General Assembly Considers Draft Text on Return, Restitution of Cultural Property

16 November 2009

General Assembly Considers Draft Text on Return, Restitution of Cultural Property

16 November 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly


47th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Considers Draft Text on Return, Restitution of Cultural Property

Also Welcomes Initiative of Caribbean States to Place Permanent

Memorial at Headquarters Acknowledging Tragedy of Transatlantic Slave Trade

Mirroring the international community’s growing awareness of the trauma that people and their Governments suffered when their cultural properties were stolen or trafficked, the General Assembly today considered a draft resolution that asked Member States to actively cooperate in returning displaced cultural artefacts to their rightful home countries.

In a morning debate that covered topics ranging from the security implications of climate change to encouraging development by curbing armed violence, the Assembly also adopted a consensus resolution on follow-up to the commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Introducing a revised version of a text first put before the Assembly on 2 November, Jamaica’s representative said it was fitting that delegations were taking action today, which was recognized by the United Nations system as the International Day of Tolerance.  The resolution welcomed the initiative of the member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to place a permanent memorial at United Nations Headquarters in acknowledgement of the centuries-long tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade and in consideration of the legacy left by the transatlantic slave trade.

It also welcomed the creation of a committee of interested States to oversee the memorial project in collaboration with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), representatives of the Secretariat, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, and civil society.  The resolution also endorsed the creation of a trust fund for the permanent memorial, which would be called the United Nations Trust Fund for Partnerships – Permanent Memorial.

When the Assembly turned to other issues, the representative of Greece introduced the draft resolution on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin, saying the removal of cultural property from countries of origin was against all principals that culture represented.  “Culture is the soul of a nation. 

The illicit removal or destruction of such property deprives people of their history and tradition. Restitution is the only means that can restore damage and reinstate a sense of dignity”, he said.  Praising UNESCO’s work in this area, he said Greece was confident that the international community would keep moving together towards greater action to safeguard the return and restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

By that text, to be acted on at a later date, the Assembly would urge Member States to introduce effective national and international measures to prevent and combat illicit trafficking in cultural property, including publicizing legislation and offering special training for police, customs and border services.  It would also invite Member States, in cooperation with the UNESCO, to continue to draw up systematic inventories of their cultural property, as well as work towards the creation of a database of their national cultural legislation, in particular in electronic format.

Ethiopia’s delegate was also optimistic about the international community’s progress in that area and pointed to Italy’s return of the Axum Obelisk as a new chapter in its relations with Italy.  Ethiopia, which had suffered from repeated lootings and systematic smuggling of its cultural heritage dating back to the religious wars of the sixteenth century, strongly believed that cooperation in returning cultural properties was a matter of ethics and fundamental moral principles.

China’s representative called the illicit appropriation and trafficking of cultural property “a sacrilege” and said the global community had to prevent all aspects, whether through auctions or other activities, of such trafficking.  He urged States to combat smuggling by complying with international legal frameworks and principles and cooperating with United Nations entities and international organizations.  He also supported UNESCO’s work to raise awareness among Governments, civil society and players in the art market.

In other business, Assembly delegations also weighed the possible security implications stemming from climate change, such as threats to food and water supplies, infrastructure damage, and the economic disruption to communities and their citizens’ livelihoods. Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Sweden’s delegate said the United Nations had a unique ability to address that issue, which should be a regular part of the Assembly’s agenda.  The European Union also supported consideration by the Security Council of this issue on a regular basis, if necessary.

Delegates also examined the ways in which armed violence was not only a humanitarian challenge, but an obstacle to development, and ultimately, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Today’s debate also touched on the state of implementation of the United Nations comprehensive strategy on assistance to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations staff and related personnel.  The goal of that initiative was to ensure victims received the appropriate assistance in a timely manner.

Also speaking today on matters related to the follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits were the representatives of Palau (on behalf of the Pacific small island Developing States), Belarus, Cuba, Peru, Switzerland, United States, Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Costa Rica, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Australia. 

The Permanent Observer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union also spoke.

Also speaking on the return or restitution of cultural property were the representatives of Peru and Indonesia.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 19 November to take up matters related to the revitalization of its work.


The General Assembly met this morning to hold a joint debate on integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields; follow up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit; strengthening of the United Nations system; and United Nations reform measures.

For that discussion, the Assembly had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the Implementation of the United Nations Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by United Nations Staff and Related Personnel (A/64/176), which gives an update on action taken to implement that strategy. The strategy’s goal is to ensure that victims received appropriate assistance in a timely manner in the form of medical care, legal services, psychological and social care, and immediate help with food, clothing and shelter, as necessary.

Among its conclusions, it says the 2007 strategy was seen as a policy breakthrough in the sensitive work of the United Nations in the field. While progress might not be as visible as expected, significant inroads were made towards future provision of assistance. At the strategic global level, in 2009, the Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse recognized that a programme of action had to be better institutionalized, notably within the High-level Committee on Management. Options were also being pursued to better anchor the United Nations’ work on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse through partnerships with non-Governmental organizations, efforts that were hoped to strengthen the commitment to the strategy.

The report concludes that the strategy’s implementation should be fully integrated into the work of the Task Force, which was developing a funding proposal for reporting mechanisms and a pool of experts on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse to support networks.  At the country level, efforts were needed to establish or maintain networks and access to complaints mechanisms. The issue of identification and access to victims needed critical review.

Also before the Assembly was the Secretary-General’s report on Promoting development through the reduction and prevention of armed violence (A/64/228), which notes that armed violence took many forms, ranging from political to criminal to interpersonal. It not only destroys lives, it limits the delivery of public services, undermined investment in human capital and impedes achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The report examines the link between armed violence and development. Weak institutions, systematic economic inequalities, exclusion of minority groups and unequal gender relations were just some of the factors that were important in shaping the onset, duration and severity of armed violence.

While the United Nations, with regional and subregional organizations and Governments, had mobilized to prevent and reduce such violence, responses need to be scaled up, the report says. Efforts should be carefully designed, targeted and monitored. Programming options include interventions related to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, and those targeting both demand and risk factors. The report places particular emphasis on tackling the risks of armed violence and underdevelopment. Among its conclusions, it notes the importance of implementing existing conventions related to armed violence and development; improving the effectiveness of prevention and reduction policies by investing in the production, analysis and use of evidence; strengthening capacities to articulate strategies and implement programmes; developing goals, targets and indicators for armed violence prevention and reduction; building partnerships with regional organizations, among others; increasing resources; and fostering greater international action.

The Assembly also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Climate change and its possible security implications (A/64/350), in which he identifies five channels through which climate change could affect security. In terms of vulnerability, climate change threatens food security and human health, and increases human exposure to extreme events. Second, in the area of development, if climate change resulted in the slowing or reversal of development process, this would exacerbate vulnerability and could undermine States’ stability.

Third, in terms of coping and security, the report notes that migration, competition for natural resources and other coping responses of communities faced with climate-related threats could increase the risk of domestic conflict. Statelessness, the fourth channel, has implications for rights, security, and sovereignty, with the disappearance of territory. As for international conflict, the fifth area, the report notes possible implications for cooperation from climate change’s impact on shared or undemocratic international resources.

Also, climate change is often seen as a “threat multiplier”, exacerbating threats caused by persistent poverty, weak resource management and conflict resolution bodies, a history of mistrust between nations and inadequate access to information or resources. “Threat minimizers”, the report notes, include conditions or actions that were desirable in their own right but also help to lower the risk of climate-related insecurity: mitigation and adaptation, economic development, democratic governance, strong local and national institutions, international cooperation, and preventive diplomacy and mediation, among them.

Accelerated action at all levels was needed to bolster such “minimizers”, the report says. Most urgently, a comprehensive, fair and effective deal in Copenhagen would help stabilize the climate, protect development gains, assist vulnerable nations in adapting to climate change and build a more secure, sustainable and equitable society. Beyond this, emerging threats merited attention, namely: the loss of territory, statelessness and increased numbers of displaced persons.

Going forward, the global community has a number of vital roles to play in bolstering security in the face of climate change, the report says, and efforts must begin by taking bold action on mitigation. More support for climate change adaptation in developing countries was needed, as was a redoubling of efforts to ensure the sustainable development of all countries, notably through developed countries’ meeting development assistance commitments. Concluding, the report says the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was the central body for conducting climate change negotiations.

Also today, the Assembly discussed the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin. For that discussion, it had before it the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the relevant report of Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (A/64/303), which covers a three-year period of UNESCO’s efforts in this area.

While assisting States in implementing international standards-setting instruments, the report notes that UNESCO also has worked to fulfil recommendations adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation at its fourteenth (2007) and fifteenth (2009) sessions. States adopted the conclusions and recommendations of the present report in Athens and in Seoul in March and November 2008, respectively, and at UNESCO headquarters in June this year.

The report underscores that UNESCO has promoted relevant international standard-setting, worked directly with States, as well as partner governmental and non-governmental organizations, and raised public awareness, the report says.  In that regard, UNESCO Baghdad and the Museums and Cultural Objects Section jointly organized in 2007 and 2008, two training seminars on combating such trafficking for Iraq and its neighbours - Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The Director-General observes that the Intergovernmental Committee backed the idea of holding annual meetings, provided that extra-budgetary funds could be mobilized for that purpose. It also decided to hold its sixteenth ordinary session at UNESCO headquarters in 2010.  That session will consider with the fortieth anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the fifteenth anniversary of the adoption of the 1995 International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) Convention.

Statements on Integrated Follow-Up to Major United Nations Conferences

ANDERS LIDÉN (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Secretary-General’s “watershed” report on climate change and its security implications marked the start of a new field of work for the United Nations. Indeed, climate change impacts were universal and, if left unchecked would, sooner or later, affect everyone.  As such, the response must be global, and a comprehensive approach was needed, at all levels, and with all policy tools.  There was an urgent need for action, as the security risks posed by climate change were already impacting peoples’ lives.  A key measure would be a common push in the lead-up to Copenhagen, and a “bold” agreement there.

By redrawing the maps of water availability, food security, disease prevalence and population distribution, he said climate change would have serious implications for the security and development of entire regions.  It was best viewed as a “threat multiplier,” which exacerbated existing trends and instability.

“We need to build emergency preparedness capacity for both the immediate and longer-term”, he said.  The poor were most at risk: one third of Africans lived in drought-prone areas.  For many small island developing States, addressing the security risks of climate change was a matter of national survival. In the Arctic, the effects of climate change were plainly visible with the melting of the Greenland icecap. Coastal erosion had already made it necessary to relocate entire communities.

In addressing such challenges, he said, action was needed in five areas, first in transforming economies to mitigate climate change.  Bold action was needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  For developed nations, that meant making binding commitments, while developing countries, especially advanced emerging economies, would need to take immediate action.  Second, efforts must be focused in two areas:  prioritizing problem areas with high impacts and irreversible consequences, and also on speeding the identification of “threat minimizers”.  For that, more research was needed to improve understanding of climate change drivers.

Continuing, he said links had to be strengthened between climate change and security; climate change and development; and between adaptation and mitigation. Investment in mitigation and adaptation should go hand in hand with stronger cooperation in the areas of early warning, conflict management and peacebuilding in the context of global warming.  Adaptation to climate change was particularly important in the agricultural sector, for food security and people’s livelihoods. In that context, he said promotion of good governance, human rights and gender equality could help lower the risk of climate-related insecurity.

Finally, he said the United Nations had the ability, unlike any other organization, to address the issue and as such, it must take the lead. While the report was a “good basis” for future work, the Union would have liked to see more specific recommendations.  The United Nations responsibilities, capacities and resources should be made more explicit.  Climate change and its security implications should be regularly kept on the Assembly’s agenda. In that context, he said the European Union supported consideration by the Security Council of the issue on a regular basis, if necessary.  The first and most urgent step on the road to security in the face of climate change was a global, ambitious agreement in Copenhagen.

STUART BECK ( Palau) speaking for the Pacific Small Island Developing States stated that the security implications from climate changes, among them loss of territory and increased numbers of displace persons, were real and could unfold “swiftly.”  In the Pacific region, such changes had already occurred or were impending.  Referring to the Secretary-General’s report on climate change, he reiterated that the debate was no longer about whether development or security was important than the other.  It was now clear that development could not happen without security.  Further he pointed out that the report stated the uncertainty of the international legal framework to respond to these effects of climate. Due to rising sea levels, certain small island developing States could disappear within the next 30 years, a circumstance international law had never had to contend with previously, that is “the disappearance of a nation”.

Quoting from the report, he stressed that the first action was not the protection of displaced people affected by the severe climate-change impacts, but in fact the prevention of forced migration and the provision of the necessary resources to protect the people of the Asia-Pacific region and their homes, the cultural and the ability to be self-sustaining.  With the upcoming Copenhagen Conference, he urged to all leaders of the world to ensure the survival, security and territorial integrity of his region through the adoption and commitment to resulting international commitments and legally binding instruments.  He called for an agreement that would, among other things, make curbing the impact of climate change on Pacific islands “as one of the key benchmarks.”

Further, he urged that a package of mitigation activities be implemented that provided for long-term stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, for limitations on global average surface temperature increases and for global greenhouse gas emissions to decline after 2015.  He concluded that the link between climate change and security needed to be “a permanent focus of deliberations in the United Nations.”  Further, it was time for the Security Council to engage in the issue, as it fell under its mandate. Speaking in his national capacity, he called for the Security Council to develop enforceable emissions targets and to “give teeth to what is now an ineffectual voluntary process.”

ZOYA KOLONTAI ( Belarus) said cuts in official development assistance (ODA), the absence of flexible global financial mechanisms, and unpredictable resources had drastically decreased the effectiveness of the development measures of middle-income countries. It was necessary to expand assistance to those countries as a “motor” for future economic and social progress. Belarus had made significant progress in its development by investing in the national healthcare, education, agriculture and energy sectors.  She added that overall development would be helped by mechanisms, shaped by the United Nations and other international institutions, to improve access be developing countries and transition economies to technologies for new and renewable sources of energy.

She said the Third committee’s recent resolution, on “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons,” had stressed that consultations on trafficking in persons should be open, transparent and inclusive. Belarus believed that three key elements were fundamental to the success of the Assembly’s revitalization efforts: holding Assembly thematic debates on global issues with the creation of an open-ended working group and adoption of a substantive resolution as follow-up techniques; increasing the Assembly’s public visibility by using major media outlets; and implementing all previously adopted Assembly resolutions on revitalization of its work.

She also called on Member States to speed up the search for a compromise solution to expanding the membership in the Security Council and boosting that body’s efficiency.  She welcomed the Assembly’s intention to consider adding new members to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

RODOLFO ELISEO BENÍTEZ VERSÓN (Cuba), citing the seriousness of the global financial crisis to developing countries, said the United Nations role in addressing that issue could not be replaced by an “exclusive club” of countries. Today, the voice of all countries must be duly heard, and he supported the Assembly’s holding of a high-level plenary next year to the follow-up on commitments made in the Millennium Declaration.  The Millennium Development Goals, along with other development goals, must be the centre of analysis in 2010. The occasion should reiterate agreed language, deeply analyse the causes of poverty and propose concrete measures for eradicating it.  Also, it should review sustainable development commitments, notably for small island developing States.

Continuing, he called for redoubling efforts to empower women and attain gender equality, saying that the 2010 review conference would be a “key moment” on that topic. Ahead of the meeting, there would be opportunities to analyse the obstacles to achieving those goals, among them the 15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Economic and Social Council’s annual ministerial review, which would focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

On climate change, he said climate negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen meeting had not progressed as he would have hoped.  He denounced the lack of firm political will of developed countries to cutting emissions to a level proportional to their historic responsibilities. They also were reticent in contributing resources and technologies.  Unfortunately, there were signs that countries would postpone making concrete binding commitments. He asked: “How long will we have to wait?”  Agreement would be possible with a new political attitude. “Let us not wait until it is too late.”

GONZALO GUITÉRREZ REINEL ( Peru), applauding the recent spirit within the Organization to tackle international issues, stated that multilateralism was “most conducive to building a better world.”  In that regard, the Millennium Development Goals were a prime example of the global community seeing international issues as a collective responsibility.  On a national level, he noted that his country had made great progress in the reduction of extreme poverty by half and had reduced its illiteracy rate from 18 per cent in 1991 to 6 per cent in 2008.  Further he noted that basic services such as access to water rose from 49 per cent in 1991 to 80 per cent in 2009.  In that same period, homes with electricity rose to 80 per cent.  In the area of health, among other issues, child mortality had been reduced by 68 percent.  That, he noted, had brought Peru to compliance eight years before the MDG timetable.

However, he also pointed out that even in a global recession, an alarming amount of resources went to acquiring weapons around the world which impacted the fight against poverty and hunger and undermined security.   He called for a focus on the direct link between development and armament.  He also said that resources needed to address climate change adaptation, which Peru was vulnerable to but not a main cause of, reduced resources needed in other areas of the Millennium Goals.  He urged that the upcoming Copenhagen Conference address the financing of climate change adaptations and challenges.  Another issue in the area of climate change was the illicit production of coca leaves which had led to the deforestation and loss of over 2 million hectares Amazon rainforest, a major component to global warming.  Thus, he stressed that there was an urgent need to fight against illicit drug trafficking and use through the cooperation between States.

Speaking as chair of the Core Group leading the implementation of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, PETER MAURER (Switzerland) said the relevant report of the Secretary-General acknowledged that armed violence constituted not only a humanitarian challenge, but was an obstacle to development, and ultimately, the achievement of the Millenniums Development Goals.  It included elements that would help advance the agenda on armed violence and development. Referring to recommendation, which invited Member States to expand their awareness of armed violence’s negative impact on development, the Core Group wanted to initiate an open and transparent process, with the aim of shaping the core elements of a possible resolution during the current session.

That open-ended process would allow a broad and inclusive debate on the report’s substance and recommendations and ways to foster greater international action, he said.  That was particularly important as the Assembly’s High level Plenary Meeting during the sixty-fifth session would take place in September 2010.  This open-ended process would come with a series of events on several issues covered in the report.  The series started at 1:15 p.m. today with a side event to be held in Conference Room 4.  The Core Group believed that enhancing development was key to preventing and reducing armed violence.  Switzerland hoped the Member States would make full use of the forum to explore ways to ensure this goal.

LAURA ROSS ( United States) heralded the Secretary-General’s report on the Organization’s actions to implement and enforce a zero-tolerance response to sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations staff and personnel in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.  In doing so, a clear standard of conduct was being established not just through the United Nations system but for contractors and other partners as well.  Further, she noted the coordination among United Nation agencies at the country level to implement measures to assist victims of sexual exploitation, including engaging legal, medical and other community programs, among others.  Another important practical step included revised job descriptions for managers to include implementation of this policy and clauses within contracts to contractors that set appropriate standards of conduct.

Continuing on other issues, she stressed the security implications of climate change.  Recalling President Barack Obama’s comments to the General Assembly this past September, she quoted:  “We must recognize there will be no peace unless we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet.”  If action was not successfully taken, she said, irreversible changes would happen through the world and within country borders.  Drought, famine, displaced people and wars would occur and future generations would look back and wonder why action had not been taken when change was still possible.  The Copenhagen Conference was a collective recognition that climate change required a global response and to that end she reaffirmed her country’s commitment toward finding solutions.

HENRI-PAUL NORMANDIN (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on a comprehensive strategy for assistance and support to victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations personnel.  Implementation of that strategy had been slow, but inroads had been made to ensure that future support would be possible. The report highlighted various challenges, including a lack of community-based reporting and a complaints mechanism.

With such a personal issue, it was easy to understand that victims might find it difficult to report what had occurred, he explained.  It was essential that the United Nations implement the strategy in a system-wide manner. Overall protection from sexual exploitation would not be achieved without humanitarian, development and peacekeeping personnel working together. It was crucial that such work continue.  He strongly endorsed continued implementation of the strategy.

Speaking next in his national capacity, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on climate change and security, and congratulated the Pacific Small Island States Group for bringing the issue to the fore of the organization’s work. Climate change required a global response and Canada was working towards an ambitious post-2012 climate agreement at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  He welcomed the adoption, in June, of a resolution on climate change and possible security implications, and called for intensified efforts in considering such implications.

JORGE URBINA (Costa Rica), recalling the 2007 creation of the open-ended working group to assist the victims of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation by United Nations personnel, said he was pleased at progress made implementing the strategy to address that issue.  When he had put together the working group, it marked a “great step forward” in paying attention to such victims.  While the scope of the matter appeared difficult, the agreement had been made possible, thanks to efforts of States. He called on the Assembly to support a policy of “zero-tolerance” and the strategy for victims.

He said there was much to do to attain a truly broad focus for victims’ assistance. The report noted that victims had begun to receive basic assistance in a timely manner. United Nations’ support in the medical, legal, psychological, social areas was being provided, as were measures to help with food, clothing and housing.  He looked favourably on steps taken by humanitarian, development and peacekeeping personnel, and called for strengthening instruments to improve the strategy’s implementation.  In closing, he underscored that there were remaining challenges and called on all United Nations personnel to act within the highest ethical standards.

MESFIN MIDEKSSA ( Ethiopia) said many States recognized that climate change implications must be examined in the context of existing social, economic and environment threats.  A significant slowdown of growth, caused by climate change, could pose serious security threats to developing countries.  As such, growth should be fostered with a view to strengthening resilience and maintaining political stability.  Efforts to prevent climate change impacts should be consistent with the United Nations’ efforts to move from the tradition of reaction to one of prevention. Building resilience to physical and economic shocks and strengthening institutions were paramount.

He said the impacts of climate change on human well-being had been seen in forecasts that cereal productivity would drop in Africa and South Asia, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Annual Report.  In some African nations, yields from rain-fed agriculture could drop by 50 per cent by 2020, food security would increase, as would the potential for hunger. Climate change also could trigger conflict, given the continent’s reliance on climate-dependent sectors.

As such, he said the global community should take measures to control greenhouse gas emissions. Africa would field a single negotiating team in Copenhagen, chaired by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who would negotiate on behalf of the African Union.  That more than one-quarter of the United Nations would speak with one voice should make discussions more manageable, he said. Adaptation strategies require empowering people, building their resilience, securing livelihoods and strengthening physical infrastructure to protect against extreme weather events.  Therefore, the global community must provide stronger support for climate change adaptation in developing countries.  It was also essential to redouble efforts to ensure the sustainable development of all countries.

JIM MCKAY ( New Zealand) said the Secretary-Generals’ report on the possible security implications of climate change had come as the Asia-Pacific region was severely hit by natural disasters that had devastated many communities, families and livelihoods.  New Zealand’s immediate climate change objective was to achieve effective and comprehensive global mitigation action to reduce emissions and implement effective adaptation measures. The goal was to build confident, resilient and viable communities and lessen climate change’s impact as a “risk multiplier.”

For those reasons, New Zealand was particularly interested in Chapter 9 of the report, on the “way forward”.  He went on to say that the report recommended that the international community take action through bold steps.  It had also recognized that security threats could be effectively managed through sustainable development measures.  That required ongoing and relevant research.  It was important that the “way forward” was guided by robust empirical evidence, he said.

COLLIN BECK ( Solomon Islands) reiterated his country’s call for a mitigation and adaptation package that provided for long-term stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration, global average surface temperature increases to be limited and that global greenhouse gas emissions decline so that the people of his country and region could continue to live on their islands.  In the area of minimizing climate change threat, “every effort” was needed to be made in order to improve the economic and trade conditions.  In this way his region’s islands would be able to invest in addressing climate change in sustainable systems and challenge the threat through mitigation and adaptation programmes on national levels.

Further, he stressed the importance of ensuring international commitments under the Barbados Programme of Action and Mauritius Strategy, among others. He pointed out that because of the lack of commitment small island developing States had to table a resolution that “recognize the human dimension of climate change.”  He expressed regret that that lack of commitment seemed prevalent in the current climate negotiations.  “At this defining moment when leadership is required, this is not happening,” and he noted that due to recent public statements, there might be a need in Copenhagen to “lower our collective expectations” on a legally binding agreement.

Turning to the Assembly, he stated: “We have not lived up to what we say.  We make this plea on behalf of those on the front lines who continue to suffer on a daily basis as we continue to postpone action.”  He concluded with a call for the Security Council to put the issue of climate change on its agenda.

On the issue of climate change and security, ANDREW GOLEDZINOWSKI ( Australia) said global and national efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change were the best way to minimize its impact and any security-related consequences.  Australia welcomed the report’s emphasis on prevention as the best remedy. Stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 parts per million or lower was in every country’s interest.

Low-lying island countries were particularly vulnerable and the threats created by rising sea levels and extreme weather events would particularly impact Australia’s Pacific and Indian Ocean island neighbours, he said.  These events would likely threaten food and water security, vital infrastructure and community facilities and impact their economies by reducing income from agricultural exports, tourism and fisheries.  Building resilience to climate impact was vital to secure livelihoods and help people have the choice to remain in their homes whenever possible.  For this reason, Australia had committed $150 million to the International Climate Change and Adaptation Initiative to meet these needs and was contributing to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change Least Developed Countries Fund, to support identification and implementation of urgent adaptation activities.

ANDA FILIP, speaking on behalf of the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Theo-Ben Gurirab, recalled the 2007 position paper the IPU gave to the General Assembly, which spoke of the partnership between the United Nations and worldwide parliaments.  This partnership contributed to and monitored international negotiations and debates at the United Nations and worked to ensure national compliance with international norms and the rule of law.  “The United Nations stands to gain considerably by making sure that parliaments and their members have a full and undistorted understanding of what is done at the United Nations,” she stated.

She then noted some of IPU’s accomplishments based on recommendations made by the Assembly, among them the work between the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and the IPU to promote democratic governance, national dialogue and reconciliation.  Programmes to that end had been expanded in Burundi and Sierra Leone, and work was now being done in capacity-building support for the parliament in the Central African Republic.  That and other efforts of the IPU supported and helped bridge the divide between international commitments and national response, she stated.

She noted in conclusion that the IPU could not do its work alone.  Its initiatives had required consultations among parliamentary leaders, legislative and executive branches of Governments, and here at the United Nations, between Member States and United Nations officials.  Through this the common objective of establishing the United Nations as “the cornerstone of multilateral cooperation,” peace, freedom and prosperity to people around the world could be ensured.

Statements on Return or Restitution of Cultural Property

Introducing the draft resolution on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin (document A/64/L.17), ANASTASSIS MITSIALIS ( Greece) said the international community had become increasingly sensitive to that issue and had shown its willingness to facilitate the return or restitution of such property illicitly removed from its country of origin.  Such removal, especially when it resulted from illicit trade, was against all principals that culture stood for.  “Culture is the soul of a nation.  The illicit removal or destruction of cultural property deprives people of their history and tradition. Restitution is the only means that can restore damage and reinstate a sense of dignity,” he said.

It was very important that Member States continued to cooperate actively, both bilaterally and in international forums to resolve any outstanding issues in that area, he said.  Such cooperation was the most appropriate way to address the adverse impact of major political and other upheavals, including armed conflict, which provided fertile ground for the loss, destruction, removal or illicit movement of cultural property.

He said the draft before the Assembly reflected the most recent steps taken by the international community, especially within the framework of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  That agency alone had been charged with the mandate to safeguard and promote the world’s cultural resources at all levels.  The work and relevant recommendations of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation were equally important.

Greece was confident that the international community would continue to cooperate towards greater action to promote heritage values and safeguard the return and restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.  Public awareness was a crucial part of the endeavour, which involved Governments, civil society, academic and artistic leadership, and everyone who shared a common heritage, he said.

Action on the draft resolution would be taken at a later stage.  Meanwhile, Greece would consult closely with all interested delegates and looked forward to the adoption by consensus as in previous years.

LIU ZHENMIN (China), noting that his Government supported the draft resolution, said that, as symbols of identity of a nation or people, cultural property represented a valuable asset of human civilization.  Illicit appropriation of and trafficking in cultural property was a sacrilege.  Protecting cultural heritage and promoting the restitution of such property to countries of origin were inalienable cultural rights of people in all such counties.

China supported countries of origin in seeking the return of cultural property of spiritual and cultural value, he said.  It also supported General Assembly resolutions on that matter, as well as an Economic and Social Council text on “protection against trafficking in cultural property”.  The global community must prevent all aspects of such trafficking, including the transfer, through auctions or other means, of cultural property illegally removed from countries of origin.

States should comply with international legal frameworks and principles on the issue, and actively cooperate with United Nations bodies and international organizations in a joint effort to combat smuggling. In that context, he said China supported UNESCO in raising awareness among Governments, civil society and art market actors about the harm resulting from such trafficking.

Describing national efforts to protect cultural heritage, including China’s participation in international conventions, like the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, he said Western Powers in the nineteenth century had plundered “countless” Chinese cultural artefacts. They had included treasures from the Yuan Ming Yuan Summer Palace, which should be returned to China.  His Government opposed the auction of cultural relics illegally taken from China.  Such behaviour ran counter to the spirit of international treaties and seriously infringed on China’s cultural rights.

LUIS ENRIQUE CHÁVEZ ( Peru) said cultural property allowed nations to forge an identity, and peoples to develop as individuals in a society.  States had the right to protect such property, a task that could not be undertaken in isolation, since only part of cultural property was in State hands.  Efforts needed the help of artists, art dealers and others in preventing the removal of and trafficking in cultural property.  Such efforts were made more difficult when cultural property was not under the jurisdiction of the country of origin, which “punished” those nations that had the least resources.

As such, mechanisms were needed to assist States in protecting such property, he said.  International regulations had to be brought into force.  For its part, Peru had ratified the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention 1954, among others, and was pursuing efforts in bilateral forums.  He called on those States that did not yet adhere to such instruments to do so.

The protection of cultural heritage required State compliance with international conventions, as well as legal cooperation. Cooperation was also needed from private parties to inform authorities that they had unwittingly acquired such property.  The UNESCO report was comprehensive.  He particularly noted its inclusion of a database on cultural property and urged States to provide information to it. Areas for increased efforts included fostering the return and restitution of cultural property; fighting against impunity that benefited traffickers; preventing their cooperation with other criminals; and severely punishing such actors.

For its part, Peru was recovering cultural property and, thanks to cooperation with other countries, had recovered pieces of invaluable importance.  In addition, Peru was pleased to return three clay tablets to Iraq, seized from international traffickers, efforts taken, not only to comply with international agreements, but with the understanding they were a moral imperative.  In that context, he underscored Peru’s efforts to recover pieces from Machu Pichu, which remained illegally at Yale University.  He lamented that dialogue had not born fruit and it was necessary to take legal action.  He urged redoubling efforts to resolve such disputes through friendly negotiations.

KENEA KUMA ( Ethiopia) said the return or restitution of cultural property was an issue that put international relations to the test.  The return of displaced cultural properties was a fundamental means of restoring and reconstructing people’s heritage and identity, and created a dialogue among civilizations in an atmosphere of mutual respect.  It embodied an inalienable attribute of every people’s sovereignty that they should have access to and enjoy the irreplaceable symbols of their heritage.  The existence of universal museums, or their multiplication in different sites in the future, could not substitute for the bond that existed between the cultural object and the society of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Ethiopia had suffered from repeated lootings and systematic smuggling of its cultural heritage, dating back to the times of religious wars in the sixteenth century, he said.  The looting of an infinite variety of artefacts and innumerable manuscripts had been an immense depletion of Ethiopia’s culture heritage.  He pointed to Italy’s return of the Axum Obelisk as a new chapter in its relations with Italy and a sign of optimism.

He said Ethiopia strongly believed that cooperation in returning cultural properties was a matter of ethics and fundamental moral principles.  The return of such properties was directly linked to humanity.  Cooperation and goodwill should be strengthened and the role of organizations engaged in the process should be enhanced through the necessary means and infrastructure, he said.

HERY SARIPUDIN ( Indonesia) said that the issue of return or restitution of cultural property was of great importance to his country, which took great precaution to protect and preserve its many prehistoric archaeological artefacts. His Government was in the process of revising national legislation to include not only the physical and material objects, but the “non-physical” aspects such as customs and art.  He commended UNESCO’s Model Export Certificate for Cultural Objects as a tool to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property.

Addressing the many complex international legal difficulties in recovering stolen or illicitly exported cultural property, he pointed out that the relevant conventions addressing illicit import and export often did not apply in certain circumstances.  Underscoring the criminal dimension in the illicit trade of cultural artefacts, he noted that sophisticated operators in that trade exploited the loopholes of such regulations or sought countries where evading law-enforcement was possible.  He called for States to cooperate through mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and extradition in order to successfully address the legal difficulties that allow such evasions and loopholes.  In conclusion, he also urged that the United Nations, UNESCO and member States work together to safeguard, return and encourage restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin.

Action on Draft Resolution on Remembrance of Transatlantic Slave Trade

RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica) said it was fitting that the Assembly was gathered to adopt a resolution considering the lingering consequences of the transatlantic slave trade on a day recognized by the United Nations system as the International Day of Tolerance.  The placement of a permanent memorial remembering the victims of the slave trade at the United Nations would be an appropriate symbol of what the organization represented -- the promotion and preservation of the dignity and worth of all human beings -- principles central to its Charter.  Those were principles that the international community would focus on in its commemoration of tolerance.

The Assembly adopted the resolution, introduced on 2 November 2009, by consensus without a vote.

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