24 December 2003


Press Release

Fifty-eighth General Assembly




Sobering world events set the stage for the fifty-eighth United Nations General Assembly, as the Organization grappled with the divisions that emerged among Member States over the path to war in Iraq last spring, and the devastating blow on 19 August, when terrorists bombed its Baghdad headquarters, killing 21 people, including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, and wounding more than 150.

Those recent tragic developments posed a “serious challenge” for the United Nations and especially its 191-member governing body -- a cause for “self-searching and re-examination”, said Assembly President Julian R. Hunte of Saint Lucia as he opened the annual high-level debate.  Stressing that revitalization was key to the United Nations success, he called on world leaders to bring a “new dynamism” to the session.  The political direction they provided would help enable the Assembly to effectively address critical issues such as sustainable development, poverty reduction, human rights, terrorism and overall United Nations reform.

In an earlier address, President Hunte told delegates, “In these turbulent times, the world’s peoples are looking to the United Nations to safeguard what is fundamental to them, from sustainable development to peace and security.”  Today, the United Nations found itself at a critical juncture, challenged by an extraordinary set of circumstances.  What, then, should be done? he asked.  While reform was imperative, “we must reaffirm the central role of the United Nations, the most important multilateral organization ever established and which has stood the test of time”.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the gathered world leaders that:  “We have come to a fork in the road -- perhaps the most decisive moment in the United Nations 58-year history.”  The United Nations was standing at a crossroads, and must decide whether to commit itself to radical change to deal with such global threats as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation.

Stressing that the time was ripe for a “hard look at fundamental policy issues”, he announced plans to create a panel of eminent personalities -– the “High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change” -- to focus primarily on threats to peace and security, but also to examine other global challenges.  Likewise, Assembly President Hunte moved in late October to appoint six facilitators -– senior diplomats from Algeria, Jamaica, Netherlands, Singapore, Slovenia, and South Africa -- to oversee the revitalization debate, to focus on reaffirming the Assembly’s political position and status, and to redress the relationship between that body and the Security Council.

Those discussions culminated in the Assembly’s unanimous adoption on 12 December of a resolution that would set in motion a slate 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.

Under the wide-ranging text on revitalizing the work of the General Assembly, Member States reaffirmed that body’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.  Further, States decided that the Presidents of the Assembly, Security Council and the Economic and Social Council should meet periodically to help ensure cooperation, coordination and complementarity in the respective work programmes of the three organs.

Acting on the recommendations of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), the Assembly adopted 52 resolutions and decisions, related mainly to the pace and path of nuclear disarmament, reducing nuclear danger, and preventing the terrorist acquisition of mass destruction weapons.  As the Committee Chairman said at the closing meeting, the resolutions might lack the force of treaties, but they could strengthen the rule of law governing the control and elimination of the world’s most dangerous weapons, gauge Member States’ readiness for new norms, and set priorities for collective action in a volatile security landscape.

Financing for development was a major focus of this year’s session of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), with delegates stressing the need to expand trade, increase official development assistance (ODA), relieve external debt, and reform the international financial system.  Increased trade was particularly vital, they emphasized, and efforts must be redoubled to successfully conclude the Doha development agenda.  Speakers also noted the failure of globalization to benefit most developing countries, and stressed the importance of South-South cooperation, as well as information and communication technologies in spurring on development.

The Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) highlighted the need for greater international cooperation and heightened national initiatives to combat terrorism and transnational crime, eradicate poverty, promote human rights and protect the rights of children, women, elderly people and people with disabilities.  Those issues were among those addressed in 73 draft resolutions approved by the Committee for action by the General Assembly.  In the wake of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq, concerns about terrorism remained a dominant theme, as delegations passed resolutions stressing the need for counter-terrorism measures to integrate respect for human rights and to combat discrimination based on religious and cultural biases.

Acting on the recommendations of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Assembly adopted 22 resolutions and two decisions on a wide-range of agenda items, including decolonization, information, the effects of atomic radiation, international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, the work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Nearly half of the 22 resolutions focused on the Middle East, including five texts on UNRWA and another five on the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.  The Committee’s review of United Nations peacekeeping and information activities featured in-depth presentations by the heads of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Public Information.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) negotiated and approved the Organization's $3.16 billion budget for the biennium beginning on 1 January 2004, which envisions a range of measures to realize more efficient utilization of resources, including structural reorganization, redeployment of funds, streamlining and improving project design.  The Committee also acted on such important issues as financing of peacekeeping and the Tribunals; work of the United Nations oversight bodies; the Board of Auditors’ reports; the United Nations common system; information technology; and measures to improve the profitability of United Nations commercial activities.

The Assembly took no action on a recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal) to defer discussion of a convention against human reproductive cloning for two years, deciding instead to include the question on its preliminary agenda for the next session.  Altogether, the Assembly adopted 15 resolutions and another decision on such legal issues as the International Criminal Court, terrorism, protection of United Nations personnel, relations with the host country, the 2003 sessions of the Special Committee on the Charter, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the International Law Commission.

Summary of the plenary and Main Committees follows.


Reaction to the Secretary-General’s call for system-wide United Nations reform dominated the Assembly’s discussions early on.  During the general debate, world leaders stressed that it was unacceptable for paralysis to rule when freedoms were at stake -- the United Nations must act and react in a manner commensurate with an increasingly complex world.  Even though the United Nations had suffered a shocking blow with the bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, the international community must not be intimidated by terrorism, they said. 

The world body’s role as a guarantor of collective security was irreplaceable, others said, proposing that the global community forge a new era of world order, in which all nations would cooperate within the multilateral system to combat corruption and drug trafficking, and the proliferation of dangerous weapons among other scourges.  New global challenges called for an effective response by way of urgent actions to revitalize the United Nations, beginning with the Security Council, some said.  Further delay in long-overdue reforms could result in a serious “crisis of confidence”, a situation Member States should not allow.

From collective security and the future of multilateralism, the Assembly’s discussions moved on to other pressing issues, including the need to ensure equitable trade schemes, creating conditions for lasting peace in Africa, and strengthening United Nations peacekeeping missions.  Against a backdrop of unfolding international developments -– the August and September attacks on the United Nations compound in Baghdad and other terrorist incidents, transnational organized crime and graft, ongoing regional conflicts, particularly in Africa, and deepening poverty, among others –- the Assembly approved several important measures aimed at strengthening the world body’s efforts to tackle the complexities of modern challenges. 

Among the resolutions adopted during the fifty-eighth session was a text on responding to global threats and challenges, which reaffirmed the United Nations coordinating and leading role in establishing a cohesive and effective response to such threats.  Another resolution, on the safety and security of humanitarian workers and protection of United Nations personnel, expressed the Assembly’s deep concern that threats against relief workers had escalated alarmingly, and urged all States to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel and to ensure respect for the inviolability of United Nations premises. 

Concerned about the seriousness of the problems and threats graft posed to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice, the Assembly also unanimously adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption and opened it for signature at the High-level Political Signing Conference, which was held in Merida, Mexico, from 9 to 11 December.  A highlight among the several measures adopted on Africa was the Assembly’s designation of 7 April 2004 International Day of Reflection to commemorate the victims of the tragic Rwanda genocide. 

The Assembly’s session was also marked by several high-level events and special meetings.  Just ahead of the general debate, the Assembly convened a ministerial-level meeting on HIV/AIDS to review the Secretary-General’s second progress report on worldwide efforts to implement the Assembly’s 2001 Declaration of Commitment to turn back the pandemic.  Mr. Annan set the stage for the day-long debate with a sobering observation:  at the current rate of progress, none of the agreed targets would be achieved by 2005, he said, calling on the international community to drastically increase its efforts against the disease –- a necessary step if there was to be any hope of reducing the scale and impact of the epidemic.

Aiming to re-energize the global community’s focus on issues relating to trade, aid, debt, investment and the international financial architecture, the Assembly also convened a two-day High-level Dialogue for the implementation of the outcome of the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico.  Opening the event, Assembly President Hunte recalled the adoption of the Monterrey Consensus at that conference and emphasized the need to advance the development agenda, so that the international community could systematically and strategically plan for further effective action, based on the commitments made at Monterrey.

Three times during this substantive part of the Assembly’s session, Arab delegations called for the resumption of the body’s long-running emergency special session on illegal Israeli practices in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories.  The first meeting, on 19 September, was called by the Arab Group and non-aligned countries following the United States veto in the Security Council of a text demanding that Israel not threaten to deport or threaten the safety of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.  The Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar text by a vote of 133 in favour to 4 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, United States), with  15 abstentions.

Again citing the Security Council’s “failure to act” on serious issues of international peace and security –- prompted by the United States veto of an Arab-led resolution which would have declared illegal the security barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank –- delegations called for another resumed emergency special session in late October.  The Assembly subsequently adopted a measure demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the wall being built in the West Bank by a vote of 144 in favour to 4 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, United States), with 12 abstentions.

Following the release of the Secretary-General’s report which said that Israel was not in compliance with the Assembly’s demand that it halt construction of the barrier and take it down, delegations called for another resumed session.  The Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank by a vote of 90 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 74 abstentions.

First Committee

With the dangers of proliferation and the possible use of nuclear weapons again commanding world attention, the General Assembly appealed for progress in nuclear disarmament and in addressing the risk that non-State actors might one day acquire mass destruction weapons, through the adoption of 52 resolutions and decisions of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).

A recorded vote was taken on 23 of the texts, plus separate votes on specific provisions.  Many votes were related to the pace and path of nuclear disarmament, as well as the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere, reducing nuclear danger and preventing an outer space arms race.  Texts involving conventional arms control at the regional and subregional levels and the role of science and technology in international security and disarmament also drew votes.

The voting pattern again reflected general agreement on the fundamental disarmament and non-proliferation goals, with substantial disagreements remaining on the ways to achieve them.

Speakers in the Committee’s general debate highlighted a “crisis of confidence” in collective security, and years of “disappointing drift and growing irrelevance”, with too many nations still orienting themselves by the anachronistic coordinates of cold-war thinking, they said.  Concern was also expressed that nuclear disarmament was being given “lip service”, while the nuclear-weapon States had displayed no intention of giving up their nuclear weapons.

At the same time, the announced withdrawal of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was seen as a “bitter setback” to universalizing that nuclear-free enterprise.  Similarly discouraging, the Committee was told, was that States continued to “sacrifice their treasure to the false gods of nuclear armaments at the cost of human development”; the sooner nuclear arms were added to the “WMD scrap heap”, the better.

The Assembly, concerned about the proliferation risk of non-strategic nuclear weapons and of their early, pre-emptive, unauthorized use, stressed the need for the nuclear-weapon States that possessed such weapons not to increase the number or types deployed and not to develop new types or rationalizations for their use.

Under a wide-ranging resolution aimed at formulating a new agenda towards a nuclear-weapon-free world, the Assembly called on States to refrain from any action that could lead to a new nuclear arms race or that could negatively impact nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and to fulfil all their obligations under international treaties and law in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation field.

Expressing deep concern at the growing risk of linkages between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, particularly at the fact that terrorists might seek to acquire those weapons, it urged Member States to take and strengthen national measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring mass destruction weapons, their delivery means and materials and technologies related to their manufacture.

According to a new text, the Assembly expressed grave concern over both existing threats to international peace and security and new threats that had become manifest in the post-11 September 2001 period, and asked the Secretary-General, within existing resources, to seek the views of Member States on the issue of improving the effectives and methods of work of the First Committee.

In the conventional weapons sphere, the Secretary-General was asked to undertake preparations to convene the First Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention), from 19 November to 3 December 2004. 

Action was postponed on a first review conference in 2006, and the series of preparatory meetings to precede it, of the Programme of Action in the illicit small arms trade, pending a decision by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on the budget implications.

Through the adoption of a further resolution, the Assembly decided to adapt the scope of the Register of Conventional Arms in conformity with the recommendations contained in the 2003 report of the Secretary-General, ensuing from the consensus report of the 2003 Group of Governmental Experts.  In so doing, Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) would now be included within the scope of the Register. 

Agreement among the experts to include MANPADS had been facilitated by heightened concerns following the 11 September 2001 events about such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, particularly in light of recent reports of attempts by groups to acquire and use them against commercial airliners.  It was agreed that transparency in the transfer of MANPADS was an essential element in broad-based international efforts to prevent their illicit transfers.

(The Register is a voluntary reporting instrument on the international transfers of major conventional arms, such as battle tanks, large-calibre artillery systems, armoured combat vehicles, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers.)

In closing remarks on 6 November, the Committee Chairman, Jarmo Sareva (Finland), said that the Committee had “a lot of untapped potential”, as an integral part of a global norm-building process for the international security agenda.  While its resolutions lacked the force of treaties, they could strengthen the rule of law governing the control and elimination of the most dangerous weapons, and identify requirements and gauge readiness for new norms.  The Committee also set priorities for collective action among Member States.

The other members of the Bureau were:  Anouar Ben Youssef (Tunisia), Suriya Chindawongse (Thailand), and Ionut Suseanu (Romania), Vice Chairmen; and Miguel Carbo (Ecuador), Rapporteur.

Second Committee

Financing for development was a major focus of this year’s session of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), with delegates stressing the need to expand trade, increase official development assistance (ODA), relieve external debt, and reform the international financial system.

Meeting in the shadow of the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, speakers repeatedly emphasized the urgent need to resume and successfully conclude the Doha development agenda.  Developing countries desperately needed increased market access, reduced tariffs, and the reduction or elimination of developed country agricultural subsidies.

Agricultural trade alone would produce benefits of $400 billion by 2015, they pointed out, exceeding those promised by ODA and private funding.  But subsidies were having a disastrous effect on the price and demand for developing country agricultural exports, particularly cotton, which supported more than 10 million people in West Africa alone.  Unless subsidies were eliminated, any progress developing countries had made could disappear.

With trade limited, ODA and foreign direct investment, which had steadily dropped in recent years, were vital for development, as was debt relief, delegates said.  Many governments were spending more than half their budgets on debt servicing, and were unable to plough money into development or vitally needed social programmes.  The Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative had made some progress, but covered a mere fraction of unsustainable debt, and was fraught with difficult eligibility requirements.

Adding to those woes, globalization had failed to benefit developing countries, exposing them instead to financial instability and volatility in international capital flows.  Addressing one of several panel discussions during the session, well known Princeton economist Paul Krugman stressed that the international community must adopt a more human approach to globalization, linking it with policies to help the poor, boost employment and develop new sectors for trade.

Barred from the markets and other advantages of developed nations, South-South cooperation could help spur development, noted Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.  Such cooperation could bring low-interest funds, joint ventures, increased market access, foreign direct investment, reduced transport costs and training in project planning and management.

In several meetings devoted to environment and sustainable development, speakers emphasized the urgent need to implement international conventions tackling disaster reduction, desertification biodiversity, and climate change.  Stressing that climate change was a particular hazard for small island developing States (SIDS), where rising sea levels were threatening their very survival, they urged nations to contribute generously to the SIDS meeting next year in Mauritius.

Discussions during the session also focused on the vital role of women in development, the value of microcredit in creating jobs, raising household incomes and improving living standards, and the key role information and communication technologies played in boosting productivity and economic growth.  Delegates also urged countries to implement the outcomes of various conferences and summits, including the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries, and the Almaty Programme of Action for transit and transport cooperation in landlocked and transit developing countries.

Departing from its usual agenda, the Committee held six panel discussions during the session, in such development-related areas as international taxation; partnerships; microcredit; globalization; corporate responsibility; and trade.

Among 37 draft texts the Committee approved this year, several focused on the key areas of trade, commodities, external debt, science and technology, the international financial system, and globalization.  Three drafts were approved in recorded actions, including one on the permanent sovereignty of Arab populations in the occupied Palestinian and Golan territories over their natural resources.  Among new proposals was a draft to transform the World Tourism Organization, an intergovernmental body, into a specialized United Nations agency.

The Second Committee’s officers were Iftekar Chowdhury (Bangladesh), Chairperson; Ulrika Cronenberg-Mossberg (Sweden), Henri Stephan Raubenheimer (South Africa) and Irena Zubcevic (Croatia), Vice-Chairpersons; and Jose Alberto Briz Gutierrez (Guatemala), Rapporteur.

Third Committee

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) highlighted the need for greater international cooperation and heightened national initiatives to combat terrorism and transnational crime, eradicate poverty, promote human rights and protect the rights of children, women, elderly people and people with disabilities.  Those issues were among issues addressed in 73 draft resolutions approved by the Committee for action by the General Assembly.  Other drafts recommended for action by the Assembly included texts on social development, the right of peoples to self-determination, the situation of Palestinian children, the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the need for durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons.

In the wake of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq, concerns about terrorism remained a dominant theme, and resolutions were approved stressing the need for counter-terrorism measures to integrate respect for human rights and to combat discrimination based on religious and cultural biases.  The acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, addressed the Committee, noting with regret that, had it not been for the heinous act of terrorism against the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Sergio Vieira de Mello would have presented the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The report highlighted the links between development and the promotion of human rights, stressing that human rights could not be realized without development, and that development was unattainable without universal enjoyment of human rights.

Considering alternative approaches to the promotion of human rights, the Committee approved draft resolutions on the right to food and the right to development as fundamental human rights.  Also approved was a draft resolution on the impact of globalization on human rights, highlighting the need for an equitable and democratic international system that would give poor people and developing countries a more effective voice.  Drafts were also passed calling for improved access to medications for combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic and for the right of all people to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The Committee approved draft resolutions on country-specific human rights situations that addressed human rights violations in Iran, Myanmar, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Turkmenistan, while some delegations voiced objections that such drafts unjustly politicized human rights issues.  The Committee also heard calls for increased effectiveness in the operations of the human rights treaty bodies and their reporting requirements.

The Committee welcomed the entry into force of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime on 29 September, adopting resolutions to implement the Convention, to strengthen international cooperation to implement conventions and protocols related to combating terrorism and trafficking in persons, and to strengthen the United Nations crime prevention programme.  Delegations voiced concerns about transnational organized crime related to the trafficking of drugs and arms, as well as human trafficking involving the commercialization of women and children for prostitution and pornography.  The Committee also welcomed the General Assembly’s adoption on 31 October of the Convention against Corruption, the first binding legal agreement to tackle corruption on a global scale.

On issues related to refugees, the Committee approved six drafts, addressing the needs of refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa, as well as assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors.  A draft resolution on the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was also approved, calling on the General Assembly to urge all States and relevant non-governmental organizations and other organizations to cooperate in enhancing the capacity and reducing the heavy burden of countries that have received large numbers of refugees.

Addressing the Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rudd Lubbers, proposed a removal of the time limitation set for UNHCR’s mandate, noting that the time limitation no longer reflected today’s realities and that its removal would help to improve standards of protection for refugees and internally displaced persons.  The Committee approved actions proposed by Mr. Lubbers to strengthen the capacity of his Office to carry out its mandate and on the enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Among the draft resolutions approved on the promotion and protection of the  rights of children, the Committee approved by recorded vote a draft addressing specifically the situation of Palestinian children, which stressed the rights of  Palestinian children to live free from foreign occupation and demanding that Israel respect relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In response to that action, the delegation of Israel proposed a draft on the situation of Israeli children, which it subsequently withdrew due to what it said were hostile changes to the draft proposed by other delegations.

Fourth Committee

The dire political, economic and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories once again dominated the Fourth Committee’s (Special Political and Decolonization) discussion on issues related to the Middle East.  While the Fourth Committee discussed a range of issues during the session, from the effects of atomic radiation to peacekeeping to information, almost half of the 22 resolutions and two decisions adopted by the Committee focused on Middle East-related issues, including the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

Following often passionate debate on the Agency’s operations, the Committee, agreeing to consolidate elements of the UNRWA-related texts, approved five draft resolutions on the matter -- two less than in the previous year.  Several speakers welcomed the consolidation, saying it reflected the Committee’s commitment to streamlining the Assembly’s work.  By the terms of one of the texts, on assistance to Palestine refugees and support for UNRWA, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of the Agency’s operations for the well-being of the Palestine refugees and for the stability of the region.  Regretting the death of six Agency staff members during the reporting period, the Assembly called on all relevant parties to take effective measures to ensure the safety of UNRWA personnel, the protection of its institutions, and the safeguarding of the security of its facilities.

Delegates voiced strong support for UNRWA, calling for the lifting of the financial and logistical obstacles that hindered its work.  Outlining the challenges facing the Agency, its Commissioner-General, in his annual report to the Committee, pointed to road closures, demolitions and the deteriorating economy in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Israel’s representative, while endorsing the UNRWA humanitarian mandate, called attention to what he described as the increasing politicization of the Agency.  Many speakers condemned Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people under occupation and expressed deep concern over the construction of a separation wall, which undermined Palestinian’s trust in the Road Map.  In that regard, the Committee approved a draft text demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the wall.

During its consideration of decolonization issues, speakers stressed the need to stay the course until the 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories achieved self-determination.  Describing the May 2003 Caribbean Regional Seminar, held in Anguilla and organized in part by the United Kingdom, as highly symbolic, speakers urged the administering Powers to partner with the Special Committee on decolonization as part of the Assembly’s revitalization.  The Committee also heard from numerous petitioners and representatives of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, including on the questions of Gibraltar and Western Sahara.  Regarding the later, numerous speakers supported the acceptance of the “peace plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”, developed by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III.

Calling the Baker peace plan an “honest and balanced” approach, the representative of Algeria believed that, despite certain shortcomings, the plan was a challenge worth being met.  Morocco’s representative said his country had embarked on a search for a political solution that would entail neither a winner nor a loser.  Reaffirming Morocco’s readiness to explore all ways and means to reach a just realistic and lasting political solution, he said the Baker plan should be reviewed and corrected.

Briefing the Committee on the question of peacekeeping, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said that the reform and revitalization of United Nations peacekeeping capacities was not just a slogan or gimmick, but a real process with real benefits.  While much had been done in the last year to implement the recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Brahimi Panel, the Brahimi process, he said, was not the end of that effort, but a starting point. 

In the debate that followed, speakers agreed that the real efficacy of the improvements in United Nations peacekeeping would be tested in the field.  With increasing demand for United Nations peacekeeping, improvements at Headquarters in the areas of planning, organization and management needed to be translated into improved operational effectiveness in the field.  Following the horrific events of 19 August in Baghdad, which resulted in the death of 22 United Nations personnel, speakers also unanimously agreed on the need to increase the safety and security of the United Nations.

The strategic use of public information at a time of mounting challenges for the Organization was the focus of the Committee’s consideration of information questions.  Outlining changes in the Department of Public Information resulting from the Secretary-General’s reform of the Organization, the Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, said the foremost public information challenge facing the Organization was to address the lapse in confidence following the war in Iraq.  Responding to that challenge, the Department had used every means at its disposal to increase global awareness and understanding of the multiple roles the United Nations had played in the crisis, while ensuring that important United Nations activities in other critical areas were not forgotten. 

Having gone through a major restructuring, he said that the Department now had a new operating model and a new organizational structure that divided its work into three divisions, including Strategic Communications, News and Media and Outreach.  He also reported on the restructuring of the United Nations information centres through a three-year regionalization process, including the closure of nine centres in Western Europe by the end of the year and the establishment on 1 January 2004 of a regional United Nations Information Centre, or RUNIC, in Brussels.  In the discussion that followed, several speakers expressed support for the initiative to create a regional information hub in Western Europe, but called for prudence in applying the same principle to United Nations information centres elsewhere in the world.

The Fourth Committee’s officers are:  Chairman Enrique Loedel (Uruguay); Vice-Chairmen Jasna Ognjavovac (Croatia), Ibrahim Assaf (Lebanon) and Isaac Lamba (Malawi); and Rapporteur Damien Cole (Ireland).

Fifth Committee

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) negotiated and approved the Organization's $3.16 billion budget for the biennium beginning on 1 January 2004.  Out of this amount, the United Nations will finance most of its core activities, other than peacekeeping missions, for the next two years.

Presented in a shorter-than-usual results-oriented format, the budget envisions a range of measures to realize more efficient utilization of resources, including structural reorganization, redeployment of funds, streamlining and improving project design.  In particular, it includes the first practical steps to implement a budgetary cycle reform and entrusts the Secretary-General with wider authority for redeploying staff on an experimental basis.  Also, while approving some of the Secretary-General’s proposals on new positions and post conversions, it addresses concerns regarding the high percentage of General Service posts within the United Nations, suspending recruitment of most new personnel in that category. 

When the Secretary-General presented his proposed budget earlier in the session, he said it would be negotiated at a time when the United Nations was wrestling with fundamental issues of principle and practice in the wake of the major events of the past year –- the war in Iraq, the development setback at Cancun and the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad -– and it embodied both great hopes for the United Nations and carefully considered decisions about what to do in a world of finite and limited resources.  The proposal pushed forward the process of United Nations reform and reflected a major effort to align the Organization’s activities with the priorities agreed at the Millennium Summit and at major world conferences. 

The work on the budget took place at a time when the financial stability of the Organization was under pressure.  While the final level of appropriations for the current budget has been adjusted by the Committee at $2.96 billion, Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini, in her October report on the financial situation of the Organization, stressed the need to ensure a predictable resource base for the United Nations.  “We must be able to rely on payment in full and on time, to ... carry out all our mandated activities”, she said.  Receiving payment of dues from Member States meant that the work of the Organization would carry on. 

In that context, particularly important was the formulation of the scales of assessments for the regular and peacekeeping budgets of the United Nations for 2004-2005, under which each country's contribution is determined.  By this year’s draft on the regular scale, the Assembly reaffirmed the fundamental principle that the expenses of the United Nations should be apportioned broadly according to Member States’ capacity to pay and kept in place through 2006 the methodology adopted in 2000.  At the same time, however, it noted that the changes introduced by resolution 55/5 B had led to substantial increases in the rate of assessment of some Member States. 

Taking up two new agenda items aimed at streamlining the complex and costly process of planning and budgeting, the Committee recommended preparing, on a trial basis, a two-part strategic framework to replace the current four-year medium-term plan.  Constituting the principal policy directive of the United Nations, it would consist of a plan outline, reflecting the longer-term objectives of the Organization, and a two-year programme plan.  Also addressed was the Secretary-General’s proposal to redefine the role of the Committee for Programme and Coordination, enhancing its monitoring and performance evaluation functions.

Normally, the Committee takes up peacekeeping financing during its resumed session in May, but due to changing situations on the ground, it considered revised budgets of the missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Timor-Leste during the current session, as well as financing of a new mission in Liberia.  It also provided some $140.5 million for 20 special political missions, whose mandates emanate from decisions of the Security Council and the General Assembly –- the largest ones being the United Nations Assistance Missions for Iraq (UNAMI) and Afghanistan (UNAMA).  Also approved was an amount of $2.17 million for the functioning of the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI), pending a final decision on its source of financing after the end of its mandate in February.

The Committee also made recommendations to the Assembly on the financing of the International Tribunals in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, approving  $298.23 million and $235.32 million for their functioning in 2004-2005, respectively.  Consideration of the resource requirements for the courts’ Investigations Divisions for 2005 was deferred till fifty-ninth session, however.

Taking up human resources issues, the Committee considered the efforts of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to secure staff with the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, which include its continued review of the pay and benefits system and work to develop a general framework for contractual arrangements within the common system.  For the second year in a row, however, it did not support the Commission’s decision to increase the level of hazard pay to locally recruited staff to 30 per cent of the midpoint of the local salary scale. 

Among other issues considered during this session were various aspects of internal oversight, with the Committee acting on the reports of the Joint Inspection Unit, the Board of Auditors and the Office of Internal Oversight Service.  Also considered were reports on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account; the proportion of General Service staff in the regional commissions; the comprehensive review of the post structure of the United Nations Secretariat; the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships; and strengthening the United Nations Web site in all official languages.

The Committee’s Bureau consisted of its Chairman, Hynek Kmoníček (Czech Republic); its three Vice-Chairmen:  Abdelmalek Bouheddou (Algeria), Ronald Elkhuizen (the Netherlands) and Asdrubal Pulido Leon (Venezuela); and Rapporteur, Rouad Rajeh (Saudi Arabia).

Sixth committee

The General Assembly took no action on a recommendation of the Sixth Committee (Legal) to defer discussion of a convention against human reproductive cloning for two years, and also decided to include the question on the preliminary Assembly agenda for the next session.  That decision averted action on a resolution on the matter also before the Assembly.

Altogether, the Assembly adopted 15 resolutions and another decision addressing such legal issues as the International Criminal Court, terrorism, protection of United Nations personnel, relations with the host country, the 2003 sessions of the Special Committee on the Charter, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the International Law Commission.  There were also texts on the administration of justice at the United Nations and requests for observer status for four organizations in the General Assembly.

The Assembly decision on human cloning set aside recommendations of the Sixth Committee, approved by a recorded vote of 80 in favour, to 79 against, with 15 abstentions, to defer debate of the question until the sixtieth session of the General Assembly in 2005.  The vote was spearheaded by Iran on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on the final day of the Committee’s session on 6 November.  The motion, under rule 116 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, adjourned debate on two drafts, one calling for an instrument against human cloning and the other against human reproductive cloning.  The first would have amounted to a general ban on cloning of human materials, while the latter would ban the creation of human clones for reproductive purposes, as work continued in areas such as stem cell research.

On other matters, the Committee’s terrorism Working Group met from 6 to 10 October and recommended that work continue on two draft conventions, including by reconvening the ad hoc committee on the issue from 28 June to 2 July 2004.  The two drafts are a comprehensive convention on international terrorism and a convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.  The resolution ultimately adopted also called for leaving open the question of convening a high-level conference under United Nations auspices to formulate a united response to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

The Committee’s Working Group on the scope of legal protection of United Nations and associated personnel was decided to be reconvened from 12 to 16 April with a mandate to expand the scope of the protection provisions.  The resolution calling for that also urged the Secretary-General and others to strengthen the protection of those personnel, including local recruits who were particularly vulnerable and accounted for the majority of casualties.

The Special Committee on the Charter and on strengthening the Organization’s role was also asked to reconvene from 29 March to 8 April 2004.  Among others, the Special Committee would give priority to implementing Charter provisions on assistance to third States affected by sanctions.  That resolution also encouraged the Secretary-General in steps to reduce backlogs in the Repertoire of Practice of the Security Council and the Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs, the latter affirmed as essential despite the work-intensive expense of maintaining it.  Also to be considered were questions of international peace and security, the future of the Trusteeship Council, peaceful settlement of disputes and the enhancement of his own effectiveness.

Based on the report of the International Law Commission that is charged with progressively developing and codifying international law, the Committee considered three draft articles on the responsibility of international organizations, including questions related to actions during peacekeeping operations.  Other topics were unilateral acts of States; reservations to treaties; shared natural resources; and fragmentation of international law.  Also debated was the effect of a year-long stipend reduction for Commission members.  It was noted that the new and nominal payment affected work in developing countries when participation of members there needed to be broadened for a balanced reflection of international law in the Commission’s work.

The report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) was considered, including the Model Legislative Provisions on Privately Financed Infrastructure Projects that had been adopted at the Commission’s 2003 session.  A draft text on this asked the Secretary-General to publish the text and make the instrument generally available alongside the Legislative Guide adopted in 2000.  Another draft emphasized the importance of the Commission’s work for globally unifying and harmonizing trade law.

Also, the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on the jurisdictional immunities of States and their property had adopted 22 draft articles dealing with matters such as criteria for determining the commercial character of a contract undertaken under State authority.  While the Assembly decided on the form of the articles, including the possibility of a convention, the Ad Hoc Committee will meet in early spring to finalize a preamble and final clauses.  General provisions on the relationship between the articles and other related international instruments will also be articulated.

The Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States, as the host country, along with provisions of the Vienna Conventions concerning diplomatic relations and immunities were reaffirmed by a text on a report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.  A detailed review on implementation of the year-old Parking Programme for Diplomatic Vehicles will be conducted and the host country will be asked to continue negotiations on problems and to take all measures to prevent interference in mission functioning.

In other actions:  it was decided to amend the Statute of the Administrative Tribunal to broaden its application in administration of justice at the United Nations; an item on the progressive development of international law relating to the new international economic order remained on the Assembly’s agenda; and the Secretary-General was asked to publicize the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Appreciation of International Law.

On the International Criminal Court, States were asked to become parties to the Court’s agreement on privileges and immunities.  They were also asked to sign or ratify the Rome Statute, whose signatories had grown from 81 to 91 in the past year.  The Secretary-General would be asked to further the conclusion of a relationship agreement between the United Nations and the Hague-based Court.

Finally this session, observer status in the Assembly was granted to four organizations on the Committee’s recommendation.  Those were the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance; the Eurasian Economic Community; the GUUAM group of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan; and the East African Community.

The Committee’s Bureau for the session included Chairman Lauro L. Baja (Philippines), and three Vice-Chairpersons:  Tal Becker (Israel), Allieu Ibrahim Kanu (Sierra Leone), and Gaile Ann Ramoutar (Trinidad and Tobago).  Metod Spacek (Slovakia) was the Rapporteur.

Chairing the Working Group on the Convention against human cloning was Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo (Mexico); Rohan Perera (Sri Lanka) chaired the terrorism Working Group; and Christian Wenaweser (Liechtenstein) chaired the Working Group on the scope of legal protection of United Nations and associated personnel.

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For information media. Not an official record.