14 September 2009

General Assembly President Says United Nations Must Be Urgently ‘Reinvented', As Time for Reform Has Passed, in Closing Statement to 63rd Session

14 September 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly


105th & 106th Meetings (AM & PM)

General Assembly President Says United Nations Must Be Urgently ‘Reinvented’,

As Time for Reform Has Passed, in Closing Statement to 63rd session

Responsibility to Protect, System-Wide Coherence, Assembly Revitalization,

High-Level Dialogue on Development among Issues Addressed in Assembly Texts

With the world and its peoples facing unprecedented challenges, outgoing General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann today decried blatant inequality in the international system, and urged Member States to generate the political will to tackle poverty, provide safety nets for vulnerable countries and, even more importantly, to reinvent the United Nations and its major organs.

Describing the Assembly’s sixty-third session as “one of the most turbulent in years”, as it had taken place in the shadow of a massive global financial contraction and economic recession, deepening impact of climate change and ongoing food shortages, Mr. d’Escoto said that, while the 192-member body had successfully addressed some of those issues:  “If we fail to make solidarity and a sense of social and environmental responsibility the main driving force behind our human society, then, quite simply, we will not survive.”

“I am one of those who believe that the United Nations has the potential […] to be indispensable to humanity’s efforts to survive crises,” Mr. d’Escoto said, but apparently, some of the Organization’s founding Members did not support, or even believe in its principles.  The problem was that the low level of commitment of some Member States and their willingness to “do whatever they feel like with total and absolute impunity”, with no regard for others, were undermining the Organization’s effectiveness.  During this year, he had come to realize that the time had passed for reforming the United Nations:  “What we need to do is reinvent it, and we need to do it urgently […] for the good of the Earth and of humanity.”

The Assembly held two meetings to wrap up its work ahead of the opening tomorrow of its sixty-forth session.  Mr. d’Escoto’s wide-ranging address capped a day when delegations took action on a number of outstanding issues and adopted key resolutions on matters related to system-wide coherence, “the responsibility to protect”, cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union and Assembly revitalization.

Taking stock of the Assembly’s substantive work over the past year, Mr. d’Escoto highlighted the adoption in July of the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development as an “historic milestone”.  That document had established the Assembly as the most appropriate forum to address issues that affected the entire international community.  It had also led to the creation of an ad hoc working group charged with follow-up on relevant issues such as reform of the current outdated and unfair global financial system, and the Bretton Woods institutions.

“It is precisely because of our failure to resolve the fundamental problems of the economic system, and the extreme poverty and inequality on which it is based, that we have had to resort to palliative measures such as the Millennium Development Goals,” he continued, stressing that no matter how necessary those targets might be, they did not address the need for indispensable international economic reforms.  Right now, the most urgent issue remained the provision of resources to the most vulnerable countries, primarily in the form of donations, or rather, compensation, through a global fund or special drawing rights to finance public goods and agreed development objectives.

He went on to say that Member States were currently at a critical juncture, as the institutions that had been established nearly 65 years ago in San Francisco had undergone a natural and inevitable process of attrition, leading to the present crisis in international economic governance and policy.  While noting that there now might be a “light at the end of the tunnel” since the launch earlier this year of intergovernmental negotiations on the nettlesome issue of Security Council reform, he said much remained to be done if the United Nations was to become worthy of the trust and credibility it needed to carry out its mission effectively.

Among other steps that could be taken to that end, he stressed that only a strong General Assembly, which vigorously exercised its deliberative, policy-making and decision-making role, would be capable of enhancing multilateralism as the best option for relations between States.  He reminded delegations that the most significant achievement thus far in the exercise to reinvigorate the Assembly had been its capacity this year to address existential economic issues, which it had been unable to tackle for nearly three decades.  “[So] revitalization is a political, rather than a technical issue,” he declared.

He expressed satisfaction that during his tenure the Assembly had been able to carry out its agenda and remain attuned to events of international relevance not on its work programme, such as the financial and economic crisis, the recent coup d’état in Honduras, and “the Israeli aggression against Gaza”, at the beginning of the year.  At the same time, inertia on the Palestinian issue had been “my greatest frustration this year”, he said.  Indeed, the Security Council’s apparent indifference to Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza had been “disgraceful”.  With the humanitarian situation in Gaza threatening to deteriorate even further, now was the time to demonstrate “with action and not words, a true commitment to the responsibility to protect”.

Turning next to climate change, he said it was now clearer than ever that humankind’s reckless behaviour was putting the planet at risk.  To be effective, the international community’s response must be immediate and forceful.  In terms of economic resources, at least 1 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) would be required to mount such a response.  The “major culprits” would have to bear the costs in proportion to their responsibility for the problem, he added.

He also called for the adoption of a “universal declaration on the common good of the Earth and humanity” as a first step to reinventing the Organization, and urged Member States to use the opportunity provided by the upcoming United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen to prove its commitment to Mother Earth and to take the action necessary to defend all life on the planet.

Finally, following a moment of silent reflection, Mr. d’Escoto invited to the podium the President of the sixty-fourth session, Ali Abdussalam Treki, of Libya, and passed him the traditional gavel.

Over the course of the day, the Assembly took a number of forward-looking decisions, including approving the holding of a High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, to be held at Headquarters on 23 and 24 November 2009.  The two-day meeting aims to follow up the decisions taken by the 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico, and the review Conference held last year in Doha, Qatar.

Also, the Assembly adopted, as orally amended, a resolution submitted by President d’Escoto, on system-wide coherence (document A/63/L.103).  That text took up five key areas of concern:  strengthening the institutional arrangements for support of gender equality and women’s empowerment; strengthening governance of operational activities for development of the United Nations system; improving the funding system of operational activities for development of the United Nations system; “delivering as one”; and harmonization of business practices.

In a section on the way forward, the Assembly decided to continue its intergovernmental work on the issues addressed in the resolution during the coming session, with a view to achieving further substantive action in all areas, and it resolves, at the conclusion of its entire process on system-wide coherence, to review and take stock of all its prior actions and deliberations in a single resolution or decision.

Among the resolution’s highlights was an expression of the Assembly’s broad support for a composite entity of a consolidated Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, the Division for the Advancement of Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, led by an Under-Secretary-General who would report directly to the Secretary-General.

As for delivering as one, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to urgently undertake an independent evaluation of lessons learned from “programme country pilots” and to inform it of the modalities and terms of reference of that evaluation at its upcoming session.  Concerning harmonization of business practices, the Assembly calls on the Secretary-General, in cooperation with members of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, to continue to simplify and harmonize business practices within the United Nations development system.  It asks him to regularly inform the Economic and Social Council about progress and challenges.

Several speakers, explaining their position after adoption of the resolution, thanked the co-facilitators ‑‑ the Permanent Representatives of Namibia and Spain ‑‑ for guiding the process forward throughout the Assembly’s consultations.  Generally strong support was expressed for consolidating the four entities in the United Nations system dealing with gender issues into a composite entity, headed by an Under-Secretary-General.  Several felt that that reform was a fresh start, a catalyst for bringing an important shift to the work of the United Nations in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment; one urged that the composite gender entity become operational as soon as possible.

In addition, the issue of funding was also considered a top priority, on which many said it was vital to achieve substantive progress during the coming session, particularly in addressing the persistent imbalance between core and non-core funding.  Some held that improving the governance structures and funding modalities for development work was essential for the Organization to be an effective partner for developing countries as they worked towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that, as a “delivering as one” pilot country, his country could confirm that the reform process of system-wide coherence at the country level had been “transformative” in many development areas at the country level and had conferred national ownership of the development process in partnership with the United Nations.  He underscored the need for a speedy execution of the independent evaluation of the pilot country, while stressing that the three issues of gender, governance and funding were very different and, thus, could not move at the same pace.  The goal, however, should be to achieve significant results for each.

Japan’s delegate said he had joined consensus in support of reforming the gender architecture, despite “strong dissatisfaction” at the draft’s introduction less than a week before the conclusion of the sixty-third session.  Furthermore, there had been no opportunity for open consultation, and he was displeased with that “opaque consultation process”.  In order to avoid unnecessary bloating of the new entity, the principle of “scrap-and-build” should be strictly applied when rebuilding a “slim” entity.  It was important to conserve United Nations resources by creating an effective United Nations system and investing the saved resources into developing countries.  If those resources could not be secure, it would not be possible to achieve the goals of system-wide coherence.

Similarly, the speaker from the Russian Federation regretted that the resolution had been put to a vote before the Assembly had gone through the text and without substantial and open consultations.  He also had reservations to certain provisions.  In particular, he was not prepared to lend decisive support to creating a composite entity on gender issues before receiving information on institutional arrangements, financing mechanisms and an exhaustive list of answers to the questions that had been raised during discussions held within the framework of the system-wide coherence process.  He was concerned that the Assembly made decisions on a text in a way that violated its own rules of procedure.  Moreover, there was not really a consensus among Member States on the resolution’s content.

Explanations of position after action were also made by the representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the Joint Coordinating Committee of the Non-Aligned Movement and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Iceland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Australia (on behalf of Canada and New Zealand), United States, Mexico, United Kingdom, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Chile, Rwanda, Switzerland and Barbados.

Also generating a brief debate was the Assembly’s adoption of a resolution that took note of the report of the Secretary-General on “the responsibility to protect”, as well as the “timely and productive” debate on the issue held by the world body in late July, 2009 (document A/L.80/Rev.1).  That text, introduced by the representative of Guatemala, also decided the Assembly would continue consideration of the responsibility to protect.

Several speakers took the floor to explain their position after the text’s consensus adoption, including the representatives of Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Bolivia, Sudan, Iran, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Rwanda.  Most held that the text just adopted was procedural in nature and that more time should be devoted to carefully studying the responsibility to protect concept, based on the agreement reached at the 2005 World Summit.

While there was broad agreement that States should “carefully watch over” the well-being of their citizens, concern was expressed that a responsibility to protect mechanism could devolve into interference in the affairs of sovereign and politically independent States and the use of force, thereby undermining the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Among the other reform-minded decisions taken today, delegations adopted a resolution based on recommendations contained in the report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Revitalization of the General Assembly (document A/63/959), which called on the Assembly to convene the Working Group during its sixty-fourth session “to identify further ways to enhance the role, authority, effectiveness and efficiency of the Assembly”.

Following that action, the representative of Belarus praised the efforts of all those that had participated in discussions on Assembly revitalization, including members of the Security Council.  He hoped the five permanent Council members would recognize their special responsibility in facilitating ‑‑ “or sometimes simply allowing” ‑‑ bold and meaningful strides of the wider membership to increase the Assembly’s role, and would regard the overall revitalization process not as an “unavoidable nuisance” but rather an indispensable way to ensure the viability and good health of the entire Organization.

Mexico’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the resolution laid out the various concerns raised by groups during the negotiations.  The Rio Group would, therefore, call on all Member States to step up their efforts to bolster the Assembly’s work, including through rationalizing and streamlining its agenda and improving its voting procedures.  Also, the Rio Group was convinced that the Assembly should play a more relevant role in selecting the Secretary-General, in line with the Charter.

The Assembly also adopted a decision based on recommendations contained in the report of its Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the membership of the Security Council and other issues related to the Security Council (document A/63/47).  By that decision, the Assembly took note of that report and decided to convene the Working Group during its sixty-forth session.

Following that action, President d’Escoto noted that the intergovernmental negotiations were ongoing and the Assembly further agreed to immediately continue that exercise in an informal plenary meeting during the sixty-forth session, building on the progress achieved so far.  He urged delegations to turn the negotiations into a practical outcome during the coming session, “because the issue of better Council could not be left for the future”.

The Assembly also adopted a decision on the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction (document A/63/L.100), which placed a relevant item on the agenda of its sixty-fourth session and recommended that it be considered by the Sixth Committee (Legal) during that session.

That text was introduced by the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania on behalf of the African States, who recalled that universal jurisdiction was a well-established international law principle whose purpose was to ensure that individuals who committed grave offences such as piracy, slavery, torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity did not do so with impunity.

However, he said the extent of its application had never been substantively discussed at the General Assembly, and thus, the African States urged its inclusion on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session for further discussions and agreement on the extent and applicability of the principle in order to create uniformity in its application by domestic courts and further ensure that the doctrine was applied justly by all States without limitations.

Speaking after the decision’s adoption, Rwanda’s representative said the African Group fully subscribed to the principle of universal jurisdiction, as enshrined in international law.  However, that noble principle had been left open to abuse and often misguided political interest, as in the case of his own country.  That misapplication endangered and undermined the very principles of universal jurisdiction and international law.  It was imperative, therefore, that a clear universal mechanism be established to ensure the impartial and appropriate uniform application of universal jurisdiction.

Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that that discussion was first and foremost a legal subject, which rightly belonged in the Sixth Committee (Legal), and he looked forward to discussing it there.

Unanimously adopting a draft resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union (document A/63/L.101), the Assembly stressed the need for both organizations to develop close cooperation and concrete programmes aimed at addressing the problems in areas such as illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons.  It emphasized the need to bolster existing cooperation in emerging areas of peace and security, and political and humanitarian affairs.

Further by that text, introduced by the representative of Algeria on behalf of the African Group, the Assembly called on the United Nations system to support the African Union and its Member States in their efforts to implement the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  The United Nations system was also encouraged to intensify efforts, in collaboration with the African Union, in combating the exploitation of natural resources, particularly in conflict areas.

In other business, the Assembly, at the request of the representative of Serbia, decided to reopen consideration of its item on “request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law”.  That representative said the international community was now awaiting the Court’s decision.  Therefore, the issue was open and, as such, should be maintained on the draft agenda of the Assembly’s sixty-fourth session.

Also, the Assembly deferred consideration on a number of items to its sixty-fourth session and placed them in that session’s draft agenda, including on “prevention of armed conflict”; “financing of the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste”; “Zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic”; “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations”; and “Financing the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)”.  It also deferred consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict (document A/63/881).

In addition, the Assembly deferred consideration of its item on “the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”.  Following that action, Armenia’s representative said that, as in previous years, his delegation would again dissociate itself from the consensus on that decision.

It also concluded its consideration of a number of items, including on “Observer status for the Agency for International Trade Information and Cooperation in the General Assembly”.  Finally, a proposed text on a recent agreement by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Council to convene a world food security summit this coming November, was withdrawn for further consideration.

All delegations taking the floor today expressed appreciation for Mr. d’Escoto’s efforts over the past year and, just before the end of the meeting, the representatives of Iran, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Philippines and Cuba delivered separate statements of appreciation.

The General Assembly will convene the first meeting of its sixty-fourth session at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 15 September.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.