|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-eighth General Assembly
General Assembly President Urges Decisive Action, Collaboration in Tackling
Grinding Poverty, Other Tasks under Budgetary Constraints
As Main Part of Session Concludes,
Members Adopt More than 300 Texts on Disarmament, Migration, Other Key Questions
Against a backdrop of imminent or impending wars, civil and sectarian bloodshed and strife between and within States, chemical warfare in Syria, grinding poverty and malnutrition, gender violence and deadly climate change impacts, the year ahead was “pivotal” for the 193-nation organ, General Assembly President John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) said at the opening of its sixty-eighth session.
“The magnitude of the task before us will require decisive action and the highest levels of collaboration, and we must prove ourselves and our efforts to be equal to the enormity of the task,” he said. That broad task included addressing 170 agenda items and adopting 259 resolutions and 66 decisions, including more than 30 texts taken up in plenary, alongside a $5.53 billion biennial budget — made leaner for the coming biennium by cuts in the number of staff posts — to fund the Organization’s worldwide operations. Through those actions, the Assembly tackled global issues, from nuclear disarmament to the peaceful use of outer space, and adopted new resolutions on the right to privacy and the safety of journalists.
Rising to the tasks at hand with a trimmed budget also meant channelling efforts under the theme for the session — “Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage”. With less than 1,000 days to the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the stage had been set by a number of unprecedented high-level meetings and dialogues, including on nuclear disarmament, disability, migration and financing for development.
Summing up the immensity of those and other challenges, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the general debate by urging world leaders to shoulder their responsibilities on peace and security, human rights, arms proliferation and sustainable development. “Let us empower the United Nations to be more than a first responder or a last resort,” he said. Pointing to the ever more entwined fates of Member States and the transformed global landscape, he said new ways of governing, partnering and problem solving must be found. “We must listen to the just demands of the world’s people and hear the call of history.”
Among those demands, the Syrian crisis was “the biggest peace and security challenge in the world”, he continued, noting that it had torn the country apart and left the Middle East dangerously destabilized. Syria’s Government must honour its obligations under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, he said, with the international community bringing to justice those responsible for the “worst chemical weapons attack on civilians in a quarter of a century”, which occurred in August 2013.
Looking forward to the adoption of an enforceable and binding Security Council resolution, he called on the international community to safeguard and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. “What matters most is what we do here — the hard work we carry out that will translate what we say on this rostrum into tangible progress for the world’s people,” he said, stressing the Assembly’s role in both resolving the Syria’s conflict and responding to the suffering of its people. Many delegates also voiced alarm over the continuing violence in Syria, with many pressing for Security Council reform that would see a more representative body take prompt action to end the crisis.
Historical moments and gatherings peppered the session. Marking two “firsts”, world leaders and key stakeholders attended the inaugural meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and a high-level dialogue on nuclear disarmament. Then, to a round of hearty applause on 18 November, the State of Palestine cast its first ballot as a non-Member observer State during the election of four Member States to the Economic and Social Council and one permanent judge to an international tribunal. Another “first” occurred when Saudi Arabia declined a seat on the Security Council.
Yet punctuating the session were disasters and tragedies that underscored the urgent need to find concrete solutions to pressing items on the Assembly’s agenda. In the shadow of debates on climate change and on migration, the Assembly commemorated more than 10,000 victims killed when Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines and more than 300 migrants who perished after their vessel sank off the coast of Italy.
The Assembly also held a special meeting on the life of Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, who died on 5 December. Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, quoted the late statesman’s words to the effect that overcoming poverty was not a task of charity, but one of justice. The world should remember that message in 2014 when shaping a post-2015 development agenda, he said, quoting Mr. Mandela once again: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Elaborating on that view during its 27 December meeting, which saw the conclusion of the main part of its work, Assembly President Ashe looked ahead to the remainder of the session, saying: “Let’s continue to work hard so that we can look back on our time here with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
As for the work of the Assembly’s main subsidiary bodies, there was evidence in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) of a growing appetite to make the difficult choices needed to conclude verifiable and irreversible multilateral treaties. Following the Assembly’s high-level September meeting on nuclear disarmament, the Committee followed that up by approving a draft resolution calling for an international conference no later than 2018. That text also called for 26 September to be designated as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
The work of the Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) centred on international efforts to forge a post-2015 development agenda, with a specific focus on countries in special situations, food security and information and communications technology. The Committee recommended 41 draft resolutions and two draft decisions to the Assembly, 39 of which were adopted without a vote, and four of which each required a recorded vote. It also held several side events, in collaboration with the Economic and Social Council, on biodiversity, building the resilience of small island developing States and the future of employment.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) tackled emerging human rights questions relating to digital privacy and killings by armed unmanned drones. Delegates interacted with about 50 special rapporteurs, independent experts and the chairs of working groups of the Human Rights Council on a wide range of issues, including the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees and the right to self-determination. They also addressed social development questions relating to youth, family, ageing, persons with disabilities, crime prevention, criminal justice and international drug control. In total, the Committee sent more than 70 draft resolutions for action by the General Assembly.
Over the course of a session that alternated between consensus and contentious debate, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) sent 29 drafts to the Assembly across a spectrum of political concerns, ranging from the Middle East to outer space. For the first time, it addressed the question of special political missions. Approving 13 texts, the Committee also passed a series of drafts on the Israeli-Palestinian question, by recorded vote. One stressed the need for increased assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria and to those who had fled to neighbouring countries. A traditional text on decolonization reaffirmed the principle of self-determination as a fundamental human right. While divisions remained over long-standing disputed territories, members coalesced around the issues of information, peacekeeping, mine action and the work carried out in connection with outer space and atomic radiation.
After debating the proper financing of the Organization in light of heightened global demand for its support amid worldwide economic austerity, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) recommended a $5.53 billion budget for the 2014-2015 biennium, a $34.72 million reduction from the current two-year expenditure. Most of the savings realized were due to a net reduction in staff posts. The Committee also approved draft resolutions on the funding requirements of special political missions, peacekeeping operations, staff pay and benefits, and the Umoja enterprise resource planning system, among other topics. It deferred action on the Secretary-General’s staff mobility initiative and other issues until 2014. The session lasted from 3 October until 27 December.
The Sixth Committee (Legal) examined a broad range of topics, highlighting major strides in the development of international law, while continuing to address unresolved issues, including the definition of terrorism and the critical need to provide consistent funding for the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, an essential and invaluable source for the promotion of the rule of law.
Against a backdrop of rising ethnic and religious extremism, gender inequity, growing unrest and political tensions and increasing socioeconomic inequality, the Assembly’s theme “Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” envisioned a range of critical discussions intended to lead up to the creation of a new development framework. The vision of placing poverty eradication at the centre of development targets while addressing the inseparable link connecting economic growth, equity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, was envisaged as the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the United Nations.
Ahead of the general debate, the inaugural meeting of the first High-level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development represented a major step forward in the follow-up to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), replacing the Commission on Sustainable Development, which concluded its work on 20 September. The landmark gathering produced an outcome document paving the way for a universal and shared post-2015 development agenda.
More forward steps were seen with the adoption of an outcome document charting the way towards a disability-inclusive development agenda until 2015 and beyond. Recognizing that 1 billion people around the world were living with disabilities, 80 per cent of them in developing countries, the document emphasized that their rights had “yet to be fully translated into the inclusion of disability in internationally agreed development goals”.
Another global pledge came in the adoption of an eight-point plan to “make migration work” for all countries. “It is about people,” said Konstantin Romodanovsky, a minister in the Russian Federation’s Federal Migration Services, speaking during the high-level dialogue. Given the Federation’s status as the number two destination country for migrants, he added, no single State was in a position to respond to migration challenges on its own. Many other speakers agreed that dialogue and cooperation were needed to ensure that both origin and destination countries could share migration’s mutual benefits.
In a separate high-level dialogue, the General Assembly considered the question of financing for development with a view to speeding attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. During the two-day dialogue, representatives of Member States, civil society and the private sector delivered statements and participated in round table discussions, as well as an informal interactive dialogue that examined the effective channelling of funding to promote and bolster development.
Another unprecedented gathering was the Assembly’s first high-level dialogue on nuclear disarmament. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that while declared weapons stockpiles were falling, much work remained to improve weak and uneven transparency of stocks, delivery systems and fissile material. Cautioning that here was a “heavy price” to pay for failure, he said it was up to Member States to add to the historical legacy of the dialogue by “taking meaningful, practical steps to achieve our great disarmament goal”.
Recalling that the Assembly’s inaugural meeting, in London on 10 January 1946, had adopted its very first resolution — calling for “specific proposals for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction” — Assembly President Ashe said that despite bilateral and unilateral reductions, the total number of nuclear weapons deployed, and of stockpiles, still amounted to thousands. Many speakers echoed that view, expressing disappointment with the lack of political will to agree on issues that could be taken forward to the Conference on Disarmament.
Many of the topics relating to the session’s theme wove throughout the Assembly’s debates, among them security, climate change, the specific needs and vulnerabilities of small island developing States and the challenges facing Africa.
During the general debate, some speakers underlined the clear link between development and peace. Summing up that view, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of the United Kingdom said poverty was as great a threat to stability and freedom as conflict and oppression. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa said that any future development agenda for the continent must focus on eradicating poverty, erasing income inequality and creating jobs. Investing in the global South, particularly Africa, was critical for sustainable development and global stability, he added.
The ongoing Syrian crisis also threaded throughout the session. During a two-day debate on Security Council reform, delegates heatedly discussed that body’s inability to adopt a resolution that would end the daily toll of bloodshed, death and refugees. During debates on reform, many speakers called for limiting the veto power wielded by the permanent Security Council members and for expanding the organ’s membership to better reflect geopolitical realities, with additional seats for Africa and other unrepresented or underrepresented regions.
Rwanda’s representative emphasized that responsibility for protecting the world’s citizens should not be held hostage by the Council’s permanent members, stressing that negotiations on Council reform had continued for too long, with some wondering whether it would be achieved in their lifetime. Rwanda hoped that text-based negotiations would be the next step in the quest for a common position.
The Assembly also considered long-standing items on its agenda. During a two-day debate on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, it adopted texts concerning the proclamation of 2014 as the Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. A number of delegates voiced hope that the State of Palestine would join the United Nations as the 194th Member State in 2014 given its new status within the Organization as a non-member observer State since 2012.
Assembly President Ashe, speaking as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) concluded its work, said that the flexibility to face the challenges ahead in an ever-changing world was critical. The Committee’s recommendations underlined that need, and “as the work of our Organization gets more challenging, so does its financial and administrative needs”. He added: “We, therefore, need to ensure that the ways in which we deal with these challenges have evolved, and that the approaches of yesteryear also need to evolve if we are to have a fully functional organization.”
Momentum was palpable in the disarmament community in the wake of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting in September, with calls intensifying in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) on the nuclear‑armed States and their allies to develop, as soon as possible, a verifiable and irreversible multilateral treaty prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons.
In the general and thematic debates — a record 241 statements were made in the latter segment — deep concern was expressed by Governments on the humanitarian impact of those and all other weapons. Notably, 125 countries associated themselves with a joint statement condemning the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and calling for their elimination.
Norway’s representative conjectured early on that “this session will be coloured by the alarm over the recent use of chemical weapons. At the same time there is increased awareness of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and a strong call for the full implementation of NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] commitments.”
But doubts were also expressed about the value of focusing the discourse on the humanitarian consequences of those weapons. The representative of the Russian Federation, for example, said he fully shared the goal of freeing the world from nuclear and other mass destruction weapons, however, the current focus on making declarative statements containing phrases such as “moving forward”, “far-reaching” and “humanitarian impacts” turned the difficult discussion into public diplomacy, and the comprehensive context took a back seat.
Statement after statement seemed to reflect a growing appetite to make the difficult policy choices necessary to bridge the prevailing divide, particularly between those who saw the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as mainly a non-proliferation instrument and those whose expectations were high for its ability to motivate nuclear disarmament. In each case, speakers in the Committee were often frank, laying bare their Government’s positions on those most sensitive issues.
China’s representative said that the international situation was undergoing profound and complex changes, and he urged all parties to “abandon the cold war mentality and zero-sum game theory”. The representative of the United States told the Committee that conditions “did not yet exist” for a world free of nuclear weapons, but that, together, the international community was “completely capable” of creating the necessary conditions for achieving that goal.
If their predecessors could accomplish a treaty like the Limited Test Ban Treaty 50 years ago in the midst of the cold war, said the speaker, then surely ways could be found to work on further arms reductions, increasing transparency, banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and more.
In all, the Committee approved 48 draft resolutions — 19 on nuclear disarmament issues and three on weapons of mass destruction — and five decisions to the General Assembly, 21 without a vote. Some, however, required as many as 10 separate recorded votes, such as the resolution on transparency in armaments, logged under the Committee’s cluster on conventional weapons. The text sought the General Assembly’s reaffirmation of its decision to keep the scope of and participation of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms under review and, to that end, requested the Secretary-General, with the assistance of a group of governmental experts to be convened in 2016, to prepare a report on the Register’s continuing operation, relevance and further development.
A new draft resolution scheduled a United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament no later than 2018 to follow up September’s high-level meeting. It also proposed that 26 September be designated as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
The Committee Chairperson was Ibrahim O. A. Dabbashi ( Libya), and serving as Vice-Chairs were Miloš Nikolić ( Montenegro), Fernando Luque Márquez ( Ecuador) and Peter Winkler ( Germany). Khodadad Seifi Pargou ( Iran) was Rapporteur.
Outlining standards and expectations regarding the Millennium Development Goals, the international development framework beyond 2015 and the follow-up to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, including the High-level Political Forum, dominated the general debate of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial).
Covering all clusters on its agenda, the Committee recommended 41 draft resolutions and two draft decisions, of which the Assembly adopted 39 without a vote and four by recorded vote. Several of them aimed at promoting sustainable development as well as the eradication of poverty, while striking a balance between the well-being of present and future generations. Several texts contributed recommendations to world conferences on trade and climate change. In addition, the Committee set in motion the steps for a number of other meetings, including the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III), the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States and the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society.
Throughout the session, delegations pointed to the growing inequality between countries. They stressed that any future development agenda must entail, as a central premise, reducing poverty and inequality as well as active participation by the most vulnerable, with extra attention to least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. Those countries not only lagged behind in their pursuit of the Millennium Goals, but the challenges they faced were also severely exacerbated by global market turbulence and the effects of climate change. For small island developing States, any future development agenda must focus on combating climate change, they emphasized, saying it was not only a matter of sustainable development, but a struggle for their very survival.
Several delegates emphasized that the use of misleading indices such as gross domestic product per capita income in gauging development levels was detrimental to sustainable development. For the first time, the United Nations would address the development needs of middle-income countries beyond just the income variable,one delegate noted as the Committee approved a draft resolution on development cooperation with such countries, which expressed concern over their highly indebtedness and growing challenges to their long-term debt sustainability. Another delegate said the aspirations, concerns and needs of middle-income countries must be addressed, especially now as the world deliberated over the sustainable development goals.
Agriculture and food security remained prominent among the Committee’s debates, with several representatives stressing the need to ensure food security and invest in agricultural technologies, especially in Africa. The Committee approved a draft resolution that stressed the need to significantly reduce post-harvest and other food losses and waste throughout the food supply chain through increased promotion of appropriate harvesting practices, agro-food processing and appropriate facilities. Titled “Agricultural technology for development”, the text urged Member States and other relevant actors to improve the development of sustainable agricultural technologies as well as their transfer and dissemination to developing countries. A greater focus was needed to close the gender gap denying women equal access to labour-saving technologies.
Also in line with its focus on the post-2015 development agenda, the Committee held six special events in collaboration with the Economic and Social Council, in which participants discussed, among other topics, biodiversity, the vulnerability of small island developing States and the future of employment. The Committee Chair described such side events as extremely valuable vehicles for bringing into the Committee much-needed new ideas from the outside.
During their discussions on macroeconomic policy questions, delegations approved a draft resolution calling upon the international community to condemn and reject the use of unilateral economic measures as a means to exert political and economic coercion against developing countries. The text titled “Unilateral economic measures as a means of political and economic coercion against developing countries” urged the international community to adopt measures to eliminate the use against developing countries of unilateral coercive economic measures that were not authorized by the relevant organs of the United Nations.
As in previous sessions, the Committee approved a text requiring Israel to compensate Lebanon and Syria for the costs of repairing environmental damage caused by the Israeli Air Force’s destruction of oil storage tanks near Lebanon’s El-Jiyeh electric power plant. It also approved a draft demanding that Israel stop exploiting, damaging, depleting or endangering the resources of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.
The Second Committee Bureau includes Chairperson Abdou Salam Diallo ( Senegal), Vice‑Chairpersons Thalapita Ralalage Waruna Sri Dhanapala ( Sri Lanka), Oana Maria Rebedea ( Romania), Farrah Lamour Demoya Brown( Jamaica) and Rapporteur Juliet Hay ( New Zealand).
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) recommended General Assembly action on more than 70 draft resolutions relating mainly to human rights, social development and crime prevention, while tackling emerging questions concerning digital privacy and killings by armed unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
With the 2015 deadline for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals approaching, the Committee also heard calls to integrate gender equality, migrants’ rights and other human rights issues into the post-2015 development agenda.
Throughout the session, which began on 7 October and ended on 27 November, Committee members interacted with approximately 50 special rapporteurs, independent experts and chairs of Human Rights Council working groups on a range of issues, including women’s advancement, child protection, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees and the right to self-determination. They also addressed social development questions relating to youth, family, ageing, persons with disabilities, crime prevention, criminal justice and international drug control.
Among the numerous draft resolutions approved during the session was a topical text titled “The right to privacy in the digital age”, by which the General Assembly would underscore that privacy was a human right, affirming that the same rights enjoyed by people offline must be protected online as well. Further by that text, the Assembly would call upon Member States to review their procedures, practices and legislation on surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all relevant obligations under international human rights law.
As in previous years, human rights questions concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Syria sparked heated debate. Member States opposing country-specific draft resolutions argued that the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review was the appropriate mechanism to consider such issues. Many delegates felt the text on Myanmar would no longer be needed due to the positive developments occurring in that country. Many also welcomed pledges by the new Government in Iran to promote and protect human rights, although some delegates remained sceptical.
A reference to sexual and reproductive health undermined a broader consensus around an annual “omnibus” draft resolution on the rights of the child, although the Committee approved the text without a vote. Some delegates emphasized that only access to accurate sexual and reproductive information and education would enable women to fully realize their sexual rights, while others expressed reservations on the reference to children, stressing the need to respect their different religious and cultural backgrounds.
Lethal use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, also came under the Committee’s scrutiny. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, argued that the internationally recognized rule against arbitrary killings also applied to extraterritorial attacks by armed drones. Noting that drones were not illegal, he said that States were bound to the principle that life might be taken only in the absence of alternative ways to protect another life, even outside their own respective territories.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the newly appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), called for gender equality and women’s empowerment to be treated as a stand-alone goal in any new development framework. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also stressed the importance of including migrants into the framework, pointing out that their numbers could make up the world’s fifth largest country.
Stephan Tafrov (Bulgaria) chaired the Committee, with Mario Rogerio Baptista von Haff (Angola), Thorvardur Atli Thórsson (Iceland) and Maya Dagher (Lebanon) serving as Vice-Chairs, and Adriana Murillo (Costa Rica) as Rapporteur.
During the session, described by Committee Chair Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador) as “mainly political”, the Fourth Committee considered a raft of resolutions related to the Middle East, against the backdrop of a resumption of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Among them was a text concerning the operations of the United Nations agency charged with providing services to the Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). During consideration of the Agency’s work, its Commissioner-General told delegates that the refugees were living proof of a conflict unresolved across generations and a contemporary symbol of the difficulties of peacemaking and the high cost of its failures. Highlighting the Agency’s chronic financial troubles, he cautioned that weakening it now, amid the turmoil besetting the region, would threaten the new and fragile opportunity for progress in the long-dormant peace process.
Concerning the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, its Chair said the Committee had been able to confirm a “number of disturbing trends”, including the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners, the routine demolition of homes in the West Bank, continued construction of the wall, settler violence and the dispossession of Palestinians from their agricultural land. Israel’s representative called that “a biased and one-sided narrative of the conflict” and reiterated that his country was ready to make “a historic compromise” for a demilitarized Palestinian State living side by side with the Jewish State of Israel. The Committee concluded its agenda item on the Middle East with the approval, by recorded votes, of nine draft resolutions, five on the work of the Special Committee and four on UNRWA.
Debate on decolonization, which included representatives of administering Powers of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories as well as petitioners, reaffirmed both the strong consensus around completing the task and the fault lines persisting in certain disputes. Speakers greeted the decision to reinstate French Polynesia on the United Nations “list” after 60 years of its “isolation from the decolonization process”, and in the course of its consideration, a representative from that Territory said the unilateral actions of the administering Power had been hidden from the watchful eye of the United Nations. Petitioners from other Territories, including Western Sahara and Guam, also addressed the Committee, lamenting the lack of progress in their regions.
Representatives of some administering Powers took the floor, including from the United Kingdom, who said that that mutual benefits and responsibilities marked the relationship between her country and its Territories. The speaker from New Zealand said the country’s relationship with Tokelau was similarly framed by mutual respect. The Committee approved, without a vote, its omnibus draft resolution reaffirming that there was no alternative to the principle of self-determination in the process of decolonization. Five more draft resolutions were approved without a vote, while five others took recorded votes. In the course of those discussions, the representative of Paraguay said “it is strange to talk about administering Powers in the twenty-first century”.
New on the calendar this year was an item on special political missions, during consideration of which the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, told the Committee that those had diversified the United Nations crisis-response “toolbox”. While broad support had emerged for those missions — “often deployed when other agents could not act”, said El Salvador’s representative — some speakers cautioned that there was no one-size-fits-all formula to guarantee their success. The debate culminated in approval of a draft resolution acknowledging the significant increase in the number and complexity of those missions and requesting the Secretary-General to hold regular, inclusive and interactive dialogue on the policy matters pertaining to them.
The Committee’s annual review of peacekeeping operations in all its aspects drew a statement by Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who said that the probability of any given country successfully avoiding a relapse into conflict doubled with the deployment of a peacekeeping operation. Delegates highlighted the operational challenges of peacekeeping and urged the Organization to rise to the present level of complexity, magnitude and sensitivity demanded of it. Yet, said Nepal’s representative, even after 65 years, peacekeeping missions were being handled through “a disintegrated approach, each from scratch, dealing with each mission separately, each with a separate budget, and each having to go through the same old hurdles every time”.
The Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, told the Committee that the Department of Public Information had improved its multilingual coverage, in response to feedback from Member States. The Department’s products this year ran the gamut from webcast of the annual General Assembly debate in the six official languages, as well as the original language of the speaker, to multilingual and accessible websites featuring material on the Assembly’s high-level meetings on disability, migration and nuclear disarmament. The Committee approved two draft resolutions at the end of that debate, one of which welcomed the Department’s efforts to enhance multilingualism in all its activities and stressed the need to ensure that all new public United Nations documents be made available in all six official languages.
Along with the Committee Chair, the Bureau was comprised of Vice-Chairpersons Mafiroane Edmond Motanyane( Lesotho), Christina Rafti ( Cyprus) and Francesco Santillo ( Italy). Michal Komada ( Slovakia) served as Rapporteur.
In the 2013 budget year, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved texts recommending a $5.53 billion budget for 2014-2015, which, at $34.72 million less than the current two-year expenditure, was intended to ensure the most prudent use of United Nations resources.
Most savings were the result of a net reduction in staff posts, which raised concern during the Committee’s three‑month session, with developing countries fearing that the cuts would threaten the world body’s vital development agenda at their expense. During a session that extended beyond 24 December for the first time, delegates argued over the tendency of “recosting” to revise budget estimates upwards to account for inflation, shifting exchange rates and unforeseen costs.
While representatives of developed countries argued that it was financially and morally irresponsible to continue the practice when Governments everywhere were engaged in fiscal austerity, but those from developing countries defended it. In the end, delegates agreed to add$165.7 million to the 2012-2013 budget for a final total of $5.57 billion.
Following intense discussions over the conditions of service and pay scales, the Committee concluded the session by endorsing both the revised base/floor scale of staff in the professional and higher categories — as recommended by the International Civil Service Commission — and the continued application of the existing pay margin between those staff and their counterparts in the comparator United States civil service.
As in previous sessions, delegates expressed worries over the surging cost of the Organization’s 36 special political missions, with some calling for a separate account to finance them and a serious review of their funding and backstopping arrangements. The Committee agreed on $596.83 million for the missions during the 2014-2015 biennium.
The funding of peacekeeping operations was also a focus during the session, and the Committee supported financial outlays for the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Force in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
In other consensus texts,the Committee aimed to keep the Capital Master Plan on track in 2014, advance implementation of the Umoja enterprise resource planning system and improve the management of the after-service health insurance plan. It also sent recommendations to the Assembly on the administration of justice, unforeseen and extraordinary expenses for the biennium 2014-2015, the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013, financing of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia,and the Working Capital Fund, among other issues.
The Committee also decided to send to the Assembly a draft resolution aimed at helping the Organization’s two crucial oversight bodies — the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee — to strengthen accountability and transparency of United Nations activities.
Failing to reach agreement on the Secretary-General’s staff mobility initiative and on increasing the mandatory retirement age to 65 for all staff, the Committee deferred those items, among others, until 2014.
Members of the Committee’s Bureau were Chairperson Janne Taalas ( Finland); Vice-Chairpersons Carlos Alejandro Funes Henríquez( El Salvador), Joanna Aurelia Fiodorow ( Poland) and Kodjovi Dosseh ( Togo); and Rapporteur Ken Siah ( Singapore).
The Sixth Committee (Legal), in its sixty-eighth session, acknowledged the significant advancements made in the development of international law, including the finalization of several major texts pertaining to treaties and commerce. Those included the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties and the Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration, among others. Throughout the Committee’s twenty meetings, a variety of concerns had been addressed, among them the form certain draft texts on international law should take and new items focused on environmental matters. As well, older agenda items had been revisited, with delegations seeking solutions to long-standing stalemates.
Introducing the International Law Commission’s work to the Committee, Bernd H. Niehaus, Chair of that body, noted that the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties had taken almost two decades to finalize. Alain Pellet, the Special Rapporteur on the matter, underscored that the Guide was a result of collective work in which the delegates were stakeholders. It was not meant as “bedside reading”. Rather, it aimed to provide a toolbox to help States resolve problems and seek a balanced solution arising from the Vienna regime on interpretation to treaties.
“Transparency lies at the very foundation of good governance,” stated Michael Schöll, Chair of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), as he introduced the recently adopted Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration. Sixth Committee delegations had highly praised both those texts and the work of UNCITRAL, with several urging that the Commission alternate their meetings between New York and Vienna to allow a greater participation of Member States, particularly developing ones.
However, on the draft comprehensive convention on measures to eliminate international terrorism, the Committee had remained unresolved. John Ashe, President of the General Assembly urged representatives to address all outstanding issues so that a robust legal framework for combating the scourge could be established. Delegates themselves called for flexibility. Still, the lack of an agreed upon definition of the act had impeded progress, with some speakers stressing the need to distinguish between terrorism and the legitimate effort for self-determination by people under foreign domination.
As well, delegations have been unable to agree on whether to codify the draft articles on State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts into a convention, despite the International Law Commission’s 40 years of work on those texts. Virtually all speakers had agreed that the draft articles contributed to the development of international law and were being broadly used as a reference by international and national tribunals and Governments. Nonetheless, while some representatives had pointed out that a convention would provide clarity and foster ownership of the subject, still others had emphasized that it was too early to know if those texts completely reflected settled customary international law.
The Committee had also considered a number of topics related to the environment, including the International Law Commission’s adoption of draft articles on “the protection of persons in the event of disasters”, which included such protection before, during and after disasters. Many speakers stressed the importance of risk reduction, building community resilience and preparedness, including through innovative means such as space-based technologies.
Also considered was the “protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts”, a new item on the International Law Commission’s programme of work. Delegations had differed on whether that topic should be on the Commission’s agenda, with some stating that existing international legal frameworks were sufficient. Nonetheless, representatives generally appreciated the proposed holistic approach to the topic, consisting of three phases: addressing legal measures taken to protect the environment before, during and after armed conflict; analysing relevant existing laws of war; and considering obligations relating to reparation for damage, reconstruction, responsibility, liability and compensation.
Also left in question was the final form of draft articles on transboundary harm from hazardous activities, draft principles on allocation of loss in the case of such harm and draft articles on the law of transboundary aquifers. Although an agreement on whether to codify the draft articles or retain their current status as a resource could not be reached, speakers had underscored that the thrust of those measures could be seen in the broader context of the right to development and the obligation to protect the environment.
Most representatives welcomed the new topic “crimes against humanity” proposed for the International Law Commission’s long-term programme of work. Stressing that the issue should be studied in light of the Rome Statute, delegates had pointed out what was missing was not a definition of the crimes, but the tools to ensure prosecution. Some speakers had called to open negotiations on an international instrument on mutual legal cooperation covering all the major international crimes, including crimes against humanity. Others had argued for more States to use the Statute as the basis to criminalize such crimes in national law.
One issue on which all delegations were in accord was the great value to the development of international law provided by the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law. The Programme had made major contributions to legal systems and their practitioners around the world for almost half a century through its regional courses on international law and the United Nations audiovisual library, among other programmes. Its provision of professional development materials was often the only opportunity for lawyers and judges, who lived in countries that lacked those resources, to develop their skills.
Virginia Morris, Secretary of the Programme’s Advisory Committee, had cautioned the Committee that inadequate and unreliable funding was threatening the Programme’s very existence. She suggested a combination of funding methods for Programme activities, including, among other measures, providing the minimum resources required to ensure the continuation of Programme activities through the regular budget. Representatives pointed out that at a time when the rule of law had gained prominence at the United Nations it was paradoxical that there was a continuous lack of funding for the Programme whose main purpose was to foster that principle.
The Sixth Committee Bureau includes Chairperson Palitha T. B. Kohona ( Sri Lanka); Vice-Chairpersons Ibrahim Salem ( Egypt); Nikolas Johannes Stuerchler Gonzenbach ( Switzerland) and Leandro Vieira Silva ( Brazil); and Rapporteur Tofig Musayev ( Azerbaijan).
* *** *For information media • not an official record