CAPPING CURRENT SESSION, GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECIDES TO FOCUS, IN 60TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR, ON MILLENNIUM GOALS, HIGH-LEVEL PANEL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHANGE

23 December 2004
GA/10324

CAPPING CURRENT SESSION, GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECIDES TO FOCUS, IN 60TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR, ON MILLENNIUM GOALS, HIGH-LEVEL PANEL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHANGE

23/12/2004
Press ReleaseGA/10324

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

HIGHLIGHTS

CAPPING CURRENT SESSION, GENERAL ASSEMBLY DECIDES TO FOCUS, IN 60TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR,

ON MILLENNIUM GOALS, HIGH-LEVEL PANEL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHANGE

Following the Secretary-General’s call to “make 2005 the year of change for the United Nations”, the General Assembly capped its fifty-ninth session by deciding to focus, in its sixtieth anniversary year, on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and on the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel for making the Organization more capable of responding to new and existing threats.

Throughout the Assembly’s session, delegations expressed a keen interest in the recommendations that would be presented in a report compiled by the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, established to focus primarily on threats to peace and security, but also to examine other global challenges, to contribute to the revitalization debate, and offer a plan to redress growing concerns about the make-up of the Security Council.

The report, “A More Secure World:  Our Shared Responsibility” detailed the 16-member Panel’s recommendations on sweeping changes to boost the ability of the United Nations to deal effectively with new and future threats caused by poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between States, weapons of mass destruction and organized crime.  It also included two proposals for expanding the membership of the Security Council, recommended universal membership for the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights, and suggested that major changes were needed in other United Nations bodies to make them more effective, efficient and equitable.

“If we do not act resolutely, and together, the threats described in the report can overwhelm us”, said Mr. Annan, formally introducing the report to the Assembly on 8 December.  “It is hardly possible to over-state what is at stake… [The High-Level Panel] has risen to the challenge –- and now the burden falls on you.  It is up to you, the Member States, to act on their recommendations and to make 2005 the year of change at the United Nations”.  The Assembly immediately moved into the informal consultations, which are expected to continue in the hope of reaching consensus on the recommendation in time for the sixtieth anniversary.

Recognizing the urgent need to again bring world leaders together to consider the road ahead, the Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on the organization of its work from late June through mid-September 2005, agreeing to hold the High-Level Millennium review from 14 to 16 September.  The event would follow the basic format and structure of the Millennium Summit:  three days of plenary debate, comprising two meetings per day, and four round table discussions.

It has been five years since the world’s leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration at the close of the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000.  And although that historic event had set out the blueprint for building a better and safer world for the new century through collective security and a global partnership for development, the world’s resolve had been shaken one year later with the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

In particular, the war in Iraq profoundly divided the international community and brought to light fundamental differences among members of the United Nations on how to ensure collective security in the face of increased threats of terrorism and deadly weapons.  Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that those precautions greatly overshadowed other concerns, especially the main objectives of the Millennium Development Goals:  cutting extreme poverty and hunger by half, cutting infant mortality by two thirds, halting HIV/AIDS infection, and providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

“The commemoration next year of the sixtieth anniversary…will provide us with an opportunity to take stock of the progress achieved since the Millennium Declaration and to look with equanimity towards the future, said Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon, opening the Assembly’s annual high-level debate.  “We must, therefore, pool our resources in preparing for that eagerly anticipated event”, he said, inviting all the Assembly’s members to “work together with a view to adapting the United Nations to the needs of our times and to preparing to better face current and future challenges”.

Acting on the recommendations of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), the Assembly adopted 55 resolutions and decisions, related mainly to the pace and path of nuclear disarmament, reducing nuclear danger, and preventing the terrorist acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.  New resolutions tabled this year included one on the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, and another on man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).  As the Committee Chairman said at the closing meeting, because challenges to international peace and security were global in nature, it was impossible for countries to succeed in protecting themselves if they worked alone.

With the 2015 deadline for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals fast-approaching, speakers during the substantive session of the Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) stressed the urgent need to assist many developing countries in bolstering their economies to meet those objectives.  In particular, efforts should be made at the international level to relieve external debt, increase official development assistance (ODA) and foreign investments, and open up developed country markets to developing countries products.  Many countries also needed assistance to recover from various environmental hazards, including natural disasters, climate change and desertification, or marginalization.  Also highlighted was the importance of migrant remittances, microfinance and microcredit, information and communication technologies, and anti-corruption measures in furthering developmental aims.

As support for resolutions that target individual countries’ human rights records continued to erode, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this year dismissed drafts on the situations in Belarus, Sudan and Zimbabwe, forwarding just four country-specific texts to the Assembly for action, where it faced an unprecedented call for the world body to take “no action” on a text already approved by one of its Main Committees.  That motion, to dismiss a resolution on Turkmenistan, was narrowly rejected as the Assembly proceeded to adopt more than 60 texts forwarded to it on issues ranging from human rights to proclamation of a second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People to improving the situations of vulnerable groups such as refugees, women and children to fostering international cooperation for crime prevention and drug control.

Acting on the recommendations of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Assembly adopted 24 resolutions and four decisions -- 15 by a recorded vote -- on a wide range issues, including on decolonization, information, the effects of atomic radiation, international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, the work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Nine of the 24 texts focused on the Middle East, including four on UNRWA and five on the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.  The Committee also reviewed United Nations peacekeeping and assistance in mine action.

Among the Administrative and Budgetary (Fifth) Committee’s main achievements during the current session was a 16-part resolution on human resources management, as well as swift action on the Secretary-General’s plan to strengthen and unify the Organization’s safety and security system.  Acting on what Mr. Annan had called one of the most important proposals -– if not the most important one -- of his term, the Assembly approved an additional appropriation of some $53.63 million for a strengthened and unified United Nations security system.  It established the Department of Safety and Security and introduced 383 new security posts.

The Sixth Committee (Legal) broke a three-year impasse at the current session by reaching agreement on the direction to be taken in elaborating an international instrument against reproductive cloning of human beings.  France and Germany had in 2001 called for elaborating a convention on an urgent basis in response to developments in animal cloning.  Costa Rica, the United States and a majority of others had called for a convention banning all forms of human cloning, including embryonic stem cell research.  Altogether the Committee submitted 17 reports.  The resolutions contained therein all were adopted without a vote, though a number were controversial.  One was the decision for the Assembly to consider directly in plenary any reports submitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) under its Relationship Agreement with the United Nations in a procedure similar to the reporting procedure practiced by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and of the United Nations tribunals.

Summary of the plenary and Main Committees follows.

Plenary

The Assembly’s general debate this year opened just as the Caribbean was beginning to recover from the destruction wrought by the string of deadly hurricanes and floods that had pummelled the islands and the south eastern coastal areas of the United States for weeks.  Top officials from the region joined leaders from other small island States calling for a more enabling economic environment, and reduction of the harmful pollution and accompanying climate change, which jeopardized their very existence.  They urged the world’s nations -- particularly richer industrialized countries –- never to lose sight of so-called “soft threats” -- poverty, hunger, and the threat of natural disasters, inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, health care and education. 

Overall, 190 of the Assembly’s 191 MemberStates and two Observers took the floor during the general debate, including 81 heads of State and government.  More than 120 took up the question of United Nations reform, emphasizing both progress and the way ahead. Virtually all speakers had expressed concern over the situation in Iraq and asked the Organization to help rebuild that country.  Many had also acknowledged that the Road Map was the only solution for the Middle East crisis.  Delegations also expressed concern over the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan set the tone for the debate at its opening on 23 September, when he urged world leaders to do everything within their power to restore respect for the rule of law -– both domestically and internationally.  He lamented that in places from Iraq to Darfur, northern Uganda to the site of the recent terrorist massacre in southern Russia, as well as in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the rule of law was being flouted.

Mr. Annan noted that the United Nations was founded in the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind.  “Today we must look again into our collective conscience, and ask whether we are doing enough.  Each generation has its part to play in the age-long struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all –- which alone can guarantee freedom for all”, he said.  “Let our generation not be found wanting”, he concluded.

From the opening of the session, delegations stressed the crucial importance of having a summit-level review of the Millennium Declaration as the centrepiece of the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary celebration.  Speakers from the developing world, particularly from African countries, emphasized that progress towards the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger was uneven.  Progress was also mixed in other areas such as universal primary education, gender equality and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Although much of Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Asia and North Africa were broadly on track to achieve the target on poverty, there had been little or no progress in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, they said.  In western Asia, poverty had actually increased.  Some felt that part of the problem was that the resources committed by the international community remained highly inadequate.  Others stressed that there was a lack of basic resources to empower some nations to participate fully in the global trading system, and that certain trade policies had effectively denied a large number of developing countries the benefits of globalisation.

To address some of those concerns, included in the resolution adopted on the High-Level Millennium review, was the decision to hold a High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (following-up the 2002 United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico), on 27 and 28 June 2005, in New York, immediately prior to the high-level segment of the 2005 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council in order for the Dialogue’s recommendations to be considered during the preparatory process for the Millennium review.  The Assembly also decided to hold a meeting on financing for development within the framework of that review.

That measure also facilitated the change of venue for the Economic and Social Council’s 2005 substantive session from Geneva -- where it is held every other year –- to New York on an exceptional basis.  The resolution further decided that Geneva would be the venue for the Council’s 2006 and 2007 substantive sessions in order to resume the traditional New York/Geneva rotation in 2008.

Even before its early-December release, the High-Level Panel’s report featured prominently in the Assembly’s discussions. Delegations eagerly awaited recommendations aimed at revitalizing the Organization. During a three-day debate, more than 100 speakers weighed in on the issue of Security Council reform, most expressing determination to untangle some of the more complex issues that had deadlocked that debate for more than 10 years –- from making the Council’s work more open and transparent to expanding its membership and reforming the veto. They looked forward to the Panel’s recommendations, which could finally give a much-needed boost to the lagging efforts to resolve those questions.

Both of the Panel’s formulas for an enlarged Security Council increased the membership to 24, from the current 15, but differ on allowing more permanent seats.  The first provided for six new permanent seats without veto power in addition to the five that currently hold it and three more two-year rotating seats divided among regional groupings.  The second plan envisaged no new permanent seats but created a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year, non-permanent, non-renewable seat, all without veto power.

Among the other resolutions adopted during the session was a text on the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, by which the Assembly declared 8 to 9 May as a time of remembrance and reconciliation. It also decided to hold a special, solemn Plenary meeting in the second week of May 2005 to commemorate the sacrifices made during the war.  The Assembly also marked the end of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) buy proclaiming a World programme for Human Rights Education, the first phase of which will start on 1 January 2005 and run through 2007.

The Assembly also endorsed the Maldives and Cape Verde’s graduation from the list of least developed countries.  That action, taken after agreeing on a strategy to ensure the smooth transition of such graduating States, would have the two States’ graduation become effective three years hence.  It also adopted a host of texts on strengthening United Nations cooperation with regional groups and organizations, including the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, The Pacific Islands Forum and the African Union.

First Committee

With the dangers of both horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation commanding world attention, the General Assembly appealed for progress in nuclear disarmament and in addressing the risk that non-State actors might one day acquire weapons of mass destruction, through the adoption of 55 resolutions and decisions of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).

Recorded votes were taken on 22 of the texts, plus separate votes on specific provisions.  Many votes were related to the pace and path of nuclear disarmament, as well as missiles, the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere, reducing nuclear danger and preventing an outer space arms race.  Texts involving conventional arms control at the regional and subregional levels and the role of science and technology in international security and disarmament also drew votes.

The voting pattern again reflected general agreement on the fundamental disarmament and non-proliferation goals, with substantial disagreements remaining on the ways to achieve them.

Speakers in the Committee’s general debate highlighted a “tension between nuclear legality and nuclear reality”, as well as certain countries’ “serial non-compliance” with global treaties.  Some warned that pursuing nuclear non-proliferation without nuclear disarmament could be “detrimental and counter-productive”, while others lamented that funds, which could help States meet the Millennium Development Goals, were instead being earmarked for military purposes.

One speaker said that, since “the alarm bell of terrorist threats has tolled loud time and again”, from New York to North Ossetia, no country could afford to stand alone or remain aloof.  Rather, a new definition of security -- based on equality, trust, mutual benefits and cooperation –- was required, and multilateral efforts in the fields of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation were indispensable.

New resolutions tabled this year included one on the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.  By its terms, the Assembly, concerned about the increasing security challenges caused by the ongoing proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, welcomed the adoption of the Hague Code, and invited all States that had not yet done so to subscribe to it.  The resolution was adopted despite some delegations’ concerns that negotiations surrounding the Code had taken place outside the United Nations.

Linked to that text was another resolution on missiles, first tabled in 1999.  Under the provisions of that resolution, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General, with the assistance of a panel of governmental experts, to further explore ways to address within the United Nations the issue of missiles, and to submit a report for consideration by the Assembly at its sixty-third session.  Even though it was adopted, some delegations were not convinced of the usefulness of another expert panel, especially given the fact that last year’s panel had failed to adopt a report.

Unlike last year, the resolution -- by which the Assembly urged the Conference on Disarmament to agree on a programme of work that included the immediate commencement of negotiations on an internationally verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty -– was not adopted by consensus.  Although it passed, the United States delegation stated that it was impossible to effectively verify compliance.

Expressing deep concern regarding the growing dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of achieving the universality of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), called on States not parties to the Treaty to accede to it as non-nuclear weapon States, and asserted the importance and urgency surrounding the signing and ratifying of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), according to a resolution called “A path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons”.

In the conventional weapons sphere, a new resolution, on man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), was adopted.  By that text, the Assembly urged Member States to support all international, regional and national efforts related to the prevention of the illicit transfer and unauthorized access to and use of MANPADS.  It also stressed the importance of effective and comprehensive national controls on the production, transfer and brokering of such weapons.

Attention was also directed towards landmines, which one delegate called the “most inhumane weapons devised by man”.  In that regard, much reference was made to the First Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), held in Nairobi from 29 November to 3 December 2004.

In closing remarks on 5 November, the Committee Chairperson Luis Alfonso De Alba (Mexico) said delegations must approach their work with a readiness to commit themselves to attaining common gaols.  Declaring that challenges to international peace and security were indeed global, he said it was impossible for countries to succeed in protecting themselves if they worked alone.  He added that, whereas the Committee had made much progress in improving its working methods, such reform must not be seen as an end in itself.  After all, substantive issues also needed to be tackled.

The other members of the Bureau were:  Vice-Chairpersons Dziunik Aghajanian (Armenia), Alon Bar (Israel), and Sylvester Ekundayo Rowe (Sierra Leone); and Rapporteur Mohamed Ali Saleh Alnajar (Yemen).

Second Committee

With 2005 beginning the 10-year countdown to 2015 –- the target for achieving the Millennium Goals -- Second Committee (Economic and Financial) delegates this year repeatedly stressed the need to bolster developing country economies, with particular emphasis on official development assistance (ODA), foreign direct investment (FDI), debt relief, and trade access.

Many speakers noted that net ODA transfers to developing countries had fallen far short of the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product in industrialized countries, despite an expected rise to $77 billion per year by 2006.  In addition, foreign direct investment (FDI) had substantially decreased and was unevenly scattered through the developing world, with the 10 largest recipient countries in emerging market economies accounting for three fourths of total flows.

Exacerbating those shortfalls, total external debt rose by 3 to 4 per cent to become “one of the greatest challenges of this generation”, speakers noted, depleting developing country savings and siphoning funds from much-needed investments in health and education.  Stressing that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative had failed to reverse that trend, many said writing off the debt burden of the world’s poorest countries was vital in helping them restore economic growth to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Nor had international trade opened up to replenish developing country coffers, others pointed out, warning that the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round of negotiations would fail if members remained inflexible.  The WTO should focus on eliminating agricultural subsidies in developed nations and stabilizing prices for developing country commodities, which were vital in generating income, savings, foreign exchange and employment.  Cotton subsidies in the United States and European Union in 2002 had cost Africa some $300 million in lost revenues -- significantly more than the $230 million in total debt relief approved for nine cotton-exporting African countries.

Many nations were also hindered by natural disasters, desertification, and climate change, others pointed out, emphasizing the need to increase public and private support for those countries.  Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, noted that disasters had affected more than 254 million people in 2003 alone, with locusts in Africa as well as tropical cyclones and floods in the Caribbean and Asia causing immense losses in 2004.  Urging the international community to support a trust fund for natural disaster relief as well as early-warning and prevention, several delegates called for a positive outcome to the forthcoming World Conference on Disaster Reduction to be held in Kobe, Japan.

Delegates also urged the global community to assist landlocked developing countries and small island States in overcoming such developmental obstacles as high transport costs, marginalization and natural disasters.  According to Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, high transport costs in landlocked developing countries -– which came to 13 per cent of the value of their exports -- diminished profits from those exports, inflated import prices and discouraged export-oriented private capital.

Addressing other developmental concerns, delegates noted that globalization had failed to bring expected benefits to many nations, exacerbating inequalities in income and resources, and often leading to unsustainable production and consumption patterns.  On the positive side, it had also led to migrant remittances of about $93 billion from an estimated 175 million migrants worldwide last year, which could significantly boost development and reduce poverty.  Several speakers stressed that the United Nations could play a vital role in setting up legal norms and standards on migration to ensure maximum benefits for senders, recipients and transit countries.

Introducing a new agenda item this year on special economic assistance to certain regions, delegates stressed the need for urgent humanitarian and other assistance to Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Serbia and Montenegro, Ethiopia and Somalia.  Addressing another new item on information and communication technologies (ICT), they highlighted the huge developmental potential of ICT, but underscored the still widespread digital divide, which could only be corrected through vast investments in infrastructure and human resources.

Speakers this year also highlighted the urgent need to combat corrupt practices of all forms, calling on nations to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption as soon as possible.  Discussing training and research, they also stressed the need to increase general, non-earmarked funding for the United Nations Institute of Training and Research and the United Nations University.

In addition to its regular meetings, the Committee held several panel discussions on such topics as the 2004 Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review for Operational Activities for Development, social effects of globalization, trade and development, and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  It also launched the International Year of Microcredit, with speakers stressing the vital role microcredit and microfinance played in helping the poor move beyond day-to-day survival, plan for the future, and invest in better nutrition, housing, health and education for their children.

Two of the 40 resolutions the Committee approved this year were by recorded vote, including a draft calling upon Israel not to exploit natural resources in occupied Arab territories, and a text on trade and development stressing the importance of an open, transparent and inclusive multilateral trading system.  Among new proposals approved were six drafts promoting assistance in areas needing special economic and humanitarian aid, and a text on the triennial comprehensive policy review of United Nations operational activities, which made various recommendations to improve agency field work.

The Second Committee’s bureau this year consisted of Marco Balarez (Peru), Chairman, Antonio Bernardini (Italy), Majdi Ramadan (Lebanon) and Ewa Anzorge (Poland), Vice-Chairpersons; and Azanaw Tadesse Abreha (Ethiopia), Rapporteur.

Third Committee

The Assembly’s Social, Cultural and Humanitarian Committee (Third) this year set aside three days specifically for discussion with rights experts from the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights, including Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on the freedom of religion or belief; on the right to food; on the human rights of migrants; on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; on the right to health; on violence against women; and on trafficking in persons.

The Committee also held dialogues with the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; and the Chair of the working group on the right to development.  A sombre highlight of those discussions included the Independent Expert on the Sudan’s assertion that there were “strong indications” that war crimes -- including murder, torture, rape and the intentional targeting of civilians -- had been committed in that country.

Delegations also stressed that the right to development was a fundamental human right and must be accorded special attention in the implementation of human rights protections.  Many delegations from the developing world stressed that human rights could not be guaranteed in an environment of abject poverty.  One speaker crystallized that viewpoint, saying that many developing countries had struggled for their independence only to realize that freedom didn’t count for much if it wasn’t accompanied by access to the resources -- natural, human and technical -- necessary to ensure long-term development.

In her address to the Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, emphasized the rule of law as central to all human rights initiatives, and said that she intended to strengthen the capacity of her Office (OHCHR) in that area.  She said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had articulated a legal framework that served to bind global efforts to promote and protect human rights.

In addition, she highlighted her Office’s work to promote human rights in the areas of business, globalization, women, trafficking, indigenous people, racial discrimination, and the implementation of human rights legislation.  Noting that deeply entrenched rights had been rolled back in the name of the war against terrorism, she said the international community must not abandon its resolve to confront terrorist acts within the framework of existing rights and the rule of law.

She said providing human rights support for a growing number of United Nations peace missions was one of her Office’s principal functions.  The protection of human rights must be a core priority in United Nations field activities.  Gross human rights violations were invariably an advance indicator and by-product of conflict.  Her Office, therefore, needed to strengthen its capacity and readiness to participate actively in United Nations conflict resolution efforts to deal appropriately with urgent requests to investigate large-scale human rights violations.

The Committee wrapped up its discussions on human rights matters with several delegations voicing concerns that the Commission on Human Rights was becoming excessively politicized and called for its reform and revitalization.  The special procedures of the Commission, as its “eyes and ears”, played an important role in promoting and protecting human rights, said one representative.  However, their mandates must be conducted in conformity with the principles of fairness, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Moreover, the Commission’s independent experts must remain with their mandates.

Urging the international community to defend the sovereign right to self-determination, another speaker stressed the importance of the world’s diversity of cultures, religions, political and social systems.  To that end, the principles of objectivity and impartiality -– currently absent from the school of human rights -- must be admitted straight away.  Nobody had bequeathed the countries of the North the power to judge the political and social organizations of other equally-sovereign States, he continued.  Until the promotion and protection of human rights was founded on objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity, strengthening international cooperation for human rights would remain unattainable.

Another highlight of the session was the Committee’s recommendation that the Assembly proclaim a Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People beginning on 1 January 2005.  The terms of a draft resolution, approved without a vote as orally amended, would also have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to appoint the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs as the Second Decade’s Coordinator and to establish a voluntary fund for the Decade, as a successor to the already-existing Voluntary Fund.

Recognizing that 2005 would mark the tenth anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development, the Committee also approved a resolution underscoring the significance of the forty-third session of the Commission for Social Development, at which time a review of implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action would be taken.  Another text related to social development matters would have the Assembly decide to convene, at its sixtieth session, two plenary meetings of the General Assembly devoted to evaluation of the progress made in implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond.

Devoting nearly a week of its work early in the session to women’s issues, delegations in the Committee reaffirmed the Millennium Declaration’s call for women’s empowerment as an inalienable component of sustainable development and -– in particular –- the global quest to push back the ravages of poverty and hunger.  They noted that it drew upon the recognition, enshrined in the Beijing Platform for Action, that poverty could not be eradicated through anti-poverty programmes alone, but would require democratic participation and reform of economic structures to ensure access for all women to resources, opportunities and public services.

Noting that this year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Assembly’s adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women said adherence to that instrument had contributed significantly to enhancement of the rule of law and had fostered a climate in which violations of the rights of women would not be tolerated, nationally or internationally.

During its annual review of crime prevention and global anti-drug matters, the Committee focused on the nexus between new technology and criminal activity, chiefly, how the same advances in information and communications technologies, travel, banking and financial systems that had propelled the globalization of national economies had also been used by criminal groups to internationalize their operations.

Today’s criminal networks were more organized, adaptable and sophisticated, better able to link up with criminal groups in other countries, noted the representative of the Philippines.  Thus, transnational crime, which destabilized the economic and financial foundations of society and undermined efforts for development and poverty eradication, posed a clear threat to national and international peace and security.  The discussions led to the approval of 11 draft resolutions, covering, among other things, the challenges of combating transnational crime, the battle against corruption, as well as on the prevention of kidnapping.

Valeriy P. Kuchinsky, (Ukraine), Chaired the Committee, and the rest of the Bureau included Vice-Chairs: Mavis Esi Kusorgbor (Ghana); Astanah Banu Shri Abdul Aziz (Malaysia); and Rachel Groux (Switzerland).  Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez (El Salvador) was the Committee’s Rapporteur.

Fourth Committee

The deteriorating political, economic and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories once again dominated the Fourth Committee’s (Special Political and Decolonization) discussions.  Nine of the decisions approved by the Committee focused on Middle East-related issues, including the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

Outlining the challenges facing the UNRWA, its Commissioner-General, in his annual report to the Committee, pointed to the worsening security situation, road closures, house demolitions and the tattered economy in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Supporting UNRWA’s humanitarian mandate, Israel’s representative said that the difficult conditions under which the Agency worked were caused by Palestinian terrorism, and that terror groups had abused the protected emblems of the United Nations and the Red Crescent.  The Committee approved a draft by which UNRWA’s mandate was extended until June 2008.  By another text, the Assembly called on Israel to take measures to protect the Agency’s personnel and facilities, to cease obstructing its work, and to compensate the Agency for damage to its property.

Many speakers accused Israel of violating the human rights of the Palestinian people and expressed deep concern over the construction of the “separation wall”.  By one of the five draft resolutions approved, the Assembly demanded that Israel comply with international law as mentioned in the 9 July advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.  By another text, the Assembly demanded that Israel cease immediately all practices and actions taken in violation and in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while condemning all acts of terror, incitement and destruction, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians.  The text also expressed grave concern at the use of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.

Among decolonization issues, controversy over the question of Western Sahara increased as, for the first time since 1988, the Committee failed to reach consensus on a draft text.  The representative of Algeria said that Morocco had rejected all plans to implement the long-stalled referendum on self-determination for the Territory.  Morocco’s representative countered that it was Algeria that had thwarted mediation efforts, inviting that country to participate in direct talks as a party to the conflict.  Over the course of the debate, most delegations and over 20 petitioners strongly supported the right of the people of the Territory to self-determination.  The text was approved in a recorded vote of 52 in favour to none against, with 89 abstentions.

On other decolonization issues, speakers noted that the Second International Decade to Eradicate Colonialism, which runs from 2001 to 2010, was reaching its mid-way point.  The administering Powers of the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were urged to help speed up the decolonization process, helping to develop programmes of action for those Territories on a case-by-case basis.

Briefing the Committee on the question of peacekeeping, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said that today’s peacekeeping demands exceeded the capacities of the United Nations.  For that reason, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was working to integrate its peace operations with the capacities of such regional organizations as the Economic Community of West African States and the European Union.  More innovation was needed in such cooperation, however.  He said that the expertise of the entire United Nations system and beyond must be linked in order to keep, consolidate and build peace in post-conflict societies.

In the debate that followed, speakers agreed strongly with the need to support regional organizations and other alliances to cope with surging demand for United Nations peacekeeping.  Developed countries were urged to play a larger role in providing troops.  Among other topics discussed were the importance of security for United Nations and associated peacekeeping personnel; the mainstreaming of a gender perspective throughout all peacekeeping activities; and the importance of training in peacekeeping.  Speakers also emphasized the importance of an integrated, holistic approach to peacekeeping that addressed both the underlying causes of conflicts and post-conflict development.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s Report on questions relating to information, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said that public information was critical to maintaining support for the Organization’s mandates.  That task was particularly difficult within tight budgetary constraints and in view of the loss of faith in the Organization after the military intervention in Iraq and the recent media attacks on the United Nations’ integrity.

He spoke of ongoing improvements in his Department’s strategic work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and capacity-building in the area of media monitoring and analysis.  He said the Department of Public Information (DPI) had taken steps to strengthen its information presence in the Arab world and to counteract intolerance as part of the dialogue among civilizations.  In addition, the web site and news centre had expanded their multilingual services.  Through such efforts and the necessary restoration of resources -– especially for the United Nations Information Centres (UNICs) -- he expressed hope that, as the United Nations turned 60, people around the world would gain enough understanding of the Organization to embrace it as their own.

Speakers in the debate welcomed many of the new measures taken by the Department, but some stressed the need to preserve outreach to developing countries, efforts to bridge the so-called information gap and continued expansion of services in all official United Nations languages.  There was cautious approval of the rationalization of the UNIC system following the consolidation of the European UNICs, but speakers from developing countries stressed that further regionalization had to be taken on a case-by-case basis and should not affect developing countries in a negative way.

For the first time, the Committee considered an item on assistance in mine action.  The Committee failed to reach consensus on a draft resolution and, although the item was bi-annualized, had to defer the issue to its next session.

The Fourth Committee’s officers are:  Chairman Kyaw Tint Swe (Myanmar), Vice-Chairmen Helfried Carl (Austria), Eduardo Calderon (Ecuador), Andrej Droba (Slovakia); and Rapporteur Kais Kabtani (Tunisia).

Fifth Committee

Among the Budget Committee’s main achievements during the current session was swift action on the Secretary-General’s proposal to strengthen and unify the Organization’s safety and security system, which he called one of the most important –- if not the most important one –- of his term.  Acting on its recommendations, the Assembly approved an additional appropriation of some $53.63 million for a new security system, establishing the Department of Safety and Security and introducing 383 new security posts.

As 2004 was a “personnel year” for the Fifth Committee under its biennial cycle of work, much attention during the session was also devoted to human resources management and the United Nations common system.  Speakers in the debate emphasized a high priority for the ongoing reform, which seeks to establish a fair, transparent and measurable human management system and attract and retain high-quality staff.

Adopted on the basis of the Committee’s recommendations was a 16-part draft resolution on human resources management, which addresses such issues as recruitment and placement of personnel, national competitive and G to P examinations, measures to improve equitable geographic distribution, post structure, mobility, contractual arrangements, field missions’ staffing, the use of consultants and retired former staff, availability of skills in local markets, measures to prevent discrimination, and staff-management consultations.

The Assembly stressed the need to ensure accountability of programme managers for the implementation of human resources policies and requested the Secretary-General to continue to improve the effectiveness of human resources action plans, including with respect to equitable geographical distribution and gender representation.  In particular, he was requested to ensure that the Accountability Panel has the authority to hold managers accountable for their performance.

In fact, the importance of establishing real and efficient responsibility and accountability within the Organization was highlighted in several resolutions prepared by the Committee.  By one of the texts, the Assembly expressed regret that despite previous information provided by the Secretary-General on the establishment of accountability mechanisms, including the above-mentioned Accountability Panel, such mechanisms are not in place.  In that connection, the Secretary-General was requested to submit annually a report addressing the measures to strengthen accountability in the Secretariat, and to establish a high-level mechanism as soon as possible, in order to “feed” findings and recommendations of the Organization’s oversight bodies -- the OIOS, the Joint Inspection Unit and the Board of Auditors -- into the management processes.

During the debate on human resources, several speakers underscored the need for a healthy relationship between staff and management, insisting that the reform could not be successful if the staff did not “buy into” the proposals that the Secretariat was trying to implement.  In that connection, delegates were worried by the staff representatives’ contention that their concerns were being ignored in the ongoing effort to reform human resources management at the Organization.  In her statement to the Committee on 29 October, Rose-Marie Waters, President of the United Nations Staff Union, emphasized that, while supporting the goals of the Secretary-General’s reform, the Union could not support the erosion of staff rights and dissolution of oversight mechanisms.  “The measures introduced in the past six years have had a profound and sometimes deleterious effect on the staff of the Organization”, she said.

Addressing that concern in the human resources resolution, the Assembly stressed the importance of a meaningful dialogue between staff and management, calling upon both parties to intensify efforts to overcome differences and resume the consultative process.

As for the budgetary aspects of its work this year, the Fifth Committee has arrived at a preliminary budget outline for the next biennium, estimating the Organization’s requirements for 2006-2007 at some $3.621 billion.  To reflect inflation and exchange rate variations, as well as unforeseen expenses and additional mandates approved after the adoption of the 2004-2005 budget, the Committee also revised the amount required for the current biennium, bringing the total to some $3,608 billion.

Based on the Committee’s recommendations, the Assembly also decided on the main priorities for 2006-2007 on the basis of which, together with the biennial programme plan, the Secretary-General should prepare the budget proposal next year.  The budget for the next biennium is to be prepared on the basis of a strategic framework for 2006-2007, which had been prepared on a trial basis to replace the current four-year plan.  In view of the differences between Member States on the content of part one –- plan outline –- of that document, the Committee took no decision on that section of the framework, which also contains a two-year programme plan.

Also on the Budget Committee’s recommendations, the Assembly decided on a revised appropriation for 2004-2005 of $329.32 million gross for the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, and $255.91 million for the Rwanda Tribunal.  The revisions included changes with respect to exchange rates, as a result of the weakening of the United States dollar vis-à-vis the euro, and provision for the Tribunals’ Investigations Divisions for 2005.

The Committee also carefully considered the proposals by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), focusing on a pay-and-benefits review, a pilot study on the proposed pay-for-performance system, and conditions of service of international staff.  It made recommendations to the Assembly on such issues as the United Nations pension system, the pattern of conferences, the scale of assessments, the reform of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, publication- and documentation-related matters, translation, interpretation, and financing for 25 special political missions authorized by the General Assembly and the Security Council.  Much attention was also given to the activities of the Organization’s oversight bodies:  the Board of Auditors (BOA), the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).

Sixth Committee

The Sixth Committee (Legal) broke a three-year impasse at the current session by reaching agreement on the direction to be taken in elaborating an international instrument against reproductive cloning of human beings.  France and Germany had in 2001 called for elaborating a convention on an urgent basis in response to developments in animal cloning.  Costa Rica, the United States and a majority of others had called for a convention banning all forms of human cloning, including embryonic stem cell research.

Intensive negotiations averted a divisive vote on drafts proposed in turn by Costa Rica, Belgium and Italy when all agreed on formulating a nonbinding United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning.  A working group headed by the Committee Chairman would convene for three days in February to finalize the text based on an Italian proposal to have the General Assembly solemnly call on States to prohibit any attempts to create human life through cloning.  The Committee would reconvene on the final day -- 18 February -- to consider the working group’s report.

Altogether the Committee submitted 17 reports.  The resolutions contained in them all were adopted without a vote, just as the Committee had approved, though a number were controversial.  One was the decision for the Assembly to consider directly in plenary any reports submitted by the International Criminal Court under its Relationship Agreement with the United Nations in a procedure like the practice with reports of the International Court of Justice and of tribunals.  In statements of position during consideration of the resolution in the Committee and the plenary, the United States dissociated itself from consensus while the European Union through the Netherlands reiterated the view that due-process safeguards rendered any concerns about the Court baseless.

A third pressing matter before the Legal Committee was its continuing work on elaborating two instruments on terrorism, one a comprehensive convention on the subject and the other a convention against nuclear terrorism.  By the resolution adopted on this item, the Assembly again strongly condemned acts of terrorism and called on States to become parties to relevant instruments in fighting it.  The Assembly also called for the Committee’s Ad Hoc Committee on terrorism to meet in March to expedite the work.

Among the Committee’s major achievements during the session was the culmination of 35 years of work in elaborating a Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and their Property.  The text adopted codifies the restrictive approach to State immunity with the general understanding that the instrument does not cover criminal proceedings.  The Convention will be open for signature beginning 17 January 2005 and will add legal clarity in an essential field of international law by guiding States toward harmonized approaches.

Also adopted at the current session was the Legislative Guide on Insolvency Law finalized by the United Nations Commission on International Trade law (UNCITRAL).  The text will contribute to standardizing insolvency regimes when States revise or adopt national legislation.  By the second of two resolutions in the Committee’s report on UNCITRAL, the Assembly called on international organizations to harmonize legal activities with UNCITAL to promote coherence in international trade law.

A ten-day consideration of the International Law Commission’s report was again a highlight of the Committee’s work.  Established at the Assembly’s second session in 1947, the Commission promotes the progressive development and codification of international law.  The Commission’s report on its fifty-sixth session contained updates on a completed first reading of draft articles on “diplomatic protection” and on draft principles for allocation of loss in cases of transboundary harm arising from hazardous activities.

On other legal matters, a set of draft articles on State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts was commended.  Also, States were asked to submit comments on drafting a legal instrument on the nationality of legal persons in relation to State succession.  Two resolutions on the Special Committee on the Charter were adopted, one setting its March meeting date and the other asking it continue priority work on considering Charter provisions related to assisting third States affected by sanctions.

Also considered by the Committee were:  the status of protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions related to protecting civilians in armed conflict; enhancing the protection, security and safety of diplomatic and consular persons and property; the scope of the Convention on protecting United Nations and related personnel; and relations between the United Nations and the host country.

Six inter-governmental organizations were invited to participate in the Assembly as observers:  the Southern African Development Community (SADC); the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; the Collective Security Treaty Organization; the Economic Community of West African States; the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

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For information media. Not an official record.