GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS RESOLUTION LAUNCHING MULTI-YEAR PLAN TO STREAMLINE OPERATIONS, REVAMP SHARPEN FOCUS OF ITS COMMITTEES

1 July 2004
GA/10245

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS RESOLUTION LAUNCHING MULTI-YEAR PLAN TO STREAMLINE OPERATIONS, REVAMP SHARPEN FOCUS OF ITS COMMITTEES

  • General Assembly
  • Plenary
01/07/2004
Press ReleaseGA/10245

Fifty-eighth General Assembly                                    

Plenary                                                          

92nd Meeting (AM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS RESOLUTION LAUNCHING MULTI-YEAR PLAN TO STREAMLINE

OPERATIONS, REVAMP SHARPEN FOCUS OF ITS COMMITTEES

Acting without Vote, Body Also Adopts Texts

On Progress in Fighting HIV/AIDS, Enhancing Holy See Participation

The 191-member General Assembly today launched the initial phase of a multi–year plan to streamline and revamp its working methods, approving a measure that would pare down its agenda, sharpen the focus of its six Main Committees, and begin to reduce its massive paperwork.

Unanimously adopting a resolution on further measures for revitalizing its work, the Assembly took what delegations hailed as a significant step in following up the adoption last December of a set of sweeping changes -- to take effect following broad consultations over the next two years -- that would increase the body’s effectiveness and better enable it to face twenty-first century challenges.

Also this morning, the Assembly adopted three other texts without a vote, deciding on the organizational arrangements for the high-level meeting to review progress achieved in realizing the commitments set out in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS; enhancing the participation of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations; and endorsing the proposals and recommendations contained in the report of its Fourth Committee.

Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte (Saint Lucia), who had challenged delegations last fall to move quickly to adopt a focused, long-term framework revitalization initiative, said that with the text approved today, beginning at the fifty-ninth session, the Assembly’s agenda would be organized under a number of headings, which would serve as a defining principle that would allow Member States and the general public, for the first time, to appreciate at a glance the issues it planned to consider.

But noting that the text had deferred an issue of “critical importance” -- a proposal to reorder the Assembly’s work by scheduling it over two substantive periods -- he said the job was far from over.  Pointing out that during the four-months period last year, 276 items and sub-items had been considered, 347 reports totalling 5,500 pages had been submitted, and 287 resolutions had been adopted, he said, “it is not clear to me why we should continue to operate in this

fashion.”  Reordering the work would benefit everyone, and hopefully at the next session, delegations would give more measured and favourable consideration to the issue.

Further by the wide-ranging text, the Assembly decided that from its fifty-ninth session, plenary meetings would normally be held on Mondays and Thursdays.  On the organization of its work, the Assembly decided to give it a sense of structure by organizing its agenda items under headings corresponding to the priorities of the United Nations, as contained in the medium-term workplan (2002-2005).

On the practices and work of its Main Committees, the Assembly decided that they would give specific attention to rationalizing their future agendas by biennialization, triennialization and clustering items, or eliminating others, and making recommendations for the plenary’s decision by 1 April 2005.  At the end of the session, each Committee would also adopt a provisional programme of work for the next session for better planning, preparation and organization.

As for the overall work of the General Committee, the Assembly decided, among other things, that it would continue to meet throughout each session and play the leading role in advising the Assembly on the efficient organization of its work.  In an effort to reduce the heavy volume of documentation submitted for its consideration, the Assembly decided to request the Secretary-General to update the note by the Secretariat on “Control and limitation and documentation”, and submit it for the General Committee’s consideration so that it could make recommendations during the fifty-ninth session.

Among its other decisions, the Assembly set 2 June 2005 as the date for the high-level meeting to review the progress achieved in realizing the commitments set out in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.  That meeting, which would take place in New York, would, among other things, contribute to the high-level five-year review of that Declaration, scheduled to open the Assembly’s sixtieth session.  That text also set out the organizational arrangements for the high-level meeting, with the Assembly deciding to hold opening and closing plenary sessions featuring top United Nations officials, as well as five round table discussions chaired by representatives of the five regional groups.

By a resolution on the participation of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations, the Assembly decided that the permanent Observer would be extended the same rights and privileges as other Observers, in order to enable the Holy See to participate in a more constructive way in the Assembly’s activities, without intermediary.

The Assembly also adopted a text approving the Fourth Committee report on the comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping, the Assembly endorsed the proposals and recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping, included in paragraphs 29 through 177 of that body’s annual report (document A/58/19).  Those paragraphs cover the Special Committee’s guiding principles, and the terms of reference for the implementation of peacekeeping mandates.  They also include recommendations on the safety and security of United Nations personnel, cooperation with troop-contributing countries, and comprehensive strategies for complex peacekeeping operations.

In other business, the Assembly was informed that 16 States were in arrears  in the payment of their financial contributions to the United Nations, within the terms of Article 19 of the Charter.  That article stipulates that Member States whose arrears equal or exceed the amount of contributions due from it for the preceding two full years would have no vote in the Assembly.  The States are:  Benin; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; Georgia; Guinea-Bissau; Liberia; Malawi; Mauritius; Niger; Republic of Moldova; Sao Tome and Principe; Somalia; and Tajikistan.

Speaking in explanation of vote were the representatives of Japan, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Algeria (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement),United States, Brazil (on behalf of the Rio Group), New Zealand (on behalf of Canada and Australia) and Gabon. 

The permanent Observer of the Holy See made a general statement.

The Assembly will reconvene at a time to be announced in the Journal.

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to take up several issues, including matters related to revitalizing its work, a high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, the work of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), and strengthening the United Nations system.

Before the Assembly was a draft resolution on Further measures for the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (document A/58/L.66), by which it would decide to adopt an annex to the text containing a series of decisions grouped broadly under the headings:  reordering the work of the General Assembly; organization of the agenda of the General Assembly; practices and working methods of the Main Committees; review of the agenda of the General Assembly; General Committee; and documentation.

On reordering its work, the Assembly would decide to defer consideration until its fifty-ninth session, the implementation of paragraph 2, section B of its resolution 58/126 (2003), which had recommended that the work of the Main Committees might benefit if scheduled over two substantive periods during the session.

The current text would also have the Assembly decide that from its fifty-ninth session, plenary meetings would normally be held on Mondays and Thursdays.

On the organization of its work, the Assembly would decide on a method to give a sense of structure to its work and better conceptualize the content of its agenda by organizing its items under headings corresponding to the priorities of the Organization, as contained in the medium-term work plan (2002-2005), with an additional heading for “organizational, administrative and other matters”. Sample headings include:  “Maintenance of international peace and security”; “Development of Africa”; and “Promotion of justice and international law.”

In a related provision, the Assembly would have its General Committee make recommendations, following consultations, on the placement of the agenda items for its fifty-ninth session.

On the practices and work of its Main Committees, the Assembly would decide that each Committee shall give specific attention to the rationalization of its future agendas by biennialization, triennialization, and clustering items or eliminating others, making recommendations to the plenary for its decision by 1 April 2005.  Each Main Committee would also adopt a provisional programme of work at the end of the session for the next session to help them better plan, prepare and organize.

The text would also have the Main Committees use and/or expand the practice of interactive debates and panel discussions so as to enhance informal discussions.  The practice of “question time” would also be introduced, as appropriate, to enable a dynamic and candid exchange with department heads and other top United Nations officials.  The web sites of each Main Committee would be enhanced and regularly updated.

On reviewing the Assembly’s agenda, the Assembly would decide that the items “Launching of global negotiations on international economic cooperation for development” and “Restructuring and revitalization of the United Nations in the economic, social and related fields”, should be eliminated form the agenda.  Some of the other measures under that provision include the decision that “Assistance in mine action” should be allocated every other year to the Fourth Committee, with the item “University for Peace” allocated for consideration in that same Committee every three years, starting at the fifty-ninth session.

As for the overall work of the General Committee, the text would have the Assembly decide, among other things, that that body would continue to meet throughout each session and play the leading role in advising the Assembly on the efficient organization of its work.  It would also meet regularly throughout each session with the bureaux of the Main Committees; conduct a review of the proposed programme of work of the upcoming Assembly in July each year and submit its recommendations; continue to consider the further clustering or elimination of agenda items, in open-ended consultations.

In an effort to reduce the heavy volume of documentation submitted for its consideration, the Assembly would decide to request the Secretary-General to update the note by the Secretariat on “Control and limitation and documentation”, and submit it for consideration by the General Committee so that it could make recommendations during the fifty-ninth session.

Another text, on Organizational arrangements for the high-level meeting to review the progress achieved in realizing the commitments set out in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (document A/C.3/58/L.58/L.65), would have the Assembly decide to convene that meeting on 2 June 2005 in New York.  That meeting would, among other things, contribute to the high-level five-year review of that Declaration, scheduled to open the Assembly’s sixtieth session.

The text also sets out the organizational arrangements for the high-level meeting, with the Assembly deciding to hold opening and closing plenary sessions featuring top United Nations officials, as well as five round table discussions chaired by representatives of the five regional groups.  The Assembly would invite -- along with traditional contributors from within the United Nations system -- the participation of representatives from non-governmental organizations, the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, and not more than 15 civil society representatives from international, national and community organizations, including those representing people living with the disease and pharmaceutical companies.

The Assembly was also expected to consider a draft resolution on the Participation of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations (document A/58/L.64), by which it would decide that the permanent Observer would be extended the same rights and privileges as other Observers, in order to enable the Holy See to participate in a more constructive way in the Assembly’s activities, without intermediary.

Also before the Assembly was a Fourth Committee report on the Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping (document A/474/Add.1), which contains a relevant draft resolution, recommending that the Assembly decide to endorse the proposals and recommendations of the Special Committee on peacekeeping, included in paragraphs 29 through 177 of that body’s annual report (document A/58/19).  Those paragraphs cover the Special Committee’s guiding principles, and the terms of reference for the implementation of peacekeeping mandates.  They also include recommendations on the safety and security of United Nations personnel, cooperation with troop-contributing countries, and comprehensive strategies for complex peacekeeping operations.

Action on Draft Resolutions

Acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted draft resolution A/58/L.65, entitled “Organizational arrangements for the high-level meeting to review the progress achieved in realizing the commitments set out in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS”.  The Secretariat informed the Assembly that there would be no financial consequences.

The Assembly then adopted, without vote, the text on Participation of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations (document A/58/L.64),

Following that action, the Observer of the Holy See said that the adoption of the resolution could not have come at a more auspicious time, as the Holy See was celebrating the fortieth year of its association with the Organization.  The Holy See and the United Nations shared the same goals, including promoting human rights and protecting the dignity of the human person.

DAMIEN COLE (Ireland), Rapporteur of the Fourth Committee, then introduced the report “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”, (document A/58/474/Add.1), which contained a draft resolution that the Assembly then adopted without a vote.

The Assembly then adopted, without vote, a draft resolution on Further measures for the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly (document A/C.3/58/L.58/L.66), as orally amended.

Explanations of Vote

Following that action, the representative of Japan said that while his delegation believed more could be done in rationalizing the Assembly’s work, the text was an important first step towards more substantial reform in the future.  He added that although rescheduling the work of the Main Committees over two sessions would be difficult, Japan nevertheless had been heartened that more good could come from continuing to seek ways to streamline the Assembly’s working methods.

The representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the resolution constituted a significant step forward in the revitalizations process.  Acceptable as the outcome might be, it could and should have aimed higher.  “If we really want the General Assembly to play its role as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations, as our heads of State and government pledged in the Millennium Declaration, we have to pursue our work with even more vigour”, he said, noting also that “time is not on our side”.

The European Union was fully committed to the revitalization process as part of a wider effort to work for an effective multilateralism, with a strong United Nations at its centre.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), said he looked forward to the follow-up to the provisions contained in the text.  Regarding the part dealing with “Organization of the agenda of the General Assembly”, the arrangement would neither prejudge nor adversely affect the way in which the Assembly’s work was organized and carried out.  As for “Practices and working methods of the Main Committees”, those bodies should all be bound by the Rules of Procedures of the General Assembly, and that all Member States should be actively involved in implementing the various provisions of the resolutions.

With regard to the “Review of the agenda of the General Assembly”, he stressed the importance of the agreed principle of consultation with and consent of concerned Member States before making proposals to the Assembly.  As for “Documentation”, the forthcoming discussion on that issue should be conducted in light of the implementation of paragraph 7 of resolution 58/126 and paragraph 20/300, and in accordance with the principle of providing adequate and sufficient information, as agreed to by Member States.

The representative of the United States said the reform process should move forward continuously.  In the Assembly’s case, an additional step was being taken today that the United States expected to be followed by others that would ultimately lead to a streamlined and more relevant institution.  The United States fully subscribed to the proposition that the Assembly should enhance its role and authority.  That should be done not just to save time and resources -- which were in short supply -- but because it was an urgent and compelling task that should be a priority mission for the wider United Nations.

He said it was clear that more work was needed, especially to organize a more focused agenda, to reform the working methods and practices of the Assembly and its Main Committees, and to give weight and consideration to the role of the General Committee fulfilling common goals.  With goodwill among all and the leadership of the President, all delegations could work to accomplish the remaining tasks.

The representative of Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said his delegation had been actively involved in the negotiations and understood that the decision taken today had been a compromise.  Brazil was pleased that the item would remain high on the agenda and looked forward to participating in further efforts to streamline the Assembly’s work.

The representative of New Zealand, speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, said many months had been spent negotiating the text which was a start of the journey towards revitalizing the Assembly’s work.  But there was a long way to go towards meeting expectations for a more relevant and effective Assembly that was better able to respond to twenty-first century challenges.  Australia, Canada and New Zealand were prepared to continue working to move the process forward.

The representative of Gabon said the text was a step in the right direction in terms of overall United Nations reform and the President had shown great skill during the negotiations.  Gabon prepared hoped to continue President Hunte’s sterling example of leadership and drive as it prepared to assume the Presidency of the fifty-ninth Assembly session.

In closing remarks, Assembly President, JULIAN R. HUNTE (Saint Lucia) said that with the current resolution, a framework of principles had been established to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Assembly as requested in resolution 58/126, “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly” on 29 December 2003.  However, the work was just beginning.  If the Assembly did not faithfully implement the resolution, much of the work would have been in vain.

He said that the organization of the Assembly’s agenda under a number of headings would serve as a defining principle that would allow MemberStates and the general public, for the first time, to appreciate at a glance the issues before the organ.  However, the task of rationalizing the customary agenda was far from over.

Should the resolution’s provisions on “Practices and Working Methods of the Main Committees” be implemented faithfully, the door would be opened to transforming the way those bodies conducted business, he continued.  Because all main committees now had to adopt a provisional programme of work at the end of a session, they would be required to look ahead.  Another provision called for “Question Time” formats in all Main Committees, which would facilitate a dynamic and candid exchange with heads of departments and offices, representatives of the Secretary-General and Special Rapporteurs.  The mandate for interactive debates and panel discussions would be invaluable tools for ensuring important interchanges about policy developments.  The section of the resolution on the General Committee also represented an important institutional development, as that Committee would become more dynamic.

Another issue of critical importance was the proposal to reorder the work of the Assembly by scheduling it over two substantive periods, he said.  That proposal had the strong support of many delegations, particularly those from small States.  The proposal would permit all delegations to better appreciate, better focus, and therefore better act on the extraordinary number of issues the Assembly sought to address in the September-to-December period every year.

During that four-month period last year, he pointed out, 276 items and sub-items had been considered, 347 reports totalling 5,500 pages had been submitted, and 287 resolutions had been adopted.  “It is not clear to me why we should continue to operate in this fashion.”  Hopefully at the fifty-ninth session, delegations would give more measured and favourable consideration to that issue.

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For information media. Not an official record.