Make Kiswahili Official Language, Urges United Republic of Tanzania Representative
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved two draft resolutions today as it concluded its general debate on questions relating to information.
First, the Committee took up draft resolution A — titled “Information in the service of humanity” and contained in the report on the forty‑first session of the Committee on Information (document A/74/21) — approving it without a vote.
By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would urge all countries and organizations concerned to ensure the free and effective performance of journalists’ professional tasks and condemn resolutely all attacks against them. It would further urge States and organizations 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, especially in the areas of training and dissemination of information.
Acting again without a vote, the Committee approved draft resolution B, titled “United Nations global communications policies and activities” and contained in the same report (document A/74/21).
By the terms of that text, the Assembly would underline that reform of the Department of Global Communications should take into account the priorities set out by the Committee on Information in that regard, and the importance of carrying out appropriate consultations with Member States.
The Assembly would, by other terms, further request that the Department ensure that United Nations publications are produced in all six official languages of the Organization and in an environmentally friendly and cost‑neutral manner. Moreover, it would underline the Secretariat’s responsibility for mainstreaming multilingualism into all its information and communications activities.
Further by that text, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of the network of United Nations information centres and stress the importance of considering the special needs and requirements of developing countries in the field of information and communications technology.
The Assembly would, by further terms, note the concern of many Member States regarding the Secretariat’s measures in relation to the information centres in Mexico City, Mexico, Pretoria, South Africa, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As such it would express the hope that those measures will not have an adverse impact on the ability of the centres to act as bridges between the United Nations and local audiences. It would also encourage the Secretary‑General to explore the strengthening of other centres, especially in Africa, in cooperation with the Member States concerned and in a cost‑neutral manner.
Further by that text, the Assembly would emphasize the importance of continuing to implement the Reham al‑Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme for broadcasters and journalists from developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Moreover, it would note that 2020 marks the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and request that the Department raise awareness of and disseminate information about the anniversary, including at Expo 2020.
During the preceding general debate, many delegates highlighted the role the Department of Global Communications in strengthening outside perceptions of the Organization’s activities and objectives.
The Permanent Observer for the International Organization of la Francophonie emphasized the importance of supporting content produced in various official languages rather than relying on translation, cautioning that, otherwise, the United Nations may continue to deprive itself of possible solutions in a time of budgetary restrictions, with the Department bearing the brunt.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania requested the installation of Kiswahili as an official language of the United Nations, pointing out that it is more widely spoken than any other African language, with almost 500 million speakers around the world. Kiswahili is also the official language of the African Union, he added.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Bolivia (on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish), Romania (on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors), Algeria, Iran, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Egypt, Ecuador and Morocco.
Others speaking today included an observer for the League of Arab States.
A representative of the United States spoke in explanation of position.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 October, to begin its general debate on assistance in mine action.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said the key objective of the 20 Spanish‑speaking countries is to defend and promote multilingualism. Coherent and consistent communications must be balanced and reflect the Organization’s linguistic diversity, he added, declaring: “Language is and will be an integral part of culture.” Highlighting the standing of Spanish as the second most used language on the United Nations website, he said the latter has 1.75 million users and the Organization must address their growing interest.
As such, the Group of Friends of Spanish is concerned about the disparity between the use of English and the other five official languages in disseminating information, he added. Turning to the importance of United Nations information centres, he said their needs and characteristics must be considered, especially with regard to local languages. He went on to call for language parity in terms of the volume and quality of information the Department of Global Communications provides through the Internet and social media. Expressing concern that financial limitations could constrain the Department in that regard, he called for a strategic plan that considers language parity, while emphasizing the key role of multilingualism in promoting tolerance and broad participation.
ION JINGA (Romania), speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said national ownership of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is impossible without considering multilingualism. Local contexts and languages must be taken into account, he added, emphasizing that each country must have an equal opportunity to understand the information produced by the United Nations. Three of the most important peacekeeping missions are deployed in French‑speaking countries, he pointed out. All departments of the Secretariat must incorporate multilingualism into its outputs. Encouraging balanced use of the six official languages, especially on the Department’s website, he said that whereas new information and communications technology is important for the Department’s work, the role of traditional media must also be strengthened, specifically radio programmes produced in local languages. He called upon the Department to preserve budgets that promote multilingualism, especially in light of the present financial crisis, stressing that free media are essential to consolidating democracy and the rule of law.
SOFIANE MIMOUNI (Algeria), highlighting the Department’s efforts in response to collective calls about discrepancies observed in the headlines of its press releases, said they have been characterized by partiality, subjectivity and misinformation. He called upon the Department to expand its dissemination of information related to Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, adding that United Nations information centres should seek new and innovative ways to do so. Calling upon the Department also to ensure wide media coverage of the United Nations system and deepen understanding of the General Assembly’s role, he said stronger cooperation with public and private media must be considered in this regard. He went on to reiterate his delegation’s concern over the potential for politicization of public information and possible inappropriate use of information and communications technology to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States. Welcoming efforts to mainstream multilingualism in all communications activities, he reaffirmed that the Department can count on Algeria’s constructive cooperation.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) said that although information and communications technology, including social media, is useful in connecting people of different faiths and cultures, it can be misused and abused through inaccurate reporting and distorted information. He went on to highlight the importance of promoting such initiatives as “A World Against Violence and Violent Extremism” in countering the phenomenon at the root of many disasters in some parts of the world. Expressing concern over the rampant unilateralism forced upon the international community and the undermining of international agreements by the current administration in the United States, he urged the Department to raise international awareness of the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the socioeconomic development of the countries so targeted. He went on to applaud the Department’s special information programme on the question of Palestine, and called for the strengthening of United Nations information centres, especially those in developing countries.
YEMDAOGO ERIC TIARE (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the Group of Francophone Ambassadors and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said access to fair and equitable information is at the heart of the challenges confronting the Department. The emergence of new information and communications technology makes it possible to reach a wider audience, but also facilitates “fake news” and cybercrime, he noted. Pointing out that traditional forms of media represent the main sources of information for those in developing countries, he emphasized the need to diversify information sources. He went on to advocate language parity, declaring: “It is impossible to speak of multilateralism without multilingualism.” Noting the contributions of the United Nations information centre in Ouagadougou to the dissemination of information and to national ownership of United Nations programmes across West Africa, he stressed the need to strengthen its capacity, given its important role.
FRANCISCO JAVIER GUTIÉRREZ PLATA (Colombia) emphasized the importance of strengthening communications channels and ensuring they are accessible. Citing the role of the Group of Friends of Spanish, he said open and frank dialogue based on balanced access to information and knowledge is a cornerstone of understanding across cultures. As such, Colombia supports General Assembly resolution 73/346 because it underscores the need to mainstream multilingualism on a balanced basis, he said, reiterating his delegation’s call for the Department to move beyond the six official languages to strengthen international support for the activities of the United Nations.
ABDULLAH IBRAHIM ABDELHAMID ALSAYED ATTELB (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the dissemination of accurate information is essential in garnering global support for the activities of the United Nations. The Department and its information centres have an important role to play in that regard, he said, adding that communicating with people across the world in their own languages and on chosen platforms will spread reliable information and encourage cooperation between the Organization and Members States. He went on to note the importance of coordination between information centres and peacekeeping operations on the ground, emphasizing that given the rapid development of information and communications technology, the role of media cannot be overstated and must be used in positive ways while ensuring the accuracy of the information.
HENRY JONATHAN VIERA SALAZAR (Ecuador), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the Group of Friends of Spanish, said multilingualism promotes unity in diversity and ensures that the United Nations has the capacity to communicate with Member States in their own languages. Noting the imbalance between the use of English and French and use of the Organization’s other official languages, he emphasized that budgetary constraints must not harm the Department’s cross‑cutting goal of multilingualism. It is not clear to many people how multilateralism effects the world’s well‑being, he said, calling upon the Department to strengthen outside perceptions of the United Nations. He went on to state that the amount of inaccurate or distorted information on social media is overwhelming and urged the Department to counter‑balance misinformation with accurate reporting. Spanish is the second most spoken language around the world, he pointed out, citing the increase in visitors to the Organization’s Spanish web pages and calling upon the Department to grant greater consideration to Spanish in designing campaigns and strategies.
MODEST JONATHAN MERO (United Republic of Tanzania), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, expressed appreciation for the work of the United Nations information centres in promoting awareness of the Organization’s activities in local languages. However, lingual discrepancies continue to be observed, he noted. Requesting that Kiswahili be installed as an official languages of the United Nations, he pointed out that it is more widely spoken than any other African language, with almost 500 million speakers around the world. Kiswahili is also the official language of the African Union, he added. He went on to note that United Nations information centres lack outreach activities to engage with and widely inform the public, saying that, as such, the Department must come up with a workable mechanism in that regard.
YASSER HALFAOUI (Morocco), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, said the need for reliable, objective and neutral information is imperative. Highlighting the Department’s coverage of programmes tackling extremism and intolerance, he cited the recent visit to Morocco by Pope Francis. He also welcomed the Department’s “Services and Sacrifices” campaign to call attention to peacekeeping activities. Calling upon the Department to continue promoting parity, he said such programmes require human and financial resources, calling attention in that regard to the value of public and private partnerships. He announced that Morocco intends to create a Group of Friends of the Department.
MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, said that in order to strengthen international efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda, the League has taken an information‑driven approach that aims to promote the Sustainable Development Goals to the Arab people and to encourage national Arab initiatives to that end. Priorities for the League include settling the Palestinian dispute, fighting extremism and presenting a more positive view of Arab people across all media, he said. United Nations information centres, specifically the one in Cairo, have been of key importance in enhancing cooperation between the United Nations and the Arab League, he noted. Noting the advances in information and communications technology, the League urges the Department to give special focus to broadcasting, especially in areas where young people seek to change and develop in changing circumstances, he said, calling also for strengthening the Department’s Arabic‑language output while pointing out that more than 541 million people around the world speak the language.
NARJES SAIDANE, Permanent Observer for the International Organization of la Francophonie, associating herself with the Group of French‑speaking Ambassadors, recalled the General Assembly’s consensus adoption of a resolution on multilingualism in September, when Member States reiterated their support for initiatives by the Coordinator for Multilingualism in the Secretariat. They also recognized the essential role of social media, encouraging the Department to expand its multilingual activities in that regard. Observing that appropriate linguistic balance is still lacking within the United Nations system, she said that reflects a retreat from multilateralism. As such, it is important to support content produced in various official languages rather than relying on translation, she said. Otherwise, the United Nations may continue to deprive itself of possible solutions in a time of budgetary restrictions, with the Department bearing the brunt, she cautioned.
Action on Draft Resolutions
The Committee then took up draft resolutions A and B — respectively titled “Information in the service of humanity” and “United Nations public information policies and activities” — contained in the report on the forty‑first session of the Committee on Information, covering the period 29 April to 10 May (document A/74/21).
Acting without a vote, the Committee approved the draft “Information in the service of humanity”.
It went on to approved the text “United Nations public information policies and activities”, also without a vote.
MELISSA FLEMING, Under‑Secretary‑General for Global Communications, said in a general statement that given her newness of the role, she appreciates the support and also hears the concerns expressed during the recent meetings.
The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is non‑binding and does not affect any obligations under international law. While the United States applauds the text’s call for shared responsibility, each country must implement the Sustainable Development Goals in accordance with its own domestic priorities, consistent with the rights of States under international law, she stressed. The 2030 Agenda has no impact on new market access for goods and services and does not change or interpret any World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, she added. She went on to underline that the United States did not attend or endorse the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration and disassociates itself from operative paragraph 9 of the text just adopted, which pertains to sovereign access to domestic territory under international law. The United States also dissociates itself from operative paragraph 65 due to long‑standing concerns over its language on the right to development and because there is no agreed international meaning for that term.