General Assembly President Urges Member States to Chart Course That Will Enhance Role of United Nations in Global Governance

28 December 2010

General Assembly President Urges Member States to Chart Course That Will Enhance Role of United Nations in Global Governance

28 December 2010
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly


General Assembly President Urges Member States to Chart Course


That Will Enhance Role of United Nations in Global Governance


Main Part of Sixty-Fifth Session Focused on Ways to Make United Nations,

General Assembly Strong Tools Central to Tackling Global Development Challenges

Amid mounting concern that the United Nations was losing ground to smaller and more agile groupings, the General Assembly — during the main part of its sixty-fifth session — was repeatedly urged to redeploy its heavy political capital and near-universal membership to regain its pre-eminence, and breathe new life into the very principles that had called the Organization into being:  peace and security, friendship among nations and international cooperation.

Doing so, said Assembly President Joseph Deiss (Switzerland) as he opened the current session, would reposition the 192-member deliberative body at the centre of global power structures tackling twenty-first century challenges.  Doing nothing would only deepen criticism that the Assembly was simply a “talk shop” producing decisions with no real impact.

He noted that a new generation of powerful actors, like the Group of 20 (G‑20) major economies and the informal Global Governance Group (3‑G) of smaller and medium-sized States unwilling to be shut out of major international discussions, had suddenly gained higher profile with the onset of the global financial crisis, breeding fear they would upstage the United Nations venerable position.  The G‑20 might be an “unavoidable reality”, but there needed to be open and ongoing dialogue with the Assembly in order for that grouping to retain its relevance and legitimacy, he said.

“Multilateralism does count,” said Mr. Deiss.  The Assembly, with its own “unique legitimacy” and broad membership must be the place for a convergence of efforts to establish — and assume — global governance, defined as a way of organizing decision-making in a world of sovereign States with national parliaments.  Global governance was required to deal with problems that could not be solved by countries acting alone, regardless of whom was responsible; environmental degradation, finance, migration and terrorism among them, he added.

National concerns must be surmounted to work in truth for the common good, he said, meaning the Assembly’s actions must have broad legitimacy and result from inclusive processes, with improved mechanisms for consultation and cooperation with other actors.  The issues simply were too serious for that not to be the primary motivation.  For his part, he said, he intended to hold — and subsequently convened in November — an informal Assembly meeting on building cooperation with the G-20, following its most recent gathering in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Later in the session, the Assembly adopted an orally revised consensus resolution on “the United Nations in global governance”, acknowledging the importance of an inclusive, transparent and effective multilateral system to address urgent global challenges.  In that vein, it welcomed the Assembly President’s proposal to designate that topic as the theme of the session’s general debate, and his plan to organize an informal thematic debate on global governance in 2011.

By other terms, the Assembly decided to include a sub-item on “the central role of the United Nations system in global governance” on the agenda of its sixty-fifth session, and requested the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly’s sixty-sixth session an analytical report on global economic governance and development that took into account inputs from the informal thematic debate.  After that adoption, President Deiss said he was convinced that global governance — and both the United Nations and General Assembly’s roles in particular — were now at a key turning point.  It was critical that the Assembly had found the resources to affirm that; it was an incentive for him to continue strengthening the Assembly’s role in global governance.

Perhaps nowhere did the call for collective action resonate more clearly than at the high-level plenary meeting to review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, held from 20 to 22 September.  In opening remarks, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded world leaders of their pledge 10 years ago to spare no effort in freeing the world from want, urging them to stay true: “to our identity as an international community built on a foundation of solidarity; true to our commitment to end the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty”.

That charge, he said, meant supporting the vulnerable despite the economic crisis, achieving truly fair trade, taking action on climate change and addressing inequality, both among and within countries.  “I urge you to make the Millennium Development Goals your own,” he stressed.  There was no global project more worthwhile than investing in a better future for all.

Taking that to heart, the 140 world leaders gathered at the summit adopted a sweeping outcome document, “Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”, which underlined the central importance of Goal 8 — the global partnership for development — recognizing that without substantial international support, the Goals would likely be missed in many developing countries.

By other terms of that text, the Assembly was requested to annually review progress made towards achieving the Goals, including in the implementation of the outcome document.  The President of the Assembly’s sixty-eighth session was requested to organize a special event in 2013 to follow-up on those efforts, while the Secretary-General was requested to report annually on progress until 2015, and make recommendations on steps to advance the United Nations development agenda beyond that deadline.

The main part of the session also saw the Assembly’s review of two prominent bodies born of the reform process initiated during the Assembly’s sixtieth anniversary session: the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, launched in 2006 as a successor to the Human Rights Commission; and the New York-based Peacebuilding Commission, jointly established by the Assembly and the Security Council in 2005 to help post-conflict countries in their recovery, reconstruction and development efforts.

Presenting the Human Rights Council’s report to the Assembly, Council President Sihasak Phuangketkeow (Thailand) said the 47-member body itself was undertaking a review of its work, which, once completed, would feed into a separate Assembly-led process that weighed its status within the United Nations system.  In the debate, views ranged on the role, or even necessity, of the Council’s “special procedures” — independent investigators or mechanisms established by its predecessor to address country-specific human rights situations — with some pushing to see the Council play a more active role as an early warning mechanism.

Five years after its establishment, the Peacebuilding Commission too was at a crossroads, and the United Nations must choose whether to place peacebuilding at the heart of its work, or allow the advisory body to settle into the limited role it had developed thus far, delegates said.  The consensus resolution adopted by both the Assembly and the Security Council requested all relevant United Nations actors to take forward, within their mandates and as appropriate, the recommendations of the review of the United Nations peacebuilding architecture, with the aim of improving the Commission’s effectiveness.

Rounding out the season, the Assembly capped its annual debate on strengthening the United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance with the adoption of a consensus text recognizing the need for ongoing international support to tackle the humanitarian emergency in Haiti.  It was one of six consensus texts aimed at improving the Organization’s response in often high-risk environments.  By its terms, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General, relevant United Nations bodies and international financial institutions to continue their humanitarian, technical and financial assistance to help Haitians rebuild their country.

As for the work of the Assembly’s main subsidiary bodies, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) approved 58 draft resolutions and decisions covering a spectrum of concerns, such as decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, assuring non-nuclear-armed States against the use of such weapons, thwarting ballistic missile proliferation, and boosting multilateral disarmament negotiations amid “grave concern” about the troubling status of the disarmament machinery.  The provisions, though overlapping in some drafts, in others presented divergent approaches to the challenges, as the disarmament community sought to recalibrate the pivotal relationship between disarmament and non-proliferation, and the processes by which to achieve those aims. 

Nowhere was the diplomatic division more evident than over the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament gridlock and the heated insistence to jumpstart talks for a fissile material cut-off treaty against a wall of opposition arguing that such urgency had been “eerily absent” during the long impasse in nuclear disarmament.  Plus, the point was made that banning only future production of fissile material while turning a blind eye to existing stocks would be insufficient to stem the tide of proliferation that such a treaty was intended to suppress.  Still, the Committee sent on to the Assembly its usual scores of texts, approving more than half without a vote.  

Reflecting this year’s discussions of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the General Assembly adopted landmark resolutions on sustainable development spotlighting the plethora of issues and concerns for consideration during the climate change summit held in Cancún, Mexico, 29 November‑10 December, and the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.  The Committee also forwarded to the Assembly several resolutions that illustrated its intense debate over appropriate solutions to the global financial crisis, developing countries’ external debt burdens and entrenched disputes over global financial and trade policy. 

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) forwarded 58 draft resolutions to the Assembly, including 43 approved without a vote, during a session in which more than 500 statements were delivered over the course of 52 meetings.  It approved a set of United Nations standards for the treatment of women convicts, known as the Bangkok Rules, and welcomed the establishment of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), urging Member States to ensure that body received stable and sufficient funding.  The Committee also took action to declare 23 June every year International Widows’ Day and 30 August International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  It also approved a high-level meeting of the General Assembly, to be held on 21 September 2011 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

Continuing its examination of some of the world’s most unyielding political cases, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) forwarded a broad range of texts to the Assembly, with work for the session culminating in an examination of Israeli practices.  The ensuing package of drafts, which, as in past years, required recorded votes, deemed “extremely detrimental” the impact of Israeli settlement activities on efforts to resume and advance the Middle East peace process, and demanded their immediate and complete cessation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan.  One text called for the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) until June 2014 and for UNRWA’s institutional strengthening via the regular United Nations budget.

In other actions, the Committee asked the administering Powers of Non-Self-Governing Territories to take all steps necessary to protect the property rights of the peoples in those Territories.  It urged countries and the United Nations to heed the call for a “new world information and communication order”, and emphasized the crucial need to strengthen regional and interregional cooperation in the field of activities for the peaceful uses of outer space.

As it managed the first year of its current 2010-2011 budget cycle and zeroed in on ways to make the United Nations more efficient and nimble in a world undergoing constant change and stress, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved nearly 20 resolutions and decisions.  It approved — and forwarded to the Assembly — texts to better manage the world body’s staff and resources, and though it was not a budget approval year, the Committee took decisions on crucial financing issues to keep its special political missions and four peacekeeping operations running smoothly in the coming year.

By newly elaborated text in the resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism, the Sixth Committee (Legal) called for the Assembly to convene a high-level meeting on that topic in two years.  That was one of 17 resolutions and two decisions issued in 16 reports centred on the rule of law, accountability and promotion of international law.   Another accomplishment of the Sixth Committee was the completion, after 16 years of effort by the Special Rapporteur, of the draft articles and the Guide to Practice on “reservations to treaties”, with a view to finalization in the International Law Commission’s 2011 session.

Summary of the Plenary and Main Committees follows.


Kicking off the Assembly’s sixty-fifth session, Heads of State and Government gathered for a three-day high-level plenary meeting, held from 20 to 22 September, to review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Opening the meeting, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders the anti-poverty targets could be achieved by their 2015 deadline if Governments stayed true to promises made at the historic Millennium Summit, where the Goals were conceived.  Above all, there was a need for political leadership.  “We are waiting for you, world leaders,” he said.  “The clock is ticking, with much more to do.”

Echoing that call, Joseph Deiss (Switzerland), President of the General Assembly, added: “We have no right to fail.”  Throughout the summit, presidents, ministers and other officials urged that concrete measures be devised to assist countries that had fallen behind in the fight against extreme deprivation.  Others emphasized the need for ownership of the Goals by developing countries, and the maximization of both aid and domestic resources, which, in turn, required improved governance.  The summit concluded with the adoption of a global action plan to reach the Goals by 2015 and the announcement of major new commitments for women’s and children’s health, and other initiatives against poverty, hunger and disease.

Other major events held during the busy first weeks of the session included a high-level meeting, on 22 September, in support of the International Year of Biodiversity, which addressed the “alarming” rate of global biodiversity loss and sought ways to rescue the natural economy.  In an impassioned plea, Secretary-General Ban urged world leaders to “stop thinking of environmental protection as a cost”, and instead view it as a critical investment.  He called on them to push forward the strategic plan on biodiversity and the 2050 “diversity vision”, which was subsequently adopted at the Tenth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan, the following month.

From 24 to 25 September, the Assembly held a high-level five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy, adopted in 1994 to help small island developing States address their unique development challenges in such areas as environmental management, transport, trade and sustainable development.  During the review — dubbed “Mauritius+5” — world leaders discussed ways and means of strengthening the resilience of those vulnerable countries, many of which had suffered a decline in real economic growth over the last decade, in marked contrast to many other developing nations.

In the interim, the Assembly opened its annual general debate on 23 September, with world leaders and high-ranking officials from 192 Member States offering prescriptions for making the United Nations a more representative yet agile body that could better meet the weighty demands of the twenty-first century.  Under the theme of “reaffirming the central role of the United Nations in global governance”, they pressed for a United Nations that was accountable to their peoples — in resolving local conflicts and international crises, improving social and health outcomes, and coping with natural disasters.

Should the Assembly miss that aim, warned President Deiss, the Organization risked being marginalized by the so-called “G-20” and other actors on the global stage, and criticized as ineffective, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis.  To maximize its ability to play a global governance role, “we must work to make it strong, inclusive and open”, he said.  It would be up to Member States to determine the ideal combination of legitimacy and effectiveness.

In its substantive work, the Assembly considered a range of issues, from disarmament and food security to humanitarian assistance and the reconstruction of post-conflict States.  During the Assembly’s annual joint debate on Africa’s development needs, including implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), delegates stressed the importance of cooperation in redressing the ills of the world’s most strife-ridden continent.  Still struggling with armed conflicts, trade barriers and life-threatening diseases, Africa needed developed nations to deliver on long-promised aid commitments.  For its part, the United Nations should focus increasingly on social justice.

During the Assembly’s annual debate on Security Council reform, most of the nearly 50 speakers in the two-day discussion agreed the powerful 15-member body could — and should — be more democratic.  While some remained deeply divided over five key “negotiables” — membership categories, the question of veto, the question of regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods — they also agreed that the body must better represent a rapidly globalizing world where the centres of political and economic power had shifted dramatically over the past 25 years.  Many said it was long past time to seriously examine the “privileged” status of the five permanent members — China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States.

That sentiment was mirrored in a separate debate on the revitalization of the General Assembly, which took place on 6 December.  Stressing that the Assembly was the United Nations most representative policymaking body, delegates said it must “claw its way back” to its rightful status by taking a more decisive role in the selection of the Secretary-General and ensuring that its resolutions were fully implemented.  They pressed the Security Council to adhere to the powers accorded to it under the United Nations Charter and stop encroaching on those of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.  Further, it should avoid using Chapter VII as an “umbrella” to address issues that did not necessarily constitute a threat to international peace and security.  Resolutions required clear action plans, realistic timelines, and, most importantly, the responsible commitment of all Member States to act.

Meeting for its annual debate on the situation in Afghanistan, the Assembly adopted a broad-based resolution appealing for continued support for a coherent, Afghan-driven development strategy that would help the Government keep the war-torn country on the road to recovery.  By the 17-page text, the Assembly condemned in the strongest terms all attacks against civilians and expressed concern at the high number of civilian deaths at the hands of the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist groups.  Despite setbacks, the year had been “marked by hard work and rewarded by notable progress”, said Afghanistan’s representative, recalling that Government revenue in the past year had surpassed $1 billion for the first time in history.

During a passionate two-day debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, many of the more than 40 speakers expressed deep concern about continued regional tension.  In particular, they objected to Israel’s decision to end its months-long freeze on settlement building in and around the West Bank and Jerusalem, and voiced disappointment there was no clear sign that direct talks — launched in September under the stewardship of the United States, but now at a standstill — would soon advance.

By a recorded vote of 165 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 4 abstentions (Cameroon, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Tonga), the Assembly adopted a wide-ranging resolution on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, which many said was at the heart of the quest for peace in the Middle East.  It was one of six texts adopted by recorded vote aimed at advancing that pursuit.

In the area of strengthening United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, the Assembly adopted six consensus texts spanning a broad agenda, from enhancing the safety and security of humanitarian personnel to improving the international response to the massive earthquake in Haiti and the Chernobyl disaster.  By the terms of a text on the Organization’s overall humanitarian assistance, the Assembly expressed its deep concern about the humanitarian impact of current global challenges and crises, and emphasized the need to mobilize adequate, predictable, timely and flexible resources for such assistance.

First Committee

Opening the First Committee’s (Disarmament and International Security) general debate on 4 October, Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, cautioned that if major steps forward in disarmament were postponed indefinitely, if questions on compliance with non-proliferation commitments persisted and if military spending continued its upward spiral while Millennium Development Goals remained unmet, then potential contributions would be correspondingly limited.

Positive diplomatic momentum needed a triple-pronged approach, with States showing determined leadership to shave military budgets, harness exports and slash arsenals; the rest of the international community doggedly pursuing disarmament and non-proliferation; and civil society advancing multilateral disarmament goals.  “The greatest momentum will be achieved through a combination of all three factors working for common ends,” he said.  To the Committee members he said “may the momentum be with us”.

Amid the current positive momentum to accelerate disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, the Committee forwarded 58 texts to the General Assembly for adoption; however, members adhered to traditional voting patterns, approving those texts in 40 separate recorded votes.  Particularly noteworthy was a text recognizing the newly signed treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States to reduce and limit strategic offensive arms and their desire to align their nuclear postures accordingly.  Another key resolution called for the immediate start of negotiations in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament on a ban of weapons-grade fissile material; only one Member State voted against it.

Additional resolutions also favoured the start of negotiations on a fissile material ban, including draft resolutions entitled “united action towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons”, “nuclear disarmament” and “towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments”.  The issue had been a central focus of thematic debates during the session, as many delegations underlined the pressing need to begin talks on a fissile material cut-off treaty in the framework of the Conference on Disarmament as a way of reining in proliferation.  As in Geneva, however, agreement on that pursuit was frustrated in New York by opposition stemming from the claim that States that had amassed their weapons-grade fissile material stocks, virtually unchecked, were now seeking to prevent others from similarly bolstering their national security.  Moreover, the thrust of such a treaty, it was argued, implied a cap on future production with no reduction of past stocks.  On the other side, delegations sought to provide assurances that all national security interests would be taken on board during negotiations of the text of such a treaty.

The Conference on Disarmament, considering the number of urgent and important issues for multilateral disarmament negotiation on its plate and its decade-long lack of progress, was the subject of two related resolutions.  The first, on that body’s report, required separate recorded votes.  The text endorsed the call by Member States at the high-level meeting in September to revitalize the long gridlocked Conference and for it to adopt a programme of work early in 2011.  It also asked the Secretary-General to provide support to the Conference.  The second, approved without a vote, emphasized the support voiced at the high-level meeting in September for the urgent need to revitalize the work of multilateral disarmament bodies and advance multilateral disarmament negotiations.

Unlike last year’s consensus approval of a resolution on convening a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, a recorded vote was taken on a similar text this year.  The resolution is premised on the conviction that such a session could set the future course of action in the fields of disarmament, arms control, non-proliferation and related international security matters.  The text recommended the convening of an open-ended working group to consider the objectives and agenda of such a session and asked the Secretary-General to provide such a group with necessary assistance.  The latter provision required a separate vote, but was retained.  The Committee approved seven more draft resolutions related to the disarmament machinery without a vote.

Seized once again with the disarmament aspects of outer space, the Committee approved two resolutions in that area, both requiring recorded votes.  In the area of conventional weapons, five resolutions were approved, three without a vote: Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects; information on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms; and assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them.

Two texts required recorded votes, but faced no specific opposition.  The first was on the Convention banning landmines and the second was on the illicit small arms and light weapons trade.  The latter text recommended the convening of an open-ended meeting of governmental experts in New York, in May 2011, to address key implementation challenges and opportunities relating to the 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, including international cooperation and assistance.  The broadly supported 31-paragraph resolution recalled the decision to convene a two-week review conference of the Action Programme early in 2012 and decided to convene a preparatory committee for that purpose.

The First Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Miloš Koterec (Slovakia); Vice-Chairpersons Hossam Eldeen Aly (Egypt), Herman Schaper (Netherlands) and Carlos Sorreta (Philippines); and Enrique Ochoa (Mexico), Rapporteur.

Second Committee

The Assembly adopted landmark resolutions on sustainable development that reflected this year’s discussions of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial) on the plethora of issues and concerns for consideration during the climate change summit held in Cancún, Mexico, 29 November‑10 December, and the 2012 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro.

Those texts, among 17 resolutions on sustainable development recommended by the Committee, set forth strategies to protect coral reefs and mitigate the ill effects of chemical munitions at sea, as well as declared international years and decades to promote sustainable energy, water cooperation and biodiversity.  One text kept the concerns of small island developing States centre stage, with the Assembly urging the international community to bolster financing, capacity-building and technology to help them adapt to climate change, while two resolutions urged international action to reduce disasters and better manage disaster risk.

Agriculture development and food security gained increased attention this year, with the Committee forwarding a text that stressed the need to enhance food production and sustainability, while calling for the timely realization of the 2009 Group of Eight’s (G‑8) commitment to mobilize $20 billion over three years for sustainable agricultural development.

During their work during the session, Second Committee delegates approved resolutions that illustrated the Committee’s intense debate over appropriate solutions to the global financial crisis, developing countries’ external debt burdens and entrenched disputes over global financial and trade policy.  One text noted its deep concern over the crisis’ severe impact on developing countries’ trade and called for flexibility and political will to break the long-standing impasse in the Doha Development Round of World Trade Organization negotiations.  Another focused on the need to reform the global financial system and architecture by strengthening developing countries’ participation in global economic decision-making and norm-setting.

Also from the discussions, a new resolution emerged on innovative mechanisms of financing for development.  Another, reflecting the Committee’s continuing concern over the external debt burdens of low- and middle-income countries, had the Assembly urge all lenders and borrowers to integrate debt sustainability analyses into their decisions, encourage promotion of responsible sovereign lending and borrowing, and call for full implementation of all debt relief initiatives.  The Committee also forwarded a text that would have the Assembly decided to hold its fifth high-level dialogue on financing for development on 7 and 8 December 2011 at United Nations Headquarters.

Under the poverty-eradication umbrella, the discussions yielded three consensus resolutions, among them a text on promoting ecotourism as a tool to eradicate poverty and protect the environment — the first of its kind tabled in the Committee.  Five texts, among them a new Committee-generated resolution on cultural diversity’s role in development, focused on development in the context of globalization and interdependence.  They reaffirmed the need to continue working towards a new, more equitable global economic order to more evenly distribute globalization’s benefits, and recognized the value of decent work in spurring a job-intensive recovery, sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Two resolutions agreed by the Committee sought to address the issues of countries in special situations.  By the first, the Assembly would call upon landlocked and transit developing countries to speed up implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action and further mainstream it into their national development strategies; by the second, the Assembly would decide to hold the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries from 9 to 13 May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Second Committee Bureau includes Chairperson Enkhtsetseg Ochir (Mongolia); Vice-Chairpersons Erik Lundberg (Finland), Csilla Wurtz (Hungary) and Jean Claudy Pierre (Haiti); and Rapporteur Paul Empole (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Third Committee

Striving for consensus on as many issues as possible, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) forwarded 58 draft resolutions to the General Assembly, including 43 that were approved without a vote, during a session in which more than 500 statements were delivered over 52 meetings.

In the area of crime prevention and criminal justice, the Committee approved a set of United Nations-backed standards for the treatment of women convicts.  As recommended by the Economic and Social Council and known as the Bangkok Rules, they address such issues as the classification of women prisoners, health care and safety concerns specific to women, and the treatment of children who live with their mothers behind bars.  Edging towards global action on cybercrime, the Committee also moved to ask the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to establish “an open-ended intergovernmental group” to look into the problem and to propose national and international legal responses.

On the advancement of women, the Committee — in the presence of General Assembly President Deiss — approved by consensus a resolution welcoming the launch of UN Women and urging Member States to ensure it gets stable and sufficient funding for its anticipated $500 million budget.  Representatives lined up to praise the appointment of Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, as the Under-Secretary-General who would lead the newly created entity.  “We must reverse decades of accepting minimal resources for work on gender equality,” Ms. Bachelet told delegates.  The Committee also took action to declare 23 June each year International Widows’ Day and to condemn all forms of violence against women and girls.

The Committee took an active interest in the review process of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that is assessing, among other issues, the working relationship between the Council and the Assembly.  The President of the Council, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, predicted “challenging” times ahead as the Council embarked on the review process, while at the same time tried to sustain the momentum it had built up since its establishment in 2006.

Country-specific human rights resolutions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Myanmar once again provoked robust debate as to their validity, now that the Universal Periodic Review process at the Human Rights Council is up and running.  The draft concerning Myanmar, while condemning the situation there, was revised before approval to welcome the release from house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  The delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the resolution critical of its human rights record was an “illegal document” that impinged on his country’s sovereignty, while Iran’s representative said his nation’s only crime was not to be “a Xerox copy” of Western democracy.

Praise was heard for internal reforms at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that had enhanced its ability to help refugees, displaced persons and victims of natural disasters.  But the head of the agency, António Guterres, noted how the past year has been the worst in two decades for the voluntary repatriation of refugees.  In some cases, he said, the world was facing “quasi-permanent global refugee populations” — with Afghanistan and Somalia the most obvious examples of “endless conflict”.

Argentina, France and Morocco co-sponsored a proposal to declare 30 August International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to be observed beginning in 2011 — a date chosen by civil society and the families of victims.

Three high-level meetings of the General Assembly were approved by the Committee, including one to be held on 21 September 2011 — the second day of the general debate of the next Assembly session — to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Israel asked that the proposal be put to a recorded vote, saying it expected the event to be derailed for political purposes, while the United States noted how close the meeting would follow the tenth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks, a sensitive time for New Yorkers.  Other high-level meetings agreed by the Committee would address, in 2012, persons with disabilities and, in 2014, indigenous peoples.

By another recorded vote, the Committee approved a resolution on the use of mercenaries whereby Member States would be encouraged to consider a proposal from an intergovernmental working group of the Human Rights Council to carefully consider a possible legally binding instrument on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of private military and security companies.

Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, sponsored a consensus resolution condemning all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, as well as incitement to religious hatred through any media.  According to the text, “no religion should be equated with terrorism, as this may have adverse consequences on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief of all members of the religious communities concerned”.

Chairing the Third Committee this session is Michel Tommo Monthe (Cameroon), with María Luz Melon (Argentina), Margareta Ploder (Austria) and Waheed al-Shami (Yemen) serving as Vice-Chairpersons, and Asif Garayev (Azerbaijan) as Rapporteur.

Fourth Committee

Debating such diverse political issues as decolonization, the rights of the Palestinian people and the peaceful uses of outer space, and tackling topics such as public information, atomic radiation research and managing peacekeeping mandates, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) submitted 27 draft resolutions and 1 draft decision to the Assembly aimed at meeting emerging challenges to the Organization’s historical mandate in each area.

The Chairperson of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Donatus St. Aimee of Saint Lucia, told the Fourth Committee on 4 October that, 50 years after the General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, the decolonization process could only be addressed within the context of current realities and a sustainable future.  While 80 former colonies inhabited by some 750 million people had gained independence since the creation of the United Nations, with some 2 million people living under colonial rule today, the decolonization process remained incomplete and was plagued by a lack of political will.  He stressed the need for creative solutions to the difficulties associated with that process, paying closer attention to economic and social needs.  Speakers agreed that while self-determination was important, so too was development, which underpinned the very viability of small and vulnerable communities.

On the question of Guam, one petitioner said the indigenous people there understood colonialism as leading to “economic apartheid”, and that race, class and geopolitical status determined one’s future.  Another stressed that the United States colonial presence in Guam polluted the environment and deprived its citizens of the right to land.  Regarding Western Sahara, petitioners appealed for resolute action by the United Nations — and the wider international community — to tackle a raft of injustices they believed gripped the region, including terrorism, slavery, natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses.  Speakers called for a resolution to address the “last decolonization process in Africa”, with some supporting Morocco’s Extended Autonomy Plan, and others calling for a free and fair referendum.

Following a week of heated debate on the remaining Non-Self Governing Territories, the Committee approved 12 draft resolutions, including on the question of Western Sahara, the question of Gibraltar and on economic and other activities which affect the interests of the people of the Non-Self Governing Territories.  An omnibus resolution on the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands was approved by consensus on 19 October.

Space-based technologies were deemed increasingly significant in a world where no region was spared the growing scope and threat of emergency situations and disasters, the Committee heard on 12 October during consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.  Mitigating the devastating effects of disasters was increasingly important, and space technology applications provided a tool set of increasing importance to address concerns like climate change, food security and health.  Assistant Secretary-General and Chief Information Technology Officer Choi Soon-hong told the Committee there was a huge stake in preventing, mitigating and recovering from manmade and natural disasters.

Approving two draft resolutions without a vote at the conclusion of its general debate on information, from 19 to 21 October, the Committee reaffirmed that the promotion of multiculturalism and multilingualism must remain the hallmark of the United Nations, infusing efforts to achieve common undertakings and mature responses in every aspect of its work.  In the debate that preceded that action, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka told delegations that the Department of Public Information was applying a strategic approach, upgrading operational infrastructure and adopting new information and communications technology to tackle the challenges posed by a constantly evolving global communications environment.

As the Committee considered the consequences of exposure to atomic radiation on human health and the environment, its annual debate on the issue touched on the current “renaissance of nuclear energy”, wherein Member States and other users were ever more eager to evaluate risk and establish appropriate safety and protection standards for radiation levels from energy production and exposure to nuclear installations.  A draft was approved encouraging the provision of further relevant data about doses, effects and risks from various radiation sources to help in the preparation of future reports of the Scientific Committee.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and others were encouraged to coordinate with the Secretariat.

During the Committee’s comprehensive review of peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy said peacekeeping was a dynamic and essential element of the international community’s response to global peace and security threats.  However, success was never guaranteed because peacekeepers worked in the most physically and politically demanding environments, and the process faced rapidly diminishing resources, overstretch and the need for greater consensus.  Yet, he said, peacekeeping was cost-effective and shared the international burden of addressing conflict.  It also provided critical space for the revival of war-shattered economies, and for humanitarian, peacebuilding and development assistance to take effect.  He said the pause in the growth of troop levels and budgets offered time to reflect on peacekeeping’s long-term sustainability.

At session’s end, the Committee took up 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 Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.  After a general debate spanning such issues as the Agency’s chronic funding deficit, violations of the human rights of Palestinians, and the impediments of Israeli settlement activity to the peace process, the Committee recommended nine draft texts to the Assembly, each requiring a recorded vote.  In the course of that debate, political actors were urged to make courageous choices and not relent in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to create a viable State of Palestine, end the occupation and find a lasting solution to the plight of the refugees.

The Fourth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Chitsaka Chipaziwa (Zimbabwe), Vice-Chairpersons Radoslaw Flisiuk (Poland), David Windsor (Australia) and Marcela Zamora (Costa Rica), as well as Rapporteur Mohammad Wali Naeemi (Afghanistan).

Fifth Committee

In a session devoted to the reform of administrative and management issues, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved resolutions that overhauled how tens of thousands of staff around the globe are hired, trained and paid, while modernizing its outdated information and communications technology system.

In a draft resolution on human resources management, the Committee tackled the thorny issue of continuing contracts.  It also moved to harmonize the conditions of service for thousands of United Nations employees around the globe.  With the draft resolution on the United Nations common system, the working conditions across the system would be more equal in order to curb unnecessary competition among the numerous United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies, as well as Secretariat staff at home and abroad.  The shift was backed by the International Service Commission (ICSC).

In another move to bring the Organization’s management and administrative methods into the twenty-first century, the Committee decided to send the Assembly a draft resolution that would advance the revamping of its outdated information and communications technology system.  It also strengthened the enterprise resource planning system known as Umoja, the Swahili word for unity.  That enterprise resource planning system was already under way and was meant to transform how the United Nations delivered its mandates by using best practice business processes, accountability throughout the system and improved staff skills.

Even though it was not a year for setting the Organization’s multi-billion dollar biennium budget, financial issues captured days of the delegates’ time and negotiating energy.

The appropriation of funds to keep the Organization’s 29 special political missions running in the coming year was especially contentious during the session’s informal consultations.  After days of negotiating, the Fifth Committee finally agreed on language that urged the Assembly to authorize an outlay of $643.1 million for those special political missions in 2011, which include everything from the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  During its initial consideration of the issue in mid-December, several delegates said they were unhappy at the way the missions kept growing in size, needs and scope, even though they were backed with regular budget resources.

The funding of peacekeeping operations was also a focus of the Committee this session and it backed the spending of $58.35 million to help the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), including in staging the 9 January referendums in 10 states of southern Sudan and the oil-rich Abyei region.  The financing of three other peacekeeping missions were also part of its agenda, including funding for the operation and rebuilding of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) after the devastating earthquake in January.

The Fifth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala); Vice-Chairpersons Muhammad Irfan Soomro (Pakistan), Ioana Sanda Stoica (Romania) and Motumisi Tawana (South Africa); and Rapporteur Nicole Ann Mannion (Ireland).

Sixth Committee

The Sixth Committee (Legal) this year maintained its trademark consensus as it approved a resolution containing new text on the comprehensive terrorism convention, 1 of 17 resolutions and 2 decisions issued in 16 reports centred on the rule of law, accountability and promotion of international law. 

The new text on measures to eliminate international terrorism was approved as an oral amendment prior to action in the Committee.  By it, concern was expressed at the increase in incidents of kidnapping and hostage-taking for ransom and/or for political concessions.  Other terms included a call for continued implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, intensification of information exchange and the decision that the Ad Hoc Committee would, from 21 to 25 April 2011, continue to elaborate the comprehensive convention and discuss the convening of a high-level meeting on terrorism.

Strengthening the rule of law continued to be a priority this session, with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, addressing the Committee as Chairperson of the Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, supported by the Rule of Law Unit.  During the debate on the subject, delegates stressed that adherence to the rule of law was critical to achieving the goals of promoting peace, reducing poverty, promoting development and fighting terrorism.  A relevant resolution underscored the need to strengthen support for States towards implementing rule of law measures and urged the United Nations to address aspects of the rule of law in all its activities.  The Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group and the Rule of Law Unit were encouraged to continue interacting with States, particularly through informal briefings.  Also decided was the convening of a high-level meeting on the rule of law during the Assembly’s general debate in two years.

Considered to be one of its most productive, the 2010 session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) resulted in the successful adoption and finalization of three revised texts that updated trade practices.  Four resolutions were approved in the Committee based on the report, including the annual omnibus resolution on the Commission’s work.  The others were related to revised arbitration rules, a legislative guide on secured transactions dealing with intellectual property and a legislative guide on insolvency law and enterprise groups.

The debate on the International Law Commission report included focused discussions on the completion, after 16 years of effort by the Special Rapporteur, of the draft articles and the Guide to Practice on “reservations to treaties”, with a view to finalization in the International Law Commission’s 2011 session.  The Special Rapporteur, while noting that the lengthy amount of time taken was due to his own assessment of the project, stressed that the complex subject ultimately was served by being stretched over time, as it enabled a perspective to emerge and for consultations with experts and human rights bodies to be taken.

The Committee’s resolution on the report of International Law Commission emphasized the importance of the Commission having States’ views on topics being addressed.  Currently, those would include “reservations to treaties” and “treaties over time”.  Views on the former were requested to be submitted by 31 January 2011 and on the latter by 1 January 2011.  The Commission would also, in its future work, give priority consideration to “immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction” and “the obligation to extradite or prosecute”.  As in previous years, the need to provide assistance to Special Rapporteurs was underscored, and the enhanced dialogue with the Commission welcomed and further cooperation between the Commission and other relevant legal bodies encouraged.

Also addressed in the Committee was the significant increase in demand for the resources of the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, which had been impacted by a dearth of funding and financial support.  The holding of such conferences by the Republic of Korea and by Ethiopia, after years of inactivity, was heralded, but it was observed that that development aims could not be achieved without the promotion of international law, which in one delegate’s view was the common language of a global community.

A resolution on the matter called for the Secretary-General to finance fellowships funded from the regular budget and from voluntary financial contributions, as well as to continue to award a minimum of one scholarship in 2011 under the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Fellowship on the Law of the Sea.  It urged States to make voluntary contributions for regional courses as an important complement to the International Law Fellowship Programme and the Audiovisual Library in International Law.

During the debate on the status of the Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, delegates expressing grave concern about Member States accountability urged greater compliance to all provisions in the Conventions and Additional Protocols.  The point was made that, with the line between war and peace blurred, traditional humanitarian law no longer adequately protected civilians.  Ratification of the Additional Protocols would affirm the international community’s commitment to the protection of victims during armed conflicts.  In the resolution, States were urged to become party to the Protocols and to make use of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission.

The Sixth Committee Bureau includes Committee Chairperson Isabelle Picco (Monaco); Vice-Chairpersons Reta Alemu Nega (Ethiopia), Chyull-joo Park (Republic of Korea) and Eva Šurkova (Slovakia); and Rapporteur Glenna Cabello de Daboin (Venezuela).

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