'We Must Move Forward!' Assembly President Says, Challenging Member States to Be Brave Enough to Reject Static Positions, Make United Nations Better
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)
Sixty-Fifth Session of General Debate Ends with Delegations Warning Against Yielding United Nations Vital Decision-Making Functions to Other Forums
The question of the United Nations being able to effectively tackle entrenched global ills - from poverty and terrorism to conflict prevention and pandemic disease - hinged on whether the 192-member body would be brave enough to move beyond deadlock and oft-repeated positions of principle to truly defend its role as the premier centre for global decision-making, the President of the General Assembly stressed today at the end of that body's week-long general debate.
In closing remarks, Assembly President Joseph Deiss, of Switzerland, said he had been struck by the convergence of concerns expressed not only from the rostrum but during bilateral meetings held on the sidelines of debate. "If our concerns are shared, why then have so many tragic situations lasted for so long?" he asked. He wondered whether delegates had taken the time to talk with one another or been merely content with repeating the same issues year after year.
Summarizing key messages delivered throughout the week, Mr. Deiss said the high-level plenary on the Millennium Development Goals had laid bare the need to follow words with actions so as to meet the expectations of millions living in poverty. Situations in the Middle East, Sudan and the Balkans were a reminder that the United Nations still had a long way to go in fulfilling its primary duty of maintaining peace and security. Speaker after speaker, he said, had dwelt on the risks associated with climate change, including the loss of biodiversity, and reiterated the need for more efforts to address those challenges head on.
As for global governance, the theme of the general debate, he said the number of Heads of State and Government in attendance testified to the importance attached to that issue. To improve cooperation between the United Nations and other players in that sphere, he planned to launch an informal dialogue with the Secretary-General and the prospective Group of 20 (G-20) host country to take place before and after those summits. There was also a possibility for an informal debate, during the second half of his term, to explore routes towards a system that was more inclusive and open. Many leaders had cited a lack of leadership and need for major reform as areas of concern.
"Are we ready to strengthen the Organization today?" he asked. Were States not already recreating the United Nations outside its walls by multiplying the number of decision-making forums? Essential reforms currently under way, notably for the Assembly and the Security Council, must move forward. It was clearly up to Member States whether the United Nations would prove a strong tool truly able to work for the common good. Breakthroughs would require a great deal of creativity.
Throughout the final day of the general debate, speakers pointed to stark differences in access to lofty inner sanctums of decision-making, as well as to individual social freedoms that allowed some nations to enjoy free trade and social equality, while others struggled in the changing winds of global commodity prices and half-open markets for their goods and services. Official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment had dropped, leaving poverty an "open wound" and national efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals needing a global push.
With large swaths of the world weakened or powerless against such currents, it was up to the United Nations to show the path forward. For many, that meant updating its structures to reflect the equity and balance being sought in other institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. "How can we as members of the United Nations credibly espouse equity among nations and peoples if we fail to practice it among ourselves," asked Dasho Daw Penjo, Foreign Secretary of Bhutan, whose own small nation sought membership for a non-permanent Security Council seat for the 2013-14 term.
Other non-transparent groupings were chipping away at what traditionally had been the United Nations' sphere of influence, some said, meeting in informal ways to hammer out their countries' interests. They noted with concern grand proclamations made by the G-20 that it had become the premier forum for international economic cooperation.
The "we" that had established that Group did not include Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that country's representative, Camillo M. Gonsalves, who stressed that, in the wake of the worst crisis since the Great Depression, 172 economies should not be locked out of economic discussions, waiting anxiously for policy shifts that affected their very survival. From its misunderstanding of the vulnerabilities of small, highly indebted middle-income countries, to its "draconian outlook" on offshore services, it was clear that the Group would have benefited from his region's perspective.
Small island States had emerged as some of the most zealous guardians of the United Nations' Charter, he said, which guaranteed their place in the Assembly among sovereign equals. To avoid an ignominious devolution into an "amalgam of unwieldy bureaucracies", the Organization as a whole must first ensure that good global governance was premised on inclusiveness and that some measure of predictability was built into the rules that governed the global family.
Despite its imperfections, the United Nations was advancing, if incrementally, in a few areas of influence, others said, notably disarmament, with some praising the 1 August entry into force of the Cluster Munitions Treaty and spring conclusion of the eighth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review. Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, said another sign of hope had been the decision to hold a conference on achieving a Middle East free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
Efforts had also had come together around humanitarian disaster, still others said, citing the dispatch of "blue helmets" to Haiti in the aftermath of earthquake and relief personnel to Pakistan following epic floods. In much of the United Nations' work, Wilfred P. Erlington, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belize, reminded the Assembly that international support must complement, not dictate, the way forward. He urged broadening the "myopic" view of development assistance as synonymous with partnership. Reform must reflect a new orientation, from a donor-recipient culture to one based on mutual respect.
Also speaking today were the Foreign Ministers of India, Uruguay, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Thailand and Guinea. The Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea also spoke.
Also addressing the Assembly were the representatives of Russian Federation, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Tonga, Venezuela, Norway, and Poland.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Republic of Korea, India, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Viet Nam.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 5 October, to consider the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization.