Delegates Advocate Streamlining General Assembly Work for Best Responses to Emerging Global Threats, Challenges

GA/12090
15 November 2018
Seventy-third Session, 35th Meeting (AM)

Delegates Advocate Streamlining General Assembly Work for Best Responses to Emerging Global Threats, Challenges

A streamlined General Assembly will protect multilateralism and increase the capacity of the United Nations to address emerging challenges, delegates said today during a joint debate on implementing resolutions and revitalizing the organ’s work.

“The need of revitalizing the Assembly — the most representative United Nations organ — is indispensable to responding to global challenges and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) as she opened the debate.

She said efforts are taking place at a time when doubts are emerging about the multilateral system’s ability to address international challenges.  World leaders must look at the Assembly as the main body to discuss the most pressing global challenges, she stressed, asserting that States attach great importance to the role of the United Nations within the multilateral system.

Echoing her concerns about mounting threats to multilateralism was an observer for the European Union delegation, who said support for the global rules‑based world order is not a given.  In this regard, the General Assembly plays a central role in advancing cooperation, he said.

Many delegates recognized that the Assembly’s central role as the most representative and democratic body of the United Nations increases the impetus to pursue revitalization efforts.  They said the Assembly must adopt measures to streamline its work to more effectively respond to the needs of Member States.

“The General Assembly is the primary policymaking body of the United Nations and enhances the Organization’s credibility,” said China’s delegate.  As a result, it must review and respond to issues of major concern to Member States, especially those concerning developing States.  In the same vein, Algeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that to further improve the Assembly’s efficiency, certain resolutions must be considered on a biennial or triennial cycle.

The representative of Belarus warned that the Organization’s workload is rapidly growing and leading to the expansion of agenda items the Assembly would consider.  As such, he said, States with limited resources do not have the capacity to address all items and risk being left behind.

Increasing the transparency of processes to elect United Nations executive heads was a recurring theme throughout the morning debate, with many delegates welcoming improvements in the appointment process for the Secretary‑General. 

Indeed, revitalization efforts must target issues surrounding gender and geographic representation, said Costa Rica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group.  He also highlighted progress made in promoting concepts of regional rotation and gender balance in the process of electing and appointing the best candidate for the post of Secretary‑General.

Likewise, Indonesia’s representative said that to make the Assembly more robust, it must continue to play a lead role in the selection and appointment process of the Secretary‑General.  The delegate from the United Arab Emirates pointed out that ongoing efforts to improve selection processes, including the holding of interactive dialogues with candidates, are precisely the reason the Assembly President is a woman.  Meanwhile, the United States representative welcomed future discussions on the conduct of election campaigns, emphasizing the importance of improving standards of transparency and equity, especially for smaller States with limited resources.

Concerns regarding representation also emerged about the Assembly’s subsidiary organs, with the representative of Bangladesh calling for the expansion of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions to reflect the growth in United Nations membership.

A number of speakers noted that lack of consensus surrounding revitalization efforts remains a formidable challenge.  Kenya’s representative urged the ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the Assembly’s work to act in an open manner to address the various contentious issues surrounding the matter.

“We are all challenged to ensure that the methods of working at the United Nations reflect positively in addressing these challenges and improving the lives of people on this planet,” said Jordan’s representative, also speaking for Slovakia, as the co‑chairs of the Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the Assembly.  It is only at the General Assembly where the world can find acceptable answers and solutions, she said, emphasizing that political will is essential to making the Assembly function as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

At the meeting’s outset, the Assembly filled 17 vacancies in four subsidiary bodies — Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, Committee on Contributions, Investments Committee and the Joint Inspection Unit — as well as the International Civil Service Commission.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Singapore (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Maldives, India, Cuba, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Morocco, Egypt and Bangladesh.

The Assembly will reconvene at a date and time to be announced.

Appointments to Fill Vacancies in Subsidiary Organs, Other Appointments

The Assembly considered several vacancies in four subsidiary bodies as well as the International Civil Service Commission.  It had before it reports of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on the appointment of members of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/73/481); Committee on Contributions (document A/73/483); Investments Committee (document A/73/484); and International Civil Service Commission (document A/73/485).  It also had before it a note by the Secretary‑General on the appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit (documents A/73/479 and A/73/479/Corr.1).

The Assembly first turned its attention to filling five three‑year slots on the 16‑member Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, which plays a crucial role in helping its Fifth Committee examine the Organization’s budget and numerous management initiatives.  The Assembly appointed Yves Éric Ahoussougbemey (Benin) and Makiese Kinkela Augusto (Angola) from the Group of African States; Ihor Humennyi (Ukraine) from the Group of Eastern European States; Conrod Hunte (Antigua and Barbuda) from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; and Amjad Qaid Al Kumaim (Yemen) from the Group of Asia‑Pacific States.  They will serve their terms starting 1 January 2019.

For the 18‑member Committee on Contributions, which advises the Assembly on the distribution of the Organization’s expenses among Member States, it appointed five people for three‑year terms starting 1 January 2019.  They are:  Robert Ngei Mule (Kenya) from the Group of African States; Syed Yawar Ali (Pakistan) and Toshiro Ozawa (Japan) from the Group of Asia‑Pacific States; Tõnis Saar (Estonia) from the Group of Eastern European States; and Brett Dennis Schaefer (United States) from the Group of Western European and Other States.

For the nine‑member United Nations Investments Committee, which advises the Secretary‑General on strategies and reviews the investments of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund at its quarterly meetings, the Assembly confirmed the appointment by the Secretary‑General of Keiko Honda (Japan) as a regular member for a three‑year term beginning 1 January 2019.

The Assembly then filled five vacancies on the 15‑member International Civil Service Commission, an independent expert body established to regulate and coordinate service conditions for thousands of staff throughout the United Nations common system.  It appointed Andrew Gbebay Bangali (Sierra Leone) and Ali Kurer (Libya) from the Group of African States; Boguslaw Winid (Poland) from the Group of Eastern European States; Marie‑Françoise Bechtel (France) from the Group of Western European and Other States; and Carleen Gardner (Jamaica) from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States.  They will serve a four‑year term beginning 1 January 2019.  The Assembly also designated Larbi Djacta (Algeria) as Chairman of the Commission.  He will begin a four‑year term beginning on 1 January 2019.

The Assembly then turned its attention to a vacancy in the 11‑member Joint Inspection Unit — the only independent external oversight body of the United Nations system mandated to conduct evaluations, inspections and investigations system‑wide.  In accordance with the statutes of the Joint Inspection Unit, the President of the General Assembly will submit the name of the candidate to the Assembly for appointment.  The candidate will join the Unit for a period of five years, beginning on 1 January 2020, replacing Keiko Kamioka (Japan), whose term of office expires on 31 December 2019.

Joint Debate

MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, opened a joint debate on the “Implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations” and “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”.  Revitalization efforts seek to improve its methods of work at a time when doubts are emerging about the multilateral system’s ability to address international challenges.  The trend towards unilateralism has fortunately resulted in firm calls from Member States for support of the multilateral system.  “The strong calls by world leaders for a world based on multilateralism signals a reassuring commitment to turn the tide of protectionism,” she said, asserting that States attach great importance to the role of the United Nations within the multilateral system.

“The need of revitalizing the Assembly — the most representative United Nations organ — is indispensable to responding to global challenges and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” she said.  Such efforts must be based on past achievements, including the establishment of more transparent Secretary‑General and Assembly President appointment processes.  She noted that she is the first Assembly President to participate in an interactive dialogue with Member States to ensure greater transparency in her selection process.  “Achievements are possible thanks to the constructive engagement of Member States,” she said.

Indeed, the Assembly must remain the main body where world leaders can discuss the most pressing global challenges, she said.  States must look at ways to streamline the Assembly’s agenda to ensure its quality and effectiveness.  Addressing the growing number of agenda items and resolutions must be part of revitalization talks.  “The multiplicity of events and issues must be addressed,” she said, calling on States to address the issue of duplicating agenda items.  Turning to strengthening the accountability of her office, she reaffirmed her commitment to disclose financial information and to further strengthen communication efforts.  She closed by urging Member States to make a stronger commitment to make the Assembly more relevant to all people.

MOHAMMED BESSEDIK (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said a reinvigorated General Assembly will significantly strengthen the United Nations.  A thorough evaluation of Assembly resolutions and an understanding of causes behind their lack of implementation are needed to eliminate limits on revitalization efforts.  Appointing the Secretary‑General must be done through a transparent and democratic process characterized by clear timelines.  Any new Secretary‑General must preferably be appointed no later than one month before the term of the incumbent expires.  “The Movement encourages steps to improve the selection of United Nations executive heads by conducting interactive meetings with candidates,” he said.

Welcoming the first‑ever adoption of the Oath of Office and Code of Ethics for the President of the General Assembly, he said “the expansion of Assembly activities has made the presence and active participation of the President necessary all year long.”  Turning to the role and authority of the Assembly, he reaffirmed that working methods are only a step towards substantive improvements and called for safeguarding the intergovernmental and inclusive nature of the United Nations.  To further improve the Assembly’s efficiency, certain resolutions must be considered on a biennial or triennial cycle, he said, adding that more time is needed for negotiations on draft resolutions.  He also emphasized a need to review rule 155 of the rules of procedure of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, as its composition is not in accordance with principles of equitable geographical representation.

JO-PHIE TANG (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, reiterated a need for a more efficient, effective and accountable United Nations.  The revitalization of the work of the General Assembly is a critical component in that regard.  “It is imperative that the United Nations and General Assembly remain nimble and responsive,” she said.  “We cannot afford to lose momentum, especially as the pace of work in the United Nations speeds up.”  Welcoming improvements in the selection and appointment process for the Secretary‑General, she said such advances must extend to all other senior appointments within the United Nations.

Commending efforts to strengthen the Office of the President of the General Assembly, she underscored the importance of various new forums, including the Morning Dialogues initiative, which encourages consensus and discourse among Member States.  She welcomed improvements made in the working methods of the General Assembly, including in the elections process.  Transparency and equity are essential in election campaigns.  More consideration should be invested in scheduling the meetings of the General Assembly, including when it comes to taking up the “Report of the Secretary‑General on the Work of the Organization” and the “Report of the Security Council”.  Discussions on these important reports must not be conducted in a perfunctory manner, she said.

RODRIGO A. CARAZO (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, urged Member States to do more to achieve consensus on lessons learned from the recent and “truly historic” Secretary‑General selection.  He welcomed progress made in promoting concepts of regional rotation and gender balance in the process of electing and appointing the best candidate for the post of Secretary‑General.  Turning to the work of the Office of the President of the General Assembly, he said it is crucial to provide this Office with the independence and financial means to carry out its responsibility.  Expressing concern that the United Nations Journal has become a less reliable and less user‑friendly source of information, he emphasized that more efforts are needed to encourage Member States to work with the Secretariat to improve this tool.

Composed of small and medium‑sized States, the Group welcomes efforts aimed at helping to “level the playing field” in competitive elections, he continued.  Security Council elections pose the greatest challenge.  The Assembly should offer platforms for States to base their decision‑making on the track record and commitment of candidates.  Some Group members have decided to only support candidates who have subscribed to its Code of Conduct for Security Council action against atrocity crimes.  This means that nearly two thirds of the membership expects the Council to act to end and prevent atrocities, he said.

SERGE LEON A. CHRISTIANE, of the European Union delegation, said the adoption of the 2017 revitalization resolution in September made it clear that consensus was not possible in several areas.  This includes the issue of civil society participation, rationalization of the Assembly’s agenda and discussion on a code of conduct for elections.  The European Union will continue to be led by agreed language from previous resolutions, he added, expressing concern over the stalemate on many important issues.  A strong General Assembly is needed now more than ever before.

Support for multilateralism and the global rules‑based world order is not a given, he said, calling for an “unceasing effort” to find new and creative ways to achieve a more effective delivery of the mandate.  Revitalizing the Assembly’s work is the foundation for the overall United Nations reform.  Looking ahead to negotiations, he said the current session’s resolution should focus on consolidating the work achieved so far.  It is also essential to reduce overlap and duplication, he said.

VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said his Government is a staunch advocate for revitalizing the Assembly’s work.  The Organization’s workload is growing quickly, leading to the expansion of agenda items considered.  As a result, States with limited resources do not have the capacity to address all agenda items and risk being left behind.  He called for a revision of the Assembly’s agenda and for a shift towards a two‑ or three‑year cycle for considering resolutions.  The workload faced by certain delegations during the Assembly’s high‑level segment is another major concern.  “Heads of delegations are running from one event to another,” he said, noting that this reduces the practical value of meetings.  A more balanced schedule for high‑level segments is needed to increase the efficiency of the Assembly’s work.  “The Assembly is the most representative body of the United Nations and must adapt to new realities,” he said.

AHMED SUZIL (Maldives) said the Assembly remains the most important forum to discuss the most pressing challenges facing the international community.  Revitalization of its work therefore must result in enhancing the ability of the Assembly to make a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of all people.  Welcoming improvements in transparency and accountability, he commended efforts that bring together small groups to engage in dialogue on ways to improve the Assembly’s effectiveness.  Turning to elections, he noted that they have become more competitive and intense in recent years.  “We have to find ways in which we could make elections free and fair,” he added.  The same standards of transparency, fairness, and accountability expected in domestic elections must be observed at the United Nations.  In addition, questions need to be asked about the usefulness of adopting the same resolutions repeatedly every year or adopting more than one resolution on the same subject.

MAHA YAQOOT JUMA YAQOOT HARQOOS (United Arab Emirates), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, welcomed the Assembly President’s decision to prioritize deliberations on the revitalization of the body.  She said her country seconded a staff member to the President’s Office to help her to address the increasing workload.  Interactive dialogues with candidates for the position of Assembly President is commendable and resulted in the selection of a female candidate, she said, calling on the Secretary‑General to pursue efforts to ensure gender balance and equitable geographic distribution across the United Nations.  The role of the Assembly must be made more efficient by streamlining the work of its main committees, she said, underscoring her Government’s commitment to revitalization efforts.

RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) welcomed future discussions on the conduct of election campaigns, emphasizing the importance of improving standards of transparency and equity, especially for smaller States with limited resources.  Drawing attention to the Secretary‑General’s announcement of key reforms, including restructuring the Organization’s peace and security pillar and improving the management architecture and development system, he said these efforts aim at contributing to greater efficiency and transparency.  The United States continues to support a move to a biennial General Assembly revitalization resolution process.  “We think we should better devote the many hours negotiating the resolution to actually implementing it,” he added.  The United States remains opposed to any moves that increase costs to the United Nations and ultimately to Member States.  This is informed by a strong United States commitment to responsible stewardship of its taxpayer dollars and a desire to maintain a zero nominal growth in United Nations budgets, he said.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Assembly’s legitimacy stems from its universality.  “It is the most inclusive forum, where States can come together based on sovereign equality to address common problems,” he said.  The Assembly and Member States are “muddling on” in the face of increasingly intricate demands for international cooperation and a proliferation of transitional threats.  States have become “guardians of the status quo”.  To address these issues, States must make the Assembly deliver results for the modern day.  The Assembly provides platforms for States to exchange ideas and learn from each other, with decision‑making being an expression of sovereign equality.  The upcoming seventy‑fifth anniversary of the United Nations provides an opportunity to catalyse revitalization efforts, he said, adding that the revitalization agenda presents challenges for diplomacy that are well worth taking up.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said revitalizing the Assembly is an indispensable process, bolstering its democratic and participatory nature.  It is unfortunate that the international community on several occasions has witnessed the failure of the United Nations to implement and even adopt vital resolutions, she said, underscoring the obligation of all Member States and the Secretariat itself to respect relevant rules and guidelines.  “We strongly reject the manipulation, blackmail and pressure some exert over the Secretariat,” she said.  Relevant guidelines have established that meetings, conferences and events held at the United Nations must focus on matters relating to the work of the Organization, she continued, rejecting the use of United Nations rooms and conference halls to conduct campaigns against other Member States.  It is the duty of the Secretariat to ensure that administrative guidelines are followed to avoid violations of this kind.  She also cited a need to strike a balance between the principal bodies of the United Nations and halt the Security Council’s infringing on the Assembly’s work.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said success in revitalizing the Assembly’s work will only be possible when the negotiations process enjoys full support.  The readiness of States to listen to each other will be confirmed in the results of upcoming negotiations.  He underlined a need to streamline the Assembly’s work, adding that some agenda items could be taken up biennially while others removed altogether.  Such changes must consider the interests of all Member States.  Noting that the Security Council is often criticized for infringing on the work of other United Nations bodies, he said his delegation agrees with this position, adding that the Council has been conducting debates on issues outside of its work mandate.  Turning to elections, he said, the main goal should be to select a Secretary‑General that is most suitable for the position.  On resolutions, he said, rather than proposing too many draft texts, it is first important to consider if they will receive consensus or be adopted by a vote.  In addition, resolutions should not focus on dubious and short‑term goals.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, supported strengthening the Assembly’s authority as the main policymaking body of the United Nations.  A “marginal group under Russian influence” undermined the Assembly’s authority by derailing efforts to include an agenda item on the situation in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.  He asked how the Assembly can be considered effective in addressing contemporary challenges while attempts to disregard pressing topics persist.  The Russian Federation constantly abuses its power in the Security Council and is duplicating its disruptive strategies within the General Assembly.  Moscow is veiling the crimes committed in Ukraine.  The scope of implementing United Nations resolutions is limited by States’ willingness to comply with them.  The Assembly has condemned the occupation of parts of Ukraine’s territory, sending a clear message to the “aggressor State” that the United Nations is ready to defend its values.

WU HAITAO (China), noting the United Nations outstanding contributions to the progress of humanity, warned that the world is facing complex emerging issues threatening international rules and multilateralism.  The international community looks to the United Nations to advance cooperation and uphold multilateralism.  China, in its capacity as Security Council President, recently held a debate on multilateralism in which speakers reaffirmed a need to uphold United Nations principles and strongly respond to global challenges.  “The General Assembly is the primary policymaking body of the United Nations and enhances the organization’s credibility,” he said.  As a result, the Assembly must review and respond to issues of major concern to Member States, especially those concerning developing States.  It must also strengthen cooperation with the Security Council and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  Efforts by the Assembly President to prioritize the revitalization debate are commendable, as they encourage Member States to work as one in streamlining work methods.  For their part, States must make concrete efforts to implement revitalization‑related resolutions.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said there is no better platform than the Assembly to deal with the gambit of global issues.  With its rich insights and collective wisdom, it uniquely represents the entirety of the United Nations membership.  In this vein, Indonesia supports practical efforts to revitalize the Assembly as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the Organization, equipped to meet the expectations of today’s global citizens.  To make the Assembly more robust, it must continue to play a lead role in the selection and appointment process of the Secretary‑General.  In terms of its working methods, the Assembly should streamline its agenda and focus on fulfilling commitments that produce meaningful results on the ground.  On matters of peace, security, human rights and economic development, there should be strengthened consultations between the Assembly and regional organizations.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said the process of revitalizing the Assembly’s work requires consensus and a spirit of dialogue.  Commending the Secretary‑General’s efforts to achieve gender equality and geographical representation among senior Secretariat staff, he said preserving an institutional balance between the work of the Assembly and the Organization’s other bodies, including the Security Council, is also crucial.  He underlined a need to achieve harmony in the work of the Assembly’s committees to avoid duplication.  Member States must seek out which resolutions could be presented on a biennial or even triennial basis.  The Office of the General Assembly President must also be ensured the necessary financial resources so it can carry out its important work.

LAZARUS OMBAI AMAYO (Kenya), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said revitalizing the Assembly’s work is essential to strengthening the multilateral system.  However, deliberations on such efforts are fraught with contentious issues.  He welcomed the decision to establish an ad hoc working group on the matter, and urged it to act in an open manner that will address contentious issues hindering the process.  He called for greater balance and transparency in the appointment of the Secretary‑General and other executive heads.  “Member States must be informed of the process in full recognition of the working methods of the Security Council,” he said, adding that the Assembly and Council must work in a complementary manner.  Turning to the Advisory Committee, he said a review of its membership to ensure geographic representation will add value to its work.  Streamlining the Assembly’s agenda must ensure adequate time is allotted for the consideration of items important to developing States.

MOHAMED OMAR MOHAMED GAD (Egypt), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Assembly is the most representative and democratic forum of the United Nations.  “Revitalization of its work is essential to consolidate the role of the Organization,” he said, adding that improving the Organization’s performance will render it capable of upholding the Charter of the United Nations.  The Charter grants the General Assembly and Security Council authority to address issues that jeopardize international peace and security.  Efforts to strengthen the role of the Assembly are gaining impetus, he said, calling for the full implementation of recommendations towards that end.  Revitalization efforts must work to improve the process for the selection of the Secretary‑General.  Addressing the root causes of conflict calls for increased cooperation within organs of the United Nations, he said, also highlighting the relevance of ensuring balanced representation among those organs.  He said African States are underrepresented in certain entities, including the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the efficiency of United Nations organs can be improved through collective efforts to build synergy and complementarity.  Changes in the appointment process of the Secretary‑General will make the United Nations more fit for purpose.  He called for the expansion of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions to reflect the growth in United Nations membership since its creation.  Streamlining the Assembly’s agenda deserves the consideration of Member States as part of efforts to prevent the proliferation of resolutions on issues that can be addressed within the context of other texts.  He also called for the creation of clear criteria for organizing events during the Assembly’s high‑level segment and voiced support for increased dialogue between Member States and the Secretariat.

SIMA SAMI I. BAHOUS (Jordan), also speaking for Slovakia, as the co‑chairs of the Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the Assembly, said the world is facing formidable challenges that are threatening the very values of humanity and the United Nations Charter.  Countries are faced with growing inequalities, unemployment, exclusion, difficult economic conditions, armed conflict, terrorism, refugee issues, migration and climate change.  “We are all challenged to ensure that the methods of working at the United Nations reflect positively in addressing these challenges and improving the lives of people on this planet,” she said, adding that it is only at the General Assembly where the world can find acceptable answers and solutions.  Political will is essential to making the Assembly function as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

For information media. Not an official record.