Fourth Committee Approves Four Draft Texts, Concludes General Debate on Questions Relating to Information

GA/SPD/593
29 October 2015
Seventieth Session, 15th Meeting (AM)

Fourth Committee Approves Four Draft Texts, Concludes General Debate on Questions Relating to Information

Taking action on a number of outstanding texts this morning, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved three draft resolutions and one draft decision, with the latter — on the appointments of six States to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space — requiring a recorded vote.

By 117 votes in favour to 1 against (Namibia), with 21 abstentions, the Committee approved the draft decision (document A/C.4/70/L.7), by which the General Assembly would appoint El Salvador, Israel, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Speaking in explanation of position, a number of abstaining States rejected the appointment of Israel, saying that the country — through its continued occupation of Arab territories in contravention of international law — was barred from taking up any position on any United Nations body.

A number of delegations also cited a lack of transparency in the drafting of the text, noting that it did not expressly name the countries to be appointed to the Outer Space Committee, but only mentioned “six Member States”.

Taking the floor on behalf of the Arab Group, Saudi Arabia’s representative expressed support for five candidates — El Salvador, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates — but said the Group had reservations about Israel’s membership, owing to a lack of transparency in its space activities and the country’s refusal to join any treaties on non-proliferation.

Syria’s representative expressed his strong objection to Israel’s nomination, saying the Israeli regime continued its occupation of Arab lands, in contravention of international law, which prohibited it from joining any United Nations body.  In addition, Israel maintained a huge arsenal of weapons, including nuclear weapons, which called its intentions into question.

Making a general statement, the representative of the United States said his delegation had drafted and tabled the text today with the aim of ensuring that the Outer Space Committee continued to enjoy the benefits of diverse membership and did not get mired in an unfair, politicized debate over whether to expand its membership.

Israel’s representative said that efforts to keep political differences from interfering in the draft decision’s adoption demonstrated a commitment to the United Nations value of impartiality.  The Outer Space Committee had always had a non-political agenda and must not be hijacked by those seeking otherwise.

The Committee also approved, without a vote, a draft resolution titled, “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space (document A/C.4/70/L.2/Rev.1), by which the General Assembly, expressing its serious concern about the possibility of an arms race in outer space, would endorse the report of the Outer Space Committee on the work of its fifty-eighth session.  It would urge States that had not yet become parties to the international instruments governing the uses of outer space to consider ratifying or acceding to those treaties in accordance with their national laws, as well as incorporating them into national legislation.

The Assembly would further urge States — in particular those with major space capabilities — to contribute actively to the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space as an essential condition for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

In addition, the Committee concluded its general debate on questions relating to information, approving, without a vote, a draft resolution titled, “Information in the service of humanity”.  By its terms, the General Assembly would urge all countries, organizations of the United Nations system as a whole and all others concerned, to cooperate with a view to reducing existing disparities in information flows at all levels by increasing assistance for the development of communications infrastructures and capabilities in developing countries, with due regard for their needs and the priorities attached to such areas by those countries.

Among other things, it would further urge them to enhance regional efforts and cooperation among developing countries, as well as cooperation between developed and developing countries, to strengthen communications capacities and to improve the media infrastructure and communications technology in developing countries, especially in the areas of training and dissemination of information.

The Committee also approved, again without a vote, a text titled, “United Nations public information policies and activities”.  That draft resolution would have the General Assembly stress the importance of provision, by the Secretariat to Member States, of clear, timely, accurate and comprehensive information upon their request, within existing mandates and procedures.  Among other things, the Assembly would request the Department of Public Information and its network of United Nations information centres to pay particular attention to progress in implementing internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration and the discussions on the post-2015 development agenda, including on the elaboration of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On multilingualism, the Assembly would encourage the Department of Public Information and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management to consult on opportunities for merging their publishing activities, and to develop new collaborative arrangements to enhance multilingualism in other outputs, in a cost-neutral manner.

Further, by the text, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of the Public Information Department’s continued work in areas such as bridging the digital divide, strategic communications services, promotional campaigns, outreach services, and peacekeeping and peacebuilding, among others.  It would also request that the Committee on Information report to the General Assembly at its seventy‑first session.

Speaking as the Committee concluded the general debate were representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Cameroon.

Taking the floor as the Committee considered the draft decision on expanding the membership of the Outer Space Committee were representatives of Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria, Qatar, Gabon and Sri Lanka.  A representative of the European Union delegation also spoke.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 30 October, to take up its review of peacekeeping operations.

Background

Meeting to take action on draft texts, the Committee had before it a draft resolution and draft decision on agenda item 53, “International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space”.  Also before members were two draft resolutions on “Questions Relating to Information”.  (For additional information, see Press Releases GA/SPD/587 of 19 October and GA/SPD/591 of 27 October, respectively.)

Action on Draft Texts

Taking up outstanding draft texts on agenda item 53, the Committee first heard from the representative of Algeria — speaking for the Chair of the Working Group of the Whole on International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space — who reported on discussions within that body.

The Committee then heard a general statement from the representative of the European Union, who expressed support for the principle that all United Nations Member States should be able to become members of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space if all the relevant rules were followed.  Membership should not be hindered on political grounds because that would set a dangerous precedent, he said, adding that the European Union would support the draft resolution.

Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved the draft resolution titled, “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/70/L.2/Rev.1).

The Committee then took up the draft decision titled, “Increase in the membership of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” (document A/C.4/70/L.7), by which the General Assembly would appoint six States to that body.

Prior to action, the representative of Saudi Arabia expressed support, on behalf of the Arab Group, for El Salvador, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, all of whom had applied to become members of the Committee.  However, she said the Group had reservations about Israel’s ascension to the Committee because of the lack of transparency relating to its space activities and its refusal to join any treaties on non-proliferation, which were contradictory to the peaceful nature of the Committee.  She added that the Arab Group found it strange that the six States in question were not mentioned by name in the draft.

The representative of Syria, expressing his delegation’s strong objection to Israel’s nomination to the Outer Space Committee, called for a vote.  He said some might say that objection was a politicization, but that could easily be refuted, adding that the objection was based on specific legal statutes, not political accusations.  Israel continued its occupation of Arab lands — in contravention of international law — which prohibited it from joining any United Nations body.  The Outer Space Committee’s peaceful nature contradicted Israel’s dogma, he said, pointing out that the country maintained a huge arsenal of weapons, including nuclear weapons, which called its intentions into question.  There was no justification for deviating from resolutions on Israel’s ineligibility to become a member of any United Nations body.

The representative of Iran welcomed the appointment of El Salvador, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, but objected to the way in which the text had been drafted.  He also objected to Israel’s appointment, saying the draft decision’s drafting did not conform to the principles of transparency and consultation that formed the basis of the Committee’s work.

Taking action, the Committee then approved the draft decision by a recorded vote of 117 in favour to 1 against (Namibia), with 21 abstentions.

Several delegations then took the floor in explanation of position.

The representative of Kuwait, speaking in explanation of position, expressed support for the Arab Group’s position and welcomed the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Qatar to the Outer Space Committee.  He expressed reservations over Israel’s membership, citing a lack of confidence in its intentions, which had nothing to do with peace.  Its nuclear activities and rejection of international conventions contravened the Committee’s work, he said, pointing out that Israel did not abide by any resolutions, was occupying Arab territories and was in violation of international law.

The representative of Iraq also voiced support for the Arab Group’s position, saying his delegation had abstained in the vote owing to objections to Israel’s membership and a lack of faith in its peaceful uses of outer space.

The representative of Algeria welcomed the membership of the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Qatar, noting that they had been unanimously approved during the eighty-fifth session of the Outer Space Committee last June.  However, Algeria rejected Israel’s membership due to doubts about its intentions in relation to the peaceful uses of outer space, he said, adding that his delegation had abstained from voting.

The representative of Qatar, associating himself with the Arab Group, reiterated his support for the Outer Space Committee, saying he looked forward to membership.

The representative of Gabon, noting that the draft decision was often adopted by consensus, expressed surprise that it had been put to a vote.  She added that her delegation supported the Committee’s work.

The representative of the United States, making a general statement, underscored the Outer Space Committee’s important work.  Its membership was diverse, including States that had elaborate space programmes, those interested in developing them and those interested in benefitting from space technology.  The United States had drafted and tabled the text today, with the aim of ensuring that the Outer Space Committee continued to enjoy the benefits of diverse membership and did not get mired in an unfair, politicized debate over the expansion of its membership.

He said today’s approval affirmed that the United Nations was able to avoid unnecessary politicization as it advanced its substantive work.  Suggestions that Israel had anything other than peaceful intentions were baseless because the country had much to offer, having collaborated with many international space agencies.  Such claims aimed to perpetuate an inflammatory claim designed to advance an agenda other than the important work of the Outer Space Committee, he said, emphasizing that efforts to delegitimize Israel within the United Nations only undermined the Organization’s purpose.  The United States would continue to combat any such efforts.

The representative of Israel said he was pleased that his delegation was now a full member of the Outer Space Committee, noting that efforts to keep political differences from interfering in decisions demonstrated a commitment to the United Nations value of impartiality.  However, some had sought to politicize the work of the Outer Space Committee, which had always had a non-political agenda, he said, stressing that it must not be hijacked by those seeking otherwise.  Israel looked forward to playing an active role as a member.

He went on to say that his country’s commitment to cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space dated back to the early 1960s, when it had invested in space, understanding the potential of research to transform reality on Earth.  Israel had seen several accomplishments, he continued, pointing out that Facebook had recently announced that it would use an Israeli satellite to improve Internet access in the developing world.  Just two weeks ago, the heads of 40 space agencies had visited Jerusalem for an astronomical congress.  Israel looked to the future of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, he said, adding that today marked an important milestone for its future collaboration with the United Nations.

The representative of Sri Lanka, thanking the Fourth Committee for approving the draft decision, said her Government supported all the candidates, adding that her delegation opposed politicization of the Outer Space Committee.

Questions Relating to Information

The Committee then turned its attention to questions relating to information, concluding its general debate on that agenda item.

Statements

AHMED ABDELRAHMAN AHMED ALMAHMOUD (United Arab Emirates) commended the work of the Department of Public Information and described national efforts to disseminate information on peace.  For example, the country had recently launched the Sawab Centre, in collaboration with the United States, to combat terrorist messages spread by Da’esh through social media.  He went on to caution against attempts by some media institutions to distort the principles of Islam and to fuel hatred and racial discrimination against Muslims.  Such incitement motivated young people around the world to join extremist groups and commit terrorist acts, he said.  The United Arab Emirates hoped that the Arabic language services of the United Nations would be further developed in all the Organization’s activities, as stipulated in General Assembly resolution 67/292 of 2013, he said, stressing the need to strengthen the Department’s activities aimed at raising public awareness of the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East.

FAISAL EBRAHIM ALZAYANI (Bahrain) said there was no doubt that the Department’s strategy was in line with the goal of turning the principles of the United Nations into reality and was not a “mere symbol”.  The Department was the mirror reflecting the Organization’s activities, he said.  Numerous United Nations information centres had played a vital role throughout the past year and would help to publicize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through seminars, conferences and other activities.  They were also helping to publicize the world body’s seventieth anniversary around the world.  Those efforts were fundamentally important and called for linguistic parity among all six official United Nations languages, he stressed.  He added that the Department must take into consideration traditional means of communication, which could not be ignored in communicating the Organization’s vital goals.

AHMED NOURI SALIMI (Morocco), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed the activities planned for the Special Information Programme on the Question of Palestine, adding that other United Nations activities, such as peacebuilding, could also benefit from further publicity.  The Department should continue to attach great importance to the Organization’s principles, including the rejection of extremism and radicalization.

One of the solutions to the lack of resources was to use new communications technology, he said, emphasizing, however, that traditional communication tools — including radio and print media — were also critical.  Morocco was a fervent defender of multilingualism and felt that linguistic diversity in the United Nations was a major tool for fighting xenophobia and discrimination, he said.  There should be equal treatment for all six United Nations official languages.  Morocco also welcomed the use of local languages where possible.  The Department should carry out information campaigns around upcoming international conferences, including the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Paris.

MAMOUDOU MANA (Cameroon), spotlighting the widening of the digital gap between developed and developing countries, said the “technological monopoly in the hands of a few” led to a “single way of thinking”.  Those lacking the technological means were left out, he said, adding that there was a need to diversify United Nations communications.  Cameroon had launched a project to broaden access to the Internet in rural areas and develop structures to reduce the digital gap.  Universal access to the Internet was crucial.  The culture of communication at the United Nations must be one of inclusion and not one of marginalization, he emphasized.  Praising the Department’s detailed public dissemination of information on the Organization’s work, he said that further information on combating violent extremism would also be welcome.  Furthermore, linguistic parity was essential, despite the reluctance of some who believed that it would lead to budget overruns.  Cameroon welcomed the quality and quantity of the Organization’s online information, although the digital gap meant that it was still inaccessible to many people, he said, adding that hard copies of such information would be helpful in reaching large portions of the world’s population.

Action on Draft Resolutions

Turning next to two draft resolutions on questions relating to information, the Committee approved, without a vote, draft resolution A, titled, “Information in the service of humanity”, which was contained in Chapter IV, paragraph 28 of document A/70/21 (page 13).  It also approved, again without a vote, draft resolution B, titled, “United Nations public information policies and activities”, contained in the same document (page 14).

For information media. Not an official record.