19 December 2003


Press Release

Fifty-eighth General Assembly


76th Meeting (PM)



President Says Organ Can Now Set Up Viable

Framework for Continuing Revitalization Process

Aware of the need to enhance its authority and improve its working methods, the United Nations’ 191-member governing General Assembly today approved a set of sweeping changes -- to take effect following broad consultations over the next two years –- that ranged from sharpening the focus of its decisions, to paring down its workload, and deepening cooperation with the Presidents of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

Unanimously adopting a two-part resolution on revitalizing the work of the General Assembly (document A/58/L.49/Rev.1), Member States today reaffirmed the Assembly’s vital and fundamental role in international affairs, deciding, among other things, to take steps to increase the body’s efficiency and effectiveness and to raise the level of its visibility, so that its decisions might have greater impact.

Welcoming the resolution’s adoption, Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte (Saint Lucia) said that body could now move to set up a viable framework for long-term action and a continuing revitalization process as a means of ensuring that it met contemporary global challenges effectively.  The text, which reflected the two-pronged approach to revitalization -- enhancing the authority and role of the Assembly and improving its working methods -- conveyed the Assembly’s unequivocal resolve to perform the functions mandated to it under the United Nations Charter, to meet the world’s expectations and further strengthen the Organization.

Further by the wide-ranging text, States decided that the Presidents of the Assembly, Security Council, and Economic and Social Council should meet periodically to help ensure cooperation, coordination and complementarity in the respective work programmes of the three organs.  States also decided that the Assembly President should continue to be regularly briefed by the Security Council’s President on that body’s work.  The Security Council was also invited to periodically submit special subject-oriented reports to the Assembly on current issues of international concern.

On better publicizing the Assembly’s work, States decided that support provided by the United Nations Department of Public Information for that purpose should be intensified and strengthened.  The Secretary-General was asked to present a plan, within existing resources, to the next session of the Committee on Information so that recommendations could be made to the Assembly.

Many of the role-enhancing measures approved today were aimed at changes strengthening the Office of the Assembly President, with an emphasis on augmenting the Office’s resources from within existing resources.  The text decided that five additional posts should be made available to supplement the current support, of which three should be filled on an annual basis, following consultations with the incoming President, beginning at the Assembly’s fifty-ninth session.

[In that regard, the Assembly Secretary informed the body today that, following consultations, two existing posts in the Department for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management would be designated to provide substantive and analytical support to the Assembly President’s Office.  But the remaining three posts (D-1, D-2 and one General Service post) proposed would be employed on a temporary basis for a 12-month period at an additional cost –- based on two-year hires -– of some $948,000.  Every effort would be made to absorb that cost.]

On increasing the Assembly’s effectiveness and efficiency, States decided that the General Committee should meet throughout the session and further improve its working methods.  That body would play a leading role in advising the Assembly on the efficient organization, coordination and management of its work.

States also decided that the work of the Assembly’s Main Committees might benefit if it was scheduled over two substantive periods during the session, but at no additional costs and with no additional meetings.  With a view to enabling the Assembly to consider changes in that regard -- with effect from its sixtieth session -- the Secretary-General was requested to present, by 1 February 2004, various options for consideration by the General Committee, which would then hold open-ended discussions before making recommendations to the Assembly for its decision by July 2004.

Also this afternoon, the Assembly adopted, without vote, as orally revised, a text on global partnerships (document A/58/L.51), which stressed that efforts to meet the challenges of globalization could benefit from enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners, in particular the private sector.  It called upon all bodies of the United Nations system that encourage partnerships to ensure the Organization’s integrity and independence and to include in their regular reporting information on partnerships and, as appropriate, their Web sites and other means.

Emphasizing the need to strengthen, at all levels of society and among nations, freedom; justice; democracy; tolerance; solidarity; respect for diversity of culture, religion and belief; dialogue; and understanding -- all important elements of peace -- the Assembly also adopted a text on promotion of religious and cultural understanding, harmony and cooperation (document A/58/L.52).

By other terms of that text, the Assembly emphasized that combating hatred prejudice, intolerance and stereotyping on the basis of religion or culture presented a significant challenge requiring further action.  It also urged all States to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or belief.

Further by that text, the Assembly urged all States to ensure that members of law-enforcement bodies and the military, civil servants, educators and other public officials, in the course of their duties, respected different religions and beliefs and did not discriminate.

The Assembly also adopted, again without a vote, a wide-ranging text on mine-action assistance (document A/58/L.50).  By its terms, the Assembly, expressing deep alarm by the number of mines that continued to be laid each year, as well as the presence of a decreasing but still very large number of mines and other unexploded ordnance, called for the continuation of efforts by States to foster the establishment and development of national mine-action capacities in affected countries.

In that connection, it appealed to governments, regional organizations and other donors to increase their support to mine action, including through contributions through the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action.  Also, it urged Member States to provide the necessary information and technical, financial and material assistance, and to locate, remove, destroy, or otherwise render ineffective minefields, mines, booby traps and other devices, in accordance with international law, as soon as possible.

At the outset of the meeting, Assembly President Hunte announced that the final date of the Assembly’s work would be Tuesday, 23 December.

The representative of Italy (speaking on behalf of the European Union) introduced the draft on assistance to mine action and on global partnerships; and the representative of Pakistan introduced the text on the promotion of religious and cultural understanding.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 22 December to take up the reports of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).

Statement by President on Revitalization of General Assembly

JULIAN ROBERT HUNTE (Saint Lucia), President of the General Assembly, said that the process of determining a course of action for revitalizing the Assembly, and of formulating proposals for that purpose, had been begun in October, since which time there had been extensive deliberations on the issue.  Throughout, he had sought to provide the responsive leadership Member States required of him, and had proceeded with the greatest transparency, taking all perspectives into account.  Three informal, open-ended plenary meetings had been held on 15 October, 18 November and 12 December, in addition to the debate in the open plenary meetings from 27 to 31 October, which had provided the platform for the expression of views, comments on proposals and broad discussion of the revitalization issue in general.

In both the analytical document presented by the President, as in the draft resolution, previous General Assembly decisions on the issue of revitalization had been taken fully into account, he affirmed.  By the text, the Assembly would set up a viable framework for long-term action and a continuing revitalization process, as a means of ensuring that it met contemporary global challenges effectively.  The draft, which created various windows of opportunity for continued work on relevant issues and established a schedule for the consideration of further steps to maintain the momentum for revitalization, reflected the two-pronged approach to revitalization.  The two prongs concerned enhancing the authority and role of the Assembly and improving its working methods.

The text reflected significant commitment to a course of action that should lead to far-reaching and critical advances in a key area, he noted.  Taken together, the proposals contained therein would give significant impetus to revitalization initiatives and convey the Assembly’s unequivocal resolve to perform the functions mandated to it under the Charter of the United Nations, to meet the world’s expectations and to further strengthen the Organization.

Explanations of Position

The representative of Bangladesh said that, although the final draft might not reflect everything that some delegations or regional groups had wished, it was, nevertheless, a cause for optimism and hope for the Assembly’s future work.  Particularly important were the paragraphs on publicizing the Assembly’s work, strengthening the President’s Office and deepening coordination with the Security Council.  As Chair of the Committee on Information, Bangladesh would ensure that the Assembly’s work was publicized.

Following the Assembly’s adoption of the resolution without a vote, the representative of Italy, on behalf of the European Union, urged the Assembly to move quickly to implement its various elements.  It was important to keep the momentum and to continue to enhance and strengthen the General Assembly in accordance with the Charter.

The representative of the United States, while commending the Assembly President’s commitment to the issue of reform, expressed regret that those efforts and that commitment had not been met by the wider Assembly.  The text did not fully achieve the goal of revitalizing the Assembly, nor did it go far enough in that direction to re-energize the body’s work.  The steps proposed in the resolution, which, in effect, could lead to watering down the Assembly’s decisions in some cases, must be significantly enhanced to demonstrate real political will.

He drew particular attention to the Assembly’s workload and the seemingly perpetual nature of the meetings, which were cumbersome, overloaded and still needed to be drastically reduced.  The Assembly was at risk of imploding under its own weight.  If delegations had been willing, more could have been done to correct that problem.

The representative of Peru, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the successful adoption of the resolution demonstrated the importance of the Assembly in strengthening the international multilateral system.

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the representative of Algeria said a number of similar resolutions had been adopted throughout the 1990s, but it was important to ensure that the current text be followed through with conviction.

The representative of the Russian Federation said his country had associated itself with the consensus on the resolution in view of the importance of the issue.  The recommendations contained therein would make it possible to revitalize the Assembly’s work and increase the overall effectiveness of the Organization.  As the resolution would result in some expenditure, it would be necessary to find means to cover those costs, for example, from within existing resources.

The representative of China said that the revitalization of the Assembly was an ongoing process and that the resolution thus constituted not the end of the world body’s work, but a new point of departure.

Explanations of Position on Assistance in Mine Action

Speaking in explanation of position before the adoption of the text, the representative of Israel said that, despite dissatisfaction with certain language, her country had decided to join the consensus on the text because of the dangerous humanitarian consequences of the misuse of mines and other explosive devices.  However, it was unfortunate that alternative preambular paragraph 14, introduced by her country, had not been accepted.  The language contained in the current text did not stress enough the need to prevent the misuse of mines, booby traps and explosive devices by non-State actors, who tended the use such devices in populated areas and in ways directed against innocent civilians.

Speaking in explanation of position after the adoption of the text, the representative of Cuba said that his country had always attached importance to the humanitarian concerns of the international community, which was why it had decided to join the consensus.  In some paragraphs, however, there had been references to the Ottawa Convention and other international legal instruments on mines.  Cuba’s position in that regard had been well established and did not need to be repeated.  Cuba affirmed, however, that the proliferation of new legal instruments would only serve to weaken existing instruments and that the concern should be to implement fully the existing framework for mine action.  Yet, the decision to strengthen or to broaden those legal instruments currently in existence was a decision that could only be taken by Member States.  It was not a subject for discussion by the General Assembly, which should focus instead on humanitarian issues.

The representative of Iran said that as a mine-affected country, Iran attached great importance to mine assistance, particularly in its humanitarian effects.  As a result of the eight-year-long war imposed by Iraq, the border between the two countries had been infested with mines, which continued to claim victims.  However, it was Iran’s country’s position that the resolution should be focused on the humanitarian effects of mines, whereas other aspects of mine action should more properly be introduced in other arenas.

Explanations of Position on Promotion of Religious, Cultural Understanding

The representative of Italy (on behalf of the European Union) said his delegation believed strongly in the value of a dialogue among civilizations and the promotion of religious and cultural understanding, but the text adopted today would produce overlap of various similar processes and decisions in the area.  The resolution did not do enough to ensure the universality of human rights, nor to highlight the significance of freedoms of expression, thought, conscience and religion, in line with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Also, the concept of “harmony” was vague and should not be seen as limiting freedom of expression or the full exercise of all human rights and freedoms by minorities, non-believers or any other persons.

The representative of India said his delegation had joined the consensus despite the shortcomings of the text.  It was unfortunate that the sponsors had refused to incorporate any reference to the international fight against terrorism.  The resolution also fell seriously short in dealing with the problem of education that promoted extremism, violence and intolerance.

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For information media. Not an official record.