STATEMENT BY H.E. DR. THEO-BEN GURIRAB
PRESIDENT OF THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
TO THE SPECIAL SESSION
"WORLD SUMMIT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
AND BEYOND: ACHIEVING SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
FOR ALL IN A GLOBALIZING WORLD"
GENEVA, 26 JUNE 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted
to welcome you all to the 24th Special Session of the United Nations General
First of all, I wish to thank my Prime Minister, Rt. Hon, Hage G. Geingob, of
the Republic of Namibia, for presiding over the opening of the meeting before
my election to this position. 1 am most grateful and pledge to superintend the
session to a successful conclusion.
During the pre-session phase, we were honoured with the gracious presence of
two eminent world leaders, His Excellency Mr. Adolf Ogi, President of the Swiss
Federation, and His Excellency Mr. Paul Nyrub Rasmussen, Prime Minister of the
Kingdom of Denmark. We are exceedingly delighted by their presence and, in particular,
by the thoughtful statements they delivered before the start of this crucial
We recall with appreciation the generous hospitality and the best efforts made
by the Government and the people of Denmark towards the final and wonderful
outcome of the 1995 Copenhagen Summit.
In the same vein, our heartfelt thanks go to the Government, the people and
particularly His Excellency the President of the Swiss Federation for the kind
invitation extended for the holding of the Special Session in Geneva. It is
worth emphasizing that a significant number of delegations present here have
generous assistance to be able to attend the conference. On behalf of everybody,
we place on record our gratitude and happiness for this goodwill.
Today, 26 June, we commemorate two important days: the International Day against
Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and the International Day in Support of
Victims of Torture. I have issued messages to mark the two occasions.
Geneva has always been and continues to be an ideal conference venue. This time,
in the new millennium, we have come to this historic and beautiful city to confront
one of the most urgent challenges of our time.
It is the challenge of putting the needs of the people at the centre of the
global agenda of peace and development and democracy. We are here to agree on
real solutions to the acute problems of real people.
In searching for such solutions, we must review the past but, more importantly,
we must agree on a future plan of action that brings together Governments, business,
parliaments, NGOs and the civil society into a constructive partnership for
At this stage, political will, resources and sustained efforts are required,
to shift economic globalization to a new course that will focus that partnership
on poverty eradication, full employment and shared prosperity. In this way,
all the world's people will be able to share a stake in the future, with optimism.
Today, the main challenge facing humankind is represented by the awesome force
of globalization. It is said that millions in the world welcome globalization,
while millions fear it. What the world actually needs is globalization with
a head, a heart and a human face.
Heads of State and Government and numerous representatives from across the world,
who attended the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, anticipated
this crisis of globalization. And they put great emphasis of fairness and social
justice on the balance sheet of values and conscience, alongside profit, loss
They called for balance between the power of the market forces that produce
technology, knowledge and prosperity and the crippling reality that distribution
of the benefits was increasingly and dangerously skewed.
We carry this heavy load as we come here to forge a common understanding in
order to turn the situation around for the better. The future must become optimistic
and rewarding for all of humankind. Right now, it is very doubtful for millions
of earthlings, especially for those in the developing countries. It's really
no guesswork that there is storm over globalization. In recent months, from
Seattle, to Washington, D.C. and to Davos, actions spoke louder than words.
We all witnessed those confrontations. And it could be just a warning shot fired
across the bow.
The signatories at Copenhagen in 1995 framed a broad strategy covering national,
regional and international action to end marginalization and injustice. They
promised to establish time-bound targets to cut poverty, to promote greater
equality between women and men, to achieve full employment and to establish
universal access to education and primary health care. World leaders vowed to
accelerate advancement of the least developed countries, and to increase resources
for official development assistance.
Since then, some noticeable national efforts and programmes have been launched.
But let us be honest. We all know that, overall, many developing countries have
continued to fall behind. Economic insecurity breeds social insecurity and the
result is untold human misery.
Our task this week and beyond Geneva is to build upon the strong foundation
of consensus that was reached in Copenhagen and to uphold the social commitment
expressed there five years ago.
To do that, we must marshal resources for social commitment commensurate with
the needs of real people. By this, I mean not only development grants but also
other critical areas of policy initiative: debt cancellation, productive investment,
measures to discourage financial speculation, and firm action to end the tariff
and non-tariff barriers that are still imposed lopsidedly against developing
countries that can least afford them.
All these steps should be taken in unison and on a sustained basis. Otherwise,
what one hand might give in development assistance, the other hand will take
away. Which is what in many cases has been happening all along.
The recent South Summit, held in Havana, Cuba, reiterated the importance of South-North economic and trade relations and urged the recent OECD meeting, the forthcoming G-8 meeting and the Millennium Summit to take seriously into consideration the conclusions and recommendations adopted there with a view to further enhancing dialogue and cooperation.
The most frequently cited indication that social development is not yet secure on the international agenda is the decline in official development assistance that has continued since Copenhagen, where the goal of committing 0.7 per cent of gross national product was reaffirmed. Several European countries have met the targets they set for themselves, and a few other countries are moving in the same direction. At the same time, however, the failure of wealthy countries to keep that promise is hard to understand. It is a disappointing setback, and I can only hope for change of hearts in the future.
The burden of Third World debt is in fact even more crushing than the absence of aid. For example, a number of African countries are forced to pay more for debt service than for education and health combined. On top of that, much of their debt was incurred by undemocratic regimes that were encouraged and supported by certain industrialized countries. To add insult to injury, more aid and cooperation were extended in the past to those dictatorships than to the democratizing and reforming governments in African today. Despite the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, only four or five of 33 applicants have qualified. Some leaders in industrialized countries often lament the burden that deficit spending will impose on their children. Why, then, has there been benign neglect in the face of the crushing mortgage being imposed on future generations in impoverished countries?
The private sector could and has actually done more than the public sector as a source of development resources in the form of investment and joint ventures. Unfortunately, only a fraction of this is long-term productive business partnership and little of that goes to the developing countries that most need it. Much of it in recent years has been volatile, short-term capital flows.
On their part and in partnership with Governments and NGOs, the UN agencies and programmes continue their most indispensable work in the field, saving lives and assisting reconstruction and development. We will be hearing from them later on.
If the alternative to aid is trade, it should follow that the prerequisite for trade is tariff reduction, and strengthening of trade preferences. Most developing countries depend on commodities for more than half of their export revenues. Their primary economic sectors are agriculture and textiles, which are precisely the areas that many industrialized countries so doggedly protect. There would be no more effective way for the industrialized countries to demonstrate commitment to sustainable social development than to implement special and differential treatment of the exports of developing countries.
Surely, we can agree that it is neither fair nor helpful to pursue a form of economic "liberalization" that forces fledgling developing countries to open their markets while excluding the only services and goods they can offer for export.
New trade laws and debt cancellation initiatives have been adopted recently by key industrialized countries, and we welcome this as a step in the right direction.
The package of resources needed to underwrite social development has got to
be balanced. It would need to include both national resources raised through
tax regime or earned through fair terms of trade, and international resources
generated through official development assistance, debt relief and long-term
Granted, there are no two ways about this. Developing countries themselves must
deepen their commitment to political, economic and legal reforms and accountable
government. Otherwise, the incidents of marginalization will be enforced even
more harshly and the victims will be the poor and the most vulnerable sections
in the society. There is really no pride in us being arrogant and despondent
when, in the case of Africa, today war, death and economic woes deny livelihood
to millions and denude them of human dignity.
On the other hand, those . fortunate countries that had benefited from early
industrialisation and are, therefore, today in an ideal position to profit immensely
from globalization, should acknowledge and assume the responsibilities towards
the least fortunate that accompany their power and great fortune.
This Special Session in Geneva is a vital link in a chain extending from the
eventful past and leading to the Millennium Summit in New York in September
as well as to the scheduled High-level Event on Financing for Development in
June 2001. No doubt, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions must
work even more closely on financing for development. Careful and inclusive preparations
are needed to ensure the success of that High-level Event next year.
Let me, at this stage, shift for a moment to another related field of common
interest. That is the multilateral treaty framework. Much of the social progress
achieved over the past 50 years and more is underpinned by a comprehensive multilateral
Of the more than 500 multilateral treaties, deposited with the Secretary-General,
many of them deal specifically with socio-economic issues. I join the SecretaryGeneral
in his urgent call upon those States that have hitherto not signed or ratified
many of these treaties to do so with all deliberate speed.
In this connection, I would like to commend the Secretary-General for his initiative
urging States which, while committed to these treaties, may lack the necessary
resources to sign or ratify them, to advise him of any difficulties they may
have. To accomplish this, he has requested the UN system, including those in
the field, to assist the States concerned to be able to fulfil their obligations,
pursuant to the Charter of our Organization, in this vital field. The Millennium
Summit will offer the best possible opportunity for the world leaders to firmly
anchor their collective commitment to the rule of law. Parliaments of the
themselves be robust catalysts and play an active role in this noble endeavour.
In concluding, a word about where we are coming from and about a way forward.
A little over two weeks ago, some of us in this hall were present in New York
for the Assembly's 23rd Special Session on women's rights, empowerment and gender
equality. It was obvious to anyone listening to the 207 statements made in the
plenary, or participating in the negotiations on the final outcome document,
"Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the
Platform for Action", that the issues addressed in respect of the 12 critical
areas of concern delineated in 1995, were closely linked, and often identical,
to the social development issues that we are here to tackle.
At the Beijing + 5 Special Session, we agreed on the need for policies and strategies
to address the concerns of women in poverty, to empower women economically,
and for women's involvement and participation in all human issues. Are these
not the same concerns we will be considering as we assess how well Governments
have implemented the 12 commitments and Programme of Action to reduce poverty,
achieve full employment and the inclusion and participation of women and men
in the society, adopted at Copenhagen in 1995?
Promoting sustainable social development will help eliminate barriers to equality,
to eradicate poverty and to overcome the disparities, inequalities and injustices
that exist in the world today, most especially for women. And please, let us
not forget the plight of the world's children. Their despair has now further
been exacerbated by the breakdown of the family, and by the horrors of organized
crime and child soldiering.
If these goals are achieved, we will, at long last, be able to say that a sea change is under way. I truly hope so.
Now let us dive in.