Adopting Six Resolutions, General Assembly Supports Multilingualism, Bolsters Transparency in Selection of Secretary-General

11 September 2015
GA/11677

Adopting Six Resolutions, General Assembly Supports Multilingualism, Bolsters Transparency in Selection of Secretary-General

Sixty-ninth Session,
103rd Meeting (AM)

Text Moving Venue of Agency Board Meetings Requires Recorded Vote

Resolutions aimed at fostering greater transparency in the selection of the next Secretary-General and equitable use of all six official languages in the activities of the United Nations were among six texts adopted by the General Assembly today, one of which required a recorded vote.

Introducing the text titled “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”, Assembly President Sam Kutesa underscored the body’s position as the chief representative policymaking organ of the United Nations.  Hailing the text as an important contribution to strengthening the United Nations, he encouraged States to take an active role in following up on implementation.

By terms of the resolution, adopted without a vote, the Assembly emphasized that the process of selection of the Secretary-General shall be guided by the principles of transparency and inclusiveness, building on best practices and the participation of all Member States.

It requested the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council to start the process of soliciting candidates for the position through a joint letter addressed to all Member States, containing a description of the entire process and inviting candidates to be presented in a timely manner.  Stressing the need to ensure equal and fair distribution based on gender and geographical balance, the resolution invited Member States to consider presenting women as candidates.

“The days of rumours and speculation are over”, said the United Kingdom’s delegate, speaking after the adoption, adding that, through consensus, the Assembly had brought overdue transparency to an archaic process.  The representative of Colombia said that, for the first time, the United Nations had affirmed the possibility of electing a woman as Secretary-General.

France’s representative said respect for the broad institutional balance enshrined in the Charter had been instrumental to reaching consensus on the issue, while a recorded vote would have put the Organization in an institutional challenge.

Introducing a draft titled “Multilingualism”, the representative of Senegal said it outlined the place of language equity in the Organization’s pursuits towards peace, justice and freedom.  By the resolution, also adopted without a vote, the Assembly emphasized the importance of ensuring the full and equitable treatment of all the official languages of the United Nations in all the activities of the Department of Public Information.

It also emphasized the role of the Department in building support for international peace and security, development and human rights for all and the contribution of multilingualism in achieving those goals.

Introducing the text titled “Venue of annual sessions of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme/United Nations Population Fund/United Nations Office for Project Services”, the representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it reflected the Group’s long-standing and principled position that holding those sessions in New York instead of alternating them between New York and Geneva would result in cost savings.

However, several delegations disapproved of the way in which the draft had been brought to the floor, with the representative of Luxembourg (speaking on behalf of the European Union) stressing that the issue needed to be dealt with as part of the ongoing broader discussions on improving global governance.

The draft, as orally revised, was adopted by a recorded vote of 103 in favour and 11 against, with 38 abstentions.  Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, the representative of the Maldives said holding the meetings in New York would ensure the broadest possible participation of developing countries in such meetings, considering that most of them had missions in New York.

The representative of India said that since the issue of venue was originally decided through a stand-alone resolution and not through the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review, it needed to be addressed in that spirit.

The Assembly also adopted, without a vote, a resolution proclaiming 9 December as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime; a text calling for increased support for the implementation of international commitments in the fight to eliminate malaria; and another text affirming the importance of the Zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic as a forum for increased interaction and support among the region’s member States.

Also speaking were representatives of Estonia (on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia, Belarus, Croatia, Uruguay, Argentina, Armenia, Rwanda, Sudan, Azerbaijan, Chile, Guatemala, Morocco, Ethiopia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, Switzerland, United States, Australia, Norway and Japan, as well as a representative of the European Union Delegation.

The representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan also spoke in exercise of right of reply.

Action

The Assembly first turned its attention to a resolution titled “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”, contained in paragraph 68 of the report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly (A/69/1007).  Introducing the text, Assembly President Sam Kutesa underscored the body’s position as the United Nations’ chief representative policymaking organ.  The text amplified the Assembly’s role and called for strengthening the institutional memory of the Office of the President.  It also called for his successor to solicit candidates for Secretary-General.  The Assembly would conduct informal meetings, contributing to transparency in the selection process, he said.  He encouraged States to take an active role in following up on implementation, hailing the text as an important contribution to strengthening the Organization.

The Assembly then adopted the text without a vote.

Speaking after action, the representative of the European Union Delegation welcomed the text’s adoption, highlighting the constructive atmosphere that characterized the negotiations.  The text contained significant novelties that would not have been possible without the flexibility shown by all delegations.  Indeed, he said, the text marked a milestone in enhancing transparency around the selection of the Secretary-General.  Progress had been made in the area of the Assembly’s working methods.  On 22 June, the Council of the European Union had adopted its priorities for the Assembly’s seventieth session, recognizing that the Assembly’s revitalization was a key component to strengthening the United Nations.

The representative of Estonia, speaking on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group, which represents 27 small and medium-sized countries working to improve the Security Council’s working methods, welcomed the agreement to carry out the selection and appointment in a “clear and structured” manner.  The process would start with a joint letter of the Presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council circulating the names of candidates.  She maintained that the decision to hold informal meetings with candidates improved the process.  Such moves sent a strong signal of increased transparency in the selection and appointment of the next Secretary-General.  She welcomed the text’s reconfirmation of the role of the Assembly President to support the selection and appointment process, and to monitor and review implementation of resolutions.

The representative of the United Kingdom, associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the text’s adoption.  The Assembly had agreed to a joint letter to solicit candidates for the position of Secretary-General and set out a starting point and description of the selection and appointment process.  It had agreed to have a consolidated and public list of candidates.  “The days of rumours and speculation are over”, he said, adding that through consensus, the Assembly had brought overdue transparency to an archaic process.  It had agreed to hold candidates up to scrutiny.  He expressed disappointment at the strong resistance to civil society’s participation in the process.  The United Kingdom would be interested in holding an Arria formula meeting in that context.  “It is high time for a woman to lead the United Nations”, he said, stressing the need to include the broadest range of women for the role.

The representative of Colombia said this had been a historic session of the Assembly, as delegations had worked to ensure that the United Nations could meet contemporary challenges.  “And we got there through consensus”, she said, noting, however, that there had been hard-fought battles.  In April, Colombia had proposed changes to the selection and appointment process for the next Secretary-General, arguing that the Assembly President must be elected by a democratic process, while the permanent Council members would put forward their candidates for the Assembly to elect.  Then, public hearings would allow candidates to offer their views.  For the first time, the United Nations had the possibility of electing a woman.  She called that a significant development.  Indeed, the time had come for electing a woman as Secretary-General.  The text’s adoption was a step in the right direction.

The representative of Costa Rica welcomed that the text had been adopted by consensus, recalling that in 1946, the selection of the person to hold the Organization’s most important post had been anti-democratic.  Costa Rica was determined to change that.  As part of the ACT Group, it had led efforts to establish a transparent, democratic process.  He expected it would be possible to enhance the relationship between the Assembly and the Council, welcoming the fact that women could be nominated to the post.  Costa Rica, he pledged, would continue to work to generate political momentum so that the Council would put forward two or more candidates for the Assembly.  The mandate should be for one seven-year term, as re-election was not the best way to ensure leadership.

The representative of Ecuador said the resolution marked a significant contribution towards enhancing efficiency in the working relations between the Secretariat and Member States.  The emphasis on gender and regional balance in the election of the Secretary-General was timely, and there was a need to ensure greater transparency in the process involving the entire membership of the Organization.  The Office of the Assembly President needed to be provided with proper funds and resources to discharge its responsibilities.  Those measures aimed at transparency must be pursued in line with the Charter of the United Nations based on a consultative process.

The representative of Brazil said the resolution had introduced important changes to process of the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General based on the principles of transparency and inclusiveness.  More objective criteria had been set for candidates, while an invitation was issued for the candidature of women.  Member States had used a narrow window of opportunity to ensure a democratic and transparent process.  Brazil had presented other proposals that were not included in the text adopted, including enhancing the role of the Assembly in the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General.  There was a need to continue dialogue on the subject.

The representative of Indonesia said his delegation had great expectations for the resolution and expressed hope that all provisions would be implemented.  In particular, his country stressed the importance of enhancing the role of the Assembly, including by strengthening the Office of the President.  He underscored the imperative of the political will of all Member States in strengthening the Assembly as the robust pivot of the international community.

The representative of Belarus said the working group had taken a serious analytical approach to the negotiations, resulting in a document that seemed improbable until only a few months ago.  He was quietly optimistic about the success of the resolution, adding that change in the Organization depended on much more than a text.  Practical cooperation based on a will to persuade and listen to others would be central to the vision of democratization and transparency.  By adopting the resolution, Member States had demonstrated the “wonder of empathy”.

The representative of France, aligning with the European Union, said the resolution was historic in that all Member States had reached consensus on a democratic and transparent process of appointing the new Secretary-General.  Respect for the broad institutional balance enshrined in the Charter was instrumental to reaching a consensus, while a recorded vote would have put the Organization in an institutional challenge.

The representative of Croatia, who co-chaired the ad hoc working group, described the resolution as a result of the willingness of Member States to engage in a thorough and substantive debate on numerous crucial issues.  Throughout the debate, Members touched upon many aspects of the pivotal field of Assembly revitalization.  Some issues were successfully addressed and provided effective solutions.  On the other hand, some items were put on hold, to be addressed during the upcoming Assembly session and beyond.  The report of the ad hoc working group would remain an important point of departure for some aspects of future work.

The Assembly then turned to a draft resolution titled “Zone of peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic”, (document A/69/L.89), introduced by the representative of Uruguay, who said the Zone had been created in 1986 through Assembly resolution 41/11.  A declaration on the denuclearization of the South Atlantic region had been adopted at a meeting in Brasilia in 1994, outlining the peaceful and cooperative spirit of the Zone’s members.  Today’s text surveyed important issues and actions that had been taken since Uruguay had become president of the group in 2013.  Cooperation among States parties had been strengthened.  The goal was to continue work to foster international peace and cooperation.  The eighth ministerial meeting of the Zone would be held in Cabo Verde.

The representative of Brazil said it had been more than 30 years since his country had taken part in the creation of the Zone.  Then, as now, Brazil, with South American and African countries, had sought to consolidate the South Atlantic as a region free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.  Zone States addressed issues such as sustainable development, South-South cooperation, disarmament and the fight against poverty.  Since 1984, seven ministerial meetings had resulted in a set of principles for members’ activities.  The last meeting, held in Uruguay on 15 and 16 January 2013, had enabled States to pursue efforts that would deepen cooperation in such areas as global governance, economic and financial issues, defence and climate change.  Such ambitious commitments reflected the increasing economic and political importance of the Zone for its coastal States.

Argentina’s representative said his country had co-sponsored the text out of a commitment to international peace and security and to the sustainable development of the southern hemisphere.  The Montevideo Declaration had seen a convergence of views on issues such as the need to end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, with members expressing concern at situations that affected sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Pointing out that some non-members of the Zone had adopted a “respectful” attitude to denuclearization of the region, he added that Argentina was part of a satellite programme that would make it easier to capture distress calls in the South Atlantic.  In that context, the Government supported today’s resolution.

The Assembly then adopted the text without a vote.

Introducing the text on “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime”, the representative of Armenia said the draft followed up on one initiated by his country and adopted by the Human Rights Council in March.  Millions of lives had been lost as a result of the horrendous crime, the existence of which put humanity to shame.  It had taken the international community a rather long time to put in place tangible yet still modest mechanisms to prevent the crime following former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s condemnations of “complicity with evil”.  In memory of the victims of genocide, he proposed, the international community should translate its sorrow, compassion and collective guilt into collective action in order to free the world once and for all of this dehumanizing crime.

The Assembly then adopted the resolution without a vote.

Speaking after the vote, the representative of Rwanda said that, having experienced genocide, his country attached great significance to the spirit of remembrance contained in the resolution.  However, he believed that victims of genocide deserved greater commemoration by, among other things, setting aside a separate day of remembrance for each example of the crime.  That was why he was dissociating himself from the resolution.  He stressed, however, that it did not reflect in any way on Rwanda’s underlying commitment to commemorate victims and prevent recurrence of genocide.

The representative of India said the catalyst for the Assembly resolution of December 1946 calling for the Convention on Genocide was the horrendous crimes that occurred in Europe in the Second World War.  It was regrettable that further occurrences of genocide had not been prevented, however.  The International Day established through the resolution would give the world the opportunity to commemorate the victims of genocide and also express solidarity with the survivors.  By supporting the resolution, India joined all other Member States of the United Nations in reaffirming its belief in the Charter, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The representative of Sudan said his Government would observe the day of commemoration specified in the resolution.  In particular, the Rwanda genocide of 1994 would be memorialized.  Regrettably, a disturbing trend of using accusations of genocide for political ends was being witnessed.  He cited as an example the allegations and accusations against his country of committing genocide in Darfur, which were found false by successive inquiries and authorities.  The misuse of the term genocide in the context of Darfur would only denigrate the memory of the reality of the Holocaust in Europe during the Second World War and encourage Holocaust deniers.  The present resolution hopefully intended to suppress that misuse, he stressed.

The representative of Azerbaijan said remembrance and commemoration of victims of genocide reminded his country of the dark pages of history, particularly of those killed in 1992 in the town of Khojaly in the Nagarno-Karabakh region of his State.  The level of brutality perpetrated there was beyond comprehension.  Denial of established facts was an insult to the victims and did not erase the memory of the people.  He hoped that by putting forward the resolution, its main sponsor would “come to terms with its modern history and recognize its responsibility for Khojaly”.

The representative of Chile said genocide germinated amid feelings of exclusion.  Strengthening of rule of law and fostering inclusiveness, therefore, could be an effective solution.  Prevention should be the focus of the Security Council, as well as of the countless other stakeholders in the campaign against genocide.  Noting that the responsibility to protect primarily fell on the shoulders of the State, he argued that the international community could and should act when national Governments voluntarily or on account of lack of capacity failed to discharge that responsibility.  In that context, the international community should fully support the International Criminal Court and other international mechanisms and the permanent members of the Council should renounce the power of veto in case of genocide and atrocities.

Speaking in exercise of right of reply, the representative of Armenia said the resolution was about dignity, which the representative of Azerbaijan lacked in his statement.  He said Azerbaijan should have spoken about the atrocities his country had committed against Armenians.

Taking the floor again, the representative of Azerbaijan said the responsibility of Armenia in the killings in Khojaly was acknowledged by Armenian sources themselves.  It was regrettable that the Armenian Government continued to deny that responsibility.

Next, the Assembly turned to a draft resolution titled “Multilingualism” (document A/69/L.86), introduced by the representative of Senegal, who said access to information was a long-standing pillar of the United Nations.  The resolution outlined multilingualism’s place in the Organization’s pursuits towards peace, justice and freedom.  That should lead States to promote equality among six official languages, while highlighting the importance of non-official languages.

The text highlighted the various Secretariat departments in the promotion of multilingualism, he said, as well as noted the important role played by the Department of Public Information and ensuring that all documents were both published and accessible on the website in the six official languages.  It noted with concern the disparity between official and non-official languages in websites managed by the Secretary-General and invited him to correct those differences.  The draft underscored the need for the digitalization of the audio-visual archives.  He hoped the text would be adopted by consensus.

The representative of Guatemala, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish in the United Nations, said “linguistic unities” could have a direct impact on the Organization’s activities.  One goal was to promote cooperation between the United Nations and the group of countries that shared Spanish as a language in work that advanced the Organization’s goals.  The Group was interested in enhancing ties with other language groups.  He supported efforts to implement multilingualism in the United Nations and was encouraged that the Assembly had reasserted its importance through today’s resolution.

Following those remarks, a Secretariat representative said that in operative paragraph 41, the Assembly would reiterate the need to implement and observe rule 55 of its rules of procedure, which provided that during its sessions, the Journal would be published in the languages of the Assembly within existing resources.  The current practice was that the Journal was published in six languages during the main parts of the Assembly — from September to December.  During the remainder of the year, it was issued in English and French only.  Should the Assembly decide to continue with the current practice, the text’s adoption would not require additional resources under the programme budget.

The Assembly then adopted the text by consensus.

After action, the representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, welcomed the text’s adoption, as it would foster multilingualism and preserve linguistic diversity.  Preservation of multilingualism in the United Nations would facilitate international communication and guarantee wider State participation in multilateral actions.  The text recognized multilingualism’s role in realizing the Organization’s three pillars.  He hoped its implementation would reinforce the use of the six official languages on the website and in United Nations publications.

Finally, the representative of Ethiopia, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, introduced a resolution titled “Consolidating gains and accelerating efforts to control and eliminate malaria in developing countries, particularly in Africa, by 2015 and beyond” (document A/69/L.91).  Progress had been made, with the United Nations estimating that 6.2 million lives had been saved between 2000 and 2015.  Fifty-five of 99 affected countries were on track to cut malaria incidence by 75 per cent by end of the year.  Nowhere had progress been more remarkable than in Africa, where nine countries were on their way to reduce incidence by 75 per cent and three others would likely achieve reductions of between 50 and 75 per cent by year’s end.  Despite success, many countries had achieved suboptimal progress in meeting international targets.  Weak health systems and inequitable access to health services must be addressed, while domestic financing must be ramped up.

Calling the draft resolution “critical”, he said it provided a rallying message and key guideposts for keeping the African Development Bank, Global Fund, World Bank and others on track to build sustainable funding plans and quality financial management.  This year’s text highlighted technical updates and new developments.  It recognized the beginning of a sustainable goal era and the movement towards malaria elimination, recognizing the need for additional funding for interventions and research and development of preventive and diagnostic tools.

He said the text welcomed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global technical strategy; reaffirmed the Alma-Ata Declaration, adopted at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care; acknowledged progress made in Latin America in reducing malaria incidence, and progress made in parts of Africa.  Further, it expressed regret at the high number of people lacking access to medicine; stressed the need to improve community-based systems; called on States to promote access to medicine; and recognized the importance of innovation in eliminating malaria.  It also encouraged the sharing of knowledge and experience across regions.  He looked forward to the text’s adoption by consensus.

The representative of Cuba, stating that every minute a child in Africa died of malaria, noted the text’s mention of cooperation among countries in addressing the disease.  Citing operational paragraph 40, he said the Paris Declaration principles and commitments made in Accra and Busan were not agreements universally accepted under the aegis of the United Nations.  Developed countries had imposed their ideas on how aid should be carried out in the southern hemisphere.  Cuba was willing to negotiate principles contained in those documents in a transparent process under the aegis and equal conditions of the United Nations.  As paragraph 40 did not constitute “consensus language”, Cuba disassociated from it.

The representative of Nicaragua, aligning with the consensus, said her delegation did not support operative paragraph 40, as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Accra Agenda for Action and the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation was not language of consensus.  Nicaragua dissociated from that paragraph.

The representative of Venezuela urged continued efforts to prevent malaria.  While she joined consensus, she disagreed at the reference in operative paragraph 40 to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Accra Agenda for Action and the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, as those documents had been adopted in forums outside the United Nations.  Venezuela disassociated from the mention of those documents

The representative of Ecuador said his Government joined consensus on the resolution, noting that more than 84 per cent of funding for malaria control in his country had come from the Government.  The text’s reference to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, the Accra Agenda for Action and the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation was inappropriate, as those documents had not been agreed at the United Nations.  As such, Ecuador dissociated from their inclusion in the text.

Introducing the text on “Venue of annual sessions of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme/United Nations Population Fund/United Nations Office for Project Services”, the representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the text reflected the Group’s long-standing and principled position that holding those sessions in New York instead of alternating them between New York and Geneva would result in cost savings.  Furthermore, it would contribute to encouraging the broadest possible participation of developing countries, considering the comparatively larger presence of their missions in New York.

Speaking before the vote, the representative of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, acknowledged the questions raised by the resolution.  However, he said, the Union believed the issue needed to be dealt with as part of the ongoing broader discussions on improving global governance.  For that reason, the member States of the Union were not able to support the text.

The representative of Switzerland said broad discussions were under way on the advantages and disadvantages of holding sessions in New York and in Geneva.  A consensus had almost been reached in the past but the discussion had faced time constraints.  He had sought the inclusion of elements of that consensus in the present text.  The Assembly should examine the question based on broader institutional consultations, detailed information on costs and consideration of the wider global governance agenda.  For those reasons, his country would vote against the text.

The draft, as orally revised, was then adopted by a recorded vote of 103 in favour and 11 against, with 38 abstentions.

Speaking after the vote, the representative of the United States said he regretted that it was necessary to have brought the text to a vote.  His country  shared the legitimate concerns of the sponsors over costs.  However, he supported moving the session in June 2016 and making the move permanent in the context of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review.  The decision needed to be taken within the long established procedures within the United Nations.  He noted a lack of consultations with the boards concerned and the apparent contradiction in the text relating to cost savings.

The representative of Australia said his country recognized the importance of some of the issues raised in the text but believed they should be discussed by the appropriate organs.  Presenting a text that did not enjoy consensus undermined the principle of global governance.  He hoped such an approach did not recur.

The representative of Norway regretted that there was no real willingness to reach a consensus on the issue.  The text undermined the role of the executive boards, especially since it had budgetary implications for the organizations concerned.

The representative of Japan said he respected established practices relating to the executive boards.  The decision of the boards should have been presented to the Assembly through the Economic and Social Council.  The issue of venue should have been discussed in a holistic manner in the context of the United Nations governance system.  He voted against the text to register his disappointment in the manner in which it had been rushed, especially when innovative options were available.

The representative of the Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said holding the meetings in New York would ensure countries in that group to participate, considering that most of the countries had missions in New York.

The representative of India said that issue was first raised last year in view of the lack of representation of developing countries at meetings in Geneva.   There was no response for some time.  The Group of 77 and China had held informal consultations to incorporate to take all views into consideration.  The issue was decided through a stand-alone resolution and not through the QCPR and needed to be addressed in that spirit.  Furthermore, the cost savings could be used more effectively for development programmes.  He hoped the adoption of the resolution would succeed in focusing attention of the United Nations Development Programme to focus attention on priority areas.

For information media. Not an official record.