Concluding its programme of work, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today rejected a draft decision that would have potentially seen it convene in Geneva or Vienna in 2020 due to concerns among some delegations that the United States is failing to abide by its host country obligations when issuing visas to United Nations Member State representatives.
“I have seen how work in this Committee is like a window to what happens in the world,” First Committee Chair Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia) said, in closing remarks, adding that: “It is essential for all Member States to participate on equal footing, as the United Nations Charter states.”
Summarizing the Committee’s work, he said that due to an increased number of votes on draft resolutions and decisions, and a high level of participation among delegates, it was “very much behind schedule”, yet it progressed efficiently to conclude its work in a timely manner. It took action on 60 draft resolutions and decisions, of which 40 texts were approved by recorded votes and 1 was withdrawn, he said, adding that 19 drafts were approved without a vote.
Today, the Committee rejected, by a recorded vote of 18 in favour to 69 against, with 72 abstentions, the draft decision “Improving the effectiveness of the work of the First Committee” (document A/C.1/74/L.57/Rev.1). By its terms, the General Assembly would have requested the Secretary‑General to report by 1 February 2020 on the United States compliance with its obligations under the 1947 Headquarters Agreement with regard to ensuring unfettered access to Headquarters in New York by representatives of all Member States without exception. The Assembly would have also decided that if the issues raised in the latest report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country are not resolved in due time, it would consider convening the First Committee’s next session in Geneva or Vienna.
Speaking before the vote, the representative of the Russian Federation, the sponsor of “L.57/Rev.1”, said the draft decision, with its gradual approach to the problem, did not directly demand that the Committee’s next session be transferred to Geneva or Vienna. Rather, the draft decision sought to enable the Secretary‑General to attempt once again to resolve the non‑issuance of visas, while also giving the United States an opportunity to revise its policy.
The representative of the United States said the Sixth Committee (Legal), not the First Committee, is the appropriate forum for deciding host country issues. Moving the Committee’s work to Geneva or Vienna would undermine the United Nations, he added, constituting a dismemberment of the Organization while also putting at a disadvantage those delegations that lack the same access to those two cities as they do to New York. He called on all Member States to vote against the draft decision and to reject “attempts by the Russian Federation to circumvent the Sixth Committee and its decisions”.
Echoing that view, in explanations of position before and after the vote, were the representatives of Finland, on behalf of the European Union, as well as those of Switzerland and Austria, with the latter cautioning against changing practices that have been in place since the founding of the United Nations.
Iran’s representative, supporting the Russian Federation’s initiative, said his delegation has similarly been affected by the United States behaviour. The non‑issuance of visas and restricting the movements of delegates and family members were a violation of its host country obligations and the Charter of the United Nations, he said, adding: “The sooner we act, the sooner we prevent this from becoming a chronic problem.”
Speaking after the vote, the Russian Federation’s delegate, also on behalf of Algeria, Belarus, Burundi, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, called upon all Member States to stand as one for the principle of equal rights for all countries.
In other business, the Committee approved without a vote its draft provisional programme of work and timetable for 2020, which envisions an organizational meeting on 1 October followed by five weeks of general debate, thematic discussions and action on draft resolutions and decisions. The representative of the Russian Federation said his delegation was joining consensus despite the absence of guarantees that the visa question will be resolved by then.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to take action on all draft resolutions and decisions before it. For background information, see Press Releases GA/DIS/3624 of 10 October, GA/DIS/3640 of 1 November, GA/DIS/3641 of 4 November, GA/DIS/3642 of 5 November, GA/DIS/3643 of 6 November, and GA/DIS/3644 of 7 November.
Action on Draft Texts
In its cluster on other disarmament measures and international security, the Committee took up the draft decision “Improving the effectiveness of the work of the First Committee” (document A/C.1/74/L.57/Rev.1). By its terms, the Assembly would request the Secretary‑General to report by 1 February on compliance by the Government of the United States with its obligations under the 1947 Headquarters Agreement, with regard to ensuring to all Member States’ representatives without exception unfettered access, and its impact on the First Committee’s work. The Assembly would also decide that if the issues raised in the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country are not resolved in a reasonable period of time, it shall consider convening the First Committee’s next session in Geneva or Vienna.
Also by the draft decision, the Assembly would decide that if the issues raised in paragraphs 165 (j) and (p) of the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country are not resolved in a reasonable and finite period of time, it shall consider convening the First Committee’s next session in Geneva or Vienna.
The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking on a point of order, said that several days ago, an anonymous letter was circulated regarding a meeting at which “L.57/Rev.1” was discussed. In that letter, it was stated that if the Russian Federation’s initiative failed, then it would block consensus on the programme of work for the Committee’s next session. The letter went on to state that if the programme of work is put to a vote, then delegations would be asked to vote in favour of its approval. He said the Russian Federation considers such anonymous letters to be an attempt to manipulate the opinions of delegations and to pressure them. He emphasized that the Russian Federation never authorized any member of the Bureau to speak on its behalf. This episode is extraordinary and completely unacceptable, he said, asking the Chair to give due attention to the matter and to find out who is behind such subversive diplomacy.
The First Committee Chair said he was shocked by that information, adding that it was the first time he had heard of the matter. The Bureau would meet to address the issue, bearing in mind the Russian Federation’s remarks, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation, making a general statement, recalled the one he delivered at the Committee’s previous meeting on the issue at hand. Through “L.57/Rev.1”, the Russian Federation is proposing a gradual approach to dealing with the issue of free access of national delegations to United Nations events, as provided for in the 1947 Headquarters Agreement with the Host Country. While the draft decision does not directly demand that the Committee’s next session be transferred to Geneva or Vienna, “L.57/Rev.1” is aimed at enabling the Secretariat and the Secretary‑General to once again make efforts to resolve the visa problem. It also gives the United States an opportunity to revise its policy regarding the issuance of visas to representatives of certain States travelling to United Nations events. His delegation is not asking the Committee to tackle the problem, but rather to let the Secretariat and the United Nations know that this has been going on for a long time and that it is undermining its work and the wider disarmament machinery. He highlighted that the language of “L.57/Rev.1” is closely related to the latest report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.
The representative of the United States, explaining his delegation’s position before the vote, urged Member States to vote against “L.57/Rev.1” because it is inappropriate for the First Committee to decide on host country issues. The Sixth Committee (Legal) is the correct place to do it. “L.57/Rev.1” threatens to move the First Committee to Geneva or Vienna, a decision that would undermine the United Nations, constituting a dismemberment of the Organization and a disadvantage for delegations that do not have the same access to those cities as they do to New York. He called on all Member States to vote against the draft decision and reject “attempts by the Russian Federation to circumvent the Sixth Committee and its decisions”.
The representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he is not in a position to support “L.57/Rev.1”. The First Committee is not the correct entity to make a decision on this issue.
The representative of the Netherlands, associating herself with the European Union, said her delegation will vote against “L.57/Rev.1” because it pre‑empts the course of action of the Sixth Committee, which is already considering this issue.
The representative of Iran, noting that his delegation is also affected by the decisions of the United States, supported the Russian Federation’s initiative. While highlighting the importance of multilateralism as a means to reach peace and security, especially in the area of disarmament, he regretted to note its current and continued erosion, including the United States withdrawal from several key treaties and actions that prevent others from participating in various forums. Indeed, Washington, D.C., is acting in a manner that impedes normal diplomatic activities, he said, pointing at the non‑issuance of visas and the restriction of movement many delegations and their family members face on United States soil. All these actions violate its obligations as the host country and provisions in the Charter of the United Nations. The only way to solve this is by making concrete decisions to prevent abuse and irresponsible behaviour by the host country, he said, calling on the international community to ask the United States to abide to its obligations, adding that: “The sooner we act, the sooner we prevent this from becoming a chronic problem.”
The Committee then rejected “L.57/Rev.1”, by a recorded vote of 18 in favour to 69 against, with 72 abstentions.
The representative of Austria, associating himself with the European Union, said his delegation’s abstention was guided by its strong commitment as a host country itself. Problems must be discussed with the relevant host country, he said, cautioning against changing practices that have been in place since the founding of the United Nations.
The representative of Mexico noted with regret that several delegations are facing difficulties. However, the solution lies with another committee, she said, adding that the First Committee is not a suitable forum for complaints involving the host country.
The representative of Algeria, noting his delegation’s abstention, recalled that at a recent meeting in Baku, the Non‑Aligned Movement called on all States hosting United Nations entities to facilitate the presence of Member States’ representatives at relevant meetings. The relevant Committee should carry out a comprehensive assessment to deal with the visa issuance question.
The representative of India, explaining her delegation’s abstention, said she is strongly opposed to politicizing the Committee’s work and anticipates the resolution of all pending visa issues.
The representative of Switzerland said his delegation abstained because of reservations about the orientation of “L.57/Rev.1”. The issues it raises should be dealt with in the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, he said, adding that important questions remain about the process set out in the draft decision, including the role of the Secretary‑General and the various reports it would have requested from him.
The representative of Pakistan said the non‑issuance of visas should be avoided at all costs and that it should not have a bearing on the work and functioning of the First Committee. His delegation’s abstention reflects its support for the disarmament machinery and does not condone the non‑implementation of the Host Country Agreement.
The representative of New Zealand said her delegation, which voted against the draft decision, understands the frustrations that led to tabling “L.57/Rev.1”. Hopefully, the underlying issues can be resolved expeditiously. However, moving the Committee’s meetings away from Headquarters would be a significant step that would call into question the capacity of smaller Member States, such as New Zealand and Pacific small island developing States, to participate, and the staffing and logistical costs at a time when the Organization is facing a financial crisis.
The representative of Indonesia, explaining his delegation’s decision to abstain, said the Committee on Relations with the Host Country and the Sixth Committee, to which it reports, are the appropriate forums for addressing the issue. Indonesia will follow developments closely in those two bodies and elsewhere, he said, adding that it stands ready to revisit the discussion in due course.
The representative of Belarus, which voted in favour of “L.57/Rev.1”, said it is unacceptable to create circumstances that impede the legitimate right of States to participate in the organs of the General Assembly. The host country must comply with its obligations, he said, emphasizing that the issue should not be concealed by transferring it to the Committee on Relations with the Host Country. He expressed regret that the draft decision was not approved and hoped the current situation will be resolved quickly and with no preconditions.
The representative of Ecuador said that despite its abstention on “L.57/Rev.1”, his delegation is not indifferent to the importance of the host country fulfilling its agreements. While Ecuador stands in solidarity with the countries affected by the denial of visas, the First Committee is not the correct venue to consider this issue, especially given the disarmament challenges the world currently faces. Cautioning against possible logistical problems arising from the decision to move the First Committee to Geneva or Vienna, he said his delegation opposes moving any meetings away from United Nations Headquarters.
The representative of Malaysia expressed sympathy and solidarity with delegations affected by the denial of visas and called for the full and effective participation of all Member States in the First Committee. Calling on all States to work together to honour this multilateral institution for discussions on disarmament, he said the visa issue must be solved in accordance with the United Nations Charter. Indeed, to solve this problem, the First Committee should not create a parallel track competing with the Sixth Committee. Moreover, although “L.57/Rev.1” proposes a step‑by‑step approach, it will not solve the underlying issue, even if the First Committee moves to Geneva or Vienna.
The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking also on behalf of Algeria, Belarus, Burundi, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, said “L.57/Rev.1” presents alternative options and a step‑by‑step approach to solve the United States non‑compliance to the Host Country Agreement, given that no one has yet found a solution. The Committee’s rejection of “L.57/Rev.1” reflects a decision to give consent to one member to violate the rights of other Member States while at the same time violating the United Nations Charter. The denial of visas affects work within the main bodies of the United Nations, including the First Committee, he said, calling on Member States to stand as one for the principle of equal rights for all members.
The Committee then took up its draft provisional programme of work and timetable for 2020 as contained in document A/C.1/74/CRP.5.
The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized once again the seriousness of the question of Headquarters access. The underrepresentation of certain delegations and the obstacles created by the United States have had “the most negative impact possible” on the Committee’s work. He appealed once again to the United States to unconditionally and fully comply with the 1947 Headquarters Agreement. Regretting to note that the Committee did not support its proposal to iron out the visa problem, he said those who voted against “L.57/Rev.1”, through their votes, had condoned the United States discriminatory policy. In the absence of guarantees that his delegation will get visas in 2020, it is difficult for it and others to approve the draft provisional programme of work. However, as a responsible Member State interested in a constructive dialogue on disarmament and non‑proliferation, the Russian Federation will join consensus while also reserving the right to keep raising the Headquarters issue in all platforms. If there are no changes to the United States policy, the Russian Federation will definitely revisit the question of moving the Committee and the Disarmament Commission to other venues until the issue is positively resolved.
The First Committee Chair thanked the Russian Federation for his statement and flexibility. The concerns expressed by his delegation and others on Headquarters access is an important one, based on the notion of equal footing among Member States and the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.
The Committee then approved the draft provisional programme of work and timetable for 2020 as contained in document A/C.1/74/CRP.5.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), First Committee Chair, said that while the Committee finished its work in the five weeks allocated to it, it was “very much behind schedule”, due to an increased number of votes on draft resolutions and decisions alongside a high level of participation among delegates. Still, the Committee progressed efficiently to conclude its work in a timely manner. With 132 delegations speaking during the general debate segment and 351 interventions made during thematic discussions, the Committee took action on 60 draft resolutions and decisions, approving 59 and rejecting 1. A total of 40 draft resolutions and decisions were approved by recorded votes, with 59 separate votes requested. A further 19 drafts were approved without a vote, accounting for 32 per cent of all action taken, a slight increase from 2018. “I have seen how work in this Committee is like a window to what happens in the world,” he said, adding that: “It is essential for all Member States to participate on equal footing, as the United Nations Charter states.”
The representatives of Mexico, Russian Federation and Cuba expressed their gratitude.