Citing ‘Shifting Sands’, General Assembly President Says Future Generations Will Hold Member States Accountable for Their Response to Current Challenges
Citing ‘Shifting Sands’, General Assembly President Says Future Generations Will Hold Member States Accountable for Their Response to Current Challenges
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
Citing ‘Shifting Sands’, General Assembly President Says Future Generations Will
Hold Member States Accountable for Their Response to Current Challenges
Plight of Most Vulnerable People amid Global Recession,
Climate Change, Sustainable Development among Key Concerns of Sixty-sixth Session
With the political situation throughout North Africa and the Middle East in flux after months of anti-Government protests, the dismal reality of climate change playing out across South-east Asia and the Horn of Africa, and the world’s major economic engines still mired in recession, the General Assembly opened its sixty-sixth session with a busy agenda reflecting many of the year’s most vital international issues.
“The sands are shifting,” Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar said as the 193-member body’s substantive session began. The United Nations had before it a unique opportunity to shape change and ensure “our next chapter will be safer for the most vulnerable, more prosperous for those in need and kinder to the planet,” he added, stressing that future generations would hold Member States accountable for their response to the current challenges.
Gathering at a critical juncture in the history of nations, “this is our opportunity to define our place in this decisive moment; to prove that we can work together to produce results,” he continued. “An increasingly interdependent and interconnected world is forcing us to rethink the way we do business at the [United Nations],” he said, outlining his four main areas of focus for the session: the peaceful settlement of disputes; United Nations reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and sustainable development and global prosperity. The session would also aim for progress on strengthening the Organization’s peacebuilding architecture, and would include deliberations on sensitive issues regarding development, human rights, climate change and global safety and security.
At a press conference later in the session, Mr. Al-Nasser described the impact of the protests, calls for freedom and other events across the Arab world as one of the most dramatic developments during “an eventful and demanding year for the United Nations”, saying: “You call it the Arab Spring, but I think the more appropriate description should be the Arab Awakening.” The popular protests that had swept from Africa’s Maghreb region to the Persian Gulf had generated deep concern about the plight of people in the affected countries, especially human rights, and those of women and youth in particular. “Under my Presidency, the Assembly remains active in galvanizing the necessary global partnership to assist the Governments and people in the Arab world during this Arab Awakening,” he added.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the Assembly President’s opening address as he presented his annual report on the work of the Organization with a challenge to Member States to shape the world of tomorrow by taking decisive action on some of today’s most pressing issues. Flagging sustainable development as the most serious among them, he said: “We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment.” Stressing that the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as “Rio+20” — must succeed, he added: “We cannot burn our way to the future,” and called for early agreement on a binding climate deal with more ambitious national and global emission-reduction targets.
He went on to say that the effort to build a safer and more secure world was the core responsibility of the United Nations, noting that the Organization had recently been “sorely tested” in that regard. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, it had “stood firm” for democracy and human rights, while in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would carry on its missions with determination and commitment. “In Darfur, we continue to save lives and help keep peace under difficult conditions,” he added.
Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, he emphasized: “[We] must break the stalemate. We have long agreed that Palestinians deserve a State. Israel needs security. Both want peace.” He pledged unrelenting efforts to help achieve that peace through a negotiated settlement. As for the dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East, he said the United Nations was deploying a special mission to support the transitional authorities in Libya. “Let us help make the Arab Spring a true season of hope for all.”
Ahead of its annual high-level segment — which would include ministerial meetings devoted to desertification and sustainable development, the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, and the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration against Racism — the Assembly faced the challenging question of who would represent Libya during the session. On 16 September, in two rounds of voting, the Assembly decided, by a recorded vote of 107 in favour to 22 against with 12 abstentions, to allow the National Transitional Council — formed in the wake of civil protests that ultimately drove long-time leader Muammar al-Qadhafi from power — to represent Libya in the General Assembly.
The votes sparked intense debate that would echo throughout the Assembly session; while most delegates affirmed support for Libya and the aspirations of its people, many others denounced the “mishandling” of Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), which authorized qualified States to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya. The consequent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air campaign had not only left the country worse off, several delegations said, it had also, under the “guise of the responsibility to protect”, obstructed regional efforts to craft a negotiated political solution without foreign intervention. As such, the issue remained a “big question mark”, some said, noting that they would voice their concerns later in the session, when the Assembly moved to reinstate Libya to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
Another matter that galvanized the session’s early days was the anticipated application of Palestine for United Nations membership. Standing before a packed and applauding hall after having presented the application to the Secretary-General, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas outlined on 23 September his homeland’s bid for the statehood it had long sought. Declaring that the “moment of truth” had arrived, he said: “We have one goal — to be. And we shall be.” The application, which would be submitted to the Security Council for its consideration, was yet another in a series of peaceful Palestinian efforts to resolve the long-standing impasse between themselves and Israel, he added.
During the general debate, many delegates argued that while decisive action was required to tackle many pressing global challenges, the true test of the international community’s fibre would come not through action but through its commitment to prevention. The session’s theme, “The role of mediation in the settlement of disputes”, underscored that compromise-oriented diplomacy stood foremost among the reasons for the world body’s founding, said Assembly President Al-Nasser, adding that he hoped to galvanize the real multilateral capacity of that theme. “The world is going through a particularly difficult time and transition, and the United Nations can — and should — play an important role in resolving disputes and conflicts,” he stressed during a thematic debate later in the session.
One of the main highlights of the session was the Assembly’s first ever summit-level meeting on preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases. Proclaiming the spread of deadly chronic illnesses a socio-economic and development challenge of “epidemic proportions”, Governments pledged to work with the United Nations to adopt, before the end of 2012, targets to combat heart disease, cancers, diabetes and lung disease, and to devise voluntary policies that would cut smoking and slash the high salt, sugar and fat content in foods that caused them.
World leaders joined Health and Development Ministers in the consensus on adopting a wide-ranging Political Declaration. The centrepiece of the two-day meeting, it acknowledged that the global threat of non-communicable diseases “constitutes one of the major challenges for development in the twenty-first century”. It also recognized that many chronic disease risk factors were driven by obesity, and that mental and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, added to the global burden non-communicable disease “for which there is a need to provide equitable access to effective programmes and health-care interventions”.
The Assembly also convened its Fourth High-level Meeting on Financing for Development, where delegations stressed the particular importance of reinvigorating the international partnership for development as States began to consider the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals framework. While those ideas would be fleshed out at the Rio+20 Conference next year, many speakers stressed that, in the short term, the global financial crisis must not be seen as an excuse for the flagging commitment to fulfil official development assistance (ODA) obligations. Speakers also underscored the need to consider new, innovative mechanisms for financing the critical global development agenda.
As for the work of the Assembly’s main subsidiary bodies, Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) that it “should not wait for the dawning of world peace as a precondition for disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control to succeed”. Heeding that call, the Committee pressed ahead, adopting 52 draft resolutions and decisions covering a range of issues, from accelerating implementation of nuclear-disarmament commitments to banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and reviving the long-deadlocked Conference on Disarmament.
The developing world’s vulnerabilities to the multiple global crises and preparations for the June 2012 Rio+20 Conference were prominent among the concerns of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) during the session. As reflected in the 24 draft resolutions and four draft decisions that it would submit to the Assembly, the Committee’s discussions covered a range of issues, including the need to enhance development cooperation with middle-income countries, and pressing environmental concerns, such as the importance of practical steps to protect coral reefs.
Following a session in which senior United Nations officials and experts pledged to stand with the world’s most marginalized as transformation swept through North Africa and the Middle East, and in which quieter but equally far-reaching revolutions bolstered social protection systems, strengthened judicial and legislative safeguards and advanced human rights protections around the globe, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) forwarded 67 draft resolutions to the Assembly. In response to those commitments, the drafts addressed such issues as the human rights situation in Syria, a third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and women’s participation in politics.
Once again taking up some of the world’s most enduring political challenges, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) sent a broad range of texts to the General Assembly, with its work for the session culminating in an examination of Israeli practices. That cluster of drafts which, as in past years, required recorded votes, demanded that the Government of Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in all the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan. In the realm of decolonization, the Committee produced several draft resolutions aimed at furthering that goal. It also took action on texts concerning dissemination of the United Nations message and the review of peacekeeping operations.
After arguing over whether the global economic crisis justified across-the-board budget cuts proposed by the Secretary-General and any decreases in staff pay, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) recommended a $5.152 billion budget for the Organization in 2012-2013, which, at 4.8 per cent less than the current two-year expenditure, would aim to make the best possible use of United Nations resources. The Committee also approved texts on the next biennium’s financing requirements of special political missions, peacekeeping operations, the world body’s administration of justice system, the Capital Master Plan and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, among other areas.
During its 2011 session, the Sixth Committee (Legal) saw a record number of delegations participating in debates on crucial issues facing the international law community and the world at large. That resulted, through the Committee’s trademark consensus, in the approval of 23 draft resolutions in 18 reports centred on the promotion of the rule of law, concerted efforts to eliminate international terrorism, international trade frameworks, and the dissemination and teaching of international law.
The Assembly held several high-level events in the days leading up to its annual general debate. Besides non-communicable diseases, a second key issue taking the spotlight was the scourge of desertification, as well as the attendant land degradation and drought. World leaders said that, like chronic illnesses, the spreading problem of desertification risked reversing hard-won gains in poverty reduction and development. Desertification, which threatened an estimated 1 billion lives in more than 100 countries — demonstrated most acutely by the escalating famine in the Horn of Africa – resulted from poor land management, climate change and conflict, among other factors.
However, the Secretary-General noted in his address that “drought does not have to become famine”. Urging participants to work towards the sustainable management of arid and semi-arid regions, he said that, far from being a “lost cause”, they accounted for more than a third of the world’s stock of carbon storage and held massive potential for the growth of biofuels as well as the development of both solar and wind resources. Governments and the private sector should invest in them without delay, he stressed.
The Assembly held a third high-level meeting to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 2001 adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which took aim at racism and intolerance around the world. Addressing the gathered leaders and delegates, Secretary-General Ban welcomed the progress made over the last decade in countering them, but said the existence of racism and racial discrimination, including its new manifestations, was nevertheless undeniable, while intolerance had actually increased in many parts of the world.
Capping meeting, the Assembly reached consensus on approving a political declaration entitled “United against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”. Assembly President Al-Nasser noted that the event — which featured two round tables focusing on recognition, justice and development for the victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — had provided an opportunity for Member States to share experiences of progress towards realizing the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.
The sixty-sixth session also offered a chance to acknowledge the pioneering achievements of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in a 1961 plane crash while trying to bring peace to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Marking the fiftieth anniversary of that tragedy on the session’s opening day, Secretary-General Ban said: “Nothing could be more fitting at this tumultuous time than to reflect on the life and death of Dag Hammarskjöld […] we are inspired by the power of his conviction and we pledge to carry on the work of the United Nations that he died defending.”
He noted that one of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s deepest tenets was that the United Nations existed not for the major Powers but for smaller, weaker countries, especially, at that time, the newly independent nations of Africa. “His words ring as true today,” Mr. Ban said. “The reason for the United Nations existence was tested recently in Libya and in Côte d’Ivoire,” he added, referring to two African countries where the world body had helped to promote democracy after civil strife. “In those cases and others, we stood firmly on the side of democracy, on the side of justice, on the side of the people.”
During the general debate, the Assembly considered several long-standing questions and issues, including the appropriate uses of mediation and military intervention, and the need to help still-lagging least developed countries meet their most basic needs. With some 64 million people living in absolute poverty and the gap between rich and poor nations as wide as ever, many senior Government officials stressed that global development was at a critical juncture. It was imperative to assist least developed countries, whether by opening markets, closing protracted trade agreements or scaling up badly-needed humanitarian assistance
In particular, they noted that the economic forces that had hampered global growth had created serious ripple effects for African countries, which were buckling under heavy external debt, deteriorating terms of trade and declining investment and capital flows. To spur global economic recovery, some speakers said, priorities should centre on creating a fair and inclusive international monetary and financial system featuring a louder voice for emerging markets and developing countries. As ever, broad attainment of the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline was cited as vital.
As its substantive work got under way, the Assembly considered a wide array of issues, ranging from the potential of cooperative business models to humanitarian assistance to the effective functioning of United Nations bodies. In November, the annual debate on Security Council reform heard delegates call once again for urgent action to update that 15-nation organ, which was “badly out of step” with current geopolitical realities.
In particular, many countries called for the expansion of the Council’s permanent membership, noting that for half a century it had comprised only five major world Powers — China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. Some delegations favoured the incorporation of Brazil, India, Germany and Japan as permanent members, while others expressed dismay that while African issues represented 70 per cent of the Council’s work, it still lacked permanent representation.
In a similar vein, many delegates speaking during the Assembly’s debate on its own revitalization stressed that it was the organ — and not the Security Council — with the legitimacy of universal and democratic membership. Some of the most significant strides made in setting the normative policies on health, decolonization, education and the environment had been made in the General Assembly, many noted, adding that such success was “intrinsically linked” to the will of a wide range of Member States.
It was therefore troubling, many speakers said, that the Council continued to encroach upon the Assembly’s powers and prerogatives by addressing issues that rightfully fell within the functions and powers of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. Moreover, President Al-Nasser said, recent world events necessitated a strong and responsive Assembly, which should not be restricted to being a venue for deliberation. Rather, it should be a place for finding solutions, responding to challenges and building global consensus on issues of shared concern, he emphasized.
Many of discussions during the session — including its two-day debate on the Middle East and the Question of Palestine — were informed by the Arab Spring. In several passionate statements, delegates stressed that the popular uprisings were demanding greater inclusiveness and democracy. “A historic moment is before Member States to act, to uphold their legal obligations and the United Nations Charter,” said the Permanent Observer of Palestine, recalling the Palestinian people’s 23 September application for full United Nations membership. While the membership bid had regrettably not found consensus among Security Council members, it had nonetheless reinvigorated the movement for States to “answer the call of history” by recognizing Palestine as a State with the right to decide its own destiny, he said.
In November, nearly nine months after its extraordinary decision to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council, the Assembly decided, by a recorded vote of 123 in favour to 4 against (Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and El Salvador) with 6 abstentions (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Cuba and Viet Nam), reinstated the country to the Geneva-based body. Libya’s representative said his country’s removal had been a wise decision at the time, but, having removed a “tyrant”, it now deserved to return. Violations perpetrated during the recent revolution would not be overlooked, he stressed, vowing that the National Transitional Council would investigate them and ensure that they would never be repeated.
However, not all delegations agreed that the unprecedented moves had been positive. Several countries, those from the Latin American and Caribbean region in particular, said Member States had been “manipulated” into adopting Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), which had authorized the NATO-led intervention. The text had been politically motivated and intended to spur regime change. Moreover, Libya continued to commit violations of human rights, they said, adding that armed groups and chaos were prevalent, and there was no transition towards a situation in which fair elections could be held.
Describing the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) as the world’s great “assembly line” for the construction and maintenance of global disarmament norms, High Representative Duarte opened that body’s general debate on 3 October by saying the disarmament machinery needed some new success stories and the Committee “would be a good place to start”. With that in mind, delegations sent a range of disarmament and non-proliferation draft resolutions and draft decisions to the General Assembly, approving 52 texts following 46 separate recorded votes.
With concern over the persistent impasse in the treaty-making Conference on Disarmament dominating debate, having deepened since the previous session, Jarmo Sareva (Finland), Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference, told the Committee that the absence of consensus on how to address the four core issues before the Conference — nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances, a weapons-free outer space, and banning the production of weapons-grade fissile material — had scuppered progress since the body’s last success, the elaboration of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996. He noted that certain States were pressing for alternative negotiating processes, with improvised ad hoc arrangements outside the United Nations framework. That would be “a dangerous step backwards”, he warned.
Frustrated by the 15-year-long deadlock in that crucial body, delegates in the First Committee held a vigorous debate upon the introduction of divergent approaches to breaking the stalemate. One approach would have asked the Assembly to establish Geneva-based working groups on core issues if the Conference could not begin negotiations during its 2012 session, but it was not pressed to a vote. Another approach, approved without a vote, urged the Conference to start its substantive work early next year and, failing that, invited Member States to explore options for taking multilateral disarmament negotiations forward.
The scope and pace of nuclear disarmament once again informed debate and action in the Committee, which approved 16 draft resolutions in that cluster, and, with voting machines locking in their familiar pattern, just four without a vote. The texts in that cluster centred on, among other concerns, missiles; treaties on nuclear-weapons-free zones, including the quest to establish one in the Middle East; and security assurances for non-nuclear-armed States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
Greater consensus was found in the conventional weapons cluster. Highlighting warnings by several delegations that such weapons were wreaking similar havoc in some States as that associated with weapons of mass destruction, the Committee approved six texts, four without a vote, on: tackling the illicit arms trade; assisting States to curb the trafficking; the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; and problems arising from accumulated ammunition stockpiles. Requiring recorded votes were a draft resolution on implementing the Mine-Ban Convention and a draft decision on convening a final preparatory session in 2012 for a conference on an arms trade treaty.
Emphasizing the need for States to honour existing disarmament and non-proliferation promises, the Committee approved, by recorded vote, three texts on compliance with those commitments, relating, respectively, to transparency in armaments, and the promotion of multilateralism in disarmament and non-proliferation. Acting without a vote, it approved eight additional texts in the cluster headed “Other disarmament measures and international security”. They included a draft resolution on the relationship between disarmament and development, and observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of disarmament and arms-control agreements.
Recognizing emerging threats to international security, the Committee approved a series of texts on preventing an arms race in outer space, keeping terrorists from acquiring mass destruction weapons, promoting consideration of existing and potential threats in the field of information security, and on prohibiting the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction. The Committee also sent to the Assembly its usual basket of draft resolutions on the NPT and its past and upcoming review conferences, on regional disarmament, and on the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions.
The First Committee Bureau comprises Chair Jarmo Viinanen ( Finland); Vice-Chairs Amr Aljowaily ( Egypt), Mohammad Amutairi ( Kuwait), and Ayesha Borland ( Belize); as well as Rapporteur Archil Gheghechkori (Georgia).
The developing world’s vulnerability to the multiple global crises and preparations for the June 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — “Rio+20” — were prominent among the concerns of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) during the sixty-sixth session.
Of the 42 draft resolutions and four draft decisions that the Committee recommended for adoption by the General Assembly, two reflected brand new items on its agenda. The first, “Towards global partnerships”, called on the international community to continue promoting multi-stakeholder approaches to development, and the second, “People’s empowerment and a peace-centric development model”, took note of a proposal by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to host an international conference on the subject during the first half of 2012.
Issues expected to feature high on the agenda of Rio+20 were reflected in texts relating to various aspects of sustainable development, including biodiversity, desertification, land degradation and drought. Other drafts advocated concrete steps to tackle climate change and to support the sustainable development of mountainous areas and coral reefs. Also reflected in the Committee’s work were the concerns of the developing world, including least developed and landlocked developing countries, small-island and middle-income developing States.
Debate on the adverse global economic climate and its heightened impact on developing countries led to draft resolutions on issues of poverty eradication, the need for donors to fulfil their ODA commitments, reform of the international financial and trade systems, addressing price volatility in commodities markets and the debt relationship between donor and recipient countries. One text expressed the Assembly’s grave concern about the discriminatory nature of unilateral economic and political coercive measures against developing countries, urging the international community to condemn and eliminate the practice.
Agriculture’s role in development was the subject of two draft resolutions, one of which stressed the relationship between agriculture and food security, calling on States to address the roots of food-price volatility while urging improved market functioning and increased agricultural production. The other stressed the importance of technology transfer to developing countries, and of incorporating sustainable agricultural development into national development policies and strategies. Agriculture was also prominent in drafts dealing with the development of human resources and with women’s role in eradicating poverty.
As in previous sessions, the Committee approved two Middle East-related texts by recorded votes, one of which called upon Israel to compensate Lebanon and Syria for the costs of repairing environmental damage caused by the destruction by its air force of oil storage tanks near Lebanon’s El-Jiyeh electric power plant. The other demanded that Israel stop exploiting, damaging, depleting or endangering the resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan.
The Second Committee Bureau comprises Chairperson Abulkalam Abdul Momen ( Bangladesh); Vice Chairpersons Denis Zdorov ( Belarus), Philippe Donckel ( Luxembourg), and Bitrus Vandy Yohanna ( Nigeria); and Rapporteur Raymond Landveld ( Suriname).
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) recommended 67 draft resolutions to the Assembly, including 53 approved without a vote. A number of texts responded to historic events unfolding across North Africa and the Middle East, while dozens of others sought to boost opportunities and strengthen safeguards for the world’s most marginalized peoples.
Acting to bolster national and international efforts to narrow widening social inequalities arising from the still-unfolding global economic crisis, the Committee approved nine texts related to social development. They addressed a range of issues, from how cooperatives helped to generate full and productive employment to the need for States to prioritize social inclusion by creating a “society for all”. By a text on policies and programmes involving youth, the Committee recognized that young people were a major human resource and key agents for social change, affirming the crucial importance of investing in their development and education for sustainable social and economic development.
The Committee approved a new, third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, establishing a communications procedure that would allow the Committee of Experts overseeing the treaty’s implementation both to receive and examine individual complaints from children, and to organize country visits to investigate cases of grave and systematic violations of children’s rights. The Committee also approved the new United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training — adopted by the Human Rights Council on 23 March 2011. Among other things, the Declaration asserts that everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Among six draft resolutions aimed at furthering the advancement of women, the Committee stressed the critical importance of their political participation in all contexts, including in times of peace, conflict and at all stages of political transition. It called on all States to eliminate laws, regulations and practices that prevent or restrict such participation. To build on the momentum generated by the establishment of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), a text on follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women and full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the outcome of the “Women 2000” special session of the General Assembly, urged States to increase funding for the new entity through core, multi-year, predictable, stable and sustainable voluntary contributions.
Once again the Committee debated the efficacy, and even legitimacy, of country-specific resolutions in the context of drafts on the human rights situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Iran and Syria. The latter text, introduced late in the session and roundly rejected by the Syrian delegation, called upon the authorities immediately to end all human rights violations, protect the population, and fully comply with their obligations under international human rights law. The Committee also called on Syrian authorities to implement — in its entirety and without further delay — the Plan of Action put forward by the League of Arab States to which Syria had originally agreed on 2 November. All four texts were approved by recorded vote.
The Committee unanimously designated 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day, and 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child, both observances to begin in 2012. It also decided to convene a High-level Meeting on 23 September 2013 on “The way forward: a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond”. As the world marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the fiftieth anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the Committee urged the international community to ensure a fair and equitable share of assistance to refugees hard hit by the particularly severe humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and by conflicts that remained unresolved or threatened to reignite.
Chairing the Third Committee this year was Dato’ Hussein Haniff ( Malaysia), with Donnette Critchlow ( Guyana), Carolina Popovici ( Republic of Moldova) and Luca Zelioli ( Italy) serving as Vice-Chairs, and Kadra Ahmed Hassan ( Djibouti) as Rapporteur.
Debating such diverse political issues as decolonization, the rights of the Palestinian people and the peaceful uses of outer space, while also tackling sensitive topics like public information, atomic radiation research and the management of peacekeeping mandates, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) submitted to the General Assembly 24 draft resolutions and two draft decisions aimed at meeting emerging challenges to the Organization’s historical mandate in each area.
Committee Chair Simona Mirela Miculescu (Romania) told delegations on 3 October that decolonization had been one of the defining issues of the latter part of the twentieth century, and the untiring efforts of the United Nations had ensured that nearly all the world’s population no longer lived under colonial rule. However, that task was not yet complete, she said, urging Member States to continue striving to end colonialism in the remaining 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories on the United Nations list.
Following a week of heated debate on that topic, the Committee approved 11 draft resolutions, including on the questions of Western Sahara and Gibraltar, and on economic and other activities affecting the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. An “omnibus” text on the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands was approved without a vote on 10 October.
Opening the general debate on peaceful uses of outer space on 11 October, Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu (Romania), Chair of the Outer Space Committee, described space tools as indispensable in mitigating the effects of natural disasters. The Committee’s efforts included increasing awareness and promoting capacity-building for the use of space technology in managing disasters and the effects of climate change, as well as ensuring food security and global health. During the debate, delegations heard, among other things, that space science and technology could help significantly in improving living conditions, conserving natural resources, and enhancing natural disaster preparedness in developing countries. However, it was also important to bear in mind the inherent risks of space technology.
Delegates later stressed the importance of preventing an arms race in outer space and ensuring that its peaceful uses remained cooperative and not competitive, in order to avoid setting space-faring nations against non-space-faring ones, and in order to make the best use of space-driven data for sustainable development. Cuba’s representative cautioned that the legal regime applicable to space was insufficient to prevent an arms race in outer space and urged the Conference on Disarmament to play a role in preventing one, since weaponization would not only destroy the promising future of space applications, but also endanger their very existence.
Approving two draft resolutions without a vote at the conclusion of its general debate on information, from 18 to 20 October, the Committee emphasized the importance of broadening the use of both traditional and new media platforms, while ensuring equitable treatment of all the official languages of the United Nations. Opening the debate that preceded those actions, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said that even as the United Nations Twitter account surpassed the 500,000-follower mark, the Department of Public Information was also making its web products accessible to users in developing countries, with lower bandwidth and slower connection speeds.
Divergent views emerged during the Committee’s consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and that of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
After discussing the budget crisis facing UNRWA, and in discussions of the Special Committee’s report on its first-ever mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Permanent Observer of Palestine stated that the “occupying Power made a mockery” of international law, while Israel’s representative countered by saying there were “glaring omissions” in the Special Committee’s “one-sided narrative”. Urging both actors to summon the courage to take bold decisions for peace, the Committee recommended nine draft resolutions to the Assembly, following recorded votes.
In addition to Committee Chair Miculescu, other members of the Fourth Committee Bureau are Vice-Chairs Jim Kelly (Ireland), Mansor Ciss (Senegal) and María Waleska Vivas Mendoza (Venezuela), as well as Rapporteur Hasan Abulhasan (Kuwait).
In the current budget year, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved texts recommending a $5.152 billion budget for the biennium 2012-2013, which, at 4.8 per cent less than the current two-year expenditure, was aimed at making the best possible use of the Organization’s resources.
During the Committee’s three-month session, from 29 September to 24 December, delegates argued over whether the global economic crisis justified the across-the-board budget cuts sought by the Secretary-General. Some claimed the cuts short-changed the United Nations development agenda at the expense of developing nations, while others called for restructuring the budget process altogether in order to make it final and stable from the start.
After disputers over the conditions of service and pay scales for staff, the Committee concluded the session by endorsing the International Civil Service Commission’s decision to review staff assessment rates every three years, and recommending also that it look into how the pay freeze in the comparator civil service could be reflected in the world body’s post-adjustment for staff salary scales.
As in 2010, another contentious issue during the session was the appropriation of funds for 29 special political missions, the number of which grew tenfold in the last decade to absorb about 20 per cent of the present regular budget. While agreeing that the current funding and back-stopping arrangements for the missions were inadequate, delegates remained at loggerheads over how to remedy that situation, and passed a draft resolution to defer review of such arrangements until next year. The Committee did reach overall consensus on a text seeking to authorize $583.38 million for the missions in 2012-2013, but blocked attempts by some delegates to erase all references to the principle of “responsibility to protect” from that document.
The funding of peacekeeping operations was also a focus of the Committee and it backed financial outlays for the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).
It also moved to continue the overhaul begun in 2009 of the United Nations system of administering justice — which comprises informal and formal mechanisms for resolving disputes for tens of thousands of staff around the world. It welcomed the positive impact of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services’ regional offices and those in peacekeeping missions.
In other consensus-approved texts, the Committee aimed to keep the Capital Master Plan project on track in 2012 and to help the Organization’s two crucial oversight bodies — the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee — strengthen the accountability and transparency of United Nations activities. It also sent recommendations to the Assembly on unforeseen and extraordinary expenses for the biennium 2012-2013, the programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011, and financing of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, the Contingency Fund and the Working Capital Fund, among other issues.
The Fifth Committee Bureau comprises Chairperson Michel Tommo Monthe ( Cameroon); Vice-Chairpersons Paul Ballantyne ( New Zealand), Jelena Plakalovic ( Serbia) and Mariam Saif Abdulla Al-Shamisi ( United Arab Emirates); and Rapporteur Noel Gonzalez Segura ( Mexico).
The Sixth Committee (Legal) logged a record number of delegations participating in debates on crucial issues facing the international legal community and the world at large. That resulted, through the Committee’s trademark consensus, in its approving 23 resolutions centred on the promotion of the rule of law, concerted efforts to eliminate international terrorism, international trade frameworks, and the dissemination and teaching of international law.
One of the Committee’s first debates was on the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels. Heralding the events of the past year as a movement towards “government of laws and not of men”, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro addressed the Committee in her capacity as Chairperson of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit, and emphasized that the Sixth Committee was a crucial component in maintaining attention on the rule of law.
With the current debate focused on transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict settings, the Deputy Secretary-General urged delegations to overcome institutional hurdles to establish more consistent joint approaches that would engender “deeper cooperation”. Several delegations highlighted their successful efforts at establishing the rule of law after long periods of armed conflict, including Colombia’s having instituted demobilization without military defeat for the first time in the world, and Sudan having recognized South Sudan’s independence, thus ending the longest conflict in Africa.
Also noted during the debate were the events that had led up to the new dispensation in Tunisia, which had just acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The country was drafting a new rule-of-law-constitution that honoured the men and women who had given their lives in the recent struggle. The draft resolution approved by the Committee urged, among others, the President of the General Assembly to hold informal discussions with Member States before the 24 September 2012 High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, and to produce a draft text based on that meeting.
The suicide bombing in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, which graphically illustrated that no country was immune from terrorism, brought urgency to the Committee’s debate on measures to eliminate international terrorism. Delegates noted that more than 10,000 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in 2010, and stressed the need for a comprehensive mechanism to address the rights of victims. They also underscored that terrorist groups, dependent on support through international linkages, were becoming global in nature. In that regard, several delegations stressed that it was imperative to finalize a convention that would ensure worldwide cooperation and coordination towards ending terrorist activity.
However, other delegations pointed out that such a conclusion on the draft articles would require the resolution of outstanding issues, among them the distinction between terrorism and the rights of a people under occupation to self-determination. A draft resolution recommended that the Sixth Committee, at its next session, establish a working group with a view to finalizing the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism and to continue discussing the possibility of convening a related high-level conference under the auspices of the United Nations.
With 97 per cent of the planet’s freshwater resources in aquifers, the Committee’s consideration of the law of transboundary aquifers brought timely emphasis to the proper stewardship of cross-border underground water sources. Its draft resolution on the matter urged States to utilize the draft articles when negotiating agreements or arrangements on the management of transboundary aquifers and encouraged engagement of the resources of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) towards scientific and technical assistance.
A highlight of the 2011 session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) was the successful adoption and finalization of the Model Law on Public Procurement, which updated procurement tools and techniques that had emerged since the 1994 Model Law, and the Model Law on Cross-border Insolvency: the Judicial Perspective. The Committee approved three draft resolutions on that matter, but serious concerns were raised by both Commission members and delegates regarding the impact of proposed budget cuts on the work of UNCITRAL. It was vital, many said, that any budget reductions, while necessary, not threaten or destroy the value of that work, the emphasized.
The Sixth Committee Bureau comprises Chairperson Hernán Salinas Burgos (Chile); Vice-Chairpersons Petr Válek (Czech Republic), Ceta Noland (Netherlands), and Mattanee Kaewpanya (Thailand); and Rapporteur Jacqueline K. Moseti ( Kenya).
* *** *