CRUCIAL ROLE OF REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN RESOLVING AFRICA’S CONFLICTS HIGHLIGHTED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES PEACEKEEPING DEBATE

20 October 2003
GA/SPD/268

CRUCIAL ROLE OF REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN RESOLVING AFRICA’S CONFLICTS HIGHLIGHTED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES PEACEKEEPING DEBATE

20/10/2003
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/268

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

11th Meeting (PM)

CRUCIAL ROLE OF REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONS IN RESOLVING AFRICA’S CONFLICTS

HIGHLIGHTED, AS FOURTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES PEACEKEEPING DEBATE

Also Begins Discussion on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Speakers highlighted the crucial role of Africa’s regional organizations in resolving conflicts and called for greater assistance from the international community in that regard, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its general debate on peacekeeping operations this afternoon.

The representative of Kenya said the determination of African countries to build their capacity to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in the region was real.  In that context, she welcomed the new initiatives, such as the establishment of the African Standby Force, undertaken by the African Union and the Group of Eight industrialized countries, and called for those measures to be nurtured into concrete plans and actions guaranteed by international support.  However, she added, Kenya was concerned with the inability of African countries to meet crises with well-trained and equipped personnel and called for assistance to the existing and emerging troop-contributing counties, with a view to identifying their needs and overcoming shortfalls in rapid deployment and equipment.

Nigeria’s representative noted that the provision of logistical support and vocational training for demobilized combatants enhanced the capacity of regional organizations and facilitated the peace processes.  He urged greater participation of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the training and augmentation of contingent-owned equipment and self-sustainment items.

On the same issue, the representative of Croatia noted that, while training remained the sole responsibility of Member States, their approaches to training often differed, and welcomed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ efforts to standardize training activities.

Zimbabwe’s representative, emphasizing the need to clarify the role of contributing countries with respect to the protection of the privileges and immunities of their personnel, called for those issues to be included in peacekeeping training programmes.

At the conclusion of today’s debate, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said the Committee’s deliberations on the reform of United Nations peace operations had reinforced the sense that the expansion of United Nations peacekeeping could be approached with cautious optimism.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations could take pride in certain areas, including rapid deployment and mission support.  Other areas, however, warranted greater efforts, including the safety and security of United Nations personnel.  The issue of intelligence, which might have been sidestepped in the past, would also have to be addressed.  

In other business today, the Committee began its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.  The Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Raimundo Gonzalez Aninat (Chile), introduced that body’s report.

The representatives of Ecuador, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Uganda, China, Mongolia, Switzerland, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Egypt, Angola, Lebanon and Austria also spoke.

Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Committee will meet again Tuesday, 21 October, at 3 p.m. to continue its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its general debate on the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations.  [For background, see Press Release GA/SPD/265 of

15 October 2003.]

Statements

JASNA OGNJANOVAC (Croatia) agreed that rapid deployment was necessary for the success of peacekeeping operations.  Many troop-contributing countries faced technical difficulties in bridging the gap between the requirements of rapid deployment and the complex internal decision-making procedures.  The complexity of peacekeeping operations today necessitated increased training.  While training remained the sole responsibility of Member States, their approaches to training often differed.  In that regard, she welcomed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ efforts to standardize training activities. 

The safety and security of unarmed civilian personnel must be one of the highest priorities on the United Nations agenda, she said.  She strongly condemned attacks against United Nations personnel and agreed that they constituted war crimes.  Croatia, which participated in six peacekeeping missions, was determined to intensify its participation in peacekeeping operations in line with its financial capabilities.  She commended the Secretariat for their regular briefings and reports, and encouraged further cooperation between the Security Council and troop-contributing countries.  As peacekeeping missions became more complex -- building not just peace, but shattered societies -- even greater efficiency would be required.

JUDITH MBULA BAHEMUKA (Kenya) said that universality and impartiality should remain the cornerstones of United Nations peacekeeping operations, and conflicts should be addressed with equal intensity and commitment, regardless of geographical location.

She welcomed the improvement realized in the area of reimbursement, and the appointment of Kenya’s Lieutenant General Daniel Opande as the new Force Commander to the United Nations Mission in Liberia.  Further, she highlighted the development in the triangular relationship between the Secretariat, the Security Council and troop-contributing countries, and said she hoped that the mechanisms put in place and the lessons learned would be utilized in the future.  Her country would continue to support a United Nations Standby Arrangements System and improving the capacity of the United Nations to deploy peacekeeping operations, in order to meet the 30- and 90-day requirements.

She noted the crucial role of regional organizations in resolving disputes and conflicts and said she was particularly encouraged by the efforts of Intergovernmental Authority on Development.  The determination of African countries to build the capacity to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in the region was real.  In that context, she welcomed the new initiatives undertaken by the African Union and the Group of Eight industrialized countries, and called for those measures to be nurtured into concrete plans and actions guaranteed by international support.  However, she added, Kenya was concerned with the inability of African countries to meet crises with well-trained and equipped personnel.  She called for assistance to the existing and emerging troop-contributing counties, with a view to identifying their needs and overcoming shortfalls in rapid deployment and equipment.

LUIS GALLEGOS (Ecuador) noted that Ecuador had begun contributing personnel to peacekeeping missions, the first one being Liberia.  In that context, he called on the international community to assist peacekeeping efforts around the world.  Only with the support of the Member States would peacekeeping missions be able to tackle their immense task.

Ecuador, he said, believed that armed conflict was the result of different countries espousing different views, and an unevenness in the levels of social and economic development.  In that regard, dialogue and negotiation were the best tools for progress.  For such dialogue to flourish, the legitimate interests of each nation needed to be respected.

SHARAF H. AL-SHARAFI (Yemen) said peace was the raison d’être for the United Nations.  In his report, the Secretary-General had noted several imperfections in the United Nations’ peacekeeping capacity.  States were obligated to participate in peacekeeping, thus guaranteeing the universal nature of peace operations.  Peace was everyone’s concern, and the achievement of peace was an integral part of belonging to the same planet.

Aware of the need to participate in peacekeeping operations and convinced of the need to maintain peace, Yemen had been assembling a troop contingent, he said.  While its participation had been delayed, he appreciated the Department’s cooperation.  The challenges to peace were substantial and the aspirations of all peoples could not be ignored.  Yemen remained at the service of peace and humanity for free peoples.

FRANCIS MUTISI (Zimbabwe) said he was concerned with the privileges and immunities for peacekeepers across the board.  Deriving a legal basis from the United Nations Charter, the Organization signed a status of forces agreement (SOFA) or applied the Convention on Privileges and Immunities.  The legal status of civilian police and military observers fell under the category of “experts performing missions” within the meaning of Article VI of the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities, while the legal status of military members remained under the “exclusive criminal jurisdiction” of their national authorities, and remained immune from any criminal legal process in the host country.

The disparity in status between civilian police and military observers on one side, and military members on the other, was an awkward and unfair arrangement that needed to be corrected through a review of all legal provisions, he said.  That review should consider equating civilian police and military observers with military members.  The role of contributing countries with respect to the protection of the privileges and immunities of their personnel also needed to be more clearly defined.  There was also a need for contributing countries to understand the legal status of their personnel.  The privileges and immunities should be included in peacekeeping training programmes.

Enhancing African peacekeeping capacity remained at the heart of Africans, he said.  In that regard, he welcomed the efforts made by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the African Union and the Group of Eight to enhance Africa’s peacekeeping capacity, namely through the establishment of an African Standby Force.  It was imperative to maintain the focus on Africa’s need for logistical assistance.  The “blue helmets” had proved their neutrality, and the international community should never allow some countries to misuse peacekeepers for their own selfish interests.

CHARLES A. ONONYE (Nigeria) said that as a major troop contributor for over four decades, peacekeeping featured prominently in Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives.  An active player in regional and subregional peacekeeping and peacemaking, Nigeria had made huge sacrifices in human, material and financial terms.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations had made significant progress in the reform process, and its capability to manage complex peacekeeping operations had been tremendously enhanced.  The momentum must be maintained to ensure that the Organization retained the capacity to respond in a timely manner in support of peace operations.

He welcomed the Department’s innovation in such areas as lessons learned, gender mainstreaming, discipline criteria, rapid deployment, improved reimbursement and training.  He also welcomed the course for military advisers and diplomats dealing with peacekeeping operations in Permanent Missions.  Nigeria supported the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Adjustment Withdrawal Plan, which was progressing according to schedule.  Nigeria welcomed Council resolution 1508 (2003) on Sierra Leone and called on member States to assist in the ongoing task of the integration of ex-combatants.  He also welcomed the establishment of a government of national unity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and urged continued national reconciliation efforts.  He urged the parties to facilitate the early implementation of the Secretary-General’s recommendation on the expansion of the mandate of the United Nations mission there.

He said Nigeria welcomed Council resolution 1509 (2003) establishing the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  He called on the international community to ensure effective implementation of the resolution, and urged the various Liberian factions to effect national reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of their country.  On the issue of rapid deployment, he urged the Department to make effective use of the qualified civilians already listed in the roster.  A deliberate effort must be made to ensure that the composition of peacekeeping forces reflected the geographical character of the United Nations. 

Continuing, he said Nigeria welcomed the Peacekeeping Department’s increased cooperation with the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in facilitating peace and reconciliation in conflict situations in Africa.  The provision of logistical support and vocational training for demobilized combatants enhanced the capacity of those organizations and facilitated the peace process.  He urged the Department’s greater participation in the training and augmentation of contingent-owned equipment and self-sustainement items. 

YAP ONG HENG (Singapore) welcomed progress in the reform and revitalization of peacekeeping operations.  Noting that the demands of those operations were constantly expanding, he called for further strengthening their capacities, particularly regarding “robust” peacekeeping, as well as for integrating peacekeeping’s various aspects and the safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers.

He said that “robust” peacekeeping provided an over-arching theme for the enhancement of the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping operations.  A robust operation meant having a force that had the credibility to deter those who meant harm and, if confronted, the wherewithal to take the necessary actions, including the use of force, to defend itself and fulfil its mandate.  That entailed rapid deployment capabilities and a well-trained and well-equipped force, he added.

The United Nations, he noted, had made great strides in rapid deployment. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations was learning lessons and addressing the shortfalls in the areas of recruitment, deployment of civilian personnel and the Strategic Deployment Stocks.  As for training, he added, the pursuit of “just-in-time” training would particularly contribute to a robust peacekeeping force.

He said that, while the robustness required was more appropriately provided by coalitions or multilateral/national forces authorized by the Security Council, for a truly collective responsibility in United Nations peacekeeping, developed countries needed to contribute troops.

He said that, while cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations and African peacekeeping capacities were being further strengthened, peacekeeping operations should not be left entirely to regional organizations or regional/country organizations.  The model of INTERFET/United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), where troops in the multinational force from both developed and developing countries stayed on in the United Nations peacekeeping mission to ensure its robustness, offered a useful starting point.

Turning to integration and peacekeeping, he noted that the complexity and multidimensional nature of peacekeeping operations made it imperative to achieve integration in the various aspects of those operations –- mission planning, training, information and the fundamental aspect of the rule of law.

He said that ensuring the safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers, civilian personnel, military observers and civilian police personnel was crucial for their morale, the robustness of peacekeeping forces and the effectiveness of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, as well as for the credibility of the United Nations.

FRED BEYENDEZA (Uganda) emphasized the need for the security and safety of United Nations unarmed civilian personnel deployed in the field.  Their lack of security was linked to the insecurity of the unarmed civilians living in the countries where peacekeeping operations took place, he added.

Uganda, he said, believed in strong mandates for United Nations peacekeeping missions and a robust presence.  So far, quick action coupled with adequate resources and a strong mandate had resulted in successful peacekeeping missions, such as the ones in Kosovo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and others.  At the same time, he noted the urgent need to build African peacekeeping capabilities and capacities.  Africa, he said, had shown a willingness to play its part and a desire to manage regional conflicts.  However, those efforts were limited and needed urgent international support.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said he was pleased that, during the past year, United Nations peacekeeping operations had yielded positive results in certain regions.  At present, the United Nations was in the process of deploying new troops in Liberia to stabilize the situation in that country.  The multinational forces managed by the United Nations had attained significant results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Peacekeeping operations, as an instrument of the maintenance of peace and security, were being given more importance by all parties. 

In that regard, he addressed several areas, including the need to further strengthen the United Nations peacekeeping capacity.  The peacekeeping tasks faced by the United Nations were increasingly complex today, and traditional operations could no longer meet the needs of certain areas.  The United Nations should intervene in conflict areas earlier and in a more robust manner, and it had to improve its capabilities in logistics, training and command to better meet the needs of the day.  The Security Council needed to formulate clear and achievable mandates.  Further coordination between the Secretariat and troop-contributing countries was also needed.

The strengthening of the Organization depended on the active support of Member States, he said.  He called on all Member States to provide political, financial and personnel support.  On the need to strengthen coordination with regional organizations, he noted that good results had been achieved in recent years.  He encouraged the United Nations to increase assistance to the African Union in such areas as personnel training, early warning and overall peacekeeping ability.   Finally, there was a continued need to abide by the purposes and principles of the Charter, as well as the three principles of peacekeeping.  In making the decision to launch an operation, the United Nations must respect the views of the parties concerned, remain neutral and use force only when necessary. 

BAATAR CHOISUREN (Mongolia) said that, while the peaceful transitions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste spoke louder than words, a lot needed to be done to strengthen the capacities of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

He said that the attack on the United Nations mission in Baghdad demonstrated the urgent need to enhance safety and security for all United Nations personnel.  He noted that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) were the most important elements of a successful transition from civil war to peace and stability.  The rule of law, he added, was also an area of concern and should be included in peacekeeping mission mandates.

Mongolia, he added, stood ready to participate in peacekeeping operations under United Nations auspices or in coalition operations authorized by the Security Council. 

MARC-ALAIN STRITT (Switzerland) said that the implementation of the recommendations of the Brahimi report was bearing fruit.  Switzerland particularly welcomed the recommendations regarding cooperation among the Security Council, the troop-contributing counties and the Secretariat, he added.

He called for improved safety for peacekeeping personnel and a more fluid flow of information regarding peacekeeping missions.  Turning to the importance of the “Best Practice Unit”, he highlighted the importance of applying lessons learned to future peacekeeping operations.  He also noted the need for all peacekeeping personnel to behave beyond reproach as a key condition for the credibility of the missions.  In that regard, he called for increased efforts to provide information to peacekeeping personnel, and offered his country’s cooperation.

FIKRY CASSIDY (Indonesia), noting that the demand for United Nations peacekeeping had increased in the past year, said the time had come for the United Nations to pay adequate attention to the issue of the “commitment gap”.  While no one doubted that peacekeeping was a credible and worthy tool, the question of where the troops came from remained an issue.  The current structure in which the developing world provided the bulk of peacekeeping troops, and the developed world picked when and whether they were sent, was unrealistic, indefensible and unworkable, and must be urgently reviewed.

The creation of the “rapid reimbursement policy” was also an important subject, he said.  Given the difficulties confronting troop-contributing countries, something had to be done to enable troop contributors facing budgetary constraints to meet rapid deployment time lines.  While he agreed that some progress had been made on the question of rapid deployment, much more remained to be done.  He also agreed with the need to enhance the safety and security of unarmed civilian personnel.  Unless unarmed civilian peacekeepers could be kept out of harm’s way, it would be difficult to find personnel for peacekeeping operations. 

On the reform of the United Nations peacekeeping process, he said the process had to be completely implemented before it was evaluated.  Only an objective evaluation at the appropriate time could determine how successful the process had been.  It was critical to address the issues that might impede the reform process.  Due to their unique understanding of their local environments, regional organizations were particularly relevant within conflict resolution.  Successful regional efforts would depend on good relations between Member States, concurrent political commitment from States in the region and the international community’s support.  He encouraged the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to continue studying cooperation mechanisms between the United Nations and regional organizations. 

SOMKHIT VANKHAM (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) said the indispensable requirements for a successful peacekeeping operation necessitated strict observance of the principles of the United Nations Charter, including respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence, as well as non-intervention in matters within a State’s domestic jurisdiction.  The respect for the basic principles of peacekeeping, namely the consent of the parties, impartiality and the non-use of force except in self-defence, as well as clearly defined mandates, objectives and secure financing, were essential.

Regarding rapid deployment, he said there was no doubt that considerable progress had been made.  He supported the Secretariat’s efforts to enhance its capacity to deploy peacekeeping operations within 30 days, or, in the case of complex operations, within 90 days of the adoption of a mandate by the Council.  He welcomed the mechanism proposed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to accelerate the reimbursement process for troop-contributing countries, as timely reimbursement was essential.

Concerning the “commitment gap”, he agreed that the majority of troop contributors were from developing countries, and that they could not continue to shoulder such a burden alone.  Developed countries should provide greater commitment to peacekeeping missions.  While progress had been made regarding geographical representation of Member States in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Secretariat should take appropriate measures to improve representation of underrepresented States in the future. 

VALERI YOTOV (Bulgaria) said that given the increase in peacekeeping operations, the United Nations had not only to improve its decision-making capacities, but also to rely on the contributions of regional organizations in peacekeeping activities.  He was pleased that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) provided a model for cooperation with regional organizations.  Bulgaria, which would chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2004, would be able to add to that organization’s peacekeeping contribution through, among other things, preventive diplomacy and post-conflict reconstruction.  Strengthening relations between the OSCE and the United Nations in all aspects was essential. 

The adoption on 24 September of the Joint Declaration between the European Union and the United Nations in crisis management was an important encouragement for future cooperation between the United Nations and regional security organizations, he said.

AHMED ABOUL-GHEIT (Egypt) said the term “peacekeeping operation” was undergoing remarkable transformations on both the conceptual and operational levels.  That change warranted developing a balanced partnership among the legislative and executive tools available to the international community in that area.

He said that one of the main challenges confronting the international community in the composition and deployment of peacekeeping missions was timeliness in the deployment of troops.  The capacity of the Security Council as a legislative body to preserve peace and security was limited in terms of timely decision making and providing a clear mandate to peacekeeping tasks.  The Secretariat, he added, was also struggling to translate its planning into practical steps within a pressing timetable.  In that context, Egypt called for a revitalization of the role of the General Assembly in the area of international peace and security.

He emphasized the need for an effective and working partnership among the various elements and tools in the area of planning, mandating and performing peacekeeping duties, and called upon the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations to focus its next session on the theme “The Partnership Among the Various Elements and Tools of the International Community in the Area of Peacemaking, Peacekeeping and Peace-building”.

JOSEFA COELHO DA CRUZ (Angola) noted that the transformation of potential conflicts into uncontrollable violence could be averted only through early warnings based on an effective prevention strategy within the framework of the Untied Nations.

She said that, while ceasefires were central to any peacekeeping operation, maintaining them without a robust and sustained peacekeeping presence on the ground was sometimes difficult.  Noting that poor countries remained much more vulnerable to armed conflicts than developed ones, she underscored the importance of enhancing African peacekeeping capabilities so that it can better deal with the challenges to regional peace and security.

In a concluding statement, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO thanked the Committee for its comments during four days of deliberations.  He believed that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations could take pride in areas, including rapid deployment, mission support and other areas.  He had also noted areas where greater efforts were needed, safety and security first among them.  The thorny question of intelligence, which might have been side-stepped in the past, had also been raised.  He had also noted contentious areas, including the issue of the commitment gap. 

He had heard the Western countries when they had said that they supported the United Nations.  He had also heard others say that the African missions seemed to be accorded a lesser priority.  While the issue should not be a source of division, it was a serious matter, and there were ways to deal with it.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations would be returning to the Committee for guidance.  The Committee’s deliberations had reinforced the sense that the expansion of United Nations peacekeeping could be approached with cautious optimism.

Right of Reply

Speaking in right of reply, the representative of Ethiopia addressed the statement made by Eritrea on 17 October, in which Eritrea accused Ethiopia of pointing weapons at United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) patrols and laying new landmines.  Eritrea’s accusations were unfounded.  It was because of Eritrea’s aggression that UNMEE was in place.  Moreover, he added, the United Nations mission was deployed in the temporary security zone that was located in Eritrea, making it almost impossible for Ethiopia to influence the movement of UNMEE personnel negatively.  If the accusations had been true, he added, UNMEE would have been the first to complain, and that had never happened.

Ethiopia was a country with wider responsibilities for the maintenance of peace and security, as had been shown by its deployment of troops in Burundi and Liberia, he said.  In that context, Ethiopia’s cooperation with UNMEE was in keeping with its interests and responsibilities.

The representative of Eritrea said that Ethiopia was only confusing the matter, and his delegation had no intention of replying to baseless charges that could not be corroborated.  The Eritrean delegation, during its statement on 17 October, had quoted from a report by the Secretary-General to the Security Council (document S/2003/858), and warned that unless steps were taken to stop the activities of the Ethiopian militia mentioned in that report, some UNMEE lives would be lost.

Debate on Outer Space

Concluding its general debate on the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations, the Committee then commenced its consideration of the international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

To facilitate its deliberations, the Committee had before it the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (document A/58/20).  The report summarizes the outcome of the Committee’s latest session, which took place in June 2003 in Vienna, as well as that of its subcommittees, namely the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee, which met in February and March, respectively.  The Committee’s sessions addressed the need to promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, taking into particular account the needs of developing countries.

Through its work in the scientific, technical and legal fields, the Committee played a fundamental role in ensuring that outer space was maintained for peaceful purposes, the report says.  That role could be strengthened by new initiatives, as well as continuing progress in implementing the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III).

During its 2003 session, the report says, the Committee’s responsibilities, it agreed, relate to strengthening the international basis for the peaceful exploration and uses of outer space, which could cover the further development of international space law, including the preparation of international agreements governing practical peaceful applications of space science and technology.  Activities such as participation in international scientific campaigns, the sharing of satellite data, providing educational and training assistance to countries and building institutional capacity, should be encouraged.

The wider adoption of beneficial uses of outer space, which have enormous relevance for human development, would strengthen the goal of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes, the report continues.  In that regard, the Committee agreed that it could consider ways to promote regional and interregional cooperation based on experiences stemming from the Space Conferences of the Americas -– the fourth Space Conference was held in Colombia in May 2002 –- and the role space technology could play in implementing the recommendations of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Committee recommended that, at its forty-seventh session, in 2004, it should continue its consideration of the agenda item entitled “Ways and means of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes”, on a priority basis.

The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee reported on several topics, including the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.  The overall strategy for that Programme’s implementation, the report notes, would concentrate on a few priority areas for developing countries, establishing short- and medium-term objectives.  Those priority areas were:  disaster management; satellite communications for tele-education and telemedicine applications; monitoring and protection of the environment, including prevention of infectious diseases; management of natural resources; and education and capacity-building.

Other areas that the Programme would promote included developing capacity in enabling technologies, such as the use of global navigation and positioning satellite systems; spin-offs of space technology; promoting youth participation in space activities; applications of small satellites and micro-satellites; and promoting the private industry participation in the Programme’s activities.  It was noted that the Programme’s activities would support, where feasible, the action teams established by the Committee to implement the recommendations of UNISPACE III.

The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee considered other areas of concern, including the International Space Information Service; regional and interregional cooperation; the International Satellite System for Search and Rescue (COSPAS-SARSAT); and remote sensing of the earth by satellite, including applications for developing countries and monitoring of the earth’s environment.

The implementation of an integrated, space-based global disaster management system; space debris; geostationary orbit and its applications in the field of space communications; and the use of space technology for the medical sciences and public health were among the other issues considered by the Committee.

During the forty-second session of the Legal Subcommittee, that body reviewed the status and application of five United Nations treaties on outer space.  In that regard, it considered the status of the treaties, their implementation and obstacles to their universal acceptance and the promotion of space law, especially through the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.  It also reviewed the implementation of the concept of the “launching State”. 

The Subcommittee also took up matters regarding the definition and delimitation of outer space and the character of the geostationary orbit, including ways to ensure its equitable use without prejudice to the role of the International Telecommunications Union.  It also considered the possible revision of the “Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space” and the examination of the preliminary draft protocol on matters specific to space assets to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment -- opened for signature in Cape Town in 2001.  The Subcommittee decided to keep those issues on the agenda of its forty-third session, in 2004.

In other matters discussed in the report, the Committee agreed that spin-offs of space technology were yielding many substantial benefits.  It also noted the importance of promoting newer spin-offs of research and development activity to increase awareness of the importance of space activities among users and decision makers, and to obtain support for developing space programmes.  The use of space technology, it noted, had become an efficient way to advance economic development, especially in developing countries.

During its consideration of the item “space and society”, the Committee noted that outer space influenced society in numerous ways.  Services from outer space, such as remote sensing, telecommunications and navigation systems, were improving the lives of people throughout the world and helping to create a global society.  Important applications of space technology included distance education, weather forecasting, forecasting of agricultural yields, disaster management and transport.  Micro-gravity experiments were allowing biology to be explored in ways not possible on earth.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary General (document A/58/174), which reviews the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III.

The report indicates how the implementation mechanism established by the Committee works towards increasing the benefits of space science and technology and their applications, and thus promoting sustainable development.

Committee Chairman ENRIQUE LOEDEL (Uruguay) said earlier in the year the world had stood united in grief at the loss of space shuttle Columbia and its crew.  The tragic incident was a reminder that space exploration involved risks and that brave men and women were endangering their lives to expand the benefits of space exploration for humanity.  Human space flight had often been shining examples of international cooperation and it was encouraging to see the continuing efforts for human space flight for the benefit of all mankind.  The International Space Station, the world’s largest scientific project involving 16 countries, continued to have the presence of international crew.

He congratulated China for becoming the third country capable of launching humans into outer space.  The crew on “Shenzou” –- or “divine vessel” –- had successfully flown in space and returned safely to Earth.  The Vienna-based United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs had worked closely with the China Manned Space Engineering Programme Office, the China National Space Administration and the Permanent Mission of China to ensure the activity’s success.

On 3 December, the international community would mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the “Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space”.  Signed by 113 countries and ratified by 88, the Rescue Agreement called for international cooperation in the rendering of all necessary assistance to the personnel of a spacecraft in the event of accident, distress or emergency landing.  The Rescue Agreement was a tribute to those who were “envoys of mankind in outer space”.

Through the Outer Space Committee, the United Nations played a pivotal role in establishing the international legal framework governing outer space, he continued.  Within that framework, both State and non-State actors had worked across borders to advance human exploration and knowledge of the “last frontier”.  The United Nations had also played an important role in ensuring that countries worked together to bring the benefits of space activities down to Earth.  There were many examples of cooperation, including the International Satellite System for Search and Rescue, known as COSPAS-SARSAT, which used space technology to assist aviators and mariners in distress around the world.

Five space agencies continued to make progress toward an operational international structure for handling natural disaster management with the use of space systems, he said.  Through the “International Charter on Space and Major Disasters”, their satellites could be used to provide Earth observation images to civil protection authorities responding to a major disaster.  This year, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs had become a cooperating body of the Charter.  In August, the United Nations Office for Project Services had become the first United Nations entity to take advantage of satellite images acquired during floods and landslides in Nepal.

Disaster management and emergency response was only one of the many fields that benefited from international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, he said.  It was important to ensure that all nations had easy access to the benefits accruing from space science and technology, regardless of the degree of economic and scientific development.  International cooperation in the field could only lead to an enhancement of the human condition.  UNISPACE III had adopted a strategy for such cooperation.

RAIMUNDO GONZALEZ ANINAT (Chile), Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, introduced that body’s report.  He also congratulated China for its successful human space flight mission.  It was an historical event that would have a significant impact on the exploration of outer space.  He hoped that it would provide impetus for developing countries to pursue the peaceful uses of outer space for the benefit of humanity.  In the past few years, the Committee had increased its efforts to establish a clear link between the needs of people and the benefits of space science and technology.  Space science and technology had great potential for enhancing human security and development.  The benefits of space science technology, however, had not been fully taken into account by global conferences in recent years.  The advancement in space science and technology had also not improved the lives of many people, particularly those living in developing countries. 

The Outer Space Committee had made further progress in turning the recommendations of UNISPACE III into concrete actions, he said.  Two of the 11 action teams established in 2001 had submitted their final reports with recommendations for further action.  The other action teams were at a crucial stage of finalizing their recommendations.  He was confident that the Committee would be able to yield tangible results by 2004, when the General Assembly would review the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III. 

Disaster management was an area of increasing synergy of efforts, he said.  The Office for Outer Space Affairs had recently become the cooperating body of the “International Charter Space and Major Disasters”, an agreement which allowed United Nations entities to receive space-based data under the Charter during disasters.  Enhancing inter-agency cooperation with the United Nations system was another item considered under the three-year work plan adopted in 2000.  Concerning the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, the Scientific Subcommittee had adopted a further multi-year work plan for 2003-2006.  The Legal Subcommittee had, among other things, considered the definition and delimitation of outer space and the character and use of the geostationary orbit. 

The Committee had strengthened its efforts to link the benefits of space science and technology and their applications with the global agenda for enhancing human security and development.  It would continue to work toward achieving the goals enshrined in the United Nations Millennium Declaration.  Space science and technology could expand people’s choices to live full, creative lives with freedom and dignity, particularly in developing countries.

IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) asked if there was a legal definition of outer space.

Mr. GONZALEZ said the matter had been on the Committee’s agenda for many years, and there had never been consensus on the matter.  From a legal standpoint, he was not in a position to give an answer on a matter that had not been formally resolved.

Mr. LICHEM (Austria) noted that the Outer Space Committee had been working out a new form of leadership, including the de facto election of its officers two years prior to the change in leadership, thereby providing its membership with institutional memory.  Basically, the Committee had been provided with a policy space of six years. 

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.