'The Sands Are Shifting,' Says New General Assembly President, Opening Sixty-Sixth Session with Call to Action on United Nations to ‘Rethink’ Way It Does Business

13 September 2011
GA/11134

'The Sands Are Shifting,' Says New General Assembly President, Opening Sixty-Sixth Session with Call to Action on United Nations to ‘Rethink’ Way It Does Business

13 September 2011
General Assembly
GA/11134
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plenary

1stMeeting (PM)

 ‘The Sands Are Shifting,’ Says New General Assembly President, Opening Sixty-Sixth

Session with Call to Action on United Nations to ‘Rethink’ Way It Does Business

Says Member States Should Demonstrate Courage, Wisdom, Tenacity

In Common Search for Visionary Solutions to Today’s Vexing Challenges

“We come together at a critical juncture,” said the incoming General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, as he opened the 193‑member body’s sixty-sixth session with a call to action on the United Nations to rethink the way it did business in the wake of ongoing global economic turmoil, popular protests that were upending once-stable Governments and the seemingly unending raft of natural hazards and man-made disasters.

“The sands are shifting.  We have before us a unique opportunity to shape, change and ensure that our next chapter will be safer for the most vulnerable, more prosperous for those in need and kinder to planet Earth,” said Mr. Al‑Nasser of Qatar as he issued a strong call on Member States to evince the courage, wisdom and tenacity to work together in the search for creative and visionary solutions to today’s vexing challenges.

He said that future generations would hold Member States accountable for how they responded.  Oppressed people, including those living under foreign occupation, were yearning to be free.  Moreover, with the world economy lagging, islands sinking and life-giving waters drying up, Member States today had an opportunity to work together to produce results; to prove that they had learned from the lessons of the past and that when faced with those who chose force and brutality, “we choose peace, human rights and democracy”.

Underscoring his deep commitment to strong collaboration and consensus-building, Mr. Al‑Nasser set out the four main areas of the Assembly’s “significant” agenda for the session, which included United Nations reform and revitalization; strengthening disaster resistance and response; sustainable development; and, importantly, the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes, which he had chosen as the theme of this year’s general debate.

With increasing momentum worldwide and within the United Nations to seek mediation and other peaceful dispute-settlement tools, he intended to “actively pursue” the issue during the sixty-sixth session.  “It is my view that the General Assembly should, through its revitalization, become more engaged and empowered on issues of mediation, so it can fulfil its role as the world’s pre-eminent peacemaker at this major juncture in international relations,” he said.

On United Nations reform, he said the world today was much more interdependent and complex than it had been at the Organization’s founding.  Thus, to remain legitimate, it must adapt.  “There is no shame in admitting that after six decades, our Organization needs reform,” he said, stressing that it would be particularly important to support the Assembly in responding earlier to emerging situations of common concern, as well as ensuring implementation of its resolutions.  He also called on delegations to press ahead with efforts to reform the Security Council and to “foster stronger interaction and genuine cooperation” between that 15-member body, the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.

Turning to disaster prevention, he summoned strengthened cooperation between the United Nations, the Assembly and the actors on the ground as populations across the globe were experiencing increased vulnerability.  “We must invest in preparedness and take forward our efforts to reduce risk and vulnerability to natural hazards,” he said, emphasizing that one way to do that was to focus on building the capacities of vulnerable regions to make them more capable and self-reliant.  Specifically urging delegations to provide moral and financial support to help restore peace and security in Somalia, where the people were facing “starvation and humanitarian disaster on an unimaginable scale,” Mr. Al‑Nasser vowed to focus the Assembly’s attention on addressing that unfolding crisis.

Finally, on sustainable development, he reaffirmed his commitment to participating in the ongoing preparatory process for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — Rio+20 — as well as the Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Desertification, set for next week.  He also pledged to support the upcoming tenth session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.  He also highlighted the upcoming United Nations climate conference slated for later this year in Durban, South Africa, and he urged world leaders to take strong action there.  On those and other vital issues, including human rights, disarmament and the Millennium Development Goals, he would exert all necessary efforts for progress.

A sombre highlight of the opening ceremony was the Assembly’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of pioneering United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled the example Mr. Hammarskjöld had set by his powerful conviction.  From the time of the Suez operation, Mr. Hammarskjöld had been the architect of peacekeeping as it was known today.  The complex operation he had designed in the Congo took that process a step further, creating the elements of peacemaking and peacebuilding, and persuading Member States to commit to them.

He said that Mr. Hammarskjöld had believed that the Organization existed, not for the world’s major Powers, but for smaller, weaker countries, especially the then newly independent African nations.  He was especially moved to mark the anniversary of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s death just months after the Organization had helped South Sudan become independent.  That nation needed the United Nations continuing solidarity in the years to come.  In closing, he said: “Dag Hammarskjöld never stopped climbing.  He never gave up.  His ideals were uncompromising, his accomplishments were magnificent and his legacy towers over us today.”

In other business today, the Assembly authorized the following United Nations programmes and bodies to meet during the sixty-sixth session on the strict understanding that those meetings be accommodated within available facilities and services: Committee on Relations with the Host Country; Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and the Disarmament Commission.

Also on that list were the Executive Board of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women); the Independent Audit Advisory Committee; the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; the second intersessional meeting of the preparatory process for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development; and the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (document A/66/346).

The Assembly also decided that the Credentials Committee of its sixty-sixth session would be comprised of the following Member States: China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Italy, Maldives, Panama, Russian Federation, Senegal and the United States.

Finally, delegations took note of a letter from the Secretary-General to the Assembly President, informing the Assembly that six Member States were in arrears in payment of their financial contributions to the United Nations, under Article 19 of the Charter (document A/65/350).

[According to Article 19, a Member State in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization will have no vote in the Assembly, if the amount of those arrears exceeds the amount of the contributions due from the preceding two years.]

Statements in Tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld

Following a moment of silence, Assembly President AL-NASSER hailed Mr. Hammarskjöld’s remarkable work in shaping the methods of work of the United Nations, especially through his strong belief in preventive diplomacy and in the need to assist newly independent countries.  He had been the driving force behind the creation of the Organization’s peacekeeping operations, as well as the identification of United Nations staff as “international civil servants”.  He had set the standards of such service and urged all who worked for the Organization to promote respect for and belief in the noble tenets of the United Nations Charter.

United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON recalled the example Mr. Hammarskjöld had set by his powerful conviction.  Mr. Ban, who had visited Mr. Hammarskjöld’s grave in Uppsala two years ago, called the former Secretary-General his hero and pledged to carry on his work, guided by his wisdom.  From the time of the Suez operation, Mr. Hammarskjöld was the architect of peacekeeping as it was known today.  The complex operation he had designed in the Congo took that process a step further, creating the elements of peacemaking and peacebuilding and persuading Member States to commit to them.  Mr. Hammarskjöld had believed that the Organization existed, not for the world’s major Powers, but for smaller, weaker countries, especially the then newly independent African nations.

Mr. Hammarskjöld’s convictions rang true today, Mr. Ban said, noting that the United Nations existence had been tested recently in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, and that it had stood firmly on the side of democracy and justice.  He was especially moved to mark the anniversary of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s death just months after the Organization had helped South Sudan become independent.  That nation needed the United Nations continuing solidarity in the years to come.  In closing, he said “Dag Hammarskjöld never stopped climbing.  He never gave up.  His ideals were uncompromising, his accomplishments were magnificent and his legacy towers over us today.”

DAFFA-ALLA ELHAG ALI OSMAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the African States, said Mr. Hammarskjöld had been a great statesman and the most influential force for peace during his tenure at the helm of the United Nations.  He had introduced quiet diplomacy and had promoted preventive diplomacy, and his contribution to peacekeeping was invaluable, paving the way for the Organization to mitigate the impact of severe crises worldwide.  Mr. Hammarskjöld’s wisdom still guided and inspired today.

HASAN KLEIB (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States, said the plane crash that had killed Mr. Hammarskjöld had been one of the first major blows to the Organization’s peacekeeping responsibilities.  The previous year, the Security Council had responded to the conflict in the Congo by establishing a peacekeeping force there.  It had been a sign of how seriously Mr. Hammarskjöld had taken his assignment that he had been making his fourth trip to the country at the time of the crash.  “He would let nothing stand between him and his commitment to peace.”  Since that incident, United Nations peacekeeping had grown remarkably and was now recognized as a “global partnership”.  Today, every heart that enjoyed peace should remember Mr. Hammarskjöld and his fellow travellers, and the supreme price they paid in its search.

EUGEN VICTOR MIHUŢ (Romania), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, said that Mr. Hammarskjöld represented universal values.  He had encapsulated all the ideal attributes of one serving in the highest United Nations office, notably integrity, as evidenced by his refusal to give in under external pressure; impeccable confidence; admirable managerial skills in setting up a bureaucratic machinery of great proportion; and vision and courage.  Mr. Hammarskjöld had exhibited a dignified resilience and had been capable of navigating complex challenges.  He was and would remain a benchmark for the values of multilateralism and dialogue for diplomats, civil servants and others involved in international relations.

NÉSTOR OSORIO (Colombia), speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States, said the delegations of his region kept Mr. Hammarskjöld’s memory “very much alive”.  Indeed, there was perhaps no region of the world on which the former United Nations chief had not left his mark.  Along with the principle of preventive diplomacy, Mr. Hammarskjöld had also promoted the establishment of special political missions and special envoys, as well as the independence of Secretariat officials.  He had been unwavering in his support of the United Nations Charter and had been rightly called one of the greatest statesmen of the twentieth century.

ISABELLE PICCO (Monaco), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States, said today’s commemoration gave the world an opportunity to reaffirm the values that united everyone and the continuous commitment of the Organization for their promotion.  Mr. Hammarskjöld embodied the very values that he demanded of the United Nations and he had established the foundations of exemplary diplomacy and global citizenship.  Since he had first created the concept of peacekeeping based on the principles of impartiality, non-interference and the non-use of force, the evolution of peacekeeping operations had confirmed the Organization’s central role in maintaining international peace and security and its ability to adapt to new challenges.

ROSEMARY DICARLO (United States), speaking on behalf of the host country, joined others in celebrating Mr. Hammarskjöld’s life and legacy as a “man who helped turn the United Nations into the organization it is today”.  Indeed, the reason the position of United Nations Secretary-General enjoyed the status it did today was in large part due to the remarkable efforts of Mr. Hammarskjöld.  All States should reflect on his call for results and work to make the United Nations better able to address the present challenges, for the good of all people around the world.

MÅRTEN GRUNDITZ (Sweden) thanked the Assembly President and the Member States for the tribute paid to Mr. Hammarskjöld.  He said that, as other speakers had noted, Mr. Hammarskjöld’s legacy remained relevant to the United Nations.  His efforts to assert the Organization’s independence and integrity had borne fruit and his work in the area of preventive diplomacy had blazed the trail for United Nations Secretaries-General’s direct diplomatic engagement.  Mr. Hammarskjöld’s role in the development of United Nations peacekeeping operations, which had become one of the world body’s most visible tools, had been instrumental.

“But Dag Hammarskjöld’s legacy remains so vibrant today because of its intellectual side — his vision for the United Nations,” he said, emphasizing the late diplomat’s efforts to make the world body a dynamic instrument in the hands of its Member States.  He had also understood that the Organization’s relevance lay in its ability to adapt to new demands.  In Mr. Hammarskjöld’s view, the Charter should not be “worshipped” as an immutable document, but be used to address the challenges of the day.  “This combination of pragmatism and vision — pragmatism as vision — was indeed a defining feature of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s tenure of office,” he said, expressing the hope that that vision would inspire Member States as the Assembly’s sixty-sixth session got under way.

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