During Global Financial Turmoil, General Assembly Worked to Bolster Equity in Decision-Making for All Nations, Restore Faith in Multilateral System

28 December 2009

During Global Financial Turmoil, General Assembly Worked to Bolster Equity in Decision-Making for All Nations, Restore Faith in Multilateral System

28 December 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly


During Global Financial Turmoil, General Assembly Worked to Bolster Equity

in Decision-Making for All Nations, Restore Faith in Multilateral System

After an historic global recession pushed millions more into poverty and raised fears that the traditional system of checks and balances might fail to prevent another, the United Nations General Assembly used the main part of its sixty-fourth session to urge the creation of a more equitable multilateral structure that would see developing countries increasingly take positions of power, from the august Security Council chamber to the negotiating tables of the Bretton Woods institutions and other global decision-making forums.

That dynamic also played out on a range of issues facing the 192-Member Assembly -- from issues dealing with the maintenance of international peace and security to the promotion of development, human rights and global health agendas and, importantly, creation of a “climate of dialogue” -- as it sought to tackle those and other twenty-first century challenges.  Impediments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and nagging food, finance and energy crises painted a complex backdrop against which the Assembly’s 2009 substantive session was set.

Looking back at 2009 at his end-of-session press conference, the President of the General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya, said that, in 66 plenary meetings, the Assembly had adopted 226 resolutions and 57 decisions -- some of which reverberated beyond the world body’s New York Headquarters.  In the multilateral arena, three major meetings had drawn attention to the entrenched problems of hunger, development and climate change.

He noted in that regard the World Summit on Food Security, held in Rome from 16 to 18 November.  At that meeting, participants pledged renewed commitment to eradicate hunger at the earliest date.  Countries agreed to work to reverse the decline in domestic and international funding for agriculture, promote new investment in the sector, improve governance of global food issues and proactively face the challenges climate change posed to food security.

The High-Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, held in Nairobi from 1 to 3 December, highlighted the growing leadership of countries of the global South in handling myriad issues, from economic recovery to food security and climate change.  The Assembly set the stage for the event with the adoption of a resolution in October outlining its arrangements and stressing the importance of such cooperation to development, as it offered opportunities for developing countries to pursue sustained economic growth.

Perhaps nowhere was the need for joint effort between developed and developing countries more visible than on the issue of climate change, with the Assembly adopting a consensus resolution calling on States to work cooperatively to achieve the goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  By the text, the Assembly encouraged States to approach the 7 to 18 December United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen with “ambition, optimism and determination” and a view to making the Conference a success.

Tackling such challenges could only be handled through a well-functioning multilateral system, said Mr. Treki during the Assembly’s general debate, which focused on the theme “effective responses to global crises -- strengthening multilateralism and dialogue among civilizations for international peace, security and development”.  As the United Nations chief deliberative policy organ, the Assembly held legitimacy unmatched by any other body or organization, and he pledged to work with States to forge consensus, particularly on revitalizing the world body and reforming the Security Council.

He said that, throughout the debate, Member States had clearly called for dialogue and a willingness to act together.  It was evident that the greatest challenges facing the international community today spanned the entire globe and could not be solved by one country, a small group or one region alone.  “Our increasing interdependence calls for concerted and united responses to these challenges based on common understanding, enhanced international cooperation and shared responsibilities,” he declared, welcoming the renewed commitment to multilateralism.  “The vision of nations uniting to face common challenges is at the core of the United Nations,” he said.

Among the highlights of the substantive session, the Assembly capped its two-day debate on the culture of peace with the adoption of two consensus resolutions that sought to make peace a way of life for people around the world.  By the terms of one, which recognized the contributions of former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela to humanity -- particularly in the areas of conflict resolution, race relations, human rights promotion, reconciliation and gender equality -- the Assembly declared 18 July, his birthday, as an International Day to be observed annually starting in 2010.

To advance the global development agenda, the Assembly adopted a consensus resolution, by which it decided to convene in New York a high-level plenary meeting on accelerating progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, from 20 to 22 September 2010.  The meeting would take into account progress made vis-à-vis internationally agreed development goals, through a review of best practices, lessons learned, challenges and opportunities.

Looking ahead, Mr. Treki said that 2010 promised to be a “very exciting year” with several important issues that would need concerted action.  The Assembly’s High‑Level Dialogue on Financing for Development would take place from 16 to 17 March 2010, and preparations were under way to take forward the intergovernmental consultations on system-wide coherence, an issue linked closely to the development agenda.  March would also see a high-level interactive dialogue on water.

Ahead of the mandated five-year review process of the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission, efforts were under way to carry out an inclusive, open review process aimed at strengthening those newly established bodies.  “[I]n a spirit of multilateralism and cooperation, I am confident that Member States will conclude the session with concrete results,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also recognized the complexity of the international landscape as he opened the general debate, saying the Assembly had been asked to rise to this exceptional moment in history.  “If ever there were a time to act in a spirit of renewed multilateralism -- a moment to create a United Nations of genuine collective action -- it is now,” he said.  Laying out his vision, he expressed hope that this year would see significant progress on various fronts.

Indeed, markets might be bouncing back, he said, but incomes and jobs were not.  People believed the global economy was stacked against them, which was why he had put forward a “Global Jobs Pact” for balanced and sustainable growth, and was working to create a Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System, which would provide real-time data on the world’s socio-economic picture.  Above all, Mr. Ban said, the United Nations was committed to offering a voice to the voiceless.  “If we are to offer genuine hope to the hopeless, if we are to truly turn the corner to economic recovery, then we must do so for all nations and all people.”

Bolstering positive momentum in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation, the Assembly adopted a series of forward-looking resolutions, on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), that urged Member States to use the current climate to blaze a bold trail towards remapping collective security.  In all, the Assembly adopted 54 texts covering nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, disarmament aspects of outer space, conventional weapons, regional disarmament and security, other disarmament measures and international security, and the United Nations disarmament machinery.

Particularly significant were consensus texts aimed at banning fissile material for nuclear weapons and another denoting 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.  The resolution on the test-ban treaty enjoyed the support of the five nuclear-weapon States.  Additionally, the Assembly agreed to hold a four-week United Nations conference in 2012 to elaborate an arms trade treaty and to work on the instrument in the meantime.

After two months of intense debate in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) over the root causes and appropriate solutions to the financial and economic crisis, the Assembly adopted several resolutions generated by that Committee intended to help nations recover from the crisis and tackle entrenched policy challenges to long-term growth, trade and sustainable development.  It also adopted landmark texts on food security, legal rights for the poor and principles governing humankind’s relationship with the Earth that were presented to it by the Committee for the first time.

Displaying a spirit of compromise absent in recent sessions, the Assembly adopted, on the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), 58 draft resolutions and 9 draft decisions that sought to advance women’s and children’s rights, bolster social development, curb the drug trade and organized crime, and shore up human rights protections around the world.  Punctuating the sense of agreement, texts on the right to food and the rights of the child achieved newfound consensus even as texts on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Myanmar remained divisive.

Continuing its examination of some of the world’s most persistent special political cases, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) forwarded to the Assembly a broad range of draft resolutions and decisions – 28 in all.  Among other things, they reaffirmed that the United Nations voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner, emphasized the need for sustainable resources for the United Nations Scientific Committee and stressed the need for “serious follow-up” by all parties to the recommendations contained in the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (Goldstone Report).

Facing a budget year, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved $5.16 billion in appropriations under the Organization’s regular budget for the 2010-2011 biennium, to be assessed on Member States using the same methodology applied in the past nine years.  At the same time, however, it approved a resolution calling for a review of that methodology.  The Committee also recommended a review of the scale of assessments for peacekeeping expenses, with the aim of taking decision, if agreed, no later than the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session.  In addition, told that United Nations staff and premises were vulnerable to attack at any moment, and recognizing the need to enhance the safety and security of the Organization’s operations around the world, the Committee approved $242.04 million for security needs.

Acting without a vote on the recommendations of its Sixth (Legal) Committee, the Assembly adopted 15 resolutions and 2 decisions on issues ranging from international terrorism to the rule of law.  It also took note of two of the Committee’s reports -- one on programme planning and another on observer status in its work for the Council of the Presidents of the General Assembly.  A report on the rule of law at the national and international levels contained a resolution by which the Assembly stressed the importance of adhering to the rule of law and the need to strengthen support to States towards that end.  In addition, by texts on the Organization’s new two-tiered administration of justice system, the Assembly adopted the rules of procedure of both the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal.

Summary of the Plenary and Main Committees follows:


Ahead of the Assembly’s general debate, the Secretary-General convened, on 22 September, a one-day summit on Climate Change, to mobilize the highest-level political momentum to reach an equitable and ambitious climate deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

The Summit drew world leaders from over 100 countries and featured eight interactive round table discussions that focused on finding solutions to the climate conundrum, namely how to quickly, equitably and inexpensively transform carbon-based economies to enable sustainable, low-emissions growth.  Based on participants’ recommendations, the Secretary-General said he planned to set up a high-level panel after the Copenhagen Conference to advise on how to integrate climate adaptation and mitigation strategies into development objectives.  In a symbolic gesture, he handed his summary of the Summit to four young people, saying that it embodied a collective effort to create a safer, cleaner, more liveable world for them.  “We must unite in common cause and leave a legacy of hope and healing for you,” he said.

That plea emerged in various contexts throughout the Assembly’s general debate, amid often impassioned examinations, on the merits of lasting peace, security and rule of law, and the true meaning of sovereign democratic processes.  For example, on 25 September, delegations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) objected to Madagascar’s participation in the general debate, citing concerns over the transitional Government of Andry Nirina Rajoelina, which had come to power in that country after a military-backed coup in March.  After lengthy debate on the matter, the Assembly denied Mr. Rajuoelina’s participation by a recorded vote of 23 against to 4 in favour ( Denmark, Ecuador, Jamaica, Madagascar), with 6 abstentions ( Cameroon, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Mali, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu).

In a moving address on 28 September, Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in June, appealed to the Assembly from his refuge inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.  He said the coup had oppressed his people’s rights -- citizens had been silenced and a serious crime had taken place.  “I call on the United Nations to restore the rule of law and the freedom that Honduras deserves,” he said over a cell phone held up to a microphone in the Hall by the Honduran Foreign Minister.

The Assembly kicked off its substantive work with consideration of the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the Organization, throwing support behind his push to inject multilateralism, with the renewed vigour it needed, into the world body’s efforts to combat today’s crises.  With the world suffering under the weight of financial, food, environmental and health challenges, only more efficient and cooperative global efforts could ease the suffering of millions.

At a General Assembly session commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, Secretary-General Ban noted that the 1994 Conference was an example of the United Nations pioneering role in addressing global challenges.  Delegations had affirmed, for the first time, that population was not about numbers, but rather about people, and that women’s health, education, employment and empowerment were keys to a sustainable future.  The Conference’s Programme of Action was critical to efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, notably Goal 5 on improving maternal health.

During its two-day annual joint debate on Africa, speakers underscored the importance of helping the continent recover ground lost during a year of economic turmoil.  Health systems were underfunded and ill equipped.  Armed conflicts simmered, with one fifth of Africa’s population living in conflict zones.  Trade barriers, climate change and life-threatening diseases like malaria were still major obstacles to development, delegates said, and African countries needed investment and technology transfers, among other things, to find their footing again.

“With a sense of urgency backed by concrete actions”, the General Assembly President called for creating an environment conducive for investing in Africa’s future.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) had shaped a new vision for peace and development.  Those efforts must be complemented by substantial international commitments.  Donors and development partners must now boost their support for NEPAD, not only in combating poverty, but in helping Africa bounce back from the parallel food and economic crises.

In its annual joint debate on Security Council reform, delegates underscored that while near consensus had been reached on many issues that had stymied reform for years, breaking the stalemate in what some called a “delicate engineering project” required flexibility on the part of the five permanent Council members -- China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States -- to reconsider the merits of their privileged veto use.

Further, many said it was time for Afghanistan’s Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Chairman and facilitator of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform, to compile the various proposals and formulas into one text, which would serve as a basis for the next round of talks, expected in January.  Opening the debate, Mr. Treki said he was personally committed to strengthening cooperation between the Assembly and the Council, efforts that were at the heart of overall United Nations reform.  Security Council reform was among the most mentioned issues in the general debate and he was encouraged by the broad support on the need to restructure it.

The Assembly’s annual debate on Afghanistan ended with the consensus adoption of an extensive resolution, by which it urgently appealed to the international community to keep working with the Afghan Government to funnel all possible humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance to the struggling nation.  The 16-page text touched on the expanding drug trade, the refugee situation, advancement of women’s rights, efforts to curb human trafficking and the private sector’s role in producing long-term stability.

“Eight years after we all believed the national nightmare of the Afghan people had at last come to an end”, violence still threatened Afghans in many parts of the country, Afghanistan’s delegate said.  Yet, the situation had nevertheless improved.  Whereas the international community had previously debated “how to build what did not exist”, it now was weighing how to improve on what had been built: an effective Government, a well-trained army and police, and a productive economy.

Taking up global security issues amid calls for a new collective security system, the General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution reaffirming its strong support for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  In his final address to the Assembly after 12 years at the helm of the nuclear watchdog, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei framed the current issues in an historic context.  “Nuclear disarmament, which failed to make any headway in the two decades since the end of the cold war, is now back at the top of the international agenda and there is reason to hope that we may see a breakthrough,” he said.

A nuclear-weapon-free world was within grasp, he said, following the initiative of the Presidents of the United States and Russian Federation, and resumption of serious disarmament negotiations between the two largest nuclear-weapon States.  By demonstrating their irreversible commitment to achieving such a world, nuclear-weapon States could greatly enhance the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime and gain the moral authority to call on the rest of the world to curb proliferation.

In a special meeting convened by the General Assembly to weigh the report of the Human Rights Council on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Arab and Non-Aligned Movement delegations praised the survey for unmasking double standards during Israel’s December 2008 and January 2009 military operations in the territory.

Less than three weeks after the Geneva-based Human Rights Council had endorsed the Fact Finding Mission’s report -- informally known as the Goldstone Report, after its lead investigator Justice Richard Goldstone -- which accused both Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants of war crimes during the conflict, most speakers supported its findings and called repeatedly for follow-up on its recommendations.  Israel’s delegate, however, dismissed the Report, saying that her Government, which had not participated in the investigation, viewed it as biased.

The General Assembly’s joint debate on the follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits took on new importance this year, with Economic and Social Council President Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg) stressing that the work of the 52-member body be seen in line with overall efforts to help countries weather the global economic storm, particularly in the area of health.  The Council’s 2009 Annual Ministerial Review –- which assesses progress made towards the Millennium Development Goals -– attracted a range of Government, civil society and private sector actors to advance the global health agenda.

By a text on “Global health and foreign policy”, adopted by consensus later in the session, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General, in collaboration with the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), to submit a report to the Assembly’s sixty-fifth session, examining how foreign and health policy coordination could be strengthened at national, regional and international levels.  That report would also make recommendations to the Assembly’s high-level plenary meeting in September 2010.

First Committee

Opening the First Committee’s (Disarmament and International Security) general debate on 5 October, Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, warned the many senior governmental disarmament and arms control experts in attendance that, with some 23,000 nuclear weapons reportedly still in existence, and with thousands of missiles and bombers able to deliver them, weapons of mass destruction treaties short of universal membership and a large and growing agenda for conventional arms control, the achievement of disarmament goals remained “the burning problem of our time”.  But, eager to advance debate, the world today, he said, was capable of solving those problems.

With that in mind, the Committee forwarded to the Assembly a spate of texts on the nuclear issue, including a resolution calling for immediate and urgent steps to reduce the dangers of the unintentional and accidental use of nuclear weapons, deeming that the hair-trigger alert of those weapons carried unacceptable risks.  The Assembly would go on to affirm its urgent call on all States to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and to refrain from carrying out nuclear-weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions, and maintain their moratoriums in that regard, as it stressed that a universal and verifiable test-ban treaty was a fundamental instrument in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

For the first time, the resolution on that Treaty was co-sponsored in the First Committee by the five nuclear-weapon States ( China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States).  Ratification by two of those -– China and the United States, along with seven more -- was still outstanding and needed for the instrument’s entry into force.

Noting that the ultimate objective was general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, the Assembly adopted a text on renewing determination to eliminate nuclear weapons.  It stressed the need for diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that those weapons would ever be used, and to facilitate their total elimination in a way that promoted international stability and security for all.

It reiterated its grave concern at the danger to humanity posed by the chance of nuclear weapon use, through the adoption of a text on accelerating the implementation of disarmament commitments, and called upon all States to avoid acting in any way that might compromise disarmament and non-proliferation goals or that might lead to a new nuclear arms race.

Continuing its tradition of support for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, the Committee approved a number of texts on that item, including one by which the Assembly would call for a conference of States parties to zone treaties in New York in 2010, and urged regions that had not yet established such zone treaties to quicken the pace in that direction.

Aware that the illicit small-arms brokering was a grave problem the international community should address urgently, the Committee also approved a text by which the Assembly agreed to convene a four-week United Nations conference on an arms trade treaty in 2012, along with preparatory sessions to make recommendations on elements needed to attain an effective and balanced legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.

The First Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson José Luis Cancela Gómez ( Uruguay); Vice-Chairpersons Hilario G. Davide, Jr. ( Philippines), Hossam Aly ( Egypt) and Florian Laudi ( Germany); and Rapporteur Tetyana Pokhval’ona ( Ukraine).

Second Committee

Of the 38 development-related resolutions approved during the 2009 substantive session of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), one text had the Assembly note it’s deep concern over the economic crisis’ particular impact on developing countries’ trade, as well as the importance it gave to expediting and concluding the Doha Development Round by the end of 2010.  Also cited was the need to advance World Trade Organization negotiations on non-agricultural market access and facilitate World Trade Organization membership for all interested countries, particularly least developed ones.

Aiming to keep debt relief and development funding centre stage, the Committee also approved texts calling for continued concessionary and grant-based financing and official development assistance (ODA) to help low-income countries respond to the crisis and pay for gaps in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, as well as measures to ensure long-term debt sustainability and make global financial institutions and regulatory bodies more transparent, better supervised and skilled at debt management.

Sustainable development -- particularly the recent United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen and the need to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- was an underlying theme and the basis for 15 Committee-generated resolutions.  Several of those texts set in motion the Assembly’s course of action to support related observances and events, such as the International Year of Biodiversity, World Water Day and the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2010-2020).

As in previous sessions, the Committee approved texts that requested that Israel compensate Lebanon and Syria for the costs of repairing the environmental damage caused by the Israeli Air Force’s destruction of oil storage tanks near Lebanon’s El-Jiyeh electric power plant, and that demanded that Israel stop exploiting, damaging, depleting or endangering the resources of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and of the population in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Under the poverty eradication umbrella were four resolutions, including a new text on legal empowerment of the poor, which developing countries presented during the Committee’s session as a concept that should be broadly applied to ensure protection for all vulnerable groups.  Three texts focusing on development in the context of globalization and interdependence noted the uneven distribution of globalization’s benefits and costs, and the fact that policies linking globalization and socio-economic development could help reduce inequities.

Agriculture, technology and food security also gained increased attention within the development realm, with the Committee approving a new text calling for direct action to immediately tackle hunger for the most vulnerable, as well as medium- and long-term sustainable agricultural, food security, nutrition and rural development programmes to eliminate the root causes of hunger and poverty.

The Second Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Park In-kook (Republic of Korea); Vice-Chairpersons Mohamed Cherif Diallo ( Guinea), Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador) and Dragan Mićić ( Serbia); and Rapporteur Denise McQuade ( Ireland).

Third Committee

Acting with unusual consensus on several texts that traditionally receive fractured support, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) forwarded 58 draft resolutions and 9 draft decisions to the Assembly, including several texts that sought to extend safeguards and opportunities to the world's most vulnerable - particularly women, children and youth, and disabled, indigenous and elderly people, as well as refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants.

An omnibus text on children’s rights particularly highlighted the “right to be heard” -- a right which the roughly two dozen children youth delegates who spoke during the Committee’s deliberations exercised by voicing their most pressing concerns and most ambitious dreams.  Among those, they underscored the need to combat climate change and shape national development strategies to harness the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of teens and young adults.

Other child-centred texts welcomed the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children as a set of orientations to help inform policy and practice, and called for enhanced emphasis on quality education -- which delegations had highlighted as a key to ending the problem of child labour -- for the girl child.

Throughout the seven texts it drafted on women’s advancement, the Committee underlined the link between the situation of women and girls and the development agenda.  A text on ending violence against women migrant workers called on States to ensure that migration and labour policies did not reinforce discrimination and bias against women, and to consider expanding dialogue on methods to promote legal migration channels in order to deter illegal migration.  A text on improving the situation of women in rural areas recognized the critical role and contribution of rural women -- including indigenous women -- in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.

Reporting on her first year as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights when the Committee began its annual two-week consideration of human rights mechanisms, Navi Pillay stressed that the true test of any international agreement was its ability to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people struggling to work, eat, worship and stay healthy.  Indeed, people around the world had told her they wanted their rights “translated into reality”.  In its efforts to do that, her Office advocated a human-rights approach in response to the global food, economic and climate crises, as well as to poverty eradication and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

That focus on improving people’s lives was seen in a number of the Committee’s drafts, including one that emphasized the importance of consulting with internally displaced persons and host communities during all phases of displacement, and the consensus resolution on the right to food, which recognized State support for small farmers, fishing communities and local enterprises as a key element for food security.

The Committee also sought to strengthen international efforts -- especially within the United Nations system -- on a range of issues.  A text on international cooperation against the world drug problem adopted the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem, which had been adopted at the fifty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.  Another resolution, which aimed at better coordinating efforts to curb trafficking in persons, noted the decision of the President of the Assembly’s sixty-third session to appoint co-facilitators to start consultations on a plan of action against human trafficking.

Despite delegations’ new found spirit of consensus on several fronts, traditional fault lines persisted over several highly contentious resolutions, with both the African and Arab Groups tabling oral amendments to the text on International Covenants for Human Rights to excise reference to work by outside bodies, such as the special procedures mandate holders, which in the view of those Groups had introduced concepts of gender and sexual orientation “not universally recognized”.

Country-specific resolutions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Myanmar once again sparked passionate disagreement over the effectiveness of such texts in light of what many saw as the more equitable, dialogue-based approach set by the Human Rights Committee’s Universal Periodic Review.  Also divisive was a text on combating defamation of religions, which some States said was too narrowly focused on Islam.

The Third Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Normans Penke ( Latvia); Vice-Chairpersons Fiola Hoosen ( South Africa), Edgard Pérez ( Peru), Zahid Rastam ( Malaysia); and Rapporteur Nicola Hill ( New Zealand).

Fourth Committee

Debating such diverse political issues as decolonization, the rights of the Palestinian people and assistance in mine action, and tackling topics important to the Secretariat, such as public information, atomic radiation research and managing peacekeeping mandates, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization)submitted 25 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions aimed at meeting emerging challenges to the Organization’s historical mandate in each area.

The Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Marty M. Natalegawa ( Indonesia), told the Fourth Committee that the essential task at hand was to accelerate the decolonization process in the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories and put the process in the context of a changing world, on a case-by-case basis.  While nearly 750 million people had exercised their right to self-determination and more than 80 once-colonized territories had gained independence, the Committee voiced frustration at the persistence of colonialism in the present era, as the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories were simply 16 too many.

On the question of Western Sahara, speakers appealed to the Committee to find a solution to the more than 30-year-old conflict they said was tearing apart a peaceful people.  Yet, delegates remained divided on the decades-old issue, with some saying the time was ripe for Morocco’s Extended Autonomy Plan, and others calling for a free and fair referendum.  Wrapping up a week of impassioned debate on the remaining Non-Self Governing Territories, the Committee approved 10 draft resolutions, including on the question of Western Sahara, the question of Gibraltar and on economic and other activities which affect the interests of the people of those Territories.

During its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, the Committee heard on 20 October that space technology applications to combat, and even forecast, the spread of disease were fundamental to ensuring the health of current and future generations.  However, while space technology was indispensable in addressing such issues, there was also a need to work together for its harmonious use.  In that context, attention was drawn to the proposal by the Russian Federation and China to develop an agreement on preventing the placement of weapons in outer space.  The Committee unanimously recommended that States which had not yet become parties to international treaties governing the uses of outer space consider ratifying or acceding to those treaties, in a resolution it recommended to the Assembly.

Approving two draft resolutions and a draft decision without a vote at the conclusion of its general debate on information, the Committee reaffirmed that the United Nations remained the indispensable foundation of a peaceful and just world, and that its voice must be heard in a clear and effective manner.  Informing the world about the United Nations required correcting imbalances of information between developed and developing countries, for which the United Nations Information Centres played a crucial part, the Committee heard.

A traditionally expansive resolution on United Nations public information policies and activities recommended that the Assembly request the Department of Public Information to pay particular attention to poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, HIV/AIDS, combating terrorism and the needs of the African continent.

During the Committee’s comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, addressed the Committee, saying that United Nations peacekeeping was an increasingly complex and dangerous endeavour that succeeded quietly, every day, in mitigating harm to thousands of civilians around the globe.  Committee delegates called for clear guidance for peacekeeping field personnel, especially when entrusted with protection mandates for civilians in areas of armed conflict.  However, there was broad agreement that that mandate remained one of the least understood concepts for peacekeepers to implement on the ground.

As usual near session’s end, the Committee addressed the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.  After a general debate spanning such issues as UNRWA’s chronic funding deficit, violations of the human rights of Palestinians and the firing of rockets against Israeli civilian areas, the Committee recommended nine draft texts to the Assembly, each requiring a recorded vote.

The Fourth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser ( Qatar); Vice-Chairpersons Ridas Petkus ( Lithuania), Heidi Schroderus-Fox ( Finland) and Reniery Valladares ( Honduras); and Rapporteur Khalid Mohammed Osman Sidahmed Mohammed Ali ( Sudan).

Fifth Committee

In the 2009 budget year, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) faced the dual task of approving a new budget and agreeing on a possible new methodology to determine how membership dues would be assessed.  The $5.16 billion budget, passed after lengthy consultations in the early hours of 24 December, was based on an initial proposal that showed only a slight rise over the previous biennium ‑‑ 0.5 per cent ‑‑ though the Secretary-General had not initially included a number of significant requirements.  Among them were requirements for the Umoja enterprise resource planning system, for which the Committee eventually approved $24.19 million, and business continuity management, for which the Committee approved $2.2 million.

The prospect of a revised scale of assessments had led some developing countries to voice fears of an overly large increase in their contribution, against the backdrop of the global financial and economic crisis.  States that had traditionally borne a higher amount of the Organization’s expenses, such as Japan and members of the European Union, had argued that major emerging economies should take a larger share to reflect their economic accomplishments.  The fears of developing States were not borne out, as the Committee reached a compromise agreement, during the final hours of negotiation, to retain the same formula for another three years was reached, while simultaneously calling for its urgent review.  The agreement was approved in time to allow the Secretary-General to issue Member States’ assessments after 31 December.

Early in the session, questions arose about whether resources were being distributed equitably among the Organization’s three pillars:  peace and security; development; and human rights.  Some Committee members observed that resource requirements for 27 special political missions was to have totalled $569.53 millionin 2010-2011, while the Development Account stood at $18.65 million, well short of the targeted $200 million.  One cost-saving measure suggested by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) ‑‑ to merge the functions of the Special Adviser on Africa with that of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States ‑‑ was also met with some concern. The Committee approveda draft resolution by which the Assembly would reiterate that the OIOS should not propose changes to legislative decisions and mandates already approved by intergovernmental bodies.  As for the Development Account, the Committee recommended that it receive an additional $5 million.

Also this year, the Committee took up the issue of greater budgetary discretion for the Secretary-General, to whom the Assembly granted limited discretion in 2006, on an experimental basis, to enter into commitments of up to $20 million during the 2006-2007 and 2008-2009 bienniums.  The Secretary-General, explaining his use of that discretion at a private meeting with the Committee, requested the continuation of the practice and an increase to $30 million of the amount involved.  In the end, the Committee decided to recommend that the Assembly simply note his efforts.  Meanwhile, the Committee refused the Secretary-General’s request for the funding of “associated costs” in relation to the Capital Master Plan.

However, in recognition of the Organization’s security needs, and following a plea by the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, the Committee approved a budget of $242.04 million, despite the Secretariat’s late submission of security-related requests.  Among the Secretary-General’s direct requests to the Committee had been one for the immediate use of $7.9 million to meet security needs in Afghanistan, where a targeted attack in October had taken the lives of United Nations personnel.

The Committee deferred several issues until the next session, including full implementation of new staff rules proposed by the Secretary-General earlier in the year.  Approved by the Assembly during its sixty-third session, the new contractual arrangements comprised temporary, fixed-term and continuing appointments.  They entered into force on 1 July, but the Assembly had requested the Secretary-General not to appoint any staff to continuing contracts before 1 January 2010, pending a thorough explanation of its financial and management implications.  The Committee had hoped to recommend some form of action on new contracts this year, but dissatisfied with the information provided by the Secretariat on continuing contracts, it had felt unable to do so.

Also deferred was the question of how to finance the United Nations after-service health insurance scheme.  In 2010-2011, the Organization’s requirements in that regard stood at $130.4 million, jumping four-fold from the after-service health insurance needs of 1994-1995.  Accrued liabilities were valued at $2.43 billion as at 31 December 2007.  The Committee recommended that the Secretary-General be asked to validate the accrued liabilities, with figures audited by the Board of Auditors, and to include that information in his report on managing after-service health liabilities during the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session.

The Committee also reviewed, for the first time in nine years, the structure of contribution levels to the peacekeeping budget.  Peacekeeping contributions are assessed according to a system of adjustments of the scale of assessments for the regular budget, where permanent members of the Security Council shoulder the bulk of the expenses.  Least developed countries receive the highest rate of discount available under the scale:  the floor rate is placed at 0.001 per cent and the maximum contribution rate at 0.01 per cent.  The Committee recommended that the Assembly endorse an update to some countries’ adjustment levels, subject to certain provisions, but, recognizing the concerns of some Member States, it would decide to review the structure of the levels, aiming for a decision, if agreed, no later than the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session.

Serving on the Bureau of the Fifth Committee were the Chair, Peter Maurer (Switzerland), Vice-Chairpersons Danilo Rosales Diaz (Nicaragua), Babou Sene (Senegal) and Sirithon Wairatpanij (Thailand), and Rapporteur Yuliana Zhivkova Georgieva (Bulgaria).

Sixth Committee

Among the highlights in the Sixth Committee (Legal) was the approval of the rules of procedure for the new two-tiered administration of justice system at the United Nations, inaugurated in January.  In its debate, the Committee noted the issues remaining to be addressed jointly with the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), including the devising of effective remedies for non-staff personnel, legal assistance and the defining of relations between the staff associations and two tribunals.  The Committee also considered the strengthened informal administration of justice mechanism, the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services.

A recurrent theme throughout debate was the growing ascendancy of international law and the rule of law.  In the debate on the United Nations Programme of Assistance for strengthening international law, delegates called for recognizing the primacy of international law and putting it at the forefront of State concerns.  They called for law to be established as the “fourth pillar” of development, beside the environmental, social and economic pillars.  The Programme also authorized the Secretary-General to award scholarships related to the Law of the Sea, whose Tribunal President told the Committee that the visibility of the Tribunal and its dispute-settlement mechanism were being enhanced in anticipation of increased demand as exploitation of the marine environment advanced.

The United Nations Office of Legal Affairs and Codification Division were recognized for promoting the Programme while the Audiovisual Library was commended for receiving the 2009 Best Website Award from the International Association of Law Librarians.  There was a call for States to tighten domestic legislation as a means to improve criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.  A debate on the principle of universal jurisdiction was focused on the prevention of impunity.  Consideration of the rule of law was based on the Secretary-General’s first report, including a review of the new Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and Rule of Law Unit.

Of note on the report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) was the Committee’s call for publication of the UNCITRAL Practice Guide on Cross-Border Insolvency Cooperation, which the Committee noted was very timely, given the current global financial crisis.  Increased cooperation between the International Law Commission and other legal entities was welcomed and encouraged.  The Commission was also encouraged to take up some aspect of environmental law to make its work more relevant to the practical world.  In his address, the President of the International Court of Justice told the Committee that the Court’s work indicated an emerging notion of the world becoming a “community of individuals” as States turned to the Court for judicial settlement in new areas, including on issues related to the environment, delimitation of boundaries and international responsibility.

On other legal matters, the debate on the comprehensive terrorism convention and a possible high-level conference on terrorism focused on the urgency of the Ad-Hoc Committee finalizing the instrument at its 12 to 16 April meeting.  A Saudi Arabian initiative to establish an international centre received support.  The Organization’s role in the peaceful settlement of disputes was brought up in the debate on the Special Committee on the Charter.  Debate on the report of the Host Country Committee raised issues of diplomatic tax immunity in addition to visa, travel and parking matters.

Given observer status in the work of the General Assembly based on the Committee’s recommendation were the International Olympic Committee, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean.  A resolution recommending observer status for the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly was withdrawn in the Committee.  Communication was to be sent to the Assembly President requesting an appropriate mechanism for the Council to contribute its unique expertise to the Organization, perhaps at an advisory level.

The Sixth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Mourad Benmehidi (Algeria); Vice-Chairpersons Esmaeil Bahaei Hamaneh (Iran), Mr. Andris Stastoli (Albania) and Marcelo Böhlke (Brazil); and Rapporteur Jean-Cédric Janssens de Bisthoven (Belgium).

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.