Sixty-third General Assembly
42nd & 43rd Meetings (AM & PM)
Also Adopts Texts on Cooperation between United Nations and Arab League, Situation in Central America: Fashioning Region of Peace, Freedom, Democracy
While deeply concerned about the Taliban's encroaching influence around the country, the burgeoning narcotics trade and surging violence that has killed more and more aid workers and civilians, the Assembly today, in its annual debate on the situation in Afghanistan, recognized signs of progress and drew hope from the newly emerging ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Throughout the morning's debate, which ended with the adoption of a wide-ranging resolution, delegates stressed that the Afghan people and their Government needed to direct the transformation of their war-torn country into a democratic and independent nation. Meanwhile, the international community should continue to back the troubled nation's long-term vision and show commitment that would supply stability not only for the country, but the wider region and the world.
The Assembly, as it had in previous years, acted without a vote and adopted a resolution that enveloped issues from the expanding drug trade and terrorist activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida to the daily tragedies stemming from anti-personnel landmines and ongoing recruitment of children by terrorist groups.
Germany's representative introduced the text, which reiterated the urgent need to tackle the challenges in Afghanistan, particularly the increased violent criminal and terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al-Qaida, illegal armed groups and those involved in the narcotics trade, particularly in the country's south and east. The Assembly was deeply concerned with the recent surge in violence and expressed its serious distress at the high number of civilian casualties. It also noted that the security situation was causing some organizations to cease or curtail their humanitarian and development work in parts of the country.
The resolution welcomed the Declaration of the Paris Conference of 12 June 2008 and additional pledges of international support, as well as the launching of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Yet, it noted that the Assembly remained deeply concerned that millions of anti-personnel landmines and explosive remnants remained a major obstacle to restarting the economy and reconstruction efforts.
The Assembly recognized the importance of holding free, fair and secure elections in 2009 and 2010 towards consolidating democracy for all Afghans, as identified in the Afghanistan Compact. Turning to social issues, the Assembly strongly condemned incidents of discrimination and violence against women and girls, particularly if directed against women activists and women prominent in public life. Regarding children, the Assembly stressed the need to ensure respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of children and expressed its concern about the ongoing recruitment and use of children by illegally armed and terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
While highlighting the region's accomplishments, such as the creation of democratic institutions and a vibrant political system, economic growth and infrastructure improvements, the representative of Iran said serious challenges remained. The cultivation and production of and trafficking in narcotic drugs in Afghanistan continued unabated and impacted the country's security and development, while posing serious threats to the region and the world.
On the topic of refugees, he said Iran was hosting about two million Afghan nationals, half of whom were living in the country illegally. Both he and the representative of Pakistan urged the international community to help repatriate and rehabilitate those Afghans within each country's borders. Pakistan also hosted millions of Afghan refugees and it was important to create incentives, such as viable family return packages, for their voluntary return.
Pakistan's delegate also acknowledged the lack of security along the two nations' shared border and said security was a joint responsibility. Determined to play its role, Pakistan had deployed 110,000 military personnel on its side of the border and had lost more soldiers than the combined losses of the international security forces in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan was committed to working with Afghanistan and noted the two neighbours' invigorated plan to strengthen their relationship and expand cooperation beyond security to political, military, intelligence, and economic areas.
Speaking before the resolution was adopted, Afghanistan's representative said he was hopeful about a new beginning with two of his country's most important allies -- Pakistan and the United States. He viewed the election of Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari, as an initial move towards collaboration that would hopefully lead to peace and security. In addition, he looked forward to working with United States President-elect Barack Obama and appreciated the continuing support of the United States.
The representative of the United States underscored the vital role that Afghanistan's neighbours played in securing its success, and said Pakistan's newly-elected Government created an opportunity for increased cooperation between the two countries. To encourage Afghanistan's stability and development, it was crucial for regional cooperation to progress on several fronts, including by ensuring: no sanctuary for hostile forces; no use of extremists and terrorists to advance national interests; and the promotion of intelligence sharing. Integrating Afghanistan into regional institutions and the regional economy also was important, he added.
With perhaps one of the most optimistic outlooks delivered in today's debate, the representative of Turkey said progress had been made on many fronts. Like many other delegates, he was pleased by the United Nations' expanded role in Afghanistan, and urged greater regional cooperation, and the need for all types of international support to produce tangible benefits for ordinary Afghans as it improved their daily lives.
In other business this morning, the Assembly adopted by consensus a draft resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States. The representative of Libya introduced the text, which recognized the need to strengthen cooperation between the two organizations in order to reach common goals and objectives.
The resolution also reaffirmed that a general meeting of representatives of the United Nations system and the Arab League should be held every two years and joint inter-agency sectoral meetings should be convened on a biennial basis to address crucial development issues in the region. This was the sixth resolution championing collaboration between the United Nation and regional and other entities that the Assembly had adopted in the past week.
Turning to Central America, the Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution on the situation in Central America: progress in fashioning a region of peace, freedom, democracy and development. Introduced by the representative of Guatemala, the text commended the country's Government for its commitment to combating impunity and its efforts to strengthen the institutions that buttressed the rule of law and defence of human rights. The resolution expressed its appreciation to Member States and other donors that had supported the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, whether through voluntary contributions, financial and in-kind, and urged them to continue their support.
Finally, the Assembly began its debate on strengthening the Organization's coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. The debate, which will continue tomorrow, enveloped a range of regions and issues, from relief and recovery in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to the reconstruction of Liberia.
The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" and China, said a stronger bilateral, regional and international cooperative response was needed to counter the increasing number and scale of natural disasters and their impact on the loss of lives, livelihood and food security. Such cooperation played a unique role in enhancing developing countries' existing humanitarian capacities by developing and maintaining early warning systems, rapid response strategies to natural disasters and long-term tactics during post-recovery periods.
Also speaking on the situation in Afghanistan were the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Russian Federation, Armenia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Kuwait, India, Japan, Norway, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland and Malaysia.
Delegates that joined in the debate on the humanitarian and disaster relief assistance were France (on behalf of the European Union), Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), India (on behalf of Sweden) and India.
Also today the representative of Yemen introduced a draft resolution on economic assistance for Yemen (document A/63/L.21).
The General Assembly will reconvene Tuesday, 11 November, at 10 a.m. to continue the joint debate on humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.
The General Assembly met today for a joint debate on strengthening United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, including economic assistance. It also planned to consider the situations in Afghanistan and in Central America, and resume its consideration of the report of the International Criminal Court.
Among other reports and documents, the Assembly had before it the Secretary-General's report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document A/63/372-S/2008/617), which provides an update on developments since the previous report of 6 March (A/62/722-S/2008/159).
It draws attention to the increase in attacks by anti-government elements, leading to a more challenging situation, with more civilian casualties, not only as a result of those attacks, but also as an "unintended consequence of operations by pro-Government forces". Preparations for the voter registration process have progressed, however, as have counter-narcotics efforts, with an increase of poppy-free provinces from 13 to 18.
The report notes that the 12 June Paris Conference in Support of Afghanistan launched the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Participants pledged $2.14 billion for Afghanistan's development. The Development Strategy provides a road map for future efforts by the Government and the international community to provide for the security and prosperity of the Afghan people. If the funds pledged are to have the impact required, massive institution-building efforts will be necessary, along with decisive action to address serious weaknesses in governance.
The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board -- established in 2006 to ensure greater coherence of efforts by the Afghan Government and the international community to implement the 2006 "Afghan Compact" -- met on 6 July and 9 September. On the proposal of the Special Representative, it decided to streamline its decision-making process by replacing the numerous consultative groups with three standing committees, namely on: security; governance, rule of law and human rights; and economic and social development.
Following the Paris Conference, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) undertook to enhance its coordination of donor efforts and to strengthen aid effectiveness. According to the report, the Mission is currently preparing to open new provincial offices, further strengthening the good offices and outreach capability offered by its existing 17 field offices.
The Secretary-General observes that, although the report presents a mixed picture, the negative trend can be reversed if the commitments undertaken at the Paris Conference are implemented. "Ultimately, success will depend on our ability to bring about a 'political surge' that musters the political determination to address those areas in which international and Afghan efforts have been insufficient, and to accelerate progress where gains have been made," he writes.
He goes on to say that the Afghan people throughout the country must be able to see and experience more concrete results of and benefits from the assistance that they hear has been pledged to their country. They must see that corruption is being punished and competence rewarded. Civilians must be protected, not only from terrorism and insurgency, but also from unintended consequences of pro-Government military operations. They must be given a stronger sense of confidence in the international community, both civilian and military, and especially in their own Government.
On the situation in Central America, the Assembly has before it a letter dated 27 October 2008 from the Secretary-General to the Assembly President (document A/63/511), providing an update on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Pursuant to the 2006 agreement between the United Nations and Guatemala that created that body, the Secretary-General, in 2007, appointed Carlos Castresana of Spain as Commissioner.
As CICIG is an independent organ whose expenses are met through voluntary contributions, a trust fund administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was created on 3 October 2007. To date, $26 million has been raised from 12 Member States and the European Union, covering more than 90 per cent of the projected two-year budget.
In carrying out its two-year mandate, the Commission is investigating 15 high-impact cases, most often in coordination with the Office of the Public Prosecutor; has identified the names of civil servants who have obstructed its work; and analysed national legislation on security, among other areas. Among its challenges ahead, the most complex of them could arise as investigations and court proceedings advance in cases that might touch powerful criminal interests. Operational concerns include strengthening security and facilitating the transnational exchange of information, among other things.
For its joint debate, the Assembly will take up several other reports of the Secretary-General, the first of which is that on strengthening emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, recovery and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster (A/53/84-E/2008/80), which provides an overview of progress and challenges for the countries hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami: India; Indonesia; Maldives; Sri Lanka; and Thailand. It also covers Malaysia, Myanmar, Seychelles, Somalia and the United Republic of Tanzania.
The report addresses aid and recovery coordination, models of Government humanitarian and recovery institutions, transparency to donors, risk reduction, tsunami early warning, and incorporation of prevention in development planning. It notes progress across the affected region: displaced persons are residing in newly constructed homes, children are in school, and hospitals are being rebuilt. However, the picture of success is an uneven one, as each nation faces different challenges. Common to all is the realization that it will take years for individual households and the wider economies on which they depend to recover.
Looking forward, the report notes that, as recovery and reconstruction efforts are being mainstreamed into long-term development assistance projects and programmes, continued specific reporting to the Economic and Social Council is no longer warranted.
Also before the Assembly was the Secretary General's report on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (documents A/63/305 and Corr. 1), which assess efforts by the Department of Safety and Security to implement recommendations contained in resolution 62/95. It also highlights significant threats to the security and safety of humanitarian and United Nations personnel during the July 2007 to June 2008 period, and focuses on the Organization's efforts to ensure respect for their human rights.
The report underscores the Secretary-General's grave concern at the rise in deliberate targeting of humanitarian and United Nations personnel. He condemns in the strongest terms the 11 December 2007 attack in Algiers, Algeria, which killed 17 United Nations staff members, and states that the present report is without prejudice to the implementation of recommendations made by the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises Worldwide, or the Independent Panel on Accountability, related to the Algiers attack.
As part of the ongoing review of security policies, the Secretary-General will continue to encourage taking steps to enhance security management, the report states. Priorities include addressing key policy, operational and strategic weaknesses; improving the safety of locally recruited staff; providing adequate resources; improving the framework for accountability; enhancing cooperation with host Governments and restoring public trust in the United Nations.
For its part, the Department of Safety and Security will maintain its focus on enabling effective programme delivery by achieving: timely responses to and preventive action for all security related threats; effective risk mitigation; and high-quality security standards. It will enhance its efforts in promoting best practices and establishing effective mechanisms with host country authorities for information exchange.
As for Governments, the report concludes that Member States must include the security of humanitarian and United Nations personnel as integral to their deliberations in United Nations intergovernmental bodies. The Secretary-General calls on States to address: unlawful arrests and harassment of United Nations staff; obstruction of freedom of movement of United Nations and humanitarian workers; and impunity for crimes against them. He also appealed to States to lift restrictions on the import of communications equipment.
Host Governments are the first line of defence in the protection of humanitarian and United Nations personnel, the report states, and stresses that the Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by the trend of politically motivated targeting of humanitarians, most evident in Somalia, where 18 non-governmental organization staff members were murdered. He expressed his deepest condolences to the families of all humanitarian and United Nations staff who had lost their lives in the line of duty, and recommended that the Assembly remain seized of such critical issues.
The Secretary-General's report on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/63/81-E/2008/71), describes major humanitarian trends and challenges over the past year, and analyzes two thematic issues of concern: the humanitarian implications of climate change and the humanitarian challenges related to the current global food trends. It provides an overview of current key processes to improve humanitarian coordination and ends with recommendations for further strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.
During the reporting period, the largest driver of disasters was the increased incidence and severity of extreme weather events, mostly associated with climate change. Nine out of every 10 disasters are now climate related. During the past year, the United Nations has issued an unprecedented 15 funding appeals for sudden-onset disasters, five more than the previous year. Fourteen of these were climate-related.
The humanitarian consequences of inter-State and intra-State conflicts remain high, according to the report, and displacement continues to be a major source of concern. Compounding the challenges of climate change and armed conflict are recent jumps in food and fuel prices, which have led to violent protests in many countries. High food prices have the potential to sharply increase the incidence and depth of food insecurity.
The report concludes that Member States and humanitarian actors, within and outside the United Nations system, are faced with complex challenges that suggest increasing demand for humanitarian assistance. Trends such as the increased incidence of climate-related disasters and continued rise in global food prices are likely to increase communities' vulnerability. These trends require strengthened humanitarian response with enhanced coordination at all levels, as well as greater respect by all stakeholders of the humanitarian principles that underpin humanitarian assistance.
On the basis of the above, the report puts forward a ten-point list of specific measures it encourages Member States to consider in their efforts to mitigate the challenges they face as they work to strengthen the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance.
The Secretary-General's report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/63/277), gives an overview of the humanitarian response to natural disasters, emerging trends, the implication for humanitarian action and key challenges to be addressed.
The report states that during 2007, there were 414 disasters associated with natural hazards, among them tropical storms and hurricanes, earthquakes, severe weather conditions and flooding, and cyclones. More than 16,800 people died and over 211 million were affected. However, in areas that were prepared for such disasters or where early warning systems were in place, fewer lives were lost. Such was the case in Bangladesh. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed 4,200 people, whereas in 1970, before the implementation of early warning and community-based preparedness, a cyclone of the same magnitude killed over 300,000 people.
The report also notes that ongoing humanitarian reforms and expanded inter-agency relations have fostered greater collaboration to create a "cluster approach" in responding to disasters in Bolivia, Mozambique, Tajikistan and parts of West Africa, among others.
The Secretary-General makes several recommendations, among them encouraging States to underline the importance of early and multi-year commitments to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and other humanitarian financing mechanisms. He calls on humanitarian actors to improve the dissemination of tools to support disaster risk reduction, and on States and humanitarian agencies to promote national disaster preparedness activities, including contingency planning, within the Hyogo Framework for Action.
Further to the report, the Secretary-General encourages States to consider increasing funds for disaster risk reduction activities; make use of guidelines for domestic facilitation of relief assistance; continue to support consolidated capability in the area of satellite-derived geography information for early warning, preparedness, response and early recovery; and consider the applicability of the Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief for coordinating foreign military assets.
The Secretary-General also recommends that States consider the Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and Natural Disasters in implementation of contingency planning, disaster preparedness and response, and make resources available to support humanitarian organizations, whose burden is exacerbated by climate change and high food and fuel prices.
The Assembly also had before it the Secretary-General's report on the Central Emergency Response Fund (document A/63/348), which covers the 1 January 2007 to 30 June 2008 period. A two-year evaluation of the Fund found that it has largely achieved its objectives to become a "valuable and impartial tool for humanitarian action", by accelerating coverage and response time when situations suddenly deteriorate, or when humanitarian activities must be initiated in life-threatening emergencies.
The Fund's response has been diverse, broad and multilayered, the report states. After Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008, an initial tranche of funding was approved within one day. In the wake of two severe tropical storms in the Dominican Republic in late 2007, the United Nations Development Programme received part of a $3.9 million allocation to conduct clean-up and assistance to returning families. In Kenya, after civil unrest following the presidential elections at the end of December 2007, part of a $7 million allocation enabled the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to set up a rapid-coordinated and multifaceted response to the survivors of gender-based violence.
Also funded were the "forgotten" humanitarian crises, the report states, such as the $6.8 million in grants in 2007 to the Central African Republic, which allowed agencies to assist over 1.2 million people with life-saving support. Such funding had the secondary effect of enabling agencies to inform donors of the severity of the situation, resulting in a significant increase of humanitarian funding for the country.
The two-year evaluation yielded four recommendations, the report states, the first of which being that the Fund should continue under its current mandate, with allowances to increase its capacity in line with demand. The quality of funded programmes should become more consistent, and to that end, the criteria for project approval and application must be further refined.
In addition, the capacity of the CERF and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) field teams must be strengthened, and the mandate for the CERF Advisory Group be extended. Finally, the multiple lines of accountability for the Fund must be clarified by specifying the roles of each actor. This requires the Emergency Relief coordinator to ensure each operational agency has in place appropriate monitoring and reporting systems without adding more bureaucracy to the process.
The report concludes that the Fund must be adequately supported so that it continues to meet its annual target of $500 million. In that regard, the Secretary-General encourages all Member States to contribute to the Fund in solidarity with those affected by disaster. The success of the Fund's activities depends on the soundness of other parts of the system, including humanitarian programmes, preparedness programmes, and early recovery activities.
The Secretary-General's report on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction of Liberia (A/63/295) analyses the challenges to the delivery of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation to Liberia, in accordance with resolution 61/218. It examines particular progress in providing an environment conducive to promoting peace, development, regional security, financial and technical assistance, and the return and reintegration of ex-combatants.
Among other major developments, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) stabilized all 15 counties, and created an environment conducive to the return of refugees and internally displaced persons. In October 2007, the Secretary-General deemed Liberia eligible for funding from the Peacebuilding Fund, and the priority plan has been endorsed for $15 million. By end-2007, 103,019 ex-combatants had been disarmed and 101,000 demobilized. As such, the focus shifted towards reintegration with vocational skills training and job placement.
The report concludes that for the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved, massive poverty alleviation and economic recovery are essential, and substantial donor support is urgently needed to help the new Government provide services on a large scale. Reliable data are vital for establishing an effective development agenda and other strategies to reduce poverty. While building the capacity of national institutions is fundamental, job creation through the private sector is at the heart of the country's sustainable development.
In addition, implementation of the joint Government/United Nations programme to prevent sexual and gender-based violence is essential, the report states, and donors should ensure sustained funding for that programme. Education and health care are areas of critical concern, and increased support is also needed.
Also before the Assembly was the Secretary-General's report on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/53/75-E/2008/52), which details efforts by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority and donors to support the Palestinian civilian population and institutions between May 2007 to April 2008.
Among major developments during the reporting period, the Palestinian economy continued to decline. After Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip and formation of a new P