia had sought condemnation of Serbia and Montenegro -– formerly the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -– for war crimes and genocide.  Finally, in two separate cases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo contended that it had been a victim of armed aggression on the part of Uganda and Rwanda, respectively.

He said the Court’s decisions in 2002-2003 included in particular three judgments on merits and two orders on request for provisional measures.  He went on to highlight the specific cases, which included an October judgment on the maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, in which the Court found for Cameroon, and a January 2003 order indicating provisional measures by which the United States “shall take all measures necessary to ensure that [three Mexican nationals, who are at risk of execution next month] are not executed pending final judgment”.

In June, he continued, the Court issued another order on a request for provisional measures by which it rejected a request of the Republic of Congo seeking the annulment of the investigation and prosecution measures taken by judicial authorities in France, following a complaint for crimes against humanity and torture allegedly committed in the African country.  Various human rights groups against Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and other senior officials filed the case in France.  In its decision, the Court said it saw no urgent need for the measures sought by the Congo, and added that its decision in no way prejudged the question of its jurisdiction to deal with the merits of the dispute.

He said in order to improve efficiency, the Court’s internal mechanisms were constantly under review.  But he called for the cooperation of parties before the Court to help the justices achieve their goals.  For example, the Court had issued a number of Practice Directions, including one aimed at limiting the late filing of documents.  The Court was also aware of the importance of keeping pace with technology to improve the internal functioning of its Registry.  The Court’s well-regarded Web site and intranet were in the process of being redesigned to make them more dynamic and easier to use.

He said that while the Court carried out its work far from the hustle and bustle of New York, its activities directly contributed to the overall aims and objectives of the United Nations.  Its work also had wide-ranging impact on the international community.  In particular, the role it played in resolving disputes between States was widely recognized and evidenced by the number of cases on its docket.  Furthermore, it was not uncommon for cases to deal directly with issues concerning international peace and security.  The impartiality of the Court’s judicial procedure and the equality which it guaranteed to the parties before it contributed to the effective resolution of such disputes.  The Court acted as a guardian of international law and ensured the maintenance of a coherent international legal order.

SARAH AL BAKRI DEVADASON (Malaysia) said the role of the International Court of Justice should not be underestimated in its effort to promote peace among nations.  The Court had handed down judgments and opinions of excellent quality, and the increasing recourse by States to judicial settlement of their disputes had granted the Court centrality in the administration of international justice. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore had submitted their respective territorial disputes for adjudication by the Court.  She welcomed the judgment delivered in December 2002 on the dispute between her country and Indonesia regarding sovereignty over two islands.  Malaysia’s dispute with Singapore was currently on the Court’s docket and would begin its pleadings stage. 

The number of cases currently on the Court’s docket stood at 23, and augured well for the progressive development of international law and the role of the Court as a dispute settlement mechanism, she said.  With an increased workload, the Court was faced with the challenge of responding speedily to the complicated matters before it.  The Court’s efforts to deal with challenges of time and workload through improved working methods, initiated in 1997, had appeared to bear fruit.  Moreover, the greater use of information technology, and the continued review of working methods, was encouraged.  She hoped the Court would be granted adequate resources to allow it to continue to carry out its mandate efficaciously.

ROSELYN AMADI (Kenya) expressed satisfaction with the Court’s discharge of its mandate, noting that it had established itself truly as the only court of universal character with general jurisdiction.  The increase in the number and diversity of cases referred to the Court confirmed the confidence of States in the integrity of that principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  She supported the establishment of the new posts, particularly for legal clerks whom she believed would help speed up the Court’s work.  To have 23 cases pending before the Court did not reflect well on the administration of justice in the world court. 

Appreciative of the measures taken to reduce delays at the Court, she urged the Registrar to continue to improve on those measures so that cases that came before the Court were expeditiously determined.  Given the Court’s increased workload, it should continue to rationalize its operations.  In particular, she saw the need to examine the possibility of increasing the number of permanent judges to deal expeditiously with pending and future cases.  In that regard, she asked the Court’s President to make proposals for consideration by the Assembly at its next session.  She commended the Court’s President and his staff in promoting a better understanding of the Court and its role within the United Nations through speeches and presentations in various institutions around the world.  However, she regretted that none of those undertakings had occurred in Africa.  She called on the Court not only to redouble its efforts in that regard, but also to deliberately ensure that, in its planning of those activities, due regard was given to developing countries, particularly in Africa.

Kenya had deposited with the Secretary-General a declaration of acceptance of the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with Article 36, paragraph 2, of the Court’s Statute.  Noting that only 64 States parties had now deposited declarations under that article, she urged those that had not done so yet to deposit their declarations quickly to further fortify the universality of the Court. 

LAURO L. BAJA, Jr. (Philippines) said the past 12 months had underlined the importance of the role played by the Court as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and the only court of a universal character with general supervision.  The acceptance by many States of the Court’s judicial role -– not just as State parties to its Statute but also by submitting to its jurisdiction in contentious cases -- was a testament to the recognition of how effectively the Court had pursued its mandate over the years.  He noted that the Court was immensely preoccupied with disposing of pending cases from its busy docket.  Those cases had not only increased in number but had evolved in terms of the range of issues which required adjudication.  The Court had become an “indispensable cog of the geopolitical architecture”, since it provided a solid compass for the development of international law.  It also served as a significant pillar both for the maintenance of international peace and security, and the strengthening of the rule of law in State to State relations.

The Court, he continued, also faced a tremendous challenge to stay relevant and on the cutting edge of political developments and legal demands of a world that was getting smaller through the galloping development in technology, but at the same time growing apart by the widening gap between rich and poor countries.  He called for improvement in the Court’s Registry, as well as strengthening of its procedures to allow the consideration and adjudication of cases without delay.  The judicial system uniquely afforded by the Court must be made easily accessible to all nations, particularly the poor ones.  He was of the view that the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund was restrictive on the type of cases and the range of costs for which it could be applied.  He hoped that those issues could be addressed so that the utility of the Trust Fund could be optimized for the benefit of poor nations.

YOSHIYUKI MOTOMURA (Japan) said there was no question as to the importance of the International Court of Justice, given the current state of international society.  Establishing and maintaining the primacy of integrated international law was essential to a world that continued to witness armed conflict and acts of terrorism.  Therefore, given its firm belief in the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes, his country supported the Court fully.

Noting the increasing number of cases appearing on its docket, he said the Court must make a concerted effort to establish a more efficient system of management, enabling it to render a greater number of judgements without sacrificing the quality of its work.  It should also consider the level of resources needed for it to fulfil its role as guardian of the rule of law.  In this context, Japan felt the proposal of the ACABQ to convert five judicial clerkships from temporary to permanent status would constitute a significant step forward in strengthening the Court’s capacity.

ZINA ANDRIANARIVELO-RAZAFY (Madagascar) said there had daily been violations of the principles of international humanitarian law, conflicts and territorial and maritime disputes in recent years.  In such a context, the International Court of Justice played an important role in reinforcing the maintenance of peace and international security.  Further noting that the cases brought to the Court had increased in number and complexity, he said that the Court’s efforts to streamline its procedures should be supported.

Welcoming the progress made thus far to improve its working, he said the necessary financial, organizational and material means must be given to the Court, pending the eventual reform of the United Nations system.  Justice gave strength to the weak; it was the refuge of the poor, he added, in which context the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund was appreciated.  Developing and poor countries had a great need for the Fund, whose resources had, unfortunately, diminished since its establishment.  Finally, close cooperation among the various international tribunals was desirable in increasing coherence among their decisions.

DMITRY A. LOBACH (Russian Federation) said the International Court of Justice played a leading role in fulfilling one of the most important duties under the Charter of the United Nations:  ensuring the peaceful resolution of disputes among States.  The growing number of cases before the Court demonstrated the international community’s increasing respect for it.  And although the Court was adequately discharging its responsibilities, it still needed to take further steps to rationalize its procedures, including to reduce the time it took to decide on cases.

The international community should give due attention to the staffing and funding needs of the Court, he continued.  Also, given the proliferation of international tribunals in recent years, questions regarding the relationship between the various bodies with international jurisdiction had been raised.  In view of all existing and future international jurisdictions, his country felt the Court had a unique role to play and its strengths should be developed by all means possible.

S.A. ADEKANYE (Nigeria) said the Court had attracted the confidence of Member States in defence of the principles of law in inter-State relations, as a result of its universal character and jurisdiction.  There was concern, however, that the increased number and diversity of cases before the Court would place an additional workload on judges.  For judges to perform those duties effectively, additional financial and human resources were necessary.  He noted that the adoption of information and communication technology would improve the Court’s working methods.  He commended the Court for its publications, which included reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders, and found them to be invaluable sources of international law.  The availability of those documents to States parties as well as judicial institutions would enhance understanding of the Court’s procedures and decisions.

Regarding the Land and Maritime Boundary dispute with Cameroon, the two nations had had fruitful sessions under the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission to implement the decision of the Court.  Indeed, considerable progress had been made on issues raised by the judgment, and the leadership of both nations had turned the boundary differences into an opportunity for expanded development and cooperation.  He restated Nigeria’s appreciation for the helpful role of the Secretary-General in that process.  Also, he reaffirmed its commitment to the Court, in which some of the country’s most eminent jurists had served.

Statement by Secretary-General

Welcoming the adoption of the convention, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN, said corruption was an insidious plague that had wide-ranging and corrosive effects on societies.  It undermined democracy and the rule of law and led to violations of human rights, distorted markets, eroded the quality of life and allowed organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.  The evil phenomenon was found in all countries -– big and small, rich and poor -– but it was in developing countries that its effects were most destructive.

“Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately”, he said, “by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”  Corruption was a key element in economic underperformance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.  It was therefore important to have a global instrument to address the scourge.  The adoption sent a clear message that the international community was determined to prevent and control corruption.  It warned the corrupt that betrayal of the public trust would no longer be tolerated.  It also reaffirmed the importance of core values such as honesty, respect for the rule of law and transparency.

“The new convention was a remarkable achievement and complemented another landmark instrument, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which entered into force a month ago.”  It was, he added, a balanced and pragmatic instrument which introduced a comprehensive set of standards, measures and rules that all countries could apply in order to strengthen their legal and regulatory regimes to fight corruption.  It called for preventive measures and the criminalization of the most prevalent forms of corruption, in both public and private sectors.  It also heralded a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through graft to the country from which they were stolen.

He said those provisions, the first of their kind, introduced a new fundamental practice as well as a framework for stronger cooperation between States to prevent, detect and return the proceeds of corruption.  “Corrupt officials will in future find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains”, he declared.  That was important for developing countries where corrupt high officials had plundered the national wealth, and where new governments badly needed resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies.

He said that although the adoption of the new convention was a remarkable achievement, it was only a beginning.  “We must build on the momentum achieved to ensure that it entered into force as soon as possible”, he said, urging all States to attend the upcoming Signing Conference and to ratify the convention as soon as possible.

If fully enforced, the Secretary-General concluded, the new instrument could make a real difference to the quality of life for millions of people around the world.  By removing one of the biggest obstacles to development, it could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Statements on Convention against Corruption

MUHYIEDDEEN TOUQ (Jordan), Acting Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of a Convention against Corruption, introduced the report of that body, noting that momentum for a convention against corruption had started to build during negotiations for the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  Those negotiations had produced a profound understanding among countries that the time had come to elaborate a broad, comprehensive and effective instrument marking the international community’s determination to take joint action against the scourge of corruption.

He said that after the adoption of General Assembly resolution 56/260, which set the terms of reference for the negotiation process, as well as a deadline for the completion of negotiations on the convention, the Ad Hoc Committee had begun its work with an informal preparatory meeting in 2001, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Twenty-six countries had come forward at that time with proposals for the new convention.  Between January 2002 and October 2003, the Ad Hoc Committee had held seven sessions in fulfilling its mandate to deliver a new practical, pragmatic, enforceable and comprehensive convention, characterized by a carefully crafted equilibrium that reflected the reality of corruption as a broad phenomenon with many facets demanding a multidisciplinary approach at the national and international levels.

The Ad Hoc Committee’s success was certainly not due to the simplicity of its task, he noted.  Instead, it was the result of an unwavering commitment by all delegations in a highly participatory process and its prevailing spirit of cooperation and compromise.  And while all had made concessions, they remained adamant on one point:  safeguarding the high quality and innovative nature of the final product.  It was to be hoped that the convention, contained in the draft resolution, would be adopted by the Assembly and that all States would make every effort to be present and sign the Convention at the conference to be held in Merida, Mexico, in December.

EDUARDO ROMERO (Mexico) said the adoption of the convention would open new horizons and create a machinery to combat corruption.  It was clear that corruption was a scourge, that it stood in the way of development and impeded the competitive position of nations.  Combating corruption was the desire of all nations, and the implementation of policies against corruption was needed around the world.  Moreover, the struggle against that evil required the participation of governments and those governed.  In Mexico, the administration of President Vicente Fox had designed and implemented an overall programme to combat corruption, to promote transparency, and to transform the administration into a modern organization aiming towards service to the people, and the fulfilment of the population’s needs and demands.  Mexico had laid down the basis for a professional public service.  The laws on transparency were examples of progress made to date.

The convention represented the conviction that the fight against corruption required common efforts and immediate response.  Members of the Ad Hoc Committee had sought compromise and common political will, which was now bearing fruit.  There was a broad attack on corruption, an emphasis on prevention, and measures provided for in the area of extradition, which would make the convention an effective instrument.  He thanked States for their support, and appealed to them to attend the signing conference in Merida, Mexico.  He also asked for representation at the highest level.  The conference in Mexico would include round tables, where experts would offer expertise on ways to implement the convention, and where emphasis would be placed on legislative measures to achieve goals.  A discussion on measures to combat corruption in financial circles would also take place.

A.K. GAYAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation of Mauritius, said he was happy to see that the Ad Hoc Committee had fulfilled its mandate with remarkable speed.  In 2000, Mauritius decided to modernize its legislation in order to deal more effectively with the scourge of corruption.  Through the Prevention of Corruption Act, an Independent Anti-Corruption Commission was established, with a three-fold objective –- to educate, to prevent and to prosecute corruption.  He was convinced that limiting the definition of corruption to classical offences of bribery would be unwise, especially as those, who in modern times were bent on blazing new trails in corrupt practices, were endowed with extraordinary ingenuity and creativity.  He was pleased that the convention, which was couched in a language adequate enough to address corruption in a meaningful manner for present purposes, would be reviewed in five years.  The international and uniform norms of conduct with regard to public affairs and the management of the private sector would supplement the existing legal arsenal to deal with corruption.

As a member of the African Union, Mauritius was extremely sensitive to the havoc which corruption had caused in many African countries.  Although the state in which Africa found itself could not be attributed to any single cause, there was still no doubt that corruption was a major contributor to that state.  He also knew that business in Africa could no longer be “business as usual”.  Therefore, African nations had decided to take their destiny into their hands through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  The prevention and eradication of corruption was the responsibility of all States, big or small. 

International cooperation was also critical for a successful campaign against corruption, he added.  No country was immune from the ravages of corrupt practices.  “Like the war against terrorism, this war against corruption must enjoy the widest possible international consensus”, he observed.  The fight against corruption could not be won by relying only on repressive measures.  The convention had the merit of having gone beyond what was usually contained in such multilateral instruments by offering to the international community an exhaustive range of levels of intervention to combat corruption in all its known forms.

BRUNELLA BORZI (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the Union attached particular importance to preventing and combating corruption, because corruption impoverished national economies, undermined democratic institutions and the rule of law, and had a negative impact on the process of economic and social development.  To that end, the Union continued to put into practice a comprehensive policy against corruption.  It believed that, in an increasingly connected world, the fight against corruption had become more urgent than ever and called for stronger action by the United Nations.

In that context, she welcomed the convention, which could effectively contribute to a common goal.  She expressed satisfaction over the outcomes of the negotiations in Vienna, in which the Union had played an active role, explaining that the final text provided States with a wide range of high standard and universally acceptable provisions, which would strengthen their capability in fighting corruption practices at national and international levels.  She supported the comprehensive nature of the Convention, which included prevention and law enforcement measures, as well as innovative legal instruments on the transfer of funds of illicit origin and their restitution.

She hoped the convention would be signed by a maximum number of States on the occasion of the High-level Political Signing Conference, to be held in Mérida, Mexico, in December.  That endorsement would be an important first step towards a speedy entry into force and implementation of the convention, an objective to which the Union had committed itself.  She stressed that adequate support needed to be given to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, including its Global Programme against Corruption, so that it was enabled to promote the entry into force of the convention and to support the implementation of related activities and initiatives.

STANISLAS KAMANZI (Rwanda), speaking on behalf of the African Group, commended the Ad Hoc Committee on its work and said the convention it had elaborated constituted a tool in the fight to overcome an evil hampering development efforts, particularly those of the poorest.  The convention would also constitute a tool to help prevent armed conflicts and fight terrorism, which often operated on corrupt funds.  It was a “shot in the arm in efforts to institutionalize the rule of law and good governance”.

However, he continued, it was one thing to have the tool, and another to use it.  The international community must provide unreserved support for the convention.  In addition, all States should commit themselves to ownership of the convention and participate, en masse, at the December Signing Conference in Merida, Mexico.

JOHN D. NEGROPONTE (United States) said bribes were still tax deductible in some countries ten years ago, and no international ant-corruption treaties existed.  Today’s resolution was therefore a milestone achievement in the global effort to ensure transparency, fairness and justice.  That was vital not only to the rule of law, but to the fundamental confidence citizens must have for representative government and private enterprise to succeed.  The draft convention represented the first globally-negotiated anti-corruption treaty applied on a truly global level.  It was more comprehensive than any similar instrument, and for the first time in any multilateral agreement, provided a useful framework for governments to cooperate in the recovery of illicitly obtained assets.

He noted that an important article of the text created a Conference of States parties that would be responsible for follow-up, which he expected would play a prominent role in promoting implementation.  Like other anti-crime treaties, the convention established commitments to criminalize certain undesirable or harmful conduct -- in this case such actions as bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering.  But it did not stop there –- it also required that governments take action in a number of areas such as public procurement, public financial management and in regulating public officials.

The fight against corruption, he said, had long been a priority for the United States, beginning with its efforts in the 1980s to rally worldwide attention to bribery in international business practices:  his delegation had been pleased to participate in the negotiations on the present treaty.  He said that now it was time to translate the words of the convention into action.  The time had come for all countries to move as quickly as possible in their national processes to consider signature and ratification, and engage civil society and the private sector to promote the implementation of the innovative and helpful approaches that the international community had negotiated together.

VICTOR G. GARCIA (Philippines) said that no country was immune from the effects of corruption.  Members of the international community had broken new ground by forging a consensus on measures to prevent and combat corruption more efficiently and effectively.  His nation was among those that had been damaged by corruption, committed by high-level officials and their high-powered cohorts in the private sector.  However, since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001, significant accomplishments had been made in the fight against that scourge.  Still, his nation realized that international cooperation and technical assistance were vital elements in the campaign against corruption, especially with regard to funds that had been illicitly transferred, hidden or invested in other countries.

The Philippines was well aware that major compromises had been made by all delegations, including his, to successfully finalize the draft convention.  He supported the adoption of the convention by the Assembly, and held that it should ultimately serve as a catalyst for the exchange of best practices, technical assistance and capacity-building, in particular to strengthen the efforts of developing nations to fight corruption.  However, he concluded, it would be an aberration if the convention were to be used as an instrument for the imposition of conditions, or raised as a convenient excuse to intrude in the internal affairs of individual States.

Statement by Assembly President on United Nations reform and revitalization

JULIAN ROBERT HUNTE (Saint Lucia), President of the General Assembly, said that it was important to note at the outset that delegations had centered their statements on the need to reform and revitalize the Assembly and the United Nations as a whole.  The membership should also consider why there were two items before the Assembly that few delegates wished to discuss.

On the revitalization of the Assembly, he said he had sensed an emerging consensus that action should be taken expeditiously.  Among the specific issues addressed in the debate, many had emphasized the need to reaffirm the political position and status of the Assembly and to redress the relationship between that body and the Security Council.  There had also been agreement that in order to ensure better respect for Assembly resolutions and decisions, they must be made better known.  The Department of Public Information should play a more active advocacy role in that regard.  Moreover, strengthening the Office of the President and the role of the Presidency had received wide support, and there was an emerging view that making better use of the General Committee was important.  There had also been much discussion of the need to draft better resolution texts, to make them shorter and to the point, and to refrain from the excessive repetition of previous resolutions.

Views had begun to converge on some points regarding the nature and function of the plenary itself, he added, and included suggestions to schedule the work of the Assembly over a longer period and to adopt a more thematic approach.  There was also a nascent consensus on the need to reduce the length of the Assembly’s agenda, including through considering items on a biennial or triennial basis and clustering items.  Such steps would also help reduce the documentation overload.

Finally, he announced the appointment of six facilitators for the revitalization debate, as the next step forward. They were:  Abdallah Baali (Algeria); Stafford O. Neil (Jamaica); Dirk Jan van den Berg (Netherlands); Kishore Mahbubani (Singapore); Roman Kirn (Slovenia); and Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo (South Africa).

ZHANG YISHAN (China), speaking on behalf of the Asian States, welcomed the convention against corruption.  He paid tribute to the work of the late Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for the negotiation of the convention, stating that even though the late Chairman was not present physically, he was present in spirit. 

JENÖ C. A. STAEHELIN (Switzerland) commended the Ad Hoc Committee’s work in elaborating a convention against corruption, which constituted a significant success in the fight against one of the chief scourges of the present day.  Calling on all States to sign the instrument as soon as possible, he said the international community would benefit from that instrument, which, among other things, fostered good governance.  The convention would also contribute to the improvement of the rules governing international trade by bringing greater transparency and equity to them.  For example, there would be, for the first time, mandatory restitution of illicitly acquired funds.  The establishment of new international standards and their adoption at the national level was necessary. 

DMITRY A. LOBACH (Russian Federation) said he was satisfied to note the successful completion of the convention against corruption.  The Ad Hoc Committee had taken into account all approaches that had shown practical value in the fight against corruption.  The resulting draft significantly broadened opportunities for cooperation in that fight.  The question of the repatriation of illicitly acquired and exported assets was a priority for his country, as was that of money-laundering.  He noted with satisfaction that the draft convention contained the necessary mechanisms in that regard, and hoped key provisions of the convention would be seen to work in practice.  Certain that the signing conference in Merida, Mexico, would be successful, he hoped the convention would quickly enter into force.

DJAUHARI ORATMANGUN (Indonesia) said a society inflicted injury on itself by tolerating corruption as a necessary evil of politics.  Developing countries, especially those burdened with debt, could ill afford to suffer the economic and social losses associated with corruption.  Any developing country casual about corruption put its own progress at risk, for not only did that scourge cause a haemorrhage of funds needed for the promotion of sustainable development, it threatened the fabric of society, undermined democracy, destabilized governments, tainted public service and, in the long run, bred poverty.  Its ties to organized crime also led to increased violence. 

The convention, which he commended as a legal instrument premised on the need for all segments of society to take positive action, called for collaboration within, between and among States to prevent and combat the transfer of funds of illicit origin.  It approached corruption in terms of good governance, encouraging transparency and accountability in public and private sector affairs.  And because international efforts against corruption needed to be paralleled by efforts at the national and regional levels to be strong and effective, his country had taken decisive legal steps to combat corruption at home. 

ABDUL BIN RINDAP, (Nigeria), shared the views of the Secretary-General that the convention could make a real difference to the quality of life of millions of people.  He believed that the proceeds of corruption stashed in foreign countries far exceeded the amount received in development assistance.  The provisions of chapter five of the text on asset recovery was of particular importance to Nigeria, in view of its experience as a victim State.  That issue was central to the convention, particularly in the area of mutual legal assistance in tracing, confiscating and transferring illicit assets back to the country of origin.

Promoting and strengthening measures to prevent and combat corruption more effectively was a hallmark of the convention, enabling it to be used as a tool for enhancing national mechanisms to fight the scourge.  For Nigeria, the convention would aid in the Government’s implementation of anti-corruption measures.  Corruption was a threat to sustainable development and the rule of law.  It also threatened the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, depriving victim countries of much needed development funds.  He called on nations to sign and ratify the convention, and also called on nations harbouring proceeds of corruption to remove all obstacles and return assets stashed in their midst.

TOSHIRO OZAWA (Japan) said the convention was the first universal legal instrument against corruption, and contained a wide range of preventive measures essential to promoting government transparency and accountability.  The next step after adoption would be for each State to implement the convention, both domestically and internationally.  He referred to the importance of preventing and combating “passive bribery” by public officials in international organizations, including the United Nations.  It was, therefore, necessary to grasp and analyze the current situation with regard to such corruption in an effective framework, taking into consideration the privileges and immunities of United Nations officials.

He pointed to the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI), based in Tokyo, as an important example of the contributions his country could make.  The Institute, through dialogue and deliberation, contributed to establishing a basis for international cooperation to address issues relating to criminal justice, including corruption.

JAVIER PAULINICH (Peru) expressed his pleasure at the conclusion of the Ad Hoc Committee’s work and reaffirmed his country’s abiding commitment to combat corruption at all levels.  Among its negative aspects, corruption impeded the mobilization and efficient allocation of resources, and imperilled sustainable development.  Peru had directly suffered from the scourge, but had cast-off that legacy and was now squarely dealing with the issue.

As corruption affected international society as a whole, without distinguishing between developed and developing countries, it required a global response characterized by international cooperation, he said.  And as there must be efforts to prevent impunity and ensure the return of illicitly acquired assets, one could see innovation in international law, with the convention going beyond current standards.  The text contained indispensable elements to prevent corruption, as well as to provide legal assistance to extradite and prosecute criminals.  A high level of participation at the signing conference in Merida, Mexico, was encouraged, in keeping with the commitment taken at Monterrey to fight corruption on all fronts.

RAMEZ Z. GOUSSOUS (Jordan) expressed his appreciation for the endeavours of the Ad Hoc Committee in elaborating the convention against corruption, which added a new brick to the wall of international efforts to combat all forms of crime.  Corruption was a phenomenon spreading across all communities.  Because it was transnational, national efforts alone could not effectively address it.  It undermined the pillars of society and destabilized efforts for development, including through its negative effects on democratic governance.

The convention, which included chapters on the problems of returning illicitly acquired assets and money-laundering, among others, would be very useful in the fight against corruption.  Thus, it was very important to ensure its entry into force, in which respect all States should participate in the December signing conference in Merida, Mexico.  Jordan was also honoured that its ambassador had been chosen to chair the Ad Hoc Committee.

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WEGGER CHRISTIAN STROMMEN (Norway) said the fight against corruption must take place at both the national and international levels.  The measures needed might not be the same at both levels, but no country could overcome corruption nationally if it ignored the international aspects.  Hence, international cooperation was imperative.  He welcomed the convention, which was a “milestone” in the fight against corruption.  While the convention addressed many important issues, such as preventive measures, which were of significant importance in combating corruption, he was particularly pleased that private sector corruption was included, and that the repatriation of illicit funds was finally covered by an international instrument.

As corruption was a global problem, it required a collective global effort and the convention provided a foundation for that, he stated.  However, the convention alone would not solve the problem unless it was effectively endorsed.  To ensure that the convention was implemented and the legislation enforced, it was vital to have an effective follow-up mechanism.  Without such a mechanism, he felt that the convention would lack an essential element.

GUSTAVO DAJER (Colombia) said the presentation of the draft convention against corruption was an event that marked great dedication.  It was a citizen of Colombia, a career diplomat, Ambassador Hector Charry Samper, who participated in the Committee from its first session in Vienna, where he was elected Chairman. 

Today, the outcome of the effort and teamwork that took place made it possible to consider that instrument, which included elements to battle corruption, the biggest threat against democracy.  He invited all States to be represented in Mexico, as that would be the greatest tribute to the individual who worked to make the convention a reality.  He thanked all the colleagues, who also made it possible. 

GEDIMINAS SERKSNYS (Lithuania), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, expressed his appreciation for the work of the Ad Hoc Committee, which elaborated the convention against corruption.  Corruption degraded the economic and social foundations of States, which was why it was essential to take action against that phenomenon.  He shared the common feeling of satisfaction that today’s international legal space would be enriched by that important document. 

The Assembly then adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which was contained in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee, by consensus.

Statements on Cultural Heritage

KOICHIRO MATSUURA, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the first objective of the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage had been to raise awareness of the broadened concept of cultural heritage, which encompassed not only the many cultural remains, but also living culture.  Throughout its history, UNESCO had striven to offer to the international community legal instruments covering the multiple aspects of cultural heritage.  For example, there was the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which, with 176 States having ratified it, was one of the most ratified international instruments.  Yet, as that Convention had not completely filled the void on intangible cultural heritage, he hoped that States would be both rapid and numerous in ratifying the new Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage as well.  In that regard, he welcomed the recent emphasis put on the importance and urgency of protecting that most vulnerable aspect of cultural heritage.

In the same spirit, he expressed pleasure over the recent adoption of the UNESCO Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage, which followed on the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan.  As the 1954 Hague Convention had covered only the protection of cultural objects in times of armed conflict, there was an urgent need to develop an instrument that could serve as a moral and ethical reference point for the protection of cultural heritage in peacetime.

Raising awareness on the diversity of cultural heritage, he added, had been the second objective of the United Nations Year.  The primary message of UNESCO’s 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was that all development efforts must be founded on diversity.  Only in nourishing and invigorating diversity could the societies of tomorrow be built –- that was the key argument for the indivisibility of diversity and development, both of which fostered democracy and equity.  The third objective had been to show the importance of cultural heritage to the establishment of international peace.  That point emphasized the utility of culture in fostering cohesion among social groups and communities.  In that respect, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, on the occasion of his visit to UNESCO, had emphasized his own commitment to culture and education, side by side, in the reconstruction of his country.

Each of those objectives was based on the acceptance by all of an ethical responsibility to protect cultural heritage in all its forms –- past, present and future, he concluded.  That individual and common responsibility to protect and transmit cultural heritage was the reason for UNESCO’s insistence on the need for education on cultural heritage and universal ratification of the Conventions covering it.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt), introducing the draft resolution prepared by his delegation, said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) mission to protect cultural heritage was at the heart of its being.  Egypt had not forgotten UNESCO’s efforts in the 1960s to save ruins in the Nile River Basin.  Protecting cultural heritage included categorizing and registering items, but also entailed promoting education on heritage and transmitting it to future generations.  More than 40 nations had been involved in the Year for Cultural Heritage, he noted.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said cultural heritage has reflected the arduous process of mankind in transforming nature and developing themselves.  The adequate preservation and utilization of cultural heritage was the shared responsibility of the peoples of the world.  That played a significant role in deepening mutual understanding among nations and increasing exchanges among different cultures and civilizations.

He supported the International Convention for the safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, because intangible cultural heritage was just as much a reflection of a nation’s pride in its history and cultural identity as tangible cultural heritage.  The acknowledgment and preservation of intangible cultural heritage were equally important tokens of the diversity of civilizations and social progress.  He appealed to the international community to, among other things, take immediate actions and take stock of the existing intangible cultural heritage in all countries and regions.  He looked forward to next July’s World Cultural Heritage Conference, since it would serve to reinforce the efforts of the international community to preserve world cultural heritage.

TIM MCIVOR (New Zealand) said cultural heritage was part of what defined people and was a gift to future generations.  His nation was committed to protecting its natural and cultural heritage, as well as that of its Pacific island neighbors.  Oceans and lands of the South Pacific covered almost one third of the earth’s surface, and were rich in cultural heritage.  That was a key reason New Zealand decided to run for a seat on the World Heritage Committee.  Serving on the Committee was an opportunity for his country, and the wider South Pacific community, to have its voice heard.

A number of ancient and historic sites in the region needed sound management to ensure they continued to be enjoyed now and in the future, he said.  New Zealand was conscious of the responsibilities of holding a seat on the Committee.  The objective of the Committee to protect the world’s outstanding and precious monuments and heritage sites was as challenging as it was important.

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SHIGEYUKI SHIMAMORI (Japan) said that the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage had served to increase public awareness and foster respect for the cultural heritage of humanity.  In the course of this year, there has been continued recognition of the significant role cultural heritage played not only in appreciating different cultural traditions, but also in enhancing people’s attachment to their own national identities and giving them spiritual confidence, especially those living in post-conflict situations.

He said it was noteworthy that the cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley and Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat), in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, were simultaneously inscribed on both the World Heritage List and the List of Heritage in Danger last July.  He hoped that that would have a “good effect” on the peace-building efforts taking place in both countries and focus international attention on their situations.  He also touched on Cambodia, as a case in which the protection and rehabilitation of cultural heritage played an important role in post-conflict reconstruction.

He believed the adoption of the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was the result of dedicated international efforts to preserve the world’s intangible cultural heritage, which was often at risk of disappearing because of such unavoidable developments as industrialization and urbanization, but which should be regarded as the common assets of humankind.

VINOD KHANNA (India) said that four months ago, 24 Indian sites were placed on the World Heritage List, and earlier this year the Prime Minister launched the National Mission for Manuscripts, as it was estimated that there were more than 50 million manuscripts in his country.  The Mission’s objective was to document and catalog Indian manuscripts to facilitate their conservation and promote ready access to them through publication, both in book and electronic format.  A key reason for discussing cultural heritage in a multilateral setting was the need for international cooperation to assist in efforts of preservation.  In addition, it was necessary to assist developing nations to build their own capacities for safeguarding their cultural heritage.

India was happy to share its knowledge on conservation and preservation with others.  He was proud of his nation’s role in the restoration of the Angkor Vat, and its decision to participate in the restoration of Ta Prom, another magnificent temple.  Through that participation, India recognized the common South Asian and South-East Asian cultural heritage.  He underlined the need to develop an international instrument that recognizes protection of traditional knowledge at the national level to prevent misappropriation.  The conventional forms of intellectual property rights were inadequate and needed further developing. 

Statements on Return or Restitution of Cultural Property

ADAMANTIOS TH. VASSILAKIS (Greece), introducing a draft resolution on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin, said the illicit removal of cultural property constituted a grave loss to the country concerned.  Cultural property, removed from its natural environment, was stripped of its meaning and cut off from its natural, cultural and geographical background.  The impoverishment of a country due to the destruction of cultural property had no remedy, as had been shown with the destruction of unique works of art in Afghanistan under the previous regime.  Thus, the efforts made by UNESCO and the international community for the protection of cultural heritage in countries in conflict had been emphasized in the draft resolution.

In the context of illicitly removed cultural property, only restitution could address the damage caused, he said, by restoring a sense of dignity to those deprived of their past.  It was, therefore, of paramount importance for Member States to continue to cooperate actively in a spirit of mutual understanding and dialogue for the resolution of issues of restitution of cultural property to countries of origin.  They should also continue their cooperation with the United Nations and UNESCO for increased mobilization and action in favour of heritage values.

VICTOR KRYZHANIVSKY (Ukraine), speaking on behalf of the GUUAM States –- Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Republic of Moldova -- said the issue that was being discussed was very sensitive and had a long history.  Politically, legally, socially and ethically, the restitution of national cultural values to the countries of their origin was an extraordinarily delicate problem.  That was why every specific case should be dealt with in an appropriate manner.  Cases should be solved on the basis of generally recognized principles of international law and with the application of civilized moral standards.  There was a growing understanding that the restitution of cultural values dispersed throughout the world was a moral obligation of humankind.

Some of the GUUAM countries had already taken different steps towards the return or restitution of museum pieces, archives and objets d’art to their countries of origin or were in the process of doing so.  However, he said those States were deeply worried about the illicit traffic in cultural property, particularly, in cases of armed conflict, and the damage that continued to be done to the cultural heritage of all peoples.  It was important to elaborate a kind of “Code of Conduct” for illicit traffickers in cultural heritage, as well as national legislative provisions to prevent illegal trade in art.

ANDREAS D. MAVROYIANNIS (Cyprus) commended UNESCO’s efforts to promote bilateral negotiations for the return or restitution of cultural property.  Cultural treasures were the “visible footprints on the path of man through history”, and its destruction was an old scourge that needed to be eradicated by the international community in cooperation with UNESCO.  The return of property was not a practice to empty the museums of the world.  Indeed, it was a notion based on the idea that the past enshrined national identity and pride.  The return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin contributed to the strengthening of international cooperation, both on a multilateral and bilateral level.  As such, he mentioned the bilateral agreement between Cyprus and the United States on import restrictions of Byzantine ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus without an export permit by the Government.

Recent examples of looting in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the need to remain vigilant and the need for more permanent measures to combat trafficking.  He stressed the need for the promotion of the Object-ID standard to identify objects that had been stolen.  Cyprus hoped that the efforts of the international community to restore illegally removed cultural objects would be extended toward the salvation of unique structures of human civilization.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) said the return and restitution of cultural property to countries of origin was an issue linked to the right of all peoples to preserve their cultural legacy, which many international conventions had affirmed.  Egypt had one of the oldest cultures in the world; it was a crossroads at which many cultures and civilizations had overlapped throughout time.  However, many Egyptian archaeological artefacts had been removed from the country throughout the years.  Adhering to the principle of bilateral dialogue with the countries in which that property was currently held, Egypt still recognized the need for further progress on the issue of return and restitution. 

JUMA AMER (Libya) expressed his satisfaction with the many conventions and agreements that took into account the need to protect the valuable legacy of cultural heritage.  In assessing progress on implementation of General Assembly resolutions on the return and restitution of cultural property to countries of origin, he urged the Secretary-General and the United Nations to take stock of the cultural property that had been stolen or otherwise illicitly removed, in order to facilitate its return.  That should include the property removed from countries during World War II.

Calling for the establishment of an intergovernmental fund for the restitution of cultural property, he said that would help to redress the situation.  His country had been exposed to widespread plundering of its cultural property.  Those visiting museums and documentation centres in Europe and North America could see the Libyan legacy.  He called on the international community to implement commitments in the context of the return and restitution of cultural property.

HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) said that his country had positive experience in the restitution of cultural property.  There had been a remarkable flowering of literature in Iceland during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, during which a number of writers had set down family sagas on the settlement of Iceland and life in northern Europe during the ninth and tenth centuries.  Those writers preserved for future generations much of the ancient lore and poetry of Viking culture.

Those works had been preserved for prosperity by a number of Icelandic, Danish and Swedish scholars during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and transferred to Copenhagen where they were installed in a special manuscript institute.  Yet, upon its separation from Denmark, many in Iceland had called for the return of the manuscripts.  After complex negotiations, Denmark had returned the bulk of the manuscripts.  That generosity had had a lasting impact on Danish-Icelandic relations and served to remind all that the return of such artifacts, even centuries after their removal, was a powerful expression of respect for the cultural heritage of the country of origin and a vote of confidence in that country.

TERUNEH ZENNA (Ethiopia) said that illegally removed cultural property must be unconditionally returned to where it belonged. However, progress in that regard remained limited, and objects, in particular from African countries, were still shelved in various museums and institutions around the world.  In spite of various international commitments, resolutions and decisions, there were persistent calls by nations for the restitution of their lost heritage.  No practical action had been forthcoming, and the majority of countries where objects were located had hardly shown intentions to return property to its rightful owner.

Ethiopia had lost close to 5,000 cultural and historical articles, in particular to Europe and North America.  Through the efforts of many, Ethiopia had been able to recover some of the objects, mainly from Europe, including the return of Emperor Tewodros II’s amulet, a number of arks and other treasures.  He called on nations holding properties to cooperate with Ethiopia in its efforts to restore cultural relics.  On a brighter note, he expressed optimism that the necessary technical and administrative preparations were under way with the Italian Government to bring the matter of the Axum obelisk, taken in 1937, to a positive conclusion as soon as possible.

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For information media. Not an official record.