|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT TELLS OF BRIDGE-BUILDING EFFORTS TO RESTORE
NORTH-SOUTH TRUST, QUELL TENSIONS OVER UNITED NATIONS REFORM
Secretary-General Stresses Importance of ‘Truly Multilateral World Order’
Amid signs of renewed tensions between developed and developing countries that threatened to stall the most sweeping reforms in the history of the United Nations, the President of the sixty-first General Assembly said she had tried to build bridges and restore trust among the Organization’s 192 Member States, after a year of divisive negotiations and debates over how to make the world body more effective, credible and democratic.
With the North-South divide so starkly evident, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa ( Bahrain) said at her end-of-session briefing, she had tried to work with Member States and the Secretary-General to bridge those differences after developing countries accused rich nations earlier this year of using their financial grip on the United Nations budget to force management restructuring. Also at issue were two intense debates on Security Council reform that revealed deep frustration on both sides over how to make that 15-nation organ more representative.
She said that, by overcoming mistrust, the Assembly had been able to adopt a resolution to strengthen the Economic and Social Council -- a key element of the reform agenda endorsed by the 2005 World Summit. Among other things, the Council was now set to regularly convene a new Development Cooperation Forum and to share its experience in helping post-conflict countries with the one-year-old Peacebuilding Commission. Another achievement was the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities -– the first major human rights treaty of the twenty-first century.
Stressing that all nations had a stake in achieving a safer and fairer world, Sheikha Haya said the Assembly had also adopted the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. She also noted that the theme of the general debate had been “Implementing a Global Partnership for Development”, and that she had convened an informal thematic debate on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Going forward, the Assembly would hold two more such debates: the first, set for March, would highlight gender equality and empowerment of women, and the second would focus on the dialogue among civilizations.
Capturing the Assembly’s mood in his final address as United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan said the global partnership for development was still more phrase than fact. “My friends, globalization is not a tide that lifts all boats. Even among those who statistics tell us are benefiting, many are deeply insecure and strongly resent the apparent complacency of those more fortunate than themselves.” Globalization, which theoretically was supposed to bring all nations closer together, in practice, risked driving them apart.
“But what matters is that the strong, as well as the weak, agree to be bound by the same rules and treat each other with the same respect,” Mr. Annan said, pleading with all Member States to play their part in establishing a true multilateral world order, with a renewed, dynamic United Nations at its centre. “Yes, I remain convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations,” he said, stressing that such issues as climate change, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, migration and human rights had each acquired a global dimension that could only be addressed by global action, agreed and coordinated “through this most universal of institutions”.
The main highlight of the Assembly’s sixty-first session was its appointment of Ban Ki-moon, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, as Mr. Annan’s successor, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations. Mr. Ban said he was honoured to follow Mr. Annan, whose courage and vision had inspired the world. He pledged to be a “bridge-builder” who would do everything in his power to ensure that the Organization lived up to its name and was truly united, “so that we can live up to the hopes that so many people around the world place in this institution, which is unique in the annals of human history”.
Amid signs of a growing international rift in the existing nuclear non-proliferation regime -- exemplified by the 9 October nuclear weapon test announced by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as continuing concerns over the dangers of conventional weapons -- the Assembly adopted 54 texts on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) on such issues as a possible international arms trade treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones, the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, the Conventions on Biological and Chemical Weapons and anti-personnel mines, measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and preventing an arms race in outer space.
In a bid to ensure that globalization remained a positive force for the world’s people, the Assembly adopted a consensus resolution stressing the importance of cooperative efforts by all countries to promote economic development for the benefit of all, as expressed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration. That measure was among 42 development-related resolutions and decisions put forward by its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), touching on general aspects of development economics -- for example, on the need for an equitable multilateral trading system and the need to meet the widespread demand among poor people for financial services -– as well as the specific challenges faced by individual countries, such as insurmountable Government debt and low commodity prices.
On the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly adopted 48 resolutions and 8 decisions, including a groundbreaking text adopting and opening for signature a treaty on enforced disappearances. However, action on a declaration concerning the rights of indigenous peoples was deferred until the end of the current session. Measures condemning the human rights situations in several Member States once again provoked heated debate this year, with the establishment of the Human Rights Council and its relationship to the Third Committee adding a new element to the discussions, specifically, whether the new Council was the proper forum to act on resolutions.
Acting on the recommendations of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Assembly adopted 25 resolutions and 2 decisions -- 16 by a recorded vote -- on issues including decolonization, information, effects of atomic radiation, international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Israeli practices in occupied Arab territories. Nine of the 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 the University for Peace.
With 2006 being a “personnel year” for the Fifth Committee under its biennial cycle of work, and with reform high on the Organization’s agenda, much attention during the session was devoted to the efforts to reform human resources management and the procurement system, review of the governance and oversight system, and strengthen the international civil service.
The Committee also opened the way for uninterrupted financing of the Organization’s activities by agreeing on the Organization’s regular and peacekeeping scales of assessment for 2007-2009, defined the budget outline for the next biennium, and approved the $1.88 billion Capital Master Plan to renovate the Headquarters complex in New York by mid-2014.
The Sixth Committee (Legal), in keeping with its reputation for consensus, this year approved more than 15 draft resolutions and decisions for adoption by the Assembly, one of them being a mechanism for considering criminal accountability of United Nations officials and another continuing the process of making operational a modern internal justice system to replace the current “dysfunctional” one by 1 January 2008.
Protection of diplomatic and consular missions and representatives remained a focus for the Committee, particularly the draft articles on diplomatic protection being elaborated by the International Law Commission. The Committee also continued its work in relation to the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention on terrorism.
Summary of the Plenary and Main Committees follows:
The General Assembly opened its sixty-first session by convening the first-ever United Nations High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa ( Bahrain) told the gathering that, if harnessed constructively, “migration can have a profound effect on development”, with migrants’ remittances to their native countries proving particularly helpful in reducing poverty.
While Governments had long been sensitive about discussing migration in an international forum –- believing it to be a domestic issue -- the two-day Dialogue brought together delegations from some 130 countries to share their experiences. With United Nations statistics showing that most migrants came from developing countries, including those scarred by conflict in Africa, Asia and the Middle East –- and with 6 out of 10 of them now living in rich countries, and 1 out of 5 in the United States -- the discussions touched on well-known North-South differences.
But, with a growing number of migrants from the developing world now heading to other developing countries -– a phenomenon highlighted by speakers from Africa –- delegates repeatedly underscored the problems of nations that migrants had left behind, such as brain drain, the smuggling of migrants and the exploitation of immigrants working in poor conditions for little money.
The Assembly next held a High-Level Meeting on the Midterm Review of the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010, which adopted a declaration by which participants recommitted themselves to meeting the special needs of the 50 United Nations-identified least developed countries.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his final address to world leaders as head of the world body, appealed for true unity among nations and peoples, so as to overcome divisions that threatened the very notion of an international community. Amid sustained applause that culminated in a standing ovation, he painted a troubling picture of an unjust world economy, global disorder and widespread contempt for human rights.
As the Assembly took up the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the Organization, speakers warned that ideological differences threatened to erode or stall meaningful reform of the United Nations, and called for greater cooperation between politically powerful nations in the North and economically weaker countries in the South in building an Organization capable of responding effectively and equitably to the concerns of all its Member States.
While praising the creation last year of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, many delegates described the failure to reform and expand the Security Council as a glaring shortcoming, while others voiced fears that efforts to reinvigorate the stagnating global disarmament regime and define an equitable international trade architecture had both fallen victim to political rhetoric.
The session was also marked by the headline-grabbing, three-week tug of war between Venezuela and Guatemala for the rotating Latin American and Caribbean seat on the 15-member Security Council. That drawn out contest ended when both candidate countries dropped their competing bids in favour of Panama as a compromise candidate.
When the Assembly convened its first meeting specifically addressing development and looking at follow-up to the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and the Millennium Summit, speakers from the global South said the economic and development gap between developed and developing countries was still widening. Imbalances in the economic, financial and trade regimes remained, due to the monetary and trade policies of developed countries. Regardless of the implementation of Summit goals, globalization had yet to deliver the world’s poor from dehumanizing hunger and poverty.
The Assembly returned once again to the issue of Security Council reform, seeking to end the 15-year stalemate over how to reshape the most powerful United Nations organ and remedy the democratic and representative deficit by which many felt it was afflicted. The current Security Council, with its five permanent veto-wielding members –- China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States -– and 10 rotating members, reflected the anachronistic, post-Second World War global balance of power.
Other delegates said Council reform was central to revitalizing the United Nations and any changes should encompass expansion of the organ, both in the permanent and non-permanent membership categories, as well as the further improvement of its working methods. But the question of who would get a seat on an expanded Council -- and with what powers –- loomed large. Speakers said the Assembly’s efforts to agree on a formula had been stalled for the past year, following what had seemed like promising bids put forward in 2005 by a number of political alliances and regional groupings pressing to restyle the Council for the twenty-first century. The powerful body -- in which Africa, Latin America and the Arab world lacked a permanent voice -- was still heavily weighted towards the developed world and could not realistically speak for the international community.
Wrapping up the two-day debate after having heard nearly 70 speakers, Sheikha Haya said that, while a consensus had emerged on the need for the Council membership to reflect twenty-first century geopolitical realities, delegations were divided over the path to change, with particular regard to additional members. She presented three possible options for that process: continuing the process within the framework of the General Assembly’s Open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform; allowing Member States themselves to continue their efforts to untangle the knotty issue; or an inclusive consultation and negotiation process, led by the Assembly President, to reach the broadest possible agreement.
When the United States vetoed a Security Council draft resolution -- aimed at condemning Israel’s military operations in Gaza, as well as Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, while calling for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and a cessation of violence by both parties to the conflict -- Arab and Non-Aligned delegations called for the resumption of the Assembly’s long-running tenth emergency session to consider illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
After protracted negotiations, that session, deeply deploring the recent Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, overwhelmingly approved a measure calling on Israel to withdraw its troops from Gaza. Arab delegations called for the resumption of the session again in mid-December to adopt a resolution to establish a United Nations Register of Damage arising from Israel’s construction of a separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. That measure was adopted by a recorded vote of 162 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 7 abstentions (Cameroon, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Uganda).
When the Assembly held its annual meeting to examine ways to revitalize its own work, developing countries stood by their belief that the Assembly’s power was being eroded in favour of the Security Council, particularly benefiting that body’s five permanent members. Calling for more cooperation between the two organs, they stressed that the Assembly was the only universally representative body in the United Nations. Many delegates also expressed concern that, by holding regular thematic debates, the Council had begun to encroach on the Assembly’s mandate.
The Assembly adopted 54 texts –- following 45 separate recorded votes -– on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), including a groundbreaking resolution entitled “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms”, which represented a first step towards establishing international standards in the conventional arms trade following years of deadlock in that field.
Iraq and Lebanon had shown the “tragic consequences of an excessive faith in what armed forces can achieve”, Hans Blix, Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, told the Committee on 16 October, adding that the proliferation of nuclear weapons seemed likely only to bolster that faith. While the Non-Proliferation Treaty was not on the verge of collapse, its safeguards needed strengthening.
With that goal in mind, the Assembly adopted several texts condemning the nuclear-weapon test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including one on accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments, which condemned all nuclear weapons tests by any State whatsoever. It further urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to rescind its announced withdrawal from the Treaty while also urging accession to it by India, Israel and Pakistan promptly and without conditions.
Adopting a resolution on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the Assembly also stressed the urgent need to sign and ratify that instrument so as to achieve its earliest entry into force, while underlining also the need to maintain momentum towards completion of the verification regime.
By a resolution addressing the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, the Assembly called on Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty without further delay; not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons; and to place all its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The Assembly extended the call to place nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards to all countries in the region by adopting a resolution on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.
Looking ahead to the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to render the necessary assistance and services for the Conference, whose Preparatory Committee will hold its first session in Vienna from 30 April to 11 May 2007.
Similarly, a resolution on the convening of the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament had the Assembly decide to establish an open-ended working group to consider the objectives and agenda for such a session. It requested the working group to hold an organizational session to set the date for its 2007 substantive sessions.
The Assembly again addressed concerns about an arms race in outer space, in a resolution reaffirming the need to reinforce the existing legal regime applicable to outer space, with the Conference on Disarmament playing the primary role in such negotiations. By the terms of a separate resolution, the Assembly also invited all Member States to submit proposals on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities to the Secretary-General before the end of the Assembly’s current session.
The Bureau of the First Committee comprised Mona Juul (Norway), Chairperson; Andy Rachmianto (Indonesia), Boštjan Malovrh (Slovenia) and Federico Perazza (Uruguay), Vice-Chairpersons; and Rapporteur Abdelhamid Gharbi (Tunisia).
Mindful of the 2015 deadline for attaining the Millennium Development Goals, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) drafted more than 40 draft resolutions and decisions aimed at bolstering the efforts of Member States still struggling to meet their targets, particularly least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, transition economies and middle-income nations, a group not normally considered as needing assistance.
According to José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, the average world economic growth rate of 3.6 per cent was not enough to benefit all countries. In addition, the low prices of commodities in relation to other products had left the least developed countries heavily disadvantaged, compared to industrialized and industrializing nations, in meeting their development goals by 2015, a problem made worse by their Governments’ inability to get out of debt.
In that connection, the “Group of 77” developing countries and China tabled a resolution emphasizing shared responsibility between creditors and debtors for preventing unsustainable debt. The Assembly adopted that text unanimously, although a few Member States had previously questioned, in a December meeting of the Committee, whether the world still faced a debt “crisis”, as indicated by the resolution’s title. However, less than half the number of eligible countries had reached the “completion point” under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, according to the relevant Secretary-General’s report. Meanwhile, humanitarian crises threatened to retard progress in some countries, prompting the adoption of resolutions requesting humanitarian assistance for the Philippines, Liberia and Angola.
Though delegates repeatedly stressed the importance of trade as the main engine of growth, a subtext to the Committee's discussions questioned whether the multilateral trading system would hold, especially with the World Trade Organization trade negotiations having been deadlocked since July.
In three separate resolutions, the Assembly appealed for contributions to help fund the Organization’s own multilateral frameworks, among them the Mauritius Strategy to implement the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States; the Almaty Programme of Action for landlocked developing countries; and the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries. Another text put forward measures to convene a follow-up conference on financing for development to be held in 2008.
On a few occasions, the Committee discussed possible interventions to correct specific market deficiencies. Delegates expressed concern, for instance, over the failure of private enterprise to address the unmet demand for microfinance among the poor, despite the existence of profitable business models such as that demonstrated by micro-lending pioneer Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequently, the Assembly adopted a resolution on the role of microfinance in poverty eradication, by which it invited Member States to expand the microfinance industry to meet the large demand for financial services among poor people.
Other perceived “market failures” that drew the Committee’s attention included the absence of a functioning carbon emissions market to control atmospheric pollution; the inefficient provision of housing, sanitation and water in slum ridden cities; and the uneven diffusion of information and communication technology around the world.
Committee Chairperson Tiina Intelmann ( Estonia), in her closing remarks to the Committee on 8 December, described negotiations on related texts as “divisive” in some instances. Indeed, two out of four draft resolutions put to a recorded vote by the General Assembly -- entitled “Protection of the global climate for present and future generations of mankind” and “International trade and development”, respectively -- elicited a high number of abstentions. The first text was adopted by 137 votes in favour to none against, with 47 abstentions; and the second by 129 votes in favour to 2 against, with 52 abstentions. Nevertheless, 38 out of 42 texts were adopted by consensus this year, a higher number than that for 2005 in proportion to the total, which demonstrated a certain solidarity among Member States.
The Bureau of the Second Committee comprised Tiina Intelmann (Estonia), Chairperson;Benedicto Fonseca Filho (Brazil), Prayono Atiyanto (Indonesia) and Aboubacar Sadikh Barry (Senegal), Vice-Chairpersons; and Rapporteur Vanessa Gomes (Portugal).
Taking action on 48 resolutions and 8 decisions -– following 24 separate recorded votes -– on the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly adopted one groundbreaking text that opened for signature a treaty on enforced disappearances. That instrument had been adopted by the newly established Geneva-based Human Rights Council in June. The Assembly also adopted resolutions postponing action on a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and condemning the human rights situations in several Member States.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance recognized the right of persons not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, regardless of circumstances, and the right of victims to justice and reparation. It committed States parties to criminalize enforced disappearance, to bring those responsible to justice and to take preventive measures. An innovative follow-up mechanism, in the form of a Committee on Enforced Disappearances, would serve a preventive function by making urgent appeals and conducting field visits, when necessary, and even alerting the Secretary-General in the event of massive and systematic violations.
A measure that would have had the Assembly also adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had been tabled in the Committee, but after extensive debate, the text was amended to defer consideration of and action on the draft Declaration until sometime before the end of the current sixty-first session. That postponement was sought by the African Group, with support from several developed countries, over objections mainly from Latin American delegations, which noted that, after 24 years in the drafting pipeline and numerous revisions to address the concerns of various Member States, it was time to make the Declaration a reality.
The Committee was locked for days in debate over draft resolutions condemning human rights situations in specific countries. A total of seven such measures were brought before the Committee, though only four were ultimately approved for consideration by the Assembly. The resolution concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was the second in as many years, while those regarding Iran, Myanmar and Belarus were approved following the Committee’s rejection of no-action motions. By contrast, a similar motion of no action, with respect to a draft on Uzbekistan, was narrowly approved, while texts on the human rights situations in the United States and Canada were soundly rejected, each garnering only six votes in favour.
In a repeat of last year’s heated debates, many members of the Non-Aligned Movement –- led by Cuba, the group’s new Chair -- criticized country-specific resolutions as biased and politically motivated, arguing that the new Human Rights Council was the proper forum for such resolutions. That body had been developing a universal periodic review mechanism that would hold both developed and developing States to the same consistent human rights standard. Other delegations insisted, however, that the intent of such resolutions was not to “name and shame”. The international community could not be silent in the face of continuous, grave and widespread human rights violations, and Member States had a sovereign right to bring before the Assembly any concern they deemed worthy of its attention.
The question of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was another major subject of Third Committee proceedings, with South Africa sponsoring a draft resolution proposing a 2009 review conference to examine progress made in implementing the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Reflecting concerns over the appearance in European publications of cartoons deemed offensive by many Muslims, the text condemned the misuse of the media to incite violence motivated by racial hatred. Such condemnation was also included in a separate resolution on combating defamation of religions, although several delegations said the text did not address all of the world’s religions in a balanced fashion.
Additional resolutions approved by the Third Committee included texts on the human rights situation arising from Israel’s summer military operations in Lebanon; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the rights to self-determination, development and food; advancement of women; protection of the rights of children; social development; and globalization.
Comprising the Bureau of the Third Committee were Hamid al Bayati (Iraq), Chairperson; Jorge Ballesteros (Costa Rica), Lamin Faati (Gambia) and Sergei A. Rachkov (Belarus), Vice-Chairpersons; and Rapporteur Elena Molaroni (San Marino).
The slow decolonization of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories and the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory once again dominated discussions in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). The Committee approved 11 texts, 6 by recorded vote, on implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the situation on each of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories, information on decolonization and economic activities affecting the interests of the people of those Territories. Unlike last year, the Committee went to recorded votes after it failed to reach consensus concerning the draft on Western Sahara and one text relating to a number of small island Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Ten of the decisions approved by the Committee, all by recorded vote, focused on Middle East-related issues, specifically the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and that of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
Israel was heavily criticized during debates on those issues, with some delegates asking the Committee to consider sanctions against that country. In response, that country’s representative called for the termination of the Special Committee’s mandate, describing its work as “utterly divorced from reality” and pointing out that not one Arab country had contributed more than 0.5 per cent of the total emergency appeals for UNRWA.
The Committee also approved two texts on the peaceful uses of outer space, one of which contained a proposal to establish a United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (SPIDER). That initiative would provide countries, as well as international and regional organizations, with access to space-based information and services for comprehensive disaster support management. If adopted by the Assembly, SPIDER would be supported through voluntary contributions and a rearrangement of United Nations priorities.
As the Committee considered information questions, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said: “The United Nations has a compelling story to tell,” adding that the story must be told well, so as to build public support. In that context, the Department of Public Information sought to create partnerships with 50 departments and offices within the United Nations and its 26 field missions. The Department had begun to reorganize itself along four strategic objectives: achieving greater effectiveness; better use of new information and communication technology; expanding the grassroots support base through partnerships with civil society; and conducting an annual performance impact review. The Committee approved two draft resolutions and one draft decision in furtherance of those aims.
The Committee also heard an address by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who said that more United Nations peacekeepers were deployed around the world than at any time before, as delegates took up peacekeeping matters. In order to manage that number of peacekeeping personnel, a core of experienced and qualified people must be retained from mission to mission. A cadre of 2,500 civilian peacekeepers would provide the Organization with a baseline of professional and technical experts essential to any field operation. The quality and baseline quantity of military and police personnel was equally essential. Speakers in the ensuing debate discussed such key issues as regional arrangements, operations in Lebanon, and sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers.
On “effects of atomic radiation”, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution by which the Assembly would request the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to continue its work, including its activities to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation from all sources, and endorse its intentions and plans for completing its present programme of work.
Considering the agenda item “University for Peace” for the first time, the Committee heard an introduction by Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Rector of that institution, who said the Assembly had established it in 1980 on the basis of a proposal by Costa Rica. The University now worked in partnership with universities and institutions all over the world. Acting without a vote, the Committee approved a draft resolution by which the Assembly would recognize the significant progress made in revitalizing the institution. It would also request the Secretary-General to consider ways to further strengthen cooperation between the United Nations and the University.
The Bureau of the Fourth Committee comprised Madhu Raman Acharya (Nepal), Chairman; Mahieddine Djeffal (Algeria), Monica Bolanos-Pérez (Guatemala) and Urban Andersson (Sweden), Vice-Chairpersons; and Rapporteur Rana Salayeva (Azerbaijan).
With the current scales for determining Member States’ dues to the United Nations regular and peacekeeping budgets fixed only through 31 December, the Fifth Committee, by adopting the scales of assessment for 2007-2009 on the last day of its session, opened the way for uninterrupted financing of the Organization’s activities. The new scales had to be adopted during the main part of the session, to allow individual States’ assessments to be sent out at the beginning of 2007, and the Committee reached a compromise decision on the matter, deciding to leave in place the main elements of the preceding budget scale, which were initially set in 2000.
Another critical accomplishment of the Committee was the approval of the Capital Master Plan for the refurbishment of the Headquarters complex in New York. By the resolution adopted by the Assembly on the session’s final day, the renovations will be completed by 2014, at a total cost of up to $1.88 billion and with a working capital reserve of $45 million. The Plan will be funded on the basis of the regular budget scale of assessments for 2007, with Member States given a choice of one-time or multi-year payments. As a measure of “last resort”, the Assembly also established a letter of credit facility for the project.
With 2006 being a “personnel year” for the Fifth Committee under its biennial cycle of work, and with reform high on the Organization’s agenda, much attention during the session was devoted to the efforts to reform human resources management and the procurement system, review governance and oversight, and strengthen the international civil service.
Proposals presented in the Secretary-General’s Investing in People report sought to speed up recruitment; introduce unified contractual arrangements; harmonize conditions of service at Headquarters and in the field; and designate 2,500 career civilian peacekeeping positions to ensure continuity and expertise.
Pronouncing itself on those proposals in a 17-part draft resolution, the Committee recommended a review of the staff selection system, with emphasis on performance, and suggested a report to verify that the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity are applied in employment of staff, with due regard to achieving a wide geographical base. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to reduce the period required to fill vacancies by addressing the factors contributing to delays and asked for further proposals in connection with his intention to establish a dedicated recruitment and staffing centre. It also appropriated $3 million for leadership and management development and training, but decided not to pursue the Secretary-General’s proposal on staff buyout.
With the Office of Human Resources Management preparing to begin the execution phase of managed mobility in 2007, the Secretary-General was also asked to provide an analysis of the mobility programme, including its financial implications and usefulness, along with several reports on mobility policies and their results. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to present a detailed road map on the implementation of proposed unified contractual arrangements, asking for a report from the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) on the proposal to introduce a “one staff contract under one set of staff rules”. As for the proposals on the harmonization of the conditions of service and the creation of a cadre of civilian peacekeeping positions, the Assembly decided to revert to those issues during its resumed session.
The Committee also carefully considered the recommendations of the ICSC, approving an increased level of hazard pay for internationally recruited staff, new arrangements for mobility and hardship grants, and revised amounts of children’s and secondary dependant’s allowances. It also approved the recommendation to adjust the base/floor salary scale for the Professional and higher categories by 4.57 per cent, on a no loss/no gain basis.
Another item on the Committee’s reform agenda was a comprehensive review of governance and oversight within the United Nations system, which was undertaken by the steering committee of experts that undertook that exercise at the request of the 2005 World Summit. On this issue, the Committee sought further reports on five priority areas identified by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) for early decision, including the establishment of the independent audit advisory committee; strengthening the Office of Internal Oversight Services; risk management and internal control; results-based management; and an accountability framework. 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.
Recognizing that ongoing procurement reform should focus on ensuring efficiency, transparency, cost-effectiveness, strengthened internal controls and greater accountability, the Assembly approved an additional $1.05 million for the strengthening of the Procurement Division. The Committee also approved a text on the Organization’s proposed strategic framework and arrived at a preliminary budget outline for the next biennium, estimating the Organization’s requirements for 2008-2009 at some $4.19 billion. Reflecting recent decisions of the Security Council, the Committee also adjusted the budgets of peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Lebanon, Burundi and Timor-Leste; made recommendations on appointments to various subsidiary bodies of the Assembly; and authorized commitments of up to $4.49 million for the renovation of the Secretary-General’s residence.
The Bureau of the Fifth Committee comprised Chairman Youcef Yousfi ( Algeria); Vice-Chairmen Ilgar Mammadov ( Azerbaijan), Alexios Mitsopoulos ( Greece) and Ram Babu Dhakal ( Nepal); and Rapporteur Diego Simancas ( Mexico).
By one of more than 15 resolutions and decisions adopted without a vote, on the recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal), the Assembly decided to establish an ad hoc committee to consider criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission. The Committee would meet from 9 to 13 April 2007 to examine legal aspects of a report to be prepared by a five-member group of experts. It would then report to the Assembly on how best to ensure that United Nations staff and experts on mission were neither effectively exempt from the consequences of criminal acts nor unjustly penalized.
In other action, the Assembly took note of the Committee’s decision to hold a resumed session in March 2007 to consider legal aspects of a report by the Redesign Panel on the administration of justice in the United Nations. Finding the current system to be outmoded, dysfunctional and ineffective, the Panel, established in January 2006, proposed a new internal justice system that would be professional, independent, decentralized and fully consistent with international human rights standards. It was due to become operational on 1 January 2008, subject to the Assembly’s approval.
The Committee also approved a text by which the Assembly would strongly condemn all acts of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, while reminding States to bring perpetrators to justice. Further on terrorism, the Assembly would decide that its ad hoc committee on that matter would reconvene in February to expedite the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention and discuss the convening of a high-level international conference to consider international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
The Assembly would strongly condemn violent acts against diplomatic and consular missions and their representatives, while urging the strict enforcement of laws to protect those persons as well as cooperation on practical measures to enhance such protection.
By a text based on work of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Assembly would urge the United States to remove travel restrictions on personnel of some missions and Secretariat staff of certain nationalities. It would call on the host country to implement the Parking Programme for Diplomatic Vehicles in a fair, non-discriminatory and effective manner.
The Committee approved three resolutions on the work of the International Law Commission. One welcomed the enhanced dialogue between the Commission and the Sixth Committee and the other two took note, respectively, of draft articles on diplomatic protection and of eight new principles related to transboundary harm. A draft resolution relating to the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Convention, on protecting victims of armed conflicts, called for enhanced effectiveness in the implementation of international humanitarian law.
Two draft resolutions approved by the Committee related to the work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. One added an agreement and interim measures to the revised articles of the Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration and the other sought to revise provisions of the 1958 New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Another measure, on the work of the Special Committee on the Charter, dealt with the sixtieth anniversary of the International Court of Justice. Yet another dealt with the applicability of the Charter in assisting third States affected by sanctions, which continued to be a priority.
The Committee also approved measures concerning the rule of law at the national and international levels and the Committee’s next work programme. Also this year, on the basis of the Committee’s recommendation, the Assembly would grant observer status in its work to three organizations: the OPEC Fund for International Development, the Indian Ocean Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Bureau of the Sixth Committee comprised Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo (Mexico), Chairman; Ganeson Sivagurunathan (Malaysia), Theodor Cosmin Onisii (Romania) and Stefan Barriga (Liechtenstein), Vice-Chairpersons; and Rapporteur Mamadou Moustapha Loum (Senegal).
* *** *