21 January 2004


Press Release

Economic and Social Council

2004 Organizational Session

1st Meeting (AM)


Ms. Rasi Stresses Importance of Conference

Follow-up to Meeting Millennium Declaration Commitments

The Economic and Social Council this morning elected Marjatta Rasi of Finland as its President for 2004, the first woman to hold that post.

Elected as Vice-Presidents of the Council for 2004 were Daw Penjo (Bhutan), Jagdish Koonjul (Mauritius), Yashar Aliyev (Azerbaijan), and Stafford O. Neil (Jamaica).

Outlining the Council’s work for 2004, Ms. Rasi said it would be crucial to further strengthen efforts to enhance the way the United Nations works on conference follow-up in the economic and social sectors.  It was necessary to reinforce efforts and to seize the opportunities that recent United Nations conferences and summits had provided for the Council to fulfil the commitments assumed in the Millennium Declaration.

The General Assembly, at its fifty-seventh session, had called specifically for strengthening the role of the Council in promoting integrated and coordinated conference implementation, she said.  It had requested the Council to establish a multi-year work programme for the coordination segment.  The aim was to reach a decision before the substantive session of 2004 on the work programme.

Turning to this year’s substantive session, she said that the theme of the high-level segment was:  “Resources mobilization and enabling environment for poverty eradication in the context of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010”.  The coordination segment would address two themes:  first, “mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system”, and, second, “coordinated and integrated United Nations system approach to promote rural development in developing countries, with due consideration to least developed countries”.

The Council’s operational activities segment would prepare the ground for the triennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development by the Assembly, she continued.  The Council would also assess the way the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) worked, which was an important issue for United Nations reform.  She would aim to make the general segment, an important focus of her presidency, as efficient and interesting as possible.

The Council would continue its annual spring meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO), she added, noting that the representative of the Trade and Development Board of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would be invited to this year’s meeting.  It would also continue to consider the situation of African post-conflict countries, through the work of its ad hoc advisory groups on Burundi and Guinea-Bissau.

Outgoing President Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala) said he was relinquishing the presidency, more convinced than ever that the Economic and Social Council had a unique role to play within the United Nations in the furthering of development, international cooperation, the observance of human rights and humanitarian assistance.  At the same time, he felt that the optimum use of the Council’s potential to fulfil that role was not being made.  Now that various initiatives for change were in the air -– the revitalization of the General Assembly promoted by President Julian Hunte, the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change designated in October by Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- he hoped it would be possible to move ahead with the strengthening of the Council.

He said the key to have the Council rise to its potential could be found in a more ample, focused and rigorous fleshing out of each of its generic functions, which included analytical, normative, advocacy, coordinating and oversight activities.  It was necessary to raise the bar of the Council as a forum for policy debates, beginning with the selection of the themes to be examined at the yearly high-level segment.  That segment should not be viewed as a routine, once-a-year event, but as a singular opportunity to make vital contributions to the policy debate on issues of development and international cooperation.

It was also necessary, he said, to take more seriously the Council’s role of promoting coherence, coordination and cooperation within the United Nations system and even within the Secretariat.  Among the tools it had at its disposal to do were the integrated and coordinated implementation and follow-up to the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits, as well as the spring meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO and, as of next year, UNCTAD.

He concluded by saying that there was no compelling reason to try and cram all of the Council’s substantive activities into a single, four-week session.  That was worth examining, particularly in light of the Assembly’s decision to examine whether it made sense to load all of its substantive activities into a single, 13-week session.  Among the other issues to consider were the Council’s composition, its functions and the location of its meetings.

Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, highlighted the importance of holding a successful dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO at the spring meeting.  The high-level segment on the least developed countries would also be very important.  He also emphasized the usefulness of the inputs of the regional commissions, and welcomed the innovative approach in preparation of the high-level segment, as exemplified in the debates held with the commissions’ executive secretaries.

The representatives of Qatar (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and Ireland (on behalf of the European Union) congratulated Ms. Rasi on her election, paid tribute to Mr. Rosenthal on his leadership, and pledged their cooperation in carrying out the Council’s work.

Also this morning, the Council adopted its provisional agenda, set out in document E/2004/2.

The Economic and Social Council will meet again at a time to be announced in the Journal.

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For information media. Not an official record.