15 December 1999


15 December 1999

Press Release



Hears Tributes to Late Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman

The General Assembly this morning appealed to all Member States to forge global cooperation to ensure a timely and effective response to computer problems emanating from the year 2000 date conversion, also known as "Y2K".

It issued that appeal in a resolution that it adopted without a vote. Introducing the text, the representative of Lesotho said that global readiness for the problem meant having fixed and tested systems, as well as prepared and tested contingency plans. While not every country or infrastructure met that standard, most would function adequately through the date change and in early January. However, he warned, the effects would last beyond that period as unfixed errors would lead to degraded infrastructure performance in the weeks that followed. Global networks were being established to address technical problems should local and regional resources prove insufficient.

In other action this morning, also without a vote, the Assembly decided that the day most sacred to Buddhists -- the Day of Vesak -- should be observed in May each year at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices.

On the question of Y2K, the representatives of Australia and New Zealand both expressed their countries’ willingness to cooperate, as they would experience the rollover first, and expected to be a focus of world attention.

The representative of the United States said that, despite the cooperation and information-sharing that had been accomplished, important work, including preparations to handle situations that could arise after the rollover, still needed to be done. Now was the time to focus on last-minute contingency planning to minimize possible disruptions.

Also this morning, the Assembly paid tribute to the memory of Franjo Tudjman, the late President of the Republic of Croatia. Statements were made

General Assembly Plenary - 1a - Press Release GA/9686 79th Meeting (AM) 15 December 1999

by representatives of Cameroon (for the African States), Bangladesh (for the Asian States), St. Lucia (for the Latin American and Caribbean States), Luxembourg (for the Western European and Other States), Czech Republic (on behalf of the Eastern European States) and United States. They honoured his courage in the face of indignities, and his devotion to the cause of his nation.

As the representative of St. Lucia put it, President Tudjman had lived a life based on the purest moral convictions. He had been rewarded with his country's vote of confidence in free elections in 1991, and earned himself a place of honour in the hearts and minds of the world as a learned scholar and author, activist, military general, statesman and humanitarian. The representative of the United States expressed the hope that the new President would live up to the late leader's vision of freedom and democracy, as well as full implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

The representative of Croatia said that the late President had been an active participant in the history of his country and, in the past decade, a leader instrumental in achieving its independence. He should also be remembered for his direct participation in the anti-fascist struggle during the Second World War.

Statements were also made by representatives of India, Andorra, Russian Federation and Israel on the Y2K problem, and by Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Spain, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and India on the Day of Vesak.

The General Assembly will meet next at 3 p.m. today to consider various issues related to humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, including special assistance to certain countries; cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this morning to consider global implications of the year 2000 date conversion problem of computers (Y2K) and international recognition of the Day of the Vesak.

Global implications of year 2000 date-conversion problem

The Assembly had before it the Secretary-General's report on Y2K problems (document A/54/525), which outlines steps taken within the United Nations system and Member States to resolve the year 2000 date conversion problem of computers. It presents information on this subject from the Secretariat, the Funds and Programmes, and the specialized agencies. The report also sums up the steps taken by the Secretary-General with Member States to facilitate resolution of the problem. It also updates and complements an earlier report prepared by the Secretary-General (document A/C.5/54/3) in response to a request of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Also before the Assembly was a draft resolution, sponsored by Lesotho (document A/54/L.61), by which the Assembly would appeal, continued to all Member States to forge global cooperation to ensure a timely and effective response to the challenge, to address the threat the problem poses globally, and to cooperate with each other, as some Member States do not have the capacity to correct service outages, by sharing experiences, skills and knowledge. The Assembly would ask the Secretary-General to ensure that the United Nations system closely monitors actual and potential sources of funding to support the efforts of the developing countries and those with economies in transition to address the year 2000 problem.

Other provisions deal with such specific issues as virus scanning and setting up mechanisms for service restoration in the event of service outages after 1 January 2000. The Assembly would urge Member States to emphasize the importance of contingency planning and to finalize plans to address potential large-scale failures in both the public and private sectors.

International recognition of the Day of Vesak

By the terms of a 27-power draft resolution (document A/54/L.59) the Assembly would resolve that, without cost to the United Nations, appropriate arrangements shall be made for international observances of Vesak at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices, in consultation with the relevant United Nations offices and with permanent missions that also wish to be consulted.

The Day of Vesak, or the day of the full moon in May, is the day most sacred to Buddhists, who commemorate on that day the birth of Buddha, his attainment of enlightenment and his passing away.

Statements on Y2K Preparedness

PERCY M. MANGOAELA (Lesotho), introducing the draft resolution on global implications of Y2k conversion problems (document A/54/L.61), said the International Y2K Cooperation Centre, created in February under United Nations auspices with funding from the World Bank, had begun coordinating Member States efforts to deal with those problems. The evaluation made by the Steering Committee had demonstrated a global readiness, which would soon be put to the test. Full readiness meant having fixed and tested systems, as well as prepared and tested contingency plans. While not every country or infrastructure met that standard, most countries would function adequately through the date change and in early January.

The effects would last beyond early January, he continued. Unfixed errors would lead to degraded performance in infrastructures in the weeks that followed. The Centre was monitoring progress in nine critical infrastructure sectors -- energy, telecommunications, finance, transportation, health and hospitals, government services, customs and immigration, food and water. With two exceptions -– health and hospitals, and government services -– an assessment had revealed that those infrastructures would function normally during the first few days, but some would degrade in ensuing weeks.

He stated that in the past year, much collaborative work had been one with 196 countries. However, problems might arise that could exceed a country’s capacity to respond. Consequently, a set of networks was being established. The responsibility to respond to those problems rested primarily with local and national infrastructure operators, but the areas of finance, telecommunications and aviation were being globally organized. Should local and regional resources prove insufficient to address technical problems, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in cooperation with the group of seven Western industrialized countries and the Russian Federation (G-8) and other donors, had been establishing the capacity to mobilize sector experts to help. The Centre would receive and catalogue requests for technical assistance from national Governments and refer them to its own volunteer teams, to the World Bank and the UNDP, as well as to donor countries.

ATUL KHARE (India) said India was committed to averting and controlling the Y2K crisis in critical Government sectors, public and private organizations and services. Serious efforts had been made to make all such entities aware of the need for strict and timely compliance. The Department of Atomic Energy was Y2K- ready, and all the organizations functioning under it had prepared detailed contingency plans; an emergency control room had been established, which operated round the clock. It would be placed on a higher alert during the transition period. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had taken major initiatives to ensure the preparedness of banks and financial institutions. All commercial banks had reported also full Y2K compliance.

He said the civil aviation sector was Y2K-ready with respect to such technology as navigation and landing systems, radar and cargo management. All meteorological services for aviation had been assessed, tested and made Y2K compliant. All airlines had completed assessment, testing and necessary modification of hardware and software systems.

The telecommunications sector was also Y2K-compliant, he reported. Special control rooms were being set up at national, state and telecom district levels for high-risk dates. The health sector was also fully prepared.

SIM FARAR (United States) said that by working together, the world had shared the burden of Y2K, the importance of regional cooperation could not be overstated. Neighbours of the United States would be the first to feel the effects of any Y2K difficulties his country might experience, and vice versa; it would likewise be neighbours who would be able to respond fastest by virtue of proximity. However, despite the cooperation and information-sharing that had been accomplished, there was still important work left to be done, including preparations to handle situations that could arise after the rollover. Now was the time to focus on last- minute contingency planning to minimize possible disruptions.

He called on Member States to take advantage of the coordinating mechanism of the International Y2K Cooperation Centre and to provide regular status reports. Efficient, timely and organized responses to requests for technical assistance would help limit disruptions.

He said it was crucial to be able to respond to any humanitarian needs that might arise as a result of Y2K. Through already established mechanisms, the United Nations and the international community should be committed to providing appropriate assistance when required. The United States was committed to dealing with Y2K as part of the international community and urged all countries to continue their open policies of information sharing.

FORNER ROVIRA (Andorra) said that developing countries appeared to be reasonably safe from Y2K problems, as a lack of technological and economic resources meant fewer computers and less access to those that were available. This created a paradox: the lack of computer technology made the life in developing countries more difficult. On the other hand, in developed countries, "where every little aspect of our lives is linked to a machine", the most insignificant problem could affect almost every aspect of everyday life.

As the gap between rich and poor nations widened, "we are becoming less sensitive to the sufferings that afflict people around the planet", he said. "Perhaps we have overlooked or misunderstood the issue, and we should have been sharing our improvements with those that do not have any, before we take a step further." People around the globe should use 1 January as a starting-point for cooperation.

DAVID STUART (Australia) said that, as his would be one of the first countries to enter the Year 2000, its progress through the date change would be collected, coordinated and disseminated from National Coordination Centre in Canberra from 31 December to 7 January 2000. The Centre would be part of a national network of Government coordination centres being established in each state capital city. Australia had actively supported United Nations efforts to encourage international attention to the cross-border impacts of Y2K.

The role of the United Nations in facilitating international cooperation on Y2K issues clearly extended into the year 2000, he said. There had been significant progress in international preparedness, including contingency planning. The duration and impact of Y2K problems would depend on the level of remediation and integrity of testing, the nature and effectiveness of contingency plans developed, and on the capability of key service sectors in individual countries to resume operations quickly. In many countries, its impact might be limited or negligible, but in others, it might be severe. It would be important for Member States to continue to work together provide the public early advice on Y2K problems during the rollover period.

TREVOR HUGES (New Zealand) said that should his country's help be sought to deal with urgent problems arising in the South Pacific Island States in the new year, it stood ready to assist within the resources and capacity available under its official development assistance programme. New Zealand would be a focus of world attention in the early hours of the year 2000 as it experienced the first sunrise of the new year, because it could provide insight into the possible effects of the "millennium bug" on a computer-reliant infrastructure, and possibly give others a few hours vital notice of what they might expect.

He said that the draft resolution before the Assembly stressed the need for global cooperation to ensure a timely and effective response to a challenge that had not been foreseen by the Organization's founders, but was a truly global challenge which the United Nations system was well placed to address.

N. TCHOULKOV (Russian Federation) described his country’s preparations for dealing with Y2K. A methodology had been developed and brought to the attention of managers and technical staff. In order to raise public awareness and prepare the population for the transition of computer systems, a series of TV and radio programmes had been broadcast and a number of publications issued.

He said intensive work was being undertaken in the nuclear sector. Preparations for the new millenium in the fuel and energy sector as a whole had been implemented successfully, and the country was ready to continue to perform its international obligations vis-à-vis gas and oil deliveries. His country had also taken into account military aspects of the Y2K problem.

AARON JACOB (Israel) advocated a focus on recovery efforts over the first few months of the new year. The new millennium would not be worth celebrating if it heralded disaster in any nation. Information technology could not be relied on to break down global barriers; nor could it be relied on to prevent disaster. Therefore, parallel contingency measures must be the primary focus. Mobile generators, alternative power sources, public awareness campaigns and international coordination had all become essential corrective measures.

His country’s Y2K coordination committee had identified electric companies, water resources, transportation and hospital equipment as areas most likely to be affected. Failure to anticipate problems in those areas could lead to chaos or even loss of life.

The President of the Assembly, THEO-BEN GURIRAB (Namibia) announced that Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Belarus, Finland, Gabon, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Mauritius, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States as additional sponsors of the draft.

Action on Draft

The Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote.

Statements on Buddhist holiday

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka), introducing the draft resolution on the Day of Vesak (document A/54/L.59), said the Assembly had recognized many diverse concerns of a complex world and had acted with the knowledge that all peoples sought, through that body, an acknowledgement of their concerns, hopes and beliefs. In that spirit, the International Buddhist Conference was relying on the United Nations for international recognition of the Day of Vesak -- the day of the full moon in May on which over 150 million Buddhists world wide commemorated the birth, attainment of enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

He called on the Assembly to recognize Vesak as the most sacred day in Buddhism and allow for appropriate arrangements to be made for its observance at Headquarters and other offices of the Organization.

He noted that Greece, Mauritius, Norway and Turkey had joined in sponsoring the draft.

VORAVEE WIRASAMBAN (Thailand) said the universal message of peace, goodwill and compassion preached by Lord Buddha more than 2500 years ago had never been more relevant than today. Buddhism had always stressed the peaceful resolution of disputes, whether between individuals or communities. Buddhism was synonymous with peace. Moreover, tolerance was one of its central tenets. In Thailand, tolerance, particularly religious tolerance, was enshrined in the constitution and ingrained in the Thai way of life.

Buddhism preached moderation, he said. The sense of moderation served as a foundation for the actions of Buddhists towards others and guarded against those excesses that all too often manifested themselves in the global village. The international recognition of the Day of Vesak would go a long way towards according recognition and respect to Buddhism and millions of Buddhists world wide and reaffirming the United Nations strong commitment to the principle of respect for diversity.

CHRISTINE LEE (Singapore) said the recognition of Vesak Day was an appropriate mark of respect for the Buddha. It was one of four major festivals celebrated in Singapore, whose population was one third Buddhist.

She commended the initiative because it was in accord with the General Assembly having proclaimed the Year 2000 as the International Year for Culture of Peace and declared the International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non- violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010). A hallmark of the Buddha’s teaching was the promotion of peace and non-violence. The initiative would also pave the way for the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations in 2001.

SHAIKH RAZZAQUE ALI (Bangladesh) stated that in Asia, as in other parts of the world, people observed the Day of Vesak as the most sacred day in Buddhism. His country, historically connected with the Buddhist civilization, had a sizeable Buddhist population and celebrated that day as well as other festivals. International commemoration of the Day would provide an opportunity to relive the sublime teachings of the Buddha, which aimed at bringing understanding, happiness and solace to the world.

OM PRADHAN (Bhutan) said the international recognition of the contribution that Buddhism had made and continued to make to the world would promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the diversity in societies.

The teachings of Buddhism were universal in nature, he said. It stood for moderation, non-violence, peaceful coexistence and tolerance. It taught humans to safeguard and preserve resources and their natural environment, respecting the lives of all sentient beings. Many of those principles were akin to those of other major religions, and to the fundamental principles enshrined in the Charter.

JUAN LUIS FLORES (Spain) said that as a sponsor of the resolution, his country believed that the United Nations was a forum for the many religions and cultures that co-existed in the outside world to meet and exchange ideas. The recognition of Vesak Day would acknowledge the contribution made by these different religions and cultures to tolerance and the promotion of mutual understanding among humankind.

U WIN MRA (Myanmar) said the Charter called on nations to practice tolerance and live in peace. That embodied the teachings of the Buddha, which had moved millions of people. Buddhism, like other major religions, had contributed substantively to the prevalence of peace and it was fitting that the United Nations provided Buddhists with an opportunity to bring their sacred day to the attention of the international community. The Day of Vesak was also a sacred occasion in Myanmar, where almost 90 per cent of the population were Buddhists. To commemorate the Day, there was a ceremonial watering of the Bo Tree, under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment.

NARENDRA BIKRAM SHAH (Nepal) said the essence of the Buddha’s teachings revolved around humanity, peace, compassion, understanding and non-violence, the equality of all human beings and respect for and non-denigration of the beliefs of others.

Lumbini, where the Buddha had been born, was today a prominent World Heritage Site. The United Nations had historically been involved in its preservation and development. The International Buddhist Summit held at Lumbini one year ago had declared it to be a fountain of peace. Vaishakh Purnima, or Vesak Day, was recognized in Nepal also as Lumbini Day and observed as a national holiday, an official day of non-violence.

INAM-UL-HAQUE (Pakistan) said the northwest of his country was the home of the Buddhist Gandhara civilization, which had flourished in the first century B.C. The period had also seen the birth of Gandhara art through a fusion of Greco-Roman art and Buddhist traditions. The contribution of Buddhism to the culture, art and civilization of the peoples of South Asia and beyond had been profound. The message of peace, compassion and truth given by Buddha was shared by most religions and belief systems. The recognition of the Day of Vesak by the United Nations would be a befitting acknowledgement of the contribution of Buddhism to the spiritual development of humankind.

KAMALESH SHARMA (India) said that the impact of Buddhism on the spiritual, moral and ethical values of the world made it fitting for the Day to be earmarked, honoured and observed by the Assembly. The core of the Buddha’s teachings had touched millions of lives with salvation and hope, he continued. His country hoped to participate actively in the observance of Vesak in the United Nations.

Lesotho, Nicaragua and the United States joined as sponsors of the draft resolution.

Action on draft

The draft on the Day of Vesak was adopted without a vote.

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For information media. Not an official record.