15 January 2003


Press Release

Economic and Social Council

2003 Organizational Session

1st Meeting (AM)



Four Vice-Presidents also Elected, as Council holds First Meeting of Year

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held its first meeting for 2003 this morning, electing Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala) by acclamation as its President for 2003-2004.

Also by acclamation, the Council elected its four Vice-Presidents for the following regional groups:  Marjatta Rasi (Finland) from the Western European and Other States, Murari Raj Sharma (Nepal) from the Asian States, Abdul Mejid Hussein (Ethiopia) from the African States, and Valery P. Kuchinsky (Ukraine) from the Eastern European States.

In his opening statement, incoming President Gert Rosenthal said the role of ECOSOC was based on what was set out in the Millennium Declaration, to strengthen the United Nations and its organs and deepen the process of reform and revitalization.  In recent time, ECOSOC was progressively gaining in relevance.  He also recognized, however, that many continued to have doubts about the effectiveness of the organ.

He said both existing legislation as well as actual practice had given content to an organ that fulfilled several unique functions within the United Nations system, including:  functioning as a forum of joint reflection on development issues; and introducing greater coherence and coordination to the activities of the United Nations system and the non-governmental world that surrounded it.  The Council had also oversight, supervising and monitoring roles.  It further offered substantive guidance to all its subsidiary bodies and to the executive boards of the programmes and funds of the United Nations.  It finally had a permanent role of monitoring and follow-up of the activities of the United Nations system in the economic and social spheres.

ECOSOC must be perceived as a part of a complex organizational arrangement, that formed part of the United Nations system of governance, he said.  Above all, it was to maintain as valid one of the two great raisons d’etre of the United Nations:  development and observance of human rights

Before handing over the gavel to the new President, the outgoing President, Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), said the Council had held a successful substantive session in July and made progress in a number of important areas, such as

peace-building and conflict prevention, cooperation with international finance and trade institutions, and follow-up to international conferences and summits.  During the high-level segment, the Council had achieved major advances in the area of human resources development.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been given a higher profile than ever before.  The Council had also established a support secretariat for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In peace-building and conflict prevention, the Council had agreed to establish an Ad Hoc Advisory Group on African Countries Emerging from Conflict to examine the humanitarian and economic needs of individual countries; to review relevant programmes of support; to prepare recommendations for a long-term programme of support; and to provide advice on ensuring the adequacy and coherence of international assistance.  The first such group was established in October on Guinea-Bissau.  A precedent had been set for addressing the Security Council by the President of ECOSOC.

He said the World Trade Organization (WTO) had participated for the first time in the spring meeting of ECOSOC with the Bretton Woods Institutions.  Representatives of NGOs and the business community had also participated.  In the broader area of conference follow-up, the Council had entered the phase of implementation of the complex and interrelated commitments and goals established at the major conferences of the 90s, the Millennium Summit, the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development.  The Council and the General Assembly were working closely together in promoting coherence in the implementation of conference outcomes.

For ECOSOC to have a real impact on the lives of the people most in need, the Council must find a way to strengthen ties between the Council and governments, to increase interaction among senior-level policy makers, and to take into account the contributions by NGOs, the private sector, national and local authorities, academia and other non-State actors in the work of the Council, he said.

In further business, Goncalo de Santa Clara Gomes (Portugal) introduced the report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Guinea-Bissau, to be issued as document E/2003/8.  He said Guinea-Buissau was a least developed country still emerging from a period of internal conflict that had ended in 1999.  The recent downturn in the international market price for cashew nuts, its main commodity, coupled with downturn in official development assistance and suspension by the International Monetary Fund of its Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility had greatly affected the country.  Recent political instability was worsening the situation.  The Group had visited the country from 9 to 16 November 2002.

He said recommendations were based on a two-pronged approach.  The Government would have to demonstrate strong commitment to stability, good governance and sound financial management. It would also need to formulate a long-term strategy for development. Those actions would then create the conditions for the international community to re-engage in the process of development.

The Group’s recommendations were based on the need for a new development paradigm for Guinea-Bissau, based on a partnership between the Government and the international community.  The longer term recommendations called for a more active involvement of the international community in the development of Guinea-Bissau, and for actions to be taken by the Government to reinforce economic growth and strengthen national infrastructures, he said.

Also this morning, the Council adopted its provisional agenda as set out in document E/2003/2.

The President informed members that informal consultations would be held on Wednesday, 22 January on the proposed basic programme of work and other organizational matters, as set out in document E/2002/1, as well as on the parameters of the spring meeting with the Bretton Woods Institutions.

The representatives of Venezuela, on behalf of the Group of 77 Developing Countries and China, and Guinea-Bissau addressed the Council in short interventions.

The 54 members of the ECOSOC are:  Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Zimbabwe.

The next meeting of the ECOSOC is scheduled for Tuesday, 28 January.

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For information media. Not an official record.