Third Committee signals urgent need for new initiatives to spur social development

In the wake of a busy UN high-level week, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, covering social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, kicked off its seventy-third session on 2 October. Chaired by Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal of Afghanistan, the Committee will be deliberating a range of issues related to the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and the right to self-determination. During its session, the Committee will also hone in on endeavors to empower youth, the rights of older persons and global efforts to combat inequality.

As UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin took the podium to deliver opening remarks, he noted that the world has witnessed considerable social progress over the past decades, citing that “more people are living longer, are more educated and have greater income.”

“However, the overall progress is not even,” Mr. Liu continued. “Global economic growth has not brought about commensurate social benefits to all people,” he said, stressing the importance of social protection as a policy tool to help eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and promote inclusion, especially among persons with disabilities, older persons and youth.

“Investment in the world’s youth is also a must for accelerating progress. By tackling the challenges facing young people, addressing their needs and supporting their participation and empowerment, we have a unique opportunity to lay the foundation for a peaceful and sustainable future,” he said.

Mr. Liu also discussed how critical the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) will be next September – when it will be held at the Summit level – to give renewed momentum for countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“This requires international cooperation to address common challenges and deliver benefits to all, leaving no person and no country behind. Multilateralism is key. It requires transformative shifts. Political leadership is imperative; technological advances must be shared; and adequate financing must be mobilized,” said Mr. Liu.

Delegates opened the general debate with remarks echoing Mr. Liu’s. They called for a greater international response to the needs of the world’s disadvantaged and most vulnerable. They also stressed the importance of combating the widening gap between rich and poor, and highlighted the developmental progress and challenges in Africa. Further, they considered current demographic changes across the globe and the changing role of young people. Delegates agreed that the lack of equitable education and societal participation among young people is a significant issue.

“Disparity in opportunities is a problem often faced by young people, even more so if they belong to an additional marginalized group,” said Natalie Daniela Haas, a youth delegate from Austria.

Supporting the disadvantaged and most vulnerable remained a priority throughout the debate. Delegates examined the tremendous social exclusion of older persons. The lack of human rights for older persons has negative impacts for realizing the SDGs, and Member States agreed on the paramount need to ensure those rights.

“We must be aware of their [older person’s] social needs and take into consideration their contribution to society,” said Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, an Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons.

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