Press conference by president of sixtieth General Assembly
Stressing that the world community was currently “facing a test of multilateralism”, newly elected General Assembly President Jan Eliasson told correspondents today that the United Nations must accept and live up to the highly intertwined challenges of development, security and human rights.
Quoting the Swedish diplomat and former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, he said the Organization must understand the importance of “looking at the horizon, rather than down at its feet”, reaching a stage where international cooperation became a matter of national interest. All nations must exercise give and take in the days, weeks, and months ahead to arrive at an enlightened self-interest in international structures, norms and cooperation.
Responding to a question on United States Government criticism of the United Nations, Mr. Eliasson pointed to an upcoming report by former House of Representatives leader Newt Gingrich and former Senate leader Democratic George Mitchell, which criticized the Organization, but also recognized the responsibility of Member States in its decisions. It also underscored an awareness of the need for reform within the United Nations itself, suggesting that the United States policy of withholding dues to spark change was no longer necessary.
Negative public opinion for the United Nations in the United States was limited to certain instances, such as the “oil-for-food” programme, he said, but was more positive when it came to the Organization’s actions in Afghanistan, or its efforts to preserve peace in Liberia and Lebanon. “I hope multilateral cooperation will be seen by many Americans as being in their long-term national interest”, he added.
To another query, Mr. Eliasson said his biggest challenge as General Assembly President would be putting into concrete terms the interdependence of development, security and human rights in working for Security Council and human rights reform. Although further negotiation was needed, promising progress had already been in developing the Peacebuilding Commission and combating terrorism.
Asked by another correspondent whether the goals for September’s General Assembly summit had been too ambitious, he said expectations should remain high, although in the end it would also be necessary to focus on what could be achieved. “It is important to maintain a vision of the whole package, but also keep momentum going on what can be done.”
To a question about Security Council reform, Mr. Eliasson said the body must move towards broader representation, without losing any of its efficiency. None of the current proposals for its reform suggested that new permanent members would have the right to veto, but hopefully that tool would be used less frequently, and the Council could revert more to a negotiating body.
When another correspondent asked how the General Assembly could be made more applicable to today’s world, he said several proposals had been made to revitalize the Assembly, including the periodic holding of lively debates on key issues. Adding that more reporting mechanisms were needed from the various United Nations organs, he said the General Assembly President for the fifty-ninth session, Jean Ping, was currently working on a resolution to address that and other matters.
To a query on persuading both developed and developing nations on the importance of security, development and human rights to both developing and developed countries, he said richer countries must realize that it was in their interest to develop better systems for trade, aid and debt relief.
As for security, he said the Organization must move its focus from later to early stages of crisis. “When I was in Somalia, we would come to these places where the houses were burnt down and people were being carried out dead, and we just tried to save the situation after the crisis.” The Organization’s responsibility to protect, he said, included the obligation to secure populations before those crises turned into mass killings or genocide.
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