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GA/11587
18 November 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 55th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Adopts without Vote Resolution on International Decade for People of African Descent with Theme, ‘Recognition, Justice and Development’

Recognizing the devastating impact of racism on people of African descent, the General Assembly today adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution on the programme of activities to implement the newly launched International Decade for People of African Descent, thus providing focus and synergy needed to address the matter globally.

Sam Kutesa (Uganda), President of the General Assembly, introducing the draft text, said that after decades of slavery, one could only be humbled by how far people of African descent had come.  However, discrimination persisted.  Many of African descent had limited access to good quality education, employment, housing, healthcare, fair justice systems, and safe living environments.  By adopting “recognition, justice and development” as the resolution’s theme, the Assembly could take a bold step towards ensuring the respect, protection and human rights for those people, he said.

The representative of Brazil, noting that his country had the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa,  pointed out that those Brazilians accounted for over a hundred million people in his country.  Promoting racial equality translated into rescuing half the national population from the consequences of centuries of slavery to which they had been subjected.

Delegations also addressed the matter of the revitalization of the General Assembly, with many speakers calling for ways in which that body could consolidate its role as the primary decision-making body of the United Nations.

The representative of Algeria, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said that in the “great body” of the Assembly, all States were represented.  Echoing that, Cuba’s delegate noted that no Member State could exercise a veto.  Nonetheless, he added, the Assembly’s power could be better realized if it implemented more of its resolutions.

The representative of Egypt emphasized that the General Assembly’s decisions on peace and security and other important issues should not be encroached upon by the Security Council, a refrain heard repeatedly throughout the debate.

Also discussed was the process in which the Secretary-General was selected, with representatives urging that the process of selection should be transparent and inclusive of all Member States.  The representative of Belarus struck a singular note when he said in the interest of gender balance a woman should be selected this coming year as the new Secretary-General.

Many delegates voiced concern about budgetary and logistical matters that could be better managed, with Japan’s representative urging, among other points, there be a strict adherence to time restraints for each speaker, while the Russian Federation’s representative supported the adoption of biennial and triennial agendas, a stance also stated by other delegations.

The General Assembly also filled vacancies to subsidiary bodies at the recommendation of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

Other speakers today were representatives of Italy, Israel, Canada, Cambodia (on behalf of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, United States, Morocco, Tunisia, China, and Croatia (also speaking for Namibia).  A representative of the European Union Delegation also spoke.

The General Assembly will convene again at 10 a.m., 20 November, to consider the promotion and protection of the rights of children; the high-level meeting on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the situation in Afghanistan.

Background

The General Assembly had before it a draft resolution submitted by the President of the General Assembly entitled “Programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent” (document A/69/L.3), as well as a report by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on programme budget implications for that text (document A/69/563).  By the terms of the text, the General Assembly would adopt the programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent annexed to the resolution, and officially launch the International Decade for People of African Descent, among other measures.

Also before it were five reports on appointments to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and other appointments.  The five reports of the Fifth Committee were: “Appointment of members of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions” (document A/69/564); “Appointment of members of the Committee on Contributions” (document A/69/565); “Confirmation of the appointment of members of the Investments Committee” (document A/69/566); “Appointment of members of the International Civil Service Commission” (document A/69/567); and “Appointment of members of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee” (document A/69/568).

A note by the Secretary-General transmitting a document entitled “Appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit” (document A/69/106) would also be taken up, along with a report of the Fifth Committee entitled “Programme planning” (document A/69/539).

The General Assembly would also consider the matters of the implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations and the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly.

Action on Draft Resolution

SAM KUTESA (Uganda), President of the General Assembly, stating that the Organization was about to embark on an historic moment, introduced the draft resolution on the Programme of activities for the implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent (document A/69/L.3).  Emerging from slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, one could not but be humbled about how far people of African descent had come.

“But we need to go much further”, he said, adding that discrimination against people of African descent continued, manifested in limited access to good quality education, employment, housing and healthcare.  They were frequently the most marginalized members of society, often inhabiting the poorest districts, with the most precarious infrastructure.  Vulnerable to crime and violence, they often faced discrimination in access to justice, as well.

In 2001, he continued, the Assembly had adopted the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action at the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  By adopting the theme of the International Decade, “Recognition, Justice, and Development”, the international community was providing an opportunity to have a global conversation about the burdens and accomplishments of people of African descent.  Those contributions were irrefutable.  The International Decade would raise awareness and ensure the respect, protection and human rights of people of African descent.  By adopting the draft resolution, the Assembly would take a bold step towards that objective.

The General Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote.

In explanation of position after the action, the representative of Italy, speaking for the European Union, said the Union was a firm believer in the international fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance.  It was only through ownership and engagement that objectives could be achieved on the local, national, and international levels.  However, she voiced concern regarding the budgeting of Programme activities, requesting that such implementation be done carefully.

The representative of Israel said he recognized that the resolution contained important elements.  However, he disassociated Israel from certain references in several paragraphs of the resolution.  Ten years ago, the majority of countries remained silent while the Durban Conference became a racist expression against the State of Israel.  The Jewish people had fought racism throughout their history.

The representative of Canada said that the Durban Conference had degenerated into a politicized forum that did not combat racism.  The Durban process remained politicized and unable to distance itself from its past.  He said that although he disapproved of the reference to that process, his Government would continue to work in practical ways with Member States in addressing racism and in recognizing and promoting the rights of people of African descent.

Statements

GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), noting that his country had the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, pointed out that those Brazilians accounted for over a hundred million people in his country.  Promoting racial equality translated into rescuing half the national population from the consequences of the centuries of slavery to which they had been subjected.  His Government had implemented affirmative programmes and national policies such as cash transfers and minimum wage legislation, which had contributed to the reduction of inequalities among different racial groups.  The 2001 Durban Conference and its review conferences was a landmark in the implementation of national and international laws so as to forbid racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

Fifth Committee Appointments

Acting on the recommendations of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), the General Assembly appointed five members to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions for a three-year term, beginning 1 January 2015.  Those appointed were Pavel Chernikov (Russian Federation), Ali A. Kurer (Libya), Dietrich Lingenthal (Germany), Fernando de Oliveira Sena (Brazil) and David Traystman (United States).

The General Assembly also appointed six members to the Committee on Contributions, which advises it on the apportionment, under Article 17 of the United Nations Charter, of the Organization’s expenses among Members, broadly according to the capacity to pay.  Appointed for three-year terms were Fu Daopeng (China), Kunal Khatri (United Kingdom), Nikolay Lozinskiy (Russian Federation), Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto (Brazil), Thomas Schlesinger (Austria), and Dae-jong Yoo (Republic of Korea).  Mohamed Elshakshuki (Libya) was also appointed as a member of the Committee on Contributions for a term of office beginning on the date of appointment, and ending on 31 December 2016.

Six members were reappointed to the Investments Committee for one-year terms, including Masakazu Arikawa (Japan), Madav Dhar (India), Nemir Kirdar (Iraq), Michael Klein (United States), and Ivan Pictet (Switzerland).  The membership of Gumersindo Oliveros (Spain) was converted from ad hoc to regular membership, for a term of office beginning on 1 January 2015.  That Committee provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary-General, as fiduciary for the investments of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.

The General Assembly, on the Fifth Committee’s recommendation, then appointed five members to the International Civil Service Commission for a four-year term, beginning 1 January 2015.  Those appointed were Marie-Françoise Bechtel (France), Emmanuel Oti Boateng (Ghana), Carleen Gardner (Jamaica), Eugeniusz Wysner (Poland) and Kingston Papie Rhodes, who was designated Chair of the Commission.  The 15-member International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) is an independent expert body, established by the Assembly, to coordinate service conditions for United Nations staff.

Appointed to the Independent Audit Advisory Committee for three-year terms, beginning 1 January 2015, were Christopher Mihm (United States) and Richard Quartei Quartey (Ghana).  Members are appointed to the Advisory Committee in their personal capacity, and are independent of the Government that nominated them.  The Committee itself is independent of the Board of Auditors, the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and the United Nations Secretariat, and advises the Assembly on the scope, results and effectiveness of audit and other oversight functions.

The General Assembly, considering a note by the Secretary-General transmitting a document entitled “Appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit”, was informed that the representative of Mauritania, in his capacity as Chair of the African Group, had requested the postponement of the election for the seat allocated to the African States.

Having received information from the Chairs of the other Regional Groups, the President of the General Assembly said that he would submit the names of the candidates to the General Assembly for appointment to the Joint Inspection Unit.  For the one vacancy from among the Eastern European States, the Group had endorsed Romania.  For the two vacancies from among the Western European and other States, there were two endorsed candidates, namely Canada and Germany.

The General Assembly, considering the report “Programme planning”, decided not to discuss it, taking a decision on the draft resolution recommended by the Fifth Committee in paragraph 6 of its report.  The Fifth Committee had approved the draft resolution entitled “Programme planning” without a vote.  The General Assembly then adopted the text without a vote, as well.

Revitalization of United Nations

Mr. KUTESA, introducing the topic “Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly”, said the role of the Assembly as a chief organ of the United Nations had remained central since the inception of the Organization.  It was a defining moment as the Assembly neared the target dates for the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda.  One of his priorities was to pay urgent attention to enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the Assembly.

He recalled that General Assembly resolution 68/307 had established an Ad Hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the Assembly.  Open to all Member States, its goal was to identify strategies to enhance the Assembly’s role, effectiveness and efficiency.  Through the use of four clusters, the Working Group had explored ways to change the Assembly in line with the current world.  The first cluster focused on the Assembly’s role and authority, and included strengthening cooperation with the Organization’s agencies.

Improving the body’s working methods and its Main Committees constituted the second cluster, he went on to say.  Work had been progressing on the third cluster, the appointment of a Secretary-General and other executive heads in a transparent and inclusive way.  Thanking Member States for their continued support of the President’s Office, he voiced hope that the fourth cluster, to strengthen the institutional memory of that Office, would help reinvigorate the Assembly.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly was a political process rather than a procedural matter, and that the process should be conducted in an inclusive, transparent and efficient manner.  The Assembly held the authority and essential role of drawing the framework, setting the principles and identifying the objectives for the wider United Nations system.  It should remain the principal organ that reviewed the work of all subsidiary organs and bodies, and maintain its role and mandate in all budgetary and administrative issues.  While continuing to support all ongoing efforts to strengthen the central role and authority of the Assembly, he said that he would oppose any approach that sought to undermine the Movement’s achievements, diminish its role and functions, or raise questions about its relevance and credibility.

The functions and powers of each principal organ must be fully respected, and balance must be maintained among those organs within their respective Charter-based mandates, he continued.  Expressing concern at the continuous attempts from the Security Council to encroach on the powers and prerogatives of the Assembly, he reiterated the request that the Council submit a more explanatory, comprehensive and analytical annual report to the Assembly.  The selection of the Secretary-General must be more transparent and inclusive, and the Assembly should have more active, effective and efficient participation in the process.  The Office of the President of the General Assembly should be made more effective by strengthening its institutional memory.  While the prerogatives of the President had not changed, the role had evolved over the past years, and the activities of the Office had increased drastically.  Those increasing activities should be matched with the necessary human and financial resources.

GERTON VAN DEN AKKER, a representative of the European Union Delegation, expressed hope that the General Assembly, as the only intergovernmental body with universal membership, would be able to take up the challenge of conciliating legitimacy and efficiency in a context of emerging global challenges.  It was imperative that concrete steps be taken, at all levels, to spend more wisely, deliver in new ways and ensure that the Organization lived within the agreed budget levels.  Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly was clearly linked with overall reform of the United Nations.

Turning to the issue of working methods, he said that biennialization or triennialization of items, as well as their clustering or elimination, could be examined further, with the clear consent of the sponsoring State.  Although each Main Committee had its own authority over the rules of procedure, streamlining and standardizing some would lead to the Committees’ more efficient work.  The General Assembly could play a useful role in enhancing the coordination of the scheduling of high level meetings, with the view of optimizing their number and distribution throughout the year.

RY TUY (Cambodia), speaking for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations provided a unique opportunity to reinvigorate and reform the Organization.  A critical component of that was revitalization of the work of the General Assembly.  Stressing the importance and benefit of continuing interaction between the Assembly and international and regional forums, he welcomed the decision of the General Assembly to conduct the elections of non-permanent members of the Security Council and members of the Economic and Social Council six months before the elected members assumed their responsibilities.

On the election and appointment of the Secretary-General, he said he hoped that the process would become more inclusive, transparent, interactive and credible, with the Assembly President playing an active role.  He also said he hoped to see a strengthening of the institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  Noting that budgetary allocations to the Office had remained largely unchanged since 1998, he said the President should not be financially constrained in discharging his or her responsibilities.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that Member States should look at areas of convergence in order to work more harmoniously on a common agenda.  The Charter provided enormous space in allowing the Assembly to choose its agenda, and that opportunity should be used in an optimal manner.  Using the unity of the Assembly on certain issues would enable it to leave an imprint on international peace and security.  Small steps could improve communications with the Security Council.  He asked that the reform process of the Council focus on increasing representation and other important matters, such as the veto and regional representation, but it should not allow for the creation of new permanent seats.  As the Assembly moved towards the selection of the Secretary-General, it would be a major challenge to meet expectations for transparency and inclusiveness.  The Ad Hoc Group on the matter should make that an important part of its agenda.

HIROSHI MINAMI (Japan) said revitalization of the General Assembly, together with Security Council reform, were crucial components of the reform agenda.  Despite progress made in previous sessions, much more had to be done.  Enhancing fairness in management of the Assembly remained an important aspect for discussion.  As well, the speakers list during the High-level week should more closely reflect reality.  Countries, such as Japan, in which the Head of State played a ceremonial role and the Head of Government had the highest political mandate, should be dealt with as such.  He expressed appreciation that this year’s Assembly had reflected on that argument to some extent.  Also important was strict adherence to time restraints for each speaker.  In that regard, discussions to achieve disciplined management must continue.  In addition, the work of the Assembly must be rationalized.  Noting that late-night sessions had become more common in some Main Committees, he said that such situations should be improved upon immediately.

ASOKE K. MUKKERJI (India), associating his delegation with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the revitalization of the General Assembly had assumed a particular significance in recent years.  Comprehensive reforms were imperative to reflect the current geopolitical realities, and to allow the Assembly to meet complex transnational challenges.  The Assembly would only be empowered in its position as the chief deliberative, policy making, and principal organ of the United Nations, if it was respected in letter and spirit.  The encroachment of the Security Council on issues that traditionally fell within the Assembly’s competence was of particular concern, as such actions undermined the Assembly’s role and authority.  Being the voice of the international community, the General Assembly should be given a greater say in the selection of the Secretary-General.  It must reflect best practices in its functioning, including reviewing how business was being conducted.  The primacy of the Assembly flowed from the universality of its memberships; the presence of political will on the part of Member States to take concrete measures to reinforce the role of the Assembly was of utmost importance.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said that he supported realistic initiatives aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the General Assembly, on the condition that the focus remained on regularizing its “overloaded” agenda.  It was necessary to continue the practice of making some agenda items bi- or triennial.  The number of high-level events in New York during the General Debate needed to be limited, as that would increase the effectiveness of the work of the international community.  He called for maintaining the current practice of selecting the Secretary-General, whereby that position was appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.

AMR ELHAMAMY (Egypt), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the international community was confronted with unprecedented challenges that necessitated a strong and responsive General Assembly.  The first step to achieve progress towards that was the implementation of resolutions specific to revitalizing the work of the Assembly.  The main challenge facing that goal was the encroachment by the Security Council on the role and functions of the Assembly.  He stressed that focusing only on procedural methods would not lead to the comprehensive improvement of the work of the Assembly, and he reiterated the need to strengthen the Office of the President of the General Assembly through the allocation of more human and financial resources.  In addition, the selection and appointment of the Secretary-General was another issue of great interest he emphasized, underscoring that the process of selection should be transparent and inclusive of all Member States.

DESRA PERCAYA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said that his delegation had participated actively over the years in the Ad-hoc Working Group.  He stressed that he stood for meaningful progress on improving Committees’ working methods, improving the selection and appointment process of Secretaries-General, and enhancing the Assembly’s role and authority because domestic stakeholders demanded progress.  However, sincere implementation of existing Assembly resolutions on revitalization would require a significantly greater political resolve by everyone.

HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), associating with ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement, said Member States should accord the Assembly its rightful and authoritative place as the Organization’s principal policy-making and norm-setting body.  He welcomed the adoption of Assembly resolution A/68/307, particularly paragraph 17, which allowed the election of Security Council and Economic and Social Council members six months before they assumed their responsibilities.  Concerned that some Assembly resolutions had not been implemented, he also welcomed the Ad Hoc Working Group’s planned review of resolution inventory.  He called on Member States in favour of “biennialization and triennialization” of agenda items to lead by example.  Furthermore, the President’s Office should be allocated the necessary resources to meet increasing activities in the future, and to strengthen its institutional memory.  He said he also looked forward to solutions for the scheduling problems between the main bodies of the Organization during the high-level meetings, such as holding such meetings earlier in the year.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the revitalization of the General Assembly was a key element in the reform of the United Nations.  The end goal of that revitalization lay in its consolidation as the principle organ of deliberation, as recognized in the Charter and multiple United Nations resolutions.  That process must ensure that the Assembly was an independent body, where discussion was not curtailed by Member States.  That could only be achieved if they revitalized the key role of the Assembly, allowing no room for hegemony, ensuring everyone had a vote, and establishing that there would be no absolute veto.  The main problem of the Organization was its failure to implement the Assembly’s resolutions, because they often hinged on the politics of a Member State.  There should be an end to the growing trend in the Security Council to tackle issues that should have fallen within the Assembly’s purview.  The Assembly had a large legislative arsenal, and it should resolutely move those forward to the implementation process.

CAROL HAMILTON (United States) said that in order to assure that the General Assembly maintained its unique status, the international community had to increase that body’s efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.  The agenda had to be streamlined and prioritized, and freed of outdated topics, in order to address contemporary issues.  Many delegations continued to focus on other aspects related to the General Assembly’s work, such as the role and authority of the President of the General Assembly and the working methods of the Security Council.  While those were important topics, they should be the primary focus of the Working Group’s efforts.  Her delegation was fully committed to multilateral engagement in a strong United Nations system, and supported the contributions of the General Assembly in that regard.

ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said that over the last 20 years, the General Assembly had strengthened its authority in the enhancement of international peace and security.  Recent adopted resolutions had made it possible to make some progress towards revitalization, but a lot remained to be done.  Improvement of working methods of Committees, the preservation of institutional memory of the Assembly, and the consolidation of the role and authority of its President, as well as the rationalization of the agenda of the Assembly, required further efforts.  Through revitalization of the General Assembly, the international community desired to restore enhanced confidence in multilateralism and, thus, the United Nations as a whole.  That would require the commitment of all Member States, and unswerving political will.

NOUR ZARROUK (Tunisia), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the strengthening of the Assembly and its authority was a pillar of the Organization’s comprehensive reform.  As the main deliberative body, it played a role in the codification of international law, and in administrative and budgeting efforts.  The efforts at revitalization needed to be renewed.  Furthermore, Member States should speed up the process of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  It was important to continue organizing thematic discussions, exchanging views, and delivering pragmatic results.  The Security Council’s authority was not absolute, and the Assembly should react more quickly to issues of peace and security.  A number of measures had been taken to improve working methods, but more in-depth discussion and action was needed, such as the appointment of Committee chairs, shorter meetings, sharing best practices, and avoiding simultaneous meetings of the Assembly and the Main Committees on common agenda items.  Support for the President’s Office of the Assembly should not be an extra burden on lower income countries.

WANG MIN (China) said that the current international situation was undergoing profound changes.  Traditional and non-traditional security issues needed a joint response from the international community.  The General Assembly, with its 193 Members, was the most universal organ under the Charter.  There was hope among Member States, particularly developing countries, that the General Assembly would enhance its role and authority.  The General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council should improve their division of labour.  He noted results achieved by the General Assembly in improving its working methods.  He also voiced support for enhancing the Office of the President of the General Assembly, and for the revitalization of the General Assembly.

ILYA ADAMOV (Belarus), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed his appreciation for the work performed by the Ad Hoc Working group.  He welcomed the attention given to the election of the Secretary-General.  It was important that for the first time Member States, big and small, would be able to express their views in that way.  He reiterated the call for gender balance for several appointments, and asked that a woman be selected as Secretary-General of the Organization.  He looked forward to further productive work as called for by Assembly resolutions.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), speaking also for Namibia, thanked the President of the Assembly for appointing them as co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group.  He underscored that he would take note of what was said in the debate as guidelines for the work ahead.  As well, he thanked the outgoing co-chairs, the representatives of Slovakia and Thailand, for their leadership.  He said that he looked forward to working with the Member States in facilitating the General Assembly’s revitalization process.

For information media. Not an official record.