SPEAKERS IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY RECOMMEND CAUTIOUS APPROACH WHILE SUPPORTING STRENGTHENING OF CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION IN ORGANIZATION’S WORK

GA/10270
5 October 2004

SPEAKERS IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY RECOMMEND CAUTIOUS APPROACH WHILE SUPPORTING STRENGTHENING OF CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION IN ORGANIZATION’S WORK

05/10/2004
Press Release
GA/10270

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Plenary

20th Meeting (AM)


SPEAKERS IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY RECOMMEND CAUTIOUS APPROACH WHILE SUPPORTING


STRENGTHENING OF CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION IN ORGANIZATION’S WORK


The General Assembly’s joint debate on the revitalization of its work and United Nations reform concluded today with speakers continuing to support strengthening civil society participation in the Organization’s work but recommending a cautious approach, in light of the intergovernmental nature of the United Nations and the politicization of some activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the past.


Fiji’s representative, acknowledging the role of civil society in furthering the issues of developing States, suggested that careful consideration be given to the extent of civil society involvement in the work of the Organization, to ensure that political mandates and the decision-making capacities of Member States were not compromised and their status eroded.


A number of speakers said they would continue to study the proposals for NGO participation in the work of the Organization, with many stressing that only Members States could make decisions in that regard.  Venezuela’s representative, addressing the issue of separate agendas and politicization of the NGOs that were raised yesterday and today, said her country had not had a beneficial experience with the NGOs, warning that some had been part of a trans-national plan to destabilize her region.


Wrapping up the two-day discussion, Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) said the Secretary-General had put forward proposals on United Nations-civil society relations, which required careful consideration.  Regarding revitalization, the central position of the Assembly had been highlighted, and two specific aspects emerged:  the importance of implementing the resolutions already adopted and pursuing the examination of remaining items.


Speakers this morning continued to call on the Assembly to identify specific areas in which it could make significant contributions, to trim its overburdened agenda, and to put an end to repetition and rituals, which unnecessarily consumed time and resources without significant results.


Syria’s representative stressed that reform efforts should focus on making the Assembly the Organization’s soundest decision-making centre -- empowering it to play its leading legislative role.  It was critical to enhance and increase its functionality and decision-making ability, particularly since the Organization’s other decision-making body –- the Security Council -- was bound to an inflated agenda, which many felt included subjective issues and other topics that were more suited for consideration by the Assembly or its Main Committees.


Further enforcing that point, Mongolia’s representative said the Assembly ought to regain its central role as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative body.  Periodic submission of special subject-oriented reports by the Security Council to the Assembly on matters of current international concern; an increase in interactive debates; and a reduction in documentation would also further advance the ongoing process of improving the Assembly’s working methods.


Nepal’s representative noted that some changes had been instituted in the United Nations last year -- chiefly procedural reforms and reorganization of some of the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its functional committees.  Yet, in terms of results, those changes had been merely of a procedural nature, not going far enough to move the Organization into the twenty-first century.


The representatives of Eritrea, Nigeria, Maldives, Iran and Thailand also made statements this morning, as well as the Observers for the Holy See and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.


The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 7 October, to consider the Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization.


Background


The General Assembly met today to continue its consideration of the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly and strengthening of the United Nations system.  For background on the discussion, see Press Release GA/10268 issued on 4 October.


Statements


AHMED TAHIR BADURI (Eritrea) said the Organization’s continued existence had been considered indispensable to meeting the challenges of the new world order.  He recalled that a number of Member States had, during previous annual sessions of the Assembly, voiced strong support for its expeditious revitalization, although, a couple of decades ago, it was ridiculed and dismissed as an effete, irresponsible debating society.  He welcomed the changed attitude, believing it was a reflection of the times.  He also endorsed the recommendations outlined in the statement made by Algeria, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.


He went on to say that the need for reform of the United Nations system, in particular the strengthening of the General Assembly, stemmed from the recognition that during the first 50 years of its existence, there was a steady erosion of its power.  Revitalization of the Assembly could not be successfully effected without corresponding reform in the other principle organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as in the Bretton Woods institutions.  Any reform must also be in consonance with the aims and objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  Economic and social development, specified in Chapter IX of the Charter as original principles of the Organization, must be given equal prominence as security issues.  He supported efforts made to consolidate the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and to enable it to acquire a strategic planning capacity.


RAM BABU DHAKAL (Nepal) said he firmly believed that efforts to reform the United Nations should aim to focus the world body’s work on addressing burning issues of the day, such as terrorism, hunger, poverty, and the spread of deadly diseases.  Reform initiatives should closely follow the fundamental objectives laid out in the Charter.  There was no denying that the United Nations needed more efficiency and effectiveness in order to complete its myriad tasks.  Some changes had been instituted last year, chiefly procedural reforms and reorganization of some of the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its functional committees.  Various budget reduction projects had also been inaugurated, such as limiting the use of some conference services after hours.  Still, in terms of outputs and results, those changes had been merely of a procedural nature, not going far enough to move the Organization into the twenty-first century.


Nepal was committed to working with all those who were endeavouring to make the Organization more effective, he continued.  But proposals for reform must be bolder in approach and more innovative in content.  Nepal had last year suggested a series of steps that should be taken in that regard and still believed that Member States should press ahead with those proposals, namely, clustering and adapting the Assembly’s agenda, strengthening the Assembly President’s Office, staggering the Assembly’s work over two sessions, and allocating a budget based on the wider priorities of the Organization.  He stressed that reinforcing the President’s Office had received short shrift thus far.  The Assembly President should have the resources and facilities to complete his important tasks, particularly follow-up on the implementation of the Assembly’s resolutions.


On civil society participation, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s report, introduced yesterday, on ways to enhance the Organization’s interaction with NGOs, and said that it deserved close consideration.  Improving the United Nations relations with civic actors was also part of United Nations reform, he added. Nepal supported one of the report’s main suggestions -- creating a special fund to facilitate participation for NGOs from the South –- as an important way to improve the overall outreach efforts of the United Nations.  He cautioned that increased participation of NGOs should not supplant or disrupt the intergovernmental nature of the United Nations.  Overall, he said that efforts to reform the Organization must focus on implementing decisions and resolutions by bridging the gap between words and deeds.


IMERIA NUÑEZ DE ODREMAN (Venezuela) said it was imperative to make changes to the Organization, and to revitalize the General Assembly as a deliberative and democratic organ.  She reaffirmed her nation’s support to those objectives.  It was also important to develop the role of the Economic and Social Council to devise programmes to fight poverty, and to unite efforts to make the Security Council more democratic, which would lead to greater representation.  In fact, change was imperative, bearing in mind the increase of members over time. Venezuela’s position on reform of the Security Council was well-known, she said, adding that radical changes were necessary, including taking away the right of veto.


On the Panel of Eminent Persons, Venezuela would continue to study the proposals regarding admitting NGOs in the manner stated, provided it was understood that only Members States had jurisdiction to make decisions.  Venezuela had not had a beneficial experience with NGOs, as some had been part of an imperial and transnational plan to destabilize her region.  Turning to security issues, she said her country had a holistic view of security, and only an integrated approach would make it possible to apply the norms the Organization had created.


OCHIR ENKHTSETSEG (Mongolia) agreed with the Secretary-General’s conclusion that expanding and deepening the relationship with civil society would further strengthen the United Nations, and enhance the quality and depth of policy analysis for intergovernmental debates on issues of global importance.  She also welcomed the recommendation of the Cardoso report on the need to make the Organization a more outward looking institution, and “to connect the global with the local”.  In pursuing those objectives, she called for the development of an effective multi-stakeholder partnership.


However, she noted that views by Member States on the specific modalities of engaging with civil society and other pertinent recommendations, put forward in the Secretary-General’s report, suggested that further consideration and discussion was needed, while bearing in mind the undisputed intergovernmental  character of the Organization.  The issue of strengthening the United Nations system was a multifaceted task, encompassing restructuring, reform and revitalization of its principal organs and streamlining of the Secretariat.  Among the priorities was the revitalization of the Assembly and the Security Council.  In that regard, she eagerly awaited the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.


She was of the view that the Assembly ought to regain its central role as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative body of the United Nations, and urged that that be the main objective of the revitalization process. The recently introduced practice of holding periodic meetings between the presidents of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as the measures designed to strengthen the Office of the President and the institutional development of the General Committee, were all important beginnings in enhancing the General Assembly’s role.  Periodic submission of special subject-oriented reports by the Security Council to the General Assembly on matters of current international concern; an increase in interactive debates; and a reduction in documentation would also further advance the ongoing process of improving the working methods of the Assembly.


AMINU BASHIR WALI (Nigeria) said the United Nations had made significant progress in the area of peace and security in the last couple of years as a result of its increasingly proactive role in the resolution of persistent and emerging global challenges.  That had greatly enhanced the image of the Organization in the international community and, consequently, the peoples of the world and the international community now expected a lot from the United Nations.  Commending the Organization for its peacekeeping and peace-building efforts and its commitment to the eradication of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and diseases, he called on the United Nations to assist developing countries in achieving the ideals of sustainable development.  The United Nations and the international community should also show the same commitment demonstrated in the area of peace and security in addressing social and economic issues in developing countries, he said.


The United Nations, he continued, was playing a commendable role in building strong partnerships for conflict resolution and development.  In that regard, he would welcome the partnership between the United Nations and regional and sub regional organizations, as well as civil society organizations, interest groups and universities.  He also endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendations to increase the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly regarding the improvement of the involvement of NGOs from developing countries and the strengthening of the institutional capacity of the United Nations for engagement with the NGOs.  Regarding the General Assembly, he said it should play its central role in the pursuit of the objectives and purposes of the Organization.  Therefore, it should initiate more interactive debates and discussions on critical issues of interest.  On the reform of the work of the Main Committees, he said that no committee should be singled out for reform because the work of all the committees were linked and interwoven.


FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that it was worth noting that implementation of the two reform-oriented resolutions last year had contributed to the facilitation of the Assembly’s work, as well as that of its Main Committees.  Syria would take part in the preliminary analysis of the various stages that the budding revitalization process had covered, particularly during the run-up to the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary.  He stressed that reform efforts should focus on making the Assembly the Organization’s soundest decision-making centre -- enabling it and empowering it to play its leading legislative role.  It was critical to enhance the Assembly and increase its functionality and decision-making ability, particularly since the Organization’s other decision-making body was bound to an inflated agenda, which many felt included subjective issues and other topics, that were actually more suited for consideration by the Assembly or its Main Committees.


He stressed that the focus should be on implementing the Assembly’s resolutions.  Calls to drastically cut the number of items the Assembly considered and to reduce the number of its resolutions were seemingly aimed less at paring down the body’s work than at removing one of its main functions.  He was eagerly awaiting the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and would participate in the discussions that Member States would hold once that important report was released.  On civil society participation, he said he would closely scrutinize the Secretary-General’s relevant report and welcomed its release.  He joined other delegations that had stressed that enhancing such participation must not run counter to the intergovernmental nature of the Organization.  Finally, he said the process of Assembly reform was not yet complete, and making progress in that regard must parallel changes throughout the Organization.  Every effort must be made to make the Assembly more democratic and transparent and guarantee that all the Organization’s main bodies respected their mandates.


MOHAMED LATHEEF (Maldives) said that the resolve of the international community for reforming and revitalizing the United Nations had never been greater than it was today, with nearly the entire membership of the Organization expressing their desire to see significant change in the way the world body did business.  Too often, however, members had been stuck when it came to the specifics of how to accomplish that task.  In order for the reforms to succeed, therefore, all had to be ready to exercise  maximum flexibility and demonstrate political will to restore the Organization’s credibility and legitimacy by giving multilateralism the centre stage.  He was convinced that the General Assembly’s universality justified it to play the most central role in the Organization.


Thus, restoring and maintaining the authority of the Assembly was crucial for the Organization to be effective, he said.  The various proposals to streamline and rationalize the agenda by biennializing or triennialiazing and clustering related agenda items would enable the Assembly to focus more on the substance of the issues.  He also believed that fashioning the decisions of the Assembly with follow-up mechanisms built into them and ensuring consensus as a decision-making tool, where appropriate, would further strengthen the effectiveness of the Assembly.  To that end, he viewed the adoption of resolution 58/126 and 58/316 as a major step forward, and their implementation and effective follow-up were essential and deserved maximum priority.


The reforms achieved so far in the economic and social sectors of the Organization were already bearing fruit, he noted.  Taking advantage of the advances in information technology, could in his opinion, assist the Organization cut costs and reduce its reliance on paper documentation.  Further, the Organization always needed to be well financed, well equipped and well structured.  Reforms would not work unless the Organization was backed by both financial and qualified human resources.  Therefore, it was crucial for Member States to pay their assessed contributions in full and on time.  As long as the financial situation of the Organization stayed unpredictable, it could not be expected to effectively deliver on its mandates.


ISIKIA R. SAVUA (Fiji) said the biggest challenge was to ensure that United Nations reform would result in the re-birth of a stronger, independent and fully democratic Organization –- one which effectively responded to the changing world but continued to retain the values that were central to human development.  While he was optimistic about the outcome of the work of the High Level panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, he still continued to focus on development and the need to ensure that it remained high on the international community’s agenda.  And although international peace and security and new and emerging issues were important, that should not detract from the resolve to tackle the central issue of underdevelopment.  The United Nations needed to reassert itself as a key development agent, where the formulation and implementation of important social and economic development decisions were made.


Turning to the issue of expanding “United Nations -– Civil Society Relations”, his delegation believed that both the reports of the Secretary-General and the Panel of Eminent Persons had ideas and recommendations that needed consultation before any decisions were made.  While his country appreciated the role of civil society in furthering the issues of developing States and agreed with the recommendation of the Secretary-General, he suggested that careful consideration be given to the extent of civil society involvement in the work of the Organization, to ensure that political mandates and the decision-making capacities of Member States were not compromised and their status eroded.  In conclusion, he said that while reform was a never-ending process, the United Nations must assure its members that the current reform would be a milestone that would take the Organization into the twenty-first century and bring forth changes that would be acceptable to all.


MEHDI DANESH-YAZDI, (Iran), associating himself with the statement made by Algeria yesterday on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, revitalization of the Assembly should be perceived as a dynamic and ongoing process.  Two features of that process included enhancing the authority and role of the Assembly and improving its working methods.  The central position of the Assembly as the most democratic forum of the Organization should also be improved, in line with the provisions of the Charter.  Improving the quality of the annual report of the Security Council to the Assembly was necessary.  In addition, convening periodical meetings between the Presidents of the Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to ensure cooperation and coordination, was a key element in the revitalization process of the Assembly.


It was important to not lose sight of the intergovernmental nature of the General Assembly, he said, adding that accreditation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the United Nations was an important issue that needed careful consideration.  The proposal of the Panel on that issue had caused considerable discomfort among many members of the Organization, and while the present situation was perhaps not satisfactory, the comments of the Panel with regard to the work of the Committee on NGOs were not encouraging.  He believed that the Committee, as a subsidiary body of the ECOSOC, was the appropriate forum to consider and approve the accreditation of NGOs.  It was unfortunate, he said, that the Panel had failed to make meaningful proposals to reform and streamline the work of that Committee.


KHUNYING LAXANACHANTORN LAOHAPHAN (Thailand) said the Assembly could and should play a constructive role in resolving international problems, as well as some non-traditional security issues.  It was on that premise that she supported the ongoing revitalization process, particularly since new threats required that the Assembly was able to withstand and overcome myriad challenges, many of which had been inconceivable at the time the Charter was adopted in 1945.  A revitalized Assembly should be a strengthened and more efficient body, better equipped to solve problems of international political, economic and social dimensions, and working in harmony with other major United Nations bodies, including the Security Council and the ECOSOC.  Indeed, the Security Council should not overshadow the Assembly’s role, particularly since matters taken up by the Assembly were not limited to security.  She stressed that the Assembly needed Member States to participate fully in decision-making, as well in the implementation processes, when the body did take up non-traditional security matters.


She went on to say that, over the past 12 years, 94 relations had been passed on revitalization of the Assembly’s work -- less than half of which had been implemented.  With that in mind, delegations should work hard to ensure that the resolutions adopted last year, which were already starting to show results, were fully implemented.  She went on to discuss some of the initiatives already underway, including the clustering of the Assembly’s work.  Stressing that a mechanism to follow up the Assembly’s resolutions and decisions should be considered, she suggested the creation of a method for periodic review of the revitalization process, perhaps a consultative group of Member States.


On civil society participation in the Organization’s work, she supported the view, in principle, that NGOs and civic actors could have more important roles in the Organization’s discussions of current issues.  Indeed, their inputs and active participation had proved to be essential in many areas.  Nevertheless, the issue deserved further deliberation and study so that the most appropriate rules of civil society engagement could be identified.  She also supported the efforts to ensure that the United Nations worked harder at “connecting the global to the local”, particularly since governments alone could not ensure the overall achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Participation of public sector organizations and civic actors was crucial to that aim.


ARCHBISHOP CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, said that in the process of reforming and adapting the United Nations it was important to identify guiding principles, as well as objective, just and fair criteria that were acceptable to all Member States.  It was clear, however, that for practical reasons, not all the bodies of the United Nations could be arranged on the model of the General Assembly.  That did not mean, however, that principles such as impartiality, efficiency and efficacy, accountability and responsiveness, as well as representation and inclusiveness were not applicable to a body like the Security Council.  In restructuring that body, one might consider that its composition should reflect, as far as possible, a representation of the world population, of geo-political regions, of various levels of economic development and of different civilizations.  While that list might be incomplete, it included criteria that were essential to improving the credibility and efficacy of a reformed Council.


As recommended by the Panel of Eminent Persons on civil society relations, he said the United Nations needed to become a more outward-looking Organization, capable of listening more carefully to the needs and demands of the global community.  The recommendation of the same panel to “connect the global with the local”, could be read as a modern version of the well-known notion of “subsidiarity”, which was another landmark for the reform process.  In fact, he continued, most of the world’s problems -- because of their gravity, breadth and urgency -- were often simply too difficult for the rulers of individual States to solve with any degree of success.  “At the same time, we must make it clear that the United Nations’ essential purpose is to create world conditions in which the public authorities of each nation, its citizens and intermediate groups, can carry out their tasks, fulfil their duties and claim their rights with greater security”, he said.


ANDERS JOHNSSON, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), welcomed the scope and vision of the Cardoso Report, saying he believed it was right in drawing attention to the need for the United Nations to consolidate and expand its working relationship with the international parliamentary community.  He listed three reasons for that belief:  The first was that the democracy deficit currently facing the United Nations had to be resolved.  The second was the need to mobilize better awareness and more active support by national parliaments for the work of the Organization.  Thirdly, it was imperative that the voice of the people, expressed through their elected representatives, was heard more clearly in the United Nations.


The IPU had advocated that idea for many years, deployed significant efforts to its realization, and put it at the heart of its mandate, he said.  The IPU marshalled substantive parliamentary support for international action, and, as the world organization of parliaments, it was the only global institution that could mobilize parliamentary action worldwide, he explained.  Expanding on the Cardoso Panel, he said the report caused concern to parliaments and their international organization –- the IPU – because it suggested that the United Nations, an intergovernmental institution, should create its own inter-parliamentary structures.  That would obviously result in duplication of the work currently undertaken by the IPU.  Also, and more importantly, it ran contrary to the principle of separation of powers between the legislative and the executive branch of government.  Put simply, he strongly believed that it was wholly inappropriate for the United Nations to consider organizing the work of the members of parliament.


For all those reasons, parliamentary leaders had decided to consult widely in their capitals and within their parliaments on how best to bring forward the substantive recommendations of the Cardoso Panel.  In practical terms, they planned to channel those consultations through the preparatory mechanisms for the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments, set for next year at United Nations Headquarters, before the opening of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly.  The World Conference would focus on cooperation with the United Nations, on parliamentary contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and on progress achieved in developing a reference framework on parliamentary democracy.


President’s Summary


Wrapping up the two-day discussion, Assembly President JEAN PING (Gabon) said the items were not new ones, having been on the agenda for many years now.  The report of the Secretary-General on civil society relations had put forward proposals, which required careful consideration from the General Assembly.  Regarding revitalization, two specific aspects emerged:  the importance of implementing the resolutions already adopted and pursuing the examination of remaining items.

Meetings between the Presidents of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the ECOSOC were vigorously supported by delegations, he said, recalling that the three Presidents had had a meeting on 30 September, and another meeting was already planned.  Outstanding questions dealt with the rationalization of the agenda and the reduction of documentation.  Delegations emphasized the central role of the bureau, and said the organization of the agenda would be the subject of an initial evaluation at the sixty-first session.  However, they hoped that would not impact the Assembly’s ability to carry out its work.  Regarding documentation, delegations stressed that a reduction should not impinge on Members States ability to consider items.  In addition, they called for the strengthening of the ECOSOC, reform of the Security Council and enhancement of the role of the Secretariat, in general.


Relations between the United Nations and civil society were important, and delegations recognized the contributions of NGOs, he said.  Speakers agreed that the modalities of their work still needed to be considered.  In addition, they advocated a simplification in the area of accreditation, and welcomed cooperation at the local level on development issues.  While some expressed the hope that cooperation would be strengthened between NGOs participation with the Organization, others asked that it be limited to the ECOSOC.  There was support for the creation of a special fund to strengthen participation of NGOS from developing countries, he added.  In conclusion, he proposed consultations with Member States on the continuation of the revitalization process, in particular that of the Assembly.


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For information media. Not an official record.