The Commission for Social Development concluded its fifty-eighth session today, forwarding three resolutions — including the first-ever text on homelessness to be approved by a United Nations intergovernmental body – to the Economic and Social Council for adoption.
Members also voted on elements of the Commission’s annual draft resolution in support of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In particular, they rejected a proposed amendment that would have omitted references to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa — better known as the Maputo Protocol.
Delivering closing remarks, Mona Juul (Norway), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s resolution on homelessness will contribute to both the Council’s upcoming session and the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. She added that this year’s session was a good example of what the Commission can deliver by addressing multifaceted issues from a focused and technical perspective. She also noted that the General Assembly is this year reviewing how to strengthen the Council’s own work and that of its functional commissions to promote greater harmonization and coordination of their respective agendas and work programmes.
Taking up its various drafts, the Commission first turned its attention to the annual text titled “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)” (document E/CN.5/2020/L.4), which was introduced by the representative of Guyana on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China. She said that the draft emphasizes NEPAD’s main objectives, including reducing poverty, putting Africa on a sustainable path, halting the continent’s marginalization and empowering women. The Commission’s annual consideration of the text offers a chance to track progress in the region on key areas of social development and to highlight challenges and shortfalls.
Among other things, she said, the draft urges African countries and their development partners to meet the needs of young people; takes note of the 2019 launch of the African Union’s “1 million by 2021” initiative; and notes the bloc’s drafting of a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of citizens to social protection and social security. Noting that she would have preferred consensus on today’s draft - and voicing regret that a vote was called on it, counter to previous practice – she urged Member States to vote in favour of its adoption.
Prior to considering the text as a whole, the Commission took up a proposed amendment, by the terms of which it would omit the contents of operative paragraph 18.
The representative of South Africa, speaking before that vote, expressed his delegation’s support both for operative paragraph 18 and the draft resolution as a whole. While African States support efforts to reform the Economic and Social Council, they feel the Commission’s NEPAD resolution remains critical to the achievement of sustainable development. Noting that the annual text has enjoyed consensus in past years, he nevertheless recognized that some delegations have voiced new concerns and reassured them that such matters will be addressed in the near future. “This has been agreed language for years,” he stressed, noting that his delegation will vote in favour of preserving the integrity of the draft resolution and against the proposed amendment.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire echoed those points, while expressing regret that the usual consensus was not reached on the draft resolution. Operative paragraph 18 is crucial to promote women’s empowerment in Africa, he said, noting that the latter is an essential catalyst for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, also voiced regret that consensus was not reached on the longstanding, “carefully crafted and balanced” language in operative paragraph 18 — on which many delegations, even those with differing views, had always been able to agree in the past. That paragraph merely states facts, he stressed, emphasizing that “it is not for this Commission to rewrite reality”.
The representative of United States, which had proposed the amendment and called for the vote, said his delegation has concerns with references in operative paragraph 18 to the Maputo Protocol, and would therefore vote against its inclusion.
The Commission then voted on whether to retain operative paragraph 18. By a recorded vote, 36 members voted in favour of its inclusion to 1 against (United States), with 1 abstention (Israel). It then approved the draft resolution as a whole without a vote.
The United Kingdom’s representative, making a general statement after the vote, said his country — a long-standing supporter of partnerships with Africa — welcomed consensus on “L.4” as a whole. However, it is disappointed by the process by which the draft was negotiated, he said, recommending that, next year, more time should be provided to consider and discuss the text, streamlining it to ensure that it focuses on the most important or novel issues, and considering the incorporation of its themes into the General Assembly’s agenda item titled “New Partnerships for Africa’s Development: progress in implementation and international support”.
The representative of the United States said his country supports NEPAD and shares the African Union’s goal of a stable and prosperous Africa. However, it cannot support the references in “L.4” to the Maputo Plan of Action and it therefore voted against the retention of operative paragraph 18. The Maputo Plan of Action contains language that refers to women’s right to abortion, but the United States does not recognize abortion as a means of family planning. He added that there are not internationally agreed definitions of “sexual and reproductive health” and “illicit financial flows”.
Portugal’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the bloc’s member States voted in favour of the text and noted that most of the European Union’s proposals were taken into account. He warned, however, that consensus is put a risk when there is no full consultation. He added that the text is overly long and duplicative of other efforts, and invited the Group of 77 to reconsider tabling the resolution in future sessions. The United Nations can only deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development when there is strong collaboration and coordination among its main bodies, he said, adding that the current division of labour between the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly is far from clear.
Acting without a vote, the Commission then approved a draft resolution on the session’s priority theme, titled “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” (document E/CN.5/2020/L.5).
Speaking after action, the representative of the United States outlined several reservations to its contents. Spotlighting references to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, he said that any obligations under that instrument are applicable only to States parties and are, therefore, for the United States not legally binding. Similarly, references to the 2030 Agenda are non-binding and do not create any new laws or financial commitments. The United States supports that framework as a form of voluntary commitments and will continue to be a global leader in sustainable development, he said. Turning to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, he said the United States strongly supports initiatives aimed at helping the recipients of assistance build up their resilience.
Regarding the Paris Agreement on climate change, he recalled the United States decision to withdrawal from the accord — an action that will take effect one year after that intention was announced — and said all references to the Paris Agreement are therefore without prejudice to the United States position. On health care, he said countries should aim to reduce costs and engage all stakeholders, noting that competition is a main driver of cost reduction. Each country should develop its own health care system, he stressed, noting that the term “universal health care” is often interpreted as referring to a Government-funded, single payer system, which the United States does not support.
The observer for the Holy See welcomed the Commission’s approval, for the first time, of a resolution focused exclusively on homelessness. Underlining the importance of the family unit in preventing and tackling that phenomenon, she welcomed the resolution’s calls for urgent international action, but voiced regret that the interrelated and indivisible nature of human rights was not properly addressed in the text.
The Commission, acting again without a vote, approved a draft decision titled “Priority theme for the fifty-ninth session of the Commission for Social Development” (document E/CN.5/2020/L.6), by the terms of which it decided that the 2021 session would focus on “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being for all”.
Members also approved a draft resolution titled “Modalities for the fourth review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002” (document E/CN.5/2020/L.3) without a vote, as well as the provisional agenda and documentation for its fifty‑ninth session (document E/CN.5/2020/L.1). They similarly approved the draft report for its fifty‑eighth session (document E/CN.5/2020/L.2), relaying the procedural arrangements of the session, which was introduced by Sharifa Yousef Al-Nesf (Qatar), Vice-Chair-cum-Rapporteur of the Commission.
Immediately following the closure of the fifty‑eighth session, the Commission opened the first meeting of its fifty-ninth session. Acting by acclamation, it elected Martín García Moritán (Argentina) as its Chair and Sharifa Yousef Alnesf (Qatar) as Vice-Chair. It postponed the election of remaining members of the Bureau to a later date.