‘DYNAMIC AND VITAL’ GENERAL ASSEMBLY LAID GROUNDWORK TO TACKLE CRUCIAL ISSUES, INCLUDING CLIMATE CHANGE, TERRORISM, ANTI-POVERTY GOALS, PROMOTING TOLERANCE
‘DYNAMIC AND VITAL’ GENERAL ASSEMBLY LAID GROUNDWORK TO TACKLE CRUCIAL ISSUES, INCLUDING CLIMATE CHANGE, TERRORISM, ANTI-POVERTY GOALS, PROMOTING TOLERANCE
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
‘DYNAMIC AND VITAL’ GENERAL ASSEMBLY LAID GROUNDWORK TO TACKLE CRUCIAL ISSUES,
INCLUDING CLIMATE CHANGE, TERRORISM, ANTI-POVERTY GOALS, PROMOTING TOLERANCE
A “dynamic and vital” General Assembly succeeded in laying the groundwork for crucial negotiations ahead on important issues on the United Nations agenda, such as global warming, counter-terrorism, development financing and Security Council reform, thus responding to the call of its President, Srgjan Kerim, to make its work “more effective and more relevant to the lives of the global public”.
It was clear that “business as usual” was at an end, said Mr, Kerim at a press conference recapping the 192-member body’s work for the main part of the session. The challenges were just too pressing for the Assembly not to change the way it responded. Throughout his tenure, thus far, he had encouraged Member States to change their mindsets and attitudes to help make the Assembly more central to the work of the United Nations and more capable of dealing effectively with the issues of the day, he added.
He had opened the session with a challenge to demonstrate the Assembly’s global leadership on tough issues by urging the membership to deepen cooperation and promote more effective multilateralism. “We must forge a lasting consensus -- a global alliance for action -- by bringing together Member States, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society,” he said, adding in a later address: “Our message must be consistent, compelling and relevant to everyday life, and we must resist giving the perception of institutional introspection.”
With that in mind, he laid out his five priorities for the session: climate change, which would be the focus of this year’s general debate; financing for development; the Millennium Development Goals; countering terrorism; and renewing the management and effectiveness of the Organization, including Security Council reform. To energize the discussions, he suggested the session should be more of a dialogue, not a monologue; more focused on substantive results; more engaging and insightful; and should exemplify that through greater cooperation and mutual respect.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the general debate -- his first as United Nations chief -- with a similar call on global leaders to back his efforts to bolster the Organization in the interests of the world. “Our changing world needs a stronger UN,” Mr. Ban declared in a wide-ranging speech. “To deliver on the world’s high expectations for us, we need to be faster, more flexible and mobile. We need to pay less attention to rhetoric and more attention to results -- to getting things done,” he said.
Mr. Ban acknowledged the need for a fresh approach and, borrowing from the theme of a high-level event he convened ahead of the debate on the challenges posed by global warming, said: “We need an internal climate change at the UN.” Calling on the Assembly to build on the momentum generated by the one-day climate change event convened just ahead of the general debate, he said solutions to global warming could not come at the expense of social and economic development.
Summing up the general debate, Mr. Kerim said that global warming had clearly become the “flagship issue” of the sixty-second session. “We need to be on high alert!” he asserted, noting that, during the debate, there had been broad consensus that the United Nations must remain at the centre of the process to reach a global agreement -- including to strengthen international environmental governance.
“Responding to the challenge of climate change you have sent a strong political message that the time for talk has passed -- that the time for action has begun,” he said, adding that many speakers had presented commendable initiatives: to reduce deforestation and emissions; invest in flood prevention and food security; introduce tougher energy-efficiency standards; mobilize private-sector investment in clean technologies; and improve carbon-trading mechanisms.
Later in the session, the Assembly adopted a resolution requesting the Secretary-General to compile a report on all United Nations activities in the area of climate change, in anticipation of the Assembly’s February 2008 thematic debate. That meeting was expected to build on the outcome of the recently concluded thirteenth Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Bali, Indonesia, where world leaders agreed to an agenda for the key issues to be negotiated up to 2009, including action for adapting to the negative consequences of climate change, ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and financing both adaptation and mitigation measures.
At the midpoint to the Millennium Development Goals -- which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 –- both Mr. Kerim and Mr. Ban flagged 2007 as a crucial year for action, especially since it was clear some countries would fall short, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. To achieve those and other development goals, Mr. Kerim said: “We should demand more of ourselves, as well as of the Organization, […] and whether we get anywhere near fulfilling them will depend crucially on how we provide for their financing.”
To that end, the Assembly held a three-day ministerial-level dialogue laying the ground for a review of anti-poverty promises pledged by world leaders in the Monterrey Consensus, a languishing development financing partnership struck in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico. Nearly 100 delegations participated in the event, which laid the groundwork for the Review Conference on Financing for Development, set for Doha, Qatar, in the second half of 2008.
Another session highlight was the convening of the Assembly’s first ever dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding, during which more than 90 delegations took the floor on a range of challenges, including the troubling fact that religion was often misused to sow divisions, discrimination and death, although problems usually lay with “the faithful” rather than faith itself. All great religions were equal streams of a civilized human coexistence and none could say that one faith was “the only way”, many said.
“It is clear that there is much more that unites us than divides us,” Mr. Kerim said as he closed the dialogue with a call on Member States to go home and spread the message in their communities and neighbourhoods that, no matter what religion, creed or culture, “the human family shares a common yearning for peace, prosperity and happiness”. While the United Nations was an excellent forum for dialogue, “We must not stop here […] we should all become examples of tolerance and mutual understanding in our daily lives,” he said.
The Assembly also convened a landmark three-day conference to review progress towards “A World Fit for Children”, the Plan of Action to improve the lives of young people approved by Governments at the Assembly’s 2002 twenty-seventh special session. The session wrapped up with the adoption of a consensus declaration in which States pledged to realize promises by, among other ways, scaling up their efforts through resource allocation and political action, increased cooperation and more focused partnerships with the private sector.
Other highlights included the Assembly’s informal thematic debate on terrorism, which paved the way for the review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy scheduled for next September. The Assembly also adopted a resolution setting the stage for the comprehensive review of the progress achieved in realizing the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, deciding to convene a high-level meeting on 10 and 11 June 2008. It also adopted the United Nations Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations Staff and Related Personnel, and decided that it would, in two years, examine progress made in its implementation.
Following on the declared intention of the Secretary-General to give increased priority to disarmament and international security issues, the Assembly adopted 52 texts on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), on such issues as nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, disarmament aspects of outer space, conventional weapons, regional disarmament and security, other disarmament measures and international security, as well as the United Nations disarmament machineries.
In an attempt to interlink poverty eradication, sustainable and economic development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the Assembly adopted a consensus resolution declaring the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017), urging Governments and the international community to continue seriously to pursue that objective. The measure was among 34 development-related resolutions and 1 decision recommended for adoption by the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), including a consensus resolution on the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review, which would shape the Organization’s development activities over the next three years, specifically on funding, national capacity development and development effectiveness.
On the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly adopted 54 resolutions and 12 decisions, including a landmark text calling for a moratorium on executions to be established in all States that still maintained the death penalty. A resolution strongly condemning sexual violence against women and girls in all its forms, including in conflict situations, was also adopted, as were resolutions on human rights in Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Myanmar. As in years past, there was heated debate over the value of such country-specific resolutions, especially given the establishment of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which aimed to submit the situation of human rights in every Member State to regular scrutiny.
In an effort to strengthen the Organization’s role as global facilitator in various special political cases, the Assembly agreed to adopt resolutions stressing the importance of upholding international law in the occupied Arab territories, especially with regard to the smooth functioning of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. Such measures were among 24 resolutions and 2 decisions adopted on the recommendations of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
Breaking a stalemate that threatened to leave the United Nations without a budget as the new year approached, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) arrived at an amount of $4.17 billion for the Organization’s core activities in 2008-2009, early on Saturday, 22 December, although it was forced to vote on the budget for the first time in some 20 years. The Committee also provided recommendations to the Assembly on a wide range of other administrative and budgetary issues, including financing of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, newly established missions in Darfur and Central African Republic and Chad, overhaul of the Organization’s system of justice and the Capital Master Plan for renovation of United Nations Headquarters.
On the recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal), and acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted 18 resolutions and 2 decisions, deciding by the text of one resolution to call on States to take measures for holding United Nations officials accountable for criminal misconduct on mission. That resolution also urged States to consider establishing jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by their nationals on mission, and to cooperate with each other and the Organization in their investigations and prosecutions. The Committee addressed an array of other issues, including articles on diplomatic protection and the work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
Summary of the Plenary and Main Committees follows:
Ahead of the General Assembly’s sixty-second session, the Secretary-General convened a one-day high-level dialogue on climate change: “The Future in Our Hands: Addressing the Leadership Challenge of Climate Change”. The summit, which drew top officials from more than 150 countries, including 70 Heads of State, was organized to generate political will at the highest level to tackle climate change, Mr. Ban said, rather than provide a forum for negotiation.
Organized around four thematic plenaries -- adaptation, mitigation, technology and financing -- the event was designed also to build political momentum ahead of the United Nations-sponsored Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December, which launched negotiations on post-2012 climate change architecture.
The Assembly kicked off its substantive work with a challenge to Member States to embrace diversity as a virtue –- rather than a threat -- convening its first ever high-level dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding. Mr. Kerim organized the two-day event as a follow-up to the adoption last year of a resolution that encouraged Member States, the United Nations system and civil society to carry out a range of initiatives to promote tolerance and respect for diversity of religion, culture and language.
Government ministers and senior diplomats from over 50 countries addressed the meeting, which featured two informal panel discussions with leading academics and religious leaders. This year, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was also a time when many people still felt their rights were not respected, Mr. Kerim said, an issue that cut to the core of the perceived lack of justice and political instability in the world today.
During the annual discussion of ways to help African countries meet the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), speakers urged the international community to dismantle trade-distorting subsidies, improve the quality of development assistance and forge creative partnerships to help African countries consolidate gains.
The two-day joint debate, which heard from some 40 speakers, also examined the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace in Africa, as well as efforts to meet the goals of the 2001-2010 Decade to Roll Back Malaria. Throughout the debate, delegates applauded African countries’ efforts to implement NEPAD, notably through the African Peer Review Mechanism, a monitoring instrument created to ensure that the policies of participating States adhered to agreed political, economic and corporate governance values.
Later, the Assembly adopted a resolution on progress in implementing and international support for NEPAD, stressing the need for the international community to stand by all commitments regarding the continent’s economic and social development.
During the Assembly’s high-level dialogue on financing for development, Mr. Kerim urged finance ministers, officials from the Bretton Woods institutions and other stakeholders to reinvigorate the five-year-old Monterrey Consensus between rich and poor countries to create the investment opportunities, institutions and policies to make sustainable development possible for all.
“If this -- the greatest anti-poverty partnership in history -- is insufficient to break from ‘business as usual’, many developing countries and campaigners around the world will be left without hope,” he declared. If implemented, existing commitments to finance development would be enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, even in Africa, but each side of the partnership must deliver. Delegates concurred, saying a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate would strengthen capital flow, and public-private partnerships should be used to promote foreign investment.
The Assembly recognized the significant steps forward in relations on the Korean peninsula, with the consensus adoption of a resolution welcoming the landmark 2-4 October summit meeting in Pyongyang between the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, and backing their adoption of an eight-point Declaration to bolster economic cooperation between their countries and promote peace and security in the region.
By a text negotiated by both countries, the Assembly encouraged the two nations to implement the Declaration on the Advancement of North-South Korean Relations fully and in good faith, and thereby lay a solid foundation for peaceful reunification. The success followed the latest stage of the ongoing six-party talks among the two Korean nations, the Russian Federation, China, the United States and Japan to denuclearize the peninsula, and would act as a “catalyst” for ongoing progress.
Taking up the perennial issue of Security Council reform, the Assembly weighed the pros and cons of restructuring or expanding the powerful 15-member body, with many saying that changes called for at the 2005 World Summit would be incomplete without Council reform.
As in past years, delegations stood by their overriding belief that the current Council, with its five permanent veto-wielding members –- China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States -– and 10 rotating members, retained a political structure favouring the balance of power from a bygone era. With no substantive reform attempted since 1963, many said that dramatic geopolitical changes in the meantime had left the Council ill suited to address modern global peace and security challenges.
Adding a new wrinkle to this year’s three-day discussion, however, were the recommendations in a new report by facilitators who had started consultations around five key issues: categories of membership; the question of the veto; the question of regional representation; the size of an enlarged Council; and the working methods of the Council and the relationship between it and the Assembly.
Rounding out its work, the Assembly pledged to realize promises for a safer world for young people at its high-level plenary on the follow-up to its 2002 special session on children, a seminal event that laid out time-bound goals for achieving children’s well-being in the areas of health, education, protection from abuse and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS. More than 140 Heads of State, ministers, civic actors and youth delegates spoke on issues ranging from equitable trade to the importance of family. By a consensus declaration, the Assembly committed to bettering children’s lives in those areas, especially in the pivotal years from 2010 to 2015, to ensure the Millennium Goals were met.
The Assembly adopted 52 texts -- following 32 separate recorded votes -- on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), including a new resolution that sought to address the danger posed by the thousands of nuclear weapons that still remained on high alert, by calling for further practical steps to decrease the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, with a view to ensuring that all nuclear weapons were removed from high alert status.
Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the Committee’s 8 October opening session that “many of the world’s deepest insecurities arise from the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction”, since the very existence of nuclear, biological and chemical arms entailed threats or risk of their use. He added that, although there had been some progress in building global norms against the proliferation and terrorist use of all such weapons, existing instruments must be strengthened and the rule of law must be promoted.
With that concern in mind, the Assembly adopted a series of texts dealing with the nuclear issue and the risk of terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons, including a resolution that called for immediate and urgent steps to reduce the dangers of the unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, since the hair-trigger alert of such weapons carried unacceptable risks. It further called for the five nuclear-weapon States to take steps towards de-alerting and de-targeting their nuclear weapons, and on Member States to take the necessary measures to promote nuclear disarmament, with the objective of eliminating nuclear weapons.
Adopting a resolution on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the Assembly also stressed the vital importance and urgency of signature and ratification of that Treaty, without delay and without conditions, so as to achieve its earliest entry into force. Deeply concerned by the threat of terrorism and the risk that terrorists might acquire, traffic in or use radioactive materials, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Member States to support global efforts to prevent the acquisition and use of such materials by terrorists.
Continuing its tradition of support for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, the Assembly adopted a text on a nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas, affirming its conviction of the important role of such zones in strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime and in extending the areas of the world free of nuclear weapons. With particular reference to the responsibilities of the nuclear-weapon States, it called upon States to support nuclear disarmament and work for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Determined to prevent an arms race in outer space, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on States, particularly those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race there. It urged them to refrain from actions contrary to that objective and to the relevant existing treaties in the interest of maintaining international peace and security, and promoting global cooperation.
The Assembly also addressed the links between disarmament and development by adopting a resolution urging the international community to devote part of the resources made available by the implementation of disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development, with a view to reducing the ever widening gap between developed and developing countries.
Recognizing that illicit brokering in small arms was a serious problem that the international community should address urgently, the Assembly also adopted a resolution calling upon all States to implement the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons, among others, through the provision of information to the Secretary-General on the name and contact information of the national points of contact and on national marking practices related to markings used to indicate country of manufacture and/or country of import, as applicable.
The First Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Paul Badji ( Senegal); Vice-Chairpersons Bassam Darwish ( Syria), Ricardo Morote ( Peru) and Roman Hunger ( Switzerland); and Rapporteur Dainius Baublys ( Lithuania)
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) drafted 34 resolutions and 1 decision aimed at helping Member States tackle obstacles towards eradicating poverty on the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
According to Deputy-Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, there were “no nobler goals than freeing humanity from poverty, hunger, diseases and illiteracy”. She said that, of particular concern was the risk that the imbalances of the global economy posed to the recent economic recovery of a large number of developing countries, including African and least developed countries. Those sharp social and economic disparities negatively impacted the fight against extreme poverty, making the collective endeavour to achieve Millennium Goals by 2015 an even harder task.
Trade as an engine for development and growth was a recurring message among Second Committee delegates, with many underscoring an urgent need to even the playing field for developing countries in the international trade arena. Another message delegates sent repeatedly was that developing countries bore the brunt of the negative effects of climate change when it was developed countries that produced most damaging emissions.
To address those and other issues, the Assembly adopted by consensus a landmark resolution on the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review that would shape United Nations development activities over the next three years, and resolutions on issues including the newly emerging fields of sustainable mountain development, as well as science and technologies for development. The Assembly also approved another landmark resolution on the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests, the first of its kind in the world that sets a new standard in forest management.
Committee Chairperson Kirsti Lintonen (Finland), in her closing remarks, said the Committee’s failure to reach consensus on trade and development for the fourth consecutive year was “regrettable”, but she hoped that progress could be made in that area in the near future. Indeed, deep cleavages along trade and development lines resulted in recorded votes for two resolutions. The first was a resolution on unilateral economic measures as a means of political and economic coercion against developing countries, resulting in a vote of 128 in favour to 2 against, with 51 abstentions, and the second on international trade and development, resulting in a vote of 126 in favour to 48 against, with 7 abstentions.
Among the other texts decided by recorded vote: a text on the permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources, with a vote of 166 in favour to 7 against, with 6 abstentions; on the oil slick on Lebanese shores, with 169 in favour to 8 against and 3 abstentions; and a text on agricultural technology for development, with a vote of 147 in favour to none against, with 30 abstentions.
However, in a sign of what Ms. Lintonen called “a very productive session”, Committee delegates adopted by consensus 27 of the 34 resolutions. She described negotiations on climate change as a demonstration of “a united front”. “Despite a vote on the paragraph regarding funding of the meetings of the States parties to the Climate Change Convention for the United Nations regular budget,” she said, “the resolution as a whole was adopted by consensus, sending a strong message to [the United Nations Climate Change Conference in ] Bali in a timely manner.”
The Second Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Kirsti Lintonen ( Finland); Vice-Chairpersons Melanie Santizo-Sandoval ( Guatemala), Hassan Ali Saleh ( Lebanon) and Peter Le Roux ( South Africa); and Rapporteur Tamar Tchitanava (Georgia).
Taking action on 54 resolutions and 12 decisions -- following 17 separate recorded votes -- on the recommendation of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Assembly adopted a landmark text that called upon all States that still maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions, as well as a resolution strongly condemning rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, including in conflict situations.
The resolution on the death penalty -- with cross-regional sponsorship that included the European Union, which makes abolition of the death penalty a precondition for membership -- was the subject of more than 10 hours of heated debate in the Committee. It was finally approved by a recorded vote of 99 in favour to 52 against, with 33 abstentions, but not before the rejection of a total of 14 written and 3 oral amendments that was put forward by its opponents, who saw the text as an imposition on their sovereignty and right to establish their own legal systems.
Two similar proposals reached the Assembly in 1994 and 1999; in the first case, it was defeated by 8 votes, while in the second, it was withdrawn at the last minute. By the terms of the text, the Assembly expressed deep concern about the continuing application of the death penalty and called upon all States that still maintained that punishment to establish a moratorium on executions, leading to eventual abolition. Until such time, those States were called upon to respect international standards safeguarding the rights of those facing the death penalty.
The resolution on eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including in conflict and related situations, urged States to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual violation. It further urged States to end impunity by ensuring that all rape victims were equally protected by law, with equal access to justice and by prosecuting violators, including Government officials.
Debate over the Committee’s role following the creation of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council came to a head during the discussion of a resolution on the Council’s “institution-building package”. That suite of procedures -- adopted by the Council in June -- included the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, a central feature of the Council’s work, whereby human rights in every Member State would be regularly examined. In its initial form, the text would have had the Assembly welcome the package. In a successful attempt to strengthen the language, however, Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, put forward an amended version to have the Assembly “endorse” the package -- a change that was opposed, in a recorded vote, by seven delegations, including Israel and the United States.
Four country-specific resolutions addressing human rights situations were introduced in the Committee this year, and while fewer than previous sessions, they still provoked much discussion. Many delegations from developing countries challenged those texts, arguing that the Human Rights Council was the most appropriate forum to address such concerns. They also contended that such texts represented an attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign nations.
While all four country-specific resolutions -- on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Myanmar -- were approved in the Committee, none did so by a clear majority, due to a large number of abstentions. The most closely watched was the resolution on Myanmar, coming as it did on the heels of recent peaceful demonstrations in that country and the Governments’ subsequent crackdown. Besides calling on the Government to end further arrests and violence against peaceful protesters, the resolution called for the release of opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and for the Government to engage in dialogue with her National League for Democracy party.
The Third Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Raymond Wolfe ( Jamaica); Vice-Chairpersons Takashi Ashiki ( Japan), Kristine Malinovska ( Latvia) and Alan Gibbons ( Ireland); and Rapporteur Tebatso Baleseng ( Botswana).
Addressing a varied agenda -- spanning the topics of self-determination, outer space, the flow of information, peacekeeping, atomic radiation, assistance in mine action and the Palestinian question -- the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) drafted 24 resolutions and 2 decisions stressing adherence to international treaties, conventions and standards wherever disputes arose.
In a resolution culminating a week-long consideration of decolonization issues, the Committee called on Member States to ensure that the world’s remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were able to exercise their right to self-determination before the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism came to an end in 2010. Delegations unanimously supported United Nations-sponsored negotiations between the Government of Morocco and the POLISARIO Front, held in Manhasset, New York, approving a consensus text to that end. Similarly, the Committee urged the United Kingdom and Spain to find a definitive solution in the case of Gibraltar -- still subject of a sovereignty dispute between the two.
Of the Territories, Tokelau was cited as an example of tangible progress in the decolonization effort for having held a self-determination referendum in October, organized with the help of the Administrative Power, New Zealand. The referendum was defeated, however, leaving the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories unchanged at 16. In all, 55 petitioners spoke on behalf of various Non-Self-Governing Territories.
On questions relating to information, the Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, in his first appearance before the Committee, stressed the importance of prioritizing the Department’s communications strategy, so that emphasis was placed on tackling what was most achievable. In turn, the Committee stressed the value of organizing mass media campaigns to counter sensationalized stories that could undermine United Nations credibility, including those about peacekeepers.
The Committee delved deeply into the subject of peacekeeping during its comprehensive review of the topic, hearing addresses from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and Jane Holl Lute, Officer-in-Charge of the Department for Field Support, both of whom talked of momentous developments in United Nations peacekeeping in the past year.
The Peacekeeping Department was embarking on two new, highly unique and complex operations in Darfur and Chad-Central African Republic, while maintaining 140,000 men and women in the field and managing a budget of nearly $7 billion for 18 current operations. It had also initiated a major reform with the creation of the Department of Field Support, whose mission was to provide “responsive expertise” in the areas of personnel, finance and budget, communications, information technology and logistics. The Committee stressed that greater coordination and communication between the Security Council and the Secretariat and troop- and police-contributing countries would be necessary for success, including in forming a “capstone doctrine” for United Nations peacekeeping.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations sounded a positive note during the debate on mine assistance, where the Committee learned that unprecedented amounts of land had been deemed mine free. The Committee also learned that nearly 40 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed and their production, sale and transfer had almost stopped as the world approached the tenth anniversary of the Mine Ban Convention in December.
Turning to matters of outer space, the Committee stressed the humanitarian and environmental benefits offered by the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (SPIDER), inaugurated last year. A draft resolution calling for additional funding proved contentious, despite warnings that the programme had insufficient funds to fulfil its purpose, which included coordinating the use of satellite technology to improve early warning systems in disaster-prone developing countries (the text was eventually approved). Meanwhile, a draft on the work of the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation received unanimous approval, thus allowing the Committee to keep contributing to a better understanding of the effects and risks of ionizing radiation.
At the tail end of its session, the Committee focused on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. Many countries criticized Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and its continuing construction of the separation wall, while Israel called for an end to so-called “one-sided resolutions” that failed to hold Palestinians responsible for Israeli insecurity. They also called on Israel to respect United Nations immunity in the occupied Arab territories by desisting from attacks.
The Fourth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad ( Sudan); Vice-Chairpersons Hossein Maleki ( Iran), Viktoriia Kuvshynnykova ( Ukraine) and Alexandrous Vidouris ( Greece); and Rapporteur Renier Valladares Gómez ( Honduras).
It was following an all-night meeting, in the early hours of Saturday, 22 December, that the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) recommended a $4.17 billion budget for the Organization for 2008-2009, breaking a diplomatic deadlock that had threatened to leave the United Nations without a budget as the new year approached.
The framework reached at the conclusion of the main part of the Committee’s session -- a draft on questions relating to the proposed 2008-2009 budget -- was approved by a vote of 141 to 1 against ( United States), to a standing ovation by Member States.
Presenting his $4.2 billion budget proposal to the Committee on 25 October, the Secretary-General had said that it was “not much, considering the demands upon us”. Requesting just $23 million, or just half a percentage point, increase over the previous biennium, he said: “Never has the world so needed a strong United Nations, yet never have our resources been stretched so thin.”
Providing an explanation for his vote, the representative of the United States said that, while “prepared to live with” the outcome of the Committee’s work, he had several concerns -- some of them common to many Members in the room. The “Group of 77” developing countries and China, for example, was also concerned over the piecemeal approach to the budget, under which a number of additional funding requests were presented to the Committee in separate reports. The United States was concerned that, while only modestly larger than the 2006-2007 budget, the amount approved was only preliminary and would be significantly higher with all the add-ons.
Several speakers found it regrettable that the Committee -- which normally works by consensus -- had to resort to voting to reach a decision on a number of issues. In particular, a recorded vote was needed to approve a text informing the Assembly that “preliminary additional requirements” of up to $6.79 million would be required from the regular budget, should the Assembly adopt a draft on the follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism.
An appropriation of almost $933 million was approved for the Capital Master Plan for the overhaul of the Organization’s antiquated Headquarters. Concerned about the costs of further delaying the renovation, the Assembly took note of the Secretary-General’s proposal for an accelerated strategy, which would save money by speeding up the work, in particular by emptying the whole Secretariat building in one phase, instead of the four envisioned in the plan approved last year. The Secretary-General was authorized to urgently enter into an additional swing space arrangement, but should such an arrangement not be reached within 120 days, was instructed to proceed without further delay with the phased approach to the renovation.
The Committee also made recommendations to the Assembly on the essential elements of the first serious overhaul of the Organization’s internal justice system in 60 years. While placing great emphasis on informal resolution of disputes -- with a integrated and decentralized Office of the Ombudsman, with branch offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna, Santiago and Bangkok -- the Assembly established a first-instance United Nations Dispute Tribunal and a United Nations Appeals Tribunal, as well as the Office of Administration of Justice, the Mediation Division and the Office of Staff Legal Assistance.
The Committee devoted much attention to the activities of the Board of Auditors (BOA) and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and determined the final regular budget appropriation for 2006-2007, putting it at $4.2 billion for expenditure sections and about $505.2 million for income sections.
Addressing interim arrangements for the Task Force that had been established in January 2006 to investigate United Nations procurement, pending completion of proposals to strengthen the Investigations Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the Committee recommended that the Assembly note the ad hoc nature of the Procurement Task Force and request the Board of Auditors to conduct an audit of the Task Force activities, including its compliance with established transparency and accountability measures of the Organization and OIOS. As recommended by the Committee, the Assembly expressed regret over the piecemeal manner in which the investigations-related issues had been presented and decided to conduct an overall review of the capacity of the Investigations Division of OIOS by 20 June 2008.
The Committee also recommended that $267.36 million and $347.57 million should be provided for the financing of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2008-2009, respectively. Reflecting recent decisions of the Security Council, the Committee further recommended an appropriation of $1.28 billion for the establishment of a new African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) for the period 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008; and $182.44 million for the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), inclusive of the amount of $45.83 million previously authorized by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).
The Committee also provided recommendations to the Assembly on a wide range of other administrative and budgetary issues, including the recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission and the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board, programme planning, the pattern of conferences, measures to ensure preparedness in case of a protracted human influenza pandemic, the financing of the Development Account and 26 special political missions authorized by the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as construction of additional conference facilities in Addis Ababa and Vienna, and the budget of the Department of Safety and Security.
The Fifth Committee bureau includes Committee Chairperson Hamidon Ali ( Malaysia); Vice-Chairpersons Alejandro Torres Lepori ( Argentina), Tomáš Micánek ( Czech Republic) and Klaus de Rijk ( Netherlands); and Rapporteur Steven Ssenabulya Nkayivu ( Uganda).
On the recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal), the General Assembly adopted, without a vote, 18 resolutions and 1 decision contained in 19 reports, and also took note of another report. It decided by one text to call on States to take measures to hold United Nations officials accountable for criminal wrongdoing.
Other Legal Committee reports covered issues such as articles on diplomatic protection elaborated by the International Law Commission; administration of justice; the International Law Commission; and the 2008 session of the Special Committee on the Charter and Strengthening of the Role of the Organization. Still other reports concerned the work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and articles on the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts.
By the draft on criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, the Assembly would also strongly urge States to consider establishing jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by their nationals on such missions, and to cooperate with each other and with the United Nations in their investigations and prosecution. The Secretary-General, meanwhile, would be urged to strengthen existing training on United Nations standards of conduct. The Assembly also requested that the Ad Hoc Committee on the matter reconvene on 7, 8, 9 and 11 April 2008 to continue its work on the report of the Group of Legal Experts on accountability.
By another draft, the Assembly decided to establish an ad hoc committee to continue working on a new system of administration of justice at the United Nations by January 2009.
The Sixth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Alexei Tulbure ( Moldova); Vice-Chairpersons Jerzy Makarowski ( Sweden), Álvaro Sandoval Bernal ( Colombia) and Stella Kerubo Orina ( Kenya); and Rapporteur Adam Mulawarman Tugio ( Indonesia).
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