Fourth Committee Approves 3 Draft Resolutions on Information Questions, Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, as General Debate Concludes

GA/SPD/617
19 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 12th Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Approves 3 Draft Resolutions on Information Questions, Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, as General Debate Concludes

Members Also Pass Budgetary Provision of Information Text by Recorded Vote

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved three draft resolutions without a vote today, the first two on questions relating to information and the third on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

In a separate action, the Committee approved — by a recorded vote of 102 in favour to none against, with 49 abstentions — a budgetary provision of draft resolution B, “United Nations public information policies and activities” (document A/71/21).  That paragraph would have the General Assembly emphasize the importance of all official languages of the United Nations and request the inclusion of that aspect in future programme budget proposals for the Department of Public Information, bearing in mind the principle of parity among all six of the Organization’s six official languages and respecting the workload in each.

Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved the full text of that draft resolution B, by terms of which the General Assembly would express concern about the widening gap between developed and developing countries in access to information and communications technology.  It would also request that the Department pay particular attention to peace and security, sustainable development, human rights and other major issues, including the needs of Africa.  The Assembly would underline the critical need to address violations of relevant international rules and regulations governing broadcasting.

Noting with concern that the multilingual development of the United Nations website in certain official languages had improved at a much slower rate than expected, the Assembly would urge the Department to advance actions taken to achieve full parity among the six official United Nations languages on its website.

Also without a vote, the Committee approved draft resolution A, on “Information in the service of humanity” (document A/71/21), by which the General Assembly would urge all countries and United Nations system organizations to cooperate in order to reduce existing disparities in information flows by increasing communications infrastructure assistance in developing countries.  The Assembly would also urge them to enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, as well as between developed and developing countries.

Acting once again without a vote, the Committee approved a text titled “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/71/L.2/Rev.1).  By its terms, the General Assembly would urge States not yet signatories to international treaties governing the uses of outer space to consider ratifying or acceding to those treaties and incorporating them into national legislation.  It would also urge all States — those with major space capabilities in particular — to contribute actively to the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space.

As the Committee concluded its general debate on questions relating to information, the Committee heard many speakers stress the need to pay greater attention to multilingualism.  Brazil’s representative noted that the six official United Nations languages were spoken by only 40 per cent of the global population, while almost 250 million people around the world spoke Portuguese, the most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere.  He said that while Internet availability remained limited in developing countries, 75 per cent of developing world households had access to radio, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Also emphasizing the importance of traditional media, Timor-Leste’s representative, speaking for the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, noted that the Portuguese Unit of United Nations Radio had conducted important work during the process to select the new Secretary-General.  Stressing the role of United Nations information centres, she said it would be important to establish the long-awaited Portuguese-language information centre in Africa in order to further the global expression of Portuguese as well as the Department’s goals.

Agreeing on the important contribution of information centres, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania spoke highly of the Dar es Salaam centre.  However, a limited budget hindered its capacity to reach out to people in rural areas.  Budgets for the centres must be reviewed if the United Nations truly wished to use them for effective campaigns and outreach, she stressed.

Also speaking were representatives of Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Arab Group), Portugal, Bahrain, Nepal, Ecuador, Morocco, Argentina, Slovakia (on behalf of the European Union), Japan, Canada, United States, Australia and the Republic of Korea.  Representatives of the State of Palestine and the International Organization of La Francophonie also addressed the Committee.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Israel, Algeria and Morocco.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 20 October, to begin its general debate on the comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects.

Statements

MARIA HELENA LOPES DE JESUS PIRES (Timor-Leste), speaking for the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, noted that Portuguese was the language most spoken in the Southern Hemisphere.  The Portuguese Unit of United Nations Radio had conducted important work during the process to select the new Secretary-General in his own native language.  Emphasizing the important role of the United Nations information centres in Western Europe and in Rio de Janeiro, she said that in order to further the global expression of Portuguese as well as the Department’s goals, it would be important to establish the long-awaited Portuguese-language information centre in Africa.  In that regard, General Assembly resolution 64/243 (2009) on a decision to create an information centre in Luanda, Angola, should be promptly implemented, she said.

Commending the translation of relevant information about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into 45 languages, including Portuguese, she said the Department had also provided relevant information in Portuguese about the exhibition “Africans in India”, organized jointly by the Department, the Permanent Mission of India and the New York Public Library.  Portuguese was a fast-growing second language on the Internet, especially within social networks.  It was important that the Department’s activities reflect that reality, she stressed, while encouraging more digital projects and activities in Portuguese.  It was also important to promote the use of traditional forms of information and communication, which remained the most used around the world, including in the Portuguese-speaking world.

SHAHIR ALKHANINY (Saudi Arabia), speaking for the Arab Group, expressed support for the Department’s mission of spreading the United Nations message around the world.  Noting that Arabic was spoken by more than 1 billion people, he said the world needed more reliable information amid pressing challenges, including human rights violations, climate change, religious extremism and xenophobia.  Concerning the situation in Palestine, he expressed regret about the spread of misinformation while voicing hope that the Department would do everything possible to counter negative propaganda.

He went on to present developments at the national level, noting that his country was benefiting from the latest advances in information and communications technologies.  Saudi Arabia had adopted a framework that would facilitate cultural transformation and make local media more competitive, he said, adding that while doing so it would be of critical importance to fight extremism.  Saudi Arabia was doing its best to disseminate information by all means.

CRISTINA MARIA CERQUEIRA PUCARINHO (Portugal), associating herself with the European Union and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, cited the wide-ranging and far-reaching work of the United Nations information centres in Western Europe and Rio de Janeiro, as well as that of the Portuguese unit of United Nations Radio.  She commended the translation of the Sustainable Development Goals factsheets and posters into 45 languages, including Portuguese, as well as the timely convening of the third annual international essay contest for university students, “Many Languages, One World”.  More such initiatives should be undertaken to promote non-official United Nations languages, specifically targeting young people, she said, adding that Portugal looked forward to many flagship United Nations publications being translated into seven languages, including Portuguese.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) noted that while Internet availability remained limited in developing countries, 75 per cent of developing-world households had access to radio, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The Department must continue paying attention to traditional media in its strategic planning activities.  Noting that the six official United Nations languages were spoken by only 40 per cent of the global population, he said the Department should further develop and improve initiatives supporting multilingualism in order to guarantee dissemination of the Organization’s work in Portuguese, Bengali, Hindi, Kiswahili and other languages.  Almost 250 million people around the world spoke Portuguese, he noted, describing it as the most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere.  Reiterating his country’s support for the information centre in Rio de Janeiro, he said Brazil maintained its Portuguese—language web portal, its most important tool in that language.  He recalled that in 2015, the centre’s website had received more than 2.5 million visitors, one-third of all online visits to United Nations information centres around the world.

FAISAL ALZAYANI MOFA (Bahrain), commending the efforts undertaken by the Department, declared, “Because of its commitment, we have been able to reach out to many people all around the world.”  Citing examples, he noted that the Department had organized events and developed information products to mark important days, such as the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers and the first anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Concerning multilingualism, he said the United Nations must apply that principle to all its activities on the basis of equity for all six of the Organization’s official languages.  Turning to the role of information centres, he described them as vital for promoting greater public understanding of and support for the aims and activities of the United Nations.  Expressing support for the use of information and communications technologies, he called attention to the gap across and between countries, stressing in that regard the essential need to maintain the use of traditional media, which provided information to local communities.

DURGA PRASAD BHATTARAI (Nepal) encouraged the Department to disseminate information in national and local languages through country-level United Nations information offices.  It could also expand its outreach to reach people at higher levels of education while emphasizing the urgent need to strengthen Tribhuvan University’s Central Library, Nepal’s designated depository for United Nations publications.  Production of media content in the Nepali language would reflect the country’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, he noted.  There was also a need to aggressively reduce the digital gap between developed and developing countries, and the Department should look into providing free telephone access to United Nations materials.  Turning to cybersecurity, he said the Department needed state-of-the-art capabilities to deal with any abuse of information by cybercriminals.

MAURA MWINGIRA (United Republic of Tanzania), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that while the use of social media in the day-to-day activities of the United Nations should be promoted, the need to support traditional media remained for many developing countries.  She expressed satisfaction that the United Nations Radio’s Kiswahili Unit had reached and informed not only the millions who spoke one of the African Union’s official languages as a first or second language, but also those learning it.  As a result of the Department’s support, she added, the Unit had formed three new radio partnerships with stations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and her own country.  She also commended the United Nations information centre in Dar es Salaam for informing the public about United Nations activities and for playing a major role as a public library.  However, its limited budget hindered the centre’s capacity to reach out to people in rural areas, she said, pointing out that budgets for the centres must be reviewed if the Organization truly wished to use them for effective campaigns and outreach.

HELENA YÁNEZ LOZA (Ecuador) said that amid the global challenges facing humanity, the United Nations must optimize the use of its resources and increase cooperation with relevant stakeholders.  Concerning multilingualism, she expressed regret that most of the information products were developed in one language.  On the digital divide, she noted that Latin America had increased its Internet use to 53 per cent, according to the latest Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report.  Nevertheless, the region fell behind the most advanced countries and it was of key importance that the Organization publicize its work through both online and conventional media.

YASSER HALFAOUI (Morocco), acknowledging the value of information and communications technologies, said the Organization could use digital tools to provide coverage on sustainable development, climate change, the question of Palestine and the activities of peacekeeping operations.  Such tools were also crucial for promoting universal values such as human rights and peaceful coexistence, he said, pointing out, however, that some communities lacked access to the Internet.  Regarding multilingualism, he acknowledged the Department’s financial constraints and lack of means, and voiced support for its efforts to provide coverage and develop communications tools in all six official United Nations languages.  Calling attention to the upcoming Marrakech Climate Change Conference, to be held from 7‑18 November, he emphasized that it would require media coverage.

SAHAR SALEM, observer for the State of Palestine, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, spotlighted the Department’s Special Programme on the Question of Palestine.  The upcoming seventieth anniversary of the Partition Plan and the Nakba, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the Israeli occupation, must highlight the urgent need to end the injustice, dispossession and colonial occupation long endured by the Palestinian people, she emphasized.  Access to information and media freedom remained issues of major concern, with Israeli occupying forces systematically and deliberately targeting Palestinian and foreign journalists in order to prevent them from conveying the grim reality of the occupation.  Voicing utter rejection of any violation of speech and press freedom, she called on the Committee to step up its efforts to protect journalists and to demand a halt to Israel’s violations of international law.

DIMITRA KRITIKOU, International Organization of La Francophonie, associating herself with the Francophone Ambassadors Group of New York, noted that multilingualism was a fundamental United Nations value and called for full parity among the Organization’s official languages, a requirement of multilateralism.  In partnership with the Group of Friends of Spanish to the United Nations, the International Organization of La Francophonie had held a meeting on language and diplomacy in May, she recalled, adding that cultural and linguistic diversity would make it possible to understand world and societal aspirations.

Action on Draft Resolutions

The Committee then took up draft resolutions A and B, respectively titled “Information in the service of humanity” and “United Nations public information policies and activities” (document A/71/21).

The representative of Argentina, making a general statement, said the text was the outcome of long and intense negotiations.  On the oral statement delivered by the Secretariat, he recalled Argentina’s long-standing position that budgetary issues must be decided in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

Taking action, the Committee first approved the text on “Information in the service of humanity” without a vote.

Members then requested that the Committee hold a separate vote on operative paragraph 23 of the text “United Nations public information policies and activities”.

The Committee then retained the paragraph by a recorded vote of 102 in favour to none against, with 49 abstentions.

The representative of Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that action should not be interpreted as the allocation of additional resources, adding that the bloc had abstained from the vote.

The representative of Japan stressed that the Department of Public Information had the responsibility of mainstreaming multilingualism into all its activities and voiced regret over the request for additional resources.  Japan had abstained from the vote, he added.

The representative of Canada said she had been surprised to receive the oral statement from the Programme Planning and Budget Division in connection with draft resolution B.  Canada did not believe the request for additional resources could be justified.

The representative of the United States said the Department had been able to accomplish its mission without increasing its budget.  “We consistently engaged to ensure that the resolution was sufficiently imbued with sustainability,” he said, noting that the Department had shown its ability to partner with a diverse array of stakeholders.  The United States supported multilingualism and had previously joined the consensus around draft resolutions on its importance.  The Committee’s discussion earlier in the year had included consideration of the financial constraints that the United Nations and many Member States faced, he said, adding that members had factored resource constraints into all discussions on the Department’s activities.  Since the terms “within existing resources” and “cost-neutral manner” appeared throughout the text, the United States regretted the oral statement seeking more than $7 million, he said, adding that, for that reason, his delegation had abstained from the vote.

The representative of Australia said he had been surprised by the request for additional resources, adding that his delegation had abstained from the vote.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said he had joined other delegations in approving draft resolution B since it was the outcome of long negotiations.  The Secretariat’s interpretation entailed additional resources, he said, voicing regret over the request.

The Committee then took up the text “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/71/L.2/Rev.1).

The representative of Canada, Chair of the Working Group of the Whole, introduced the text, saying the Working Group had held three meetings in October, and had agreed to the entire amended text at its final meeting.

Acting without a vote, the Committee approved the draft resolution.

Right of Reply

The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the State of Palestine’s concern for democratic values was remarkable because the last Palestinian Authority elections had been held a decade ago.  The United Nations should not be a forum for misinformation and incitement, which did not help in fighting prejudice, he said.  He emphasized that the discussion of questions relating to information should be used as an opportunity to enhance knowledge.  Israel stretched its hand out for peace and called for direct bilateral negotiations with no preconditions, he said, declaring, “We should speak with each other and not about each other.”

The representative of Algeria said his delegation had requested that the Committee on Information disseminate materials in an equitable manner and had not placed any pressure in that regard.  Algeria did not wish to see it pressured or influenced in any way.  On decolonization, Algeria had asked the Committee on Information to accord particular importance to the situation in the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, and that the issue remain within its mandate.  Noting that another speaker had referred to a part of Algeria that was not on the list of such Territories while making unfounded accusations, he emphasized that there was no evidence to back them up.  Recalling that Algeria’s war of independence had first taken place in the Kabylie region, he said that was an integral part of Algerian territory.  Its people were Algerian citizens who enjoyed full rights, according to the country’s constitution.  When reports from treaty bodies were submitted to the Fourth Committee, they showed the real situation on the ground in the Non-Self-Governing Territories, he noted, asking whether rights were being trampled in Algeria or Morocco.  Algeria upheld the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other States unless forced to do otherwise, hence it limited its statements to Western Sahara out of respect for that principle.  Whatever was said about that Territory, it remained occupied, he said.

The representative of Morocco noted that the issue under discussion was information.  Algeria’s representative had pointed out that the decolonization of Moroccan Sahara remained a priority, but had forgotten to point out that Morocco had put the issue on the Committee’s agenda.  He had also forgotten to mention, with regard to the rights of the people of Kabylie or others, that Algeria had been refusing to agree to any special procedure of the Human Rights Council.  It was easy to assure everyone that the situation was moving properly and that everyone was enjoying their rights, but that was not the case, he emphasized.  Professional experts and non-governmental organizations working in that area had sufficiently credible information in that regard, he said, adding that fundamental rights were not being respected in Algeria.  Before seeking the right to self-determination, the people of Kabylie must be able to express themselves, but that freedom did not exist at the moment.

The representative of Algeria asked why Western Sahara remained on the Committee’s agenda.  The Territory’s people must decide whether they wished to stay with Morocco, secede or gain independence.  Regarding his country’s refusal to entertain special procedures, he pointed out that the Algerian people had become independent in 1962 and that was a sovereign decision, noting that special rapporteurs were also unable to visit Western Sahara.  On the human rights situation in Western Sahara, he said anyone calling for independence there was systematically tortured in prisons, and cultural rights were not respected either.  The presence of Kabylie citizens in the media demonstrated that they were treated in the same manner as others, and allegations to the contrary were unfounded.  Morocco’s representative had spoken about the right to self-determination, which had been applied in 1962 and could not be applied again to a people who enjoyed all the attributes of independence, he emphasized.

The representative of Morocco said that although there had been several requests to visit from Geneva, Algeria had never responded.  On the question of Western Sahara, he said the Government allowed non-governmental organizations to operate freely and without interference.

For information media. Not an official record.