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UN GA must reassert its Charter-mandated role as UN central deliberative, policy-making body, speakers say, debating Assembly revitalization

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GA/10788

Sixty-third General Assembly
Plenary
56th Meeting (AM)

Assembly also Wraps Up Debate on Security Council Reform; Fills Vacancies, Confirms Appointments in Subsidiary Bodies

Keen to reassert the General Assembly's role as the chief policy-making body of the United Nations and apprehensive of what they saw as the Security Council's steady encroachment on its territory, Member States today agreed that revitalizing the Assembly was key to restoring internal and public confidence in the Organization as it faced the challenges of the twenty-first century.

During their annual survey on the status of efforts aimed at revitalizing the Assembly's work, diplomats in the 192-member body agreed that, more than 16 years since the issue had first made its way onto the plenary agenda, the Assembly recognized the urgency of acting on the guidelines of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the matter so as to enhance its authority and exert the real leadership needed in today's world.

Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto, of Nicaragua, said the overriding priority of his Presidency would be the democratization of the United Nations. Radical steps were needed so the Assembly could authoritatively perform its duties as the Organization's most democratic body.

There were clear opportunities to improve the exchange between the Assembly and other bodies as well as specialized agencies of the United Nations, he added. For instance, the entire Assembly should meet on a monthly basis with the President of the Security Council to produce more direct and dynamic exchanges. The Assembly could also benefit from briefings with the Organization's specialized agencies, funds and programmes.

Throughout the debate, many delegates said they were uneasy with the Security Council's shift into functions and issues they considered to fall under the scope of duties assigned under the Charter to the Assembly. The representative of Egypt said such encroachment needed to be addressed so that each body expressed its mandate to the fullest. For his part, Nepal's delegate urged the Assembly to protect the jurisdiction of its legislative authority by embracing legislation that would end the Security Council's adoption of resolutions of a legislative nature.

Speakers were equally adamant that the Assembly maintain its role in the area of international peace and security. Egypt's delegate urged "an active, real and concrete role" for the Assembly in the prevention of wars and conflicts, especially in light of the Council's recent abuses of the right of veto and failure to take decisive action on important issues.

In addition, the representative of Malaysia urged the Assembly to reclaim its central role in the Organization, including the maintenance of peace and security, as laid out in Article 11 of the Charter. Indonesia's representative said the Assembly had an important role in supporting the Organization's peacekeeping efforts both at Headquarters and in the field.

Delegates urged the strengthening of the Assembly's relations and coordination with its Main Committees and other United Nations bodies, as well as the system's specialized agencies. Many lauded the recent high-level meetings, such as on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, as vital vehicles to find solutions to the world's emerging crises.

In all areas, the Assembly should strive to turn out results-oriented outcomes, rather than serving as a mere "talking shop", urged Nepal's delegate. He added that the Assembly should efficiently use its budget-making authority to revitalize itself as it made the body more proactive, stronger and efficient.

In other business, the Assembly this morning wrapped up its debate on reform of the Security Council that began Tuesday morning. An issue under deliberation for nearly 15 years that enveloped the nettlesome topic of expanding the 15-member body's permanent and non-permanent seats, the Assembly was expected to begin intergovernmental negotiations on the issue early next year.

Before beginning its debate on revitalizing its work, the Assembly appointed a host of candidates to positions on five of its administrative and budgetary subsidiary organs: Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ); Committee on Contributions; Investments Committee; International Civil Service Commission; and United Nations Staff Pension Committee.

The Assembly also took note of the appointment by the Secretary-General of Judge Christoph Flügge ( Germany) to replace retiring Judge Wolfgang Schomburg on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Appointed to the Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) for three-year terms of office beginning on 1 January 2009 were: Aïcha Afifi ( Morocco); Renata Archini ( Italy); Vladimir Alekseevitch Iosifov ( Russian Federation); Alejandro Torres Lépori ( Argentina); and Susan McLurg ( United States).

Appointed to the Committee on Contributions for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2009 were: Vyacheslav Anatolievich Logutov ( Russian Federation); Richard Moon ( United Kingdom); Hae-yun Park ( Republic of Korea); Thomas Thomma ( Germany); Courtney Williams ( Jamaica); and Wu Gang ( China).

The Assembly confirmed the reappointments by the Secretary-General to the Investment Committee of: Masakazu Arikawa ( Japan); Madhav Dhar ( India); and Nemir Kirdar ( Iraq) for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2009. Also appointed for the remainder of the term was Linah Mohohlo ( Botswana), replacing Khaya Ngqula ( South Africa). Ivan Pictet ( Switzerland), an ad hoc member for a one-year term, was reappointed, and Simon Jiang ( China) was appointed as an ad hoc member, replacing Afsaneh Beschloss ( Iran).

Appointed to the International Civil Service Commission for four-year terms beginning on 1 January 2009 were: Fatih Bouayad-Agha ( Algeria); Shamsher Chowdhury ( Bangladesh); Vladimir Morozov ( Russian Federation); Wang Xiaochu ( China); and El Hassane Zahid ( Morocco). Appointed to the United Nations Staff Pension Committee for a four-year term were: Valeria María González Posse ( Argentina); Andrei Vitalievitch Kovalenko ( Russian Federation); Gerhard Küntzle ( Germany); Lovemore Mazemo ( Zimbabwe); Muhammad Muhith ( Bangladesh); Philip Richard Okanda Owade ( Kenya); Thomas Repasch ( United States); and Jun Yamada ( Japan).

On the issue of Security Council reforms, the Representatives of Tonga and Cape Verde spoke.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Japan, Sudan, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and South Africa.

Speaking on the issue of Revitalization of the General Assembly were the Representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Algeria (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Columbia, Viet Nam, Cuba, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Belarus, Venezuela, Ecuador, India and Brazil.

The General Assembly will reconvene Monday, 24 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine.

Background

The General Assembly met today to conclude its joint debate on the report of the Security Council and the question of equitable representation on, and increase in, the Council's membership and related matters (please see press release GA/10786).

The Assembly also was also expected to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs, including administrative and budgetary bodies, as well as take note of the appointment of Judges to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It was also expected to hold a debate on revitalization of the Assembly's work.

Statements on Security Council Reform

FEKITAMOELOA 'UTOIKAMANU (Tonga) spoke on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States and said the opinion that certain threats to international peace and security, such as climate change, should not be handled by the Security Council denied the very role that the Charter assigned to that body and clearly contradicted the very spirit of the current reform process.

The Council was not only competent, but also mandated to deal with threats to international peace and security, and it was of the utmost importance that all organs of the United Nations fulfilled their respective mandates. The solution was not in limiting the Council's scope of work. The increase in the Council's workload was reflective of the changing times and evolving challenges. The capacity of the Council needed to be enhanced so that it was flexible to take on new challenges within its purview, as stipulated in the Charter. The Assembly should continue to focus on how to make the Council more relevant to address today's threats, not less.

Turning to improving the transparency of the Council's working methods, Tonga supported, among other things, increasing the number of open debates and meetings; more regularly structured briefings to address the concerns of non-members; and improved interaction with troop-contributing countries through regular meetings to discuss substantive matters and concerns.

The Council should be more broadly representative of the international community as a whole and the geopolitical realties of today and expand the membership in both the permanent and non-permanent categories to meet these goals.

PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA (Cape Verde) stated that everything said so far in the joint debate on equitable distribution and enlargement of the Security Council should only encourage Member States to work harder for change and a break from old-fashioned methods. Inclusive work and transparency was needed to ensure that the Council become an instrument of the world as it was today, a world dramatically changed from 1948, when the United Nations had been founded, and a reality that needed to be understood "once and for all".

He observed that rather than an Organization founded by the victors of war, today's membership was based on shared ideals and faith in modernity. Member States who were once enemies were now working together. Former colonies were now independent. Countries under the yoke of apartheid were now free and self-governing. The driving forces of the world were not might, but progress and development.

He went on to note that after so many years considering Security Council reform, the lack of action brought the subject back to square one. The sole goal of the current debate was to successfully move into the intergovernmental negotiation phase by putting aside "the little side deals and manoeuvring", and instead working for a lasting solution to create a Security Council that reflected the needs of the entire world. Accordingly, he said, it was imperative that the smallest and most vulnerable states had a voice, and even more important that Africa be represented on the Council with two permanent and five non-permanent seats.

Africa wanted to "be the solution not the problem of the world", a full partner with new determination towards development and prosperity. He called on Assembly Members to reduce, through open debate, the distance between one another and find common ground. By doing so, the Assembly would give the world a democratic organ that would truly represent the twenty-first century. "Who is with whom, and who is against whom" was a trap each Member State needed to avoid. Rather he posed the question, "Who will take the responsibility and lead us away from a zero result?"

Concluding, he called for the abolishment of the right to veto, stating that what was needed was dialogue, and he urged for intergovernmental negotiations to -- without haste, rushing or sacrificing the work they were responsible for as Member States -- begin as soon as possible. In that way, the General Assembly would become a bridge to the future. "This is a miracle expected of us," he said.

Rights of Reply

The representative of Japan spoke in exercise of the right of reply, regarding statements made yesterday by the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Japan firmly believed that the qualifications of a country for permanent Security Council membership should be based on that country's contributions to the maintenance of peace and security. Since the beginning, Japan had worked hard to promote disarmament, and had supported the United Nations' undertakings through peacekeeping operations and contributing to world prosperity.

He regretted that the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had referred to the abduction issue, and his delegation could not accept such a reference. That was a humanitarian issue and it must be resolved. Japan had faced up to its past since World War II, and had maintained that it would resolve all issues, including abductions, through consultations. Japan had publicly stated, in the General Assembly and other bodies, its position, and stood ready to contribute actively and constructively to peace and security at any time.

Next, the representative of Sudan discussed what had been said yesterday by the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Sudan was beleaguered by conflict in Darfur. Its Government would not have wanted to waste time replying to "insignificant" talk; however, he wished to clarify a few things.

He said the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had ignored that the Security Council had sent the International Commission of Inquiry to Darfur in 2004, and had submitted a report to the Security Council in 2005 (document S/2005/60). That representative should review that report, as it emphasized that what was happening in Darfur was not a "genocide".

Second, he said there was one State that had described what was happening in Darfur as "genocide", adding that history had shown there were countries with colonial ambitions regarding small and developing nations. It was a pity that a country had come to this forum not to express its position, but rather to regurgitate what it had been taught.

The Security Council report did not include a clause on "genocide" or on "ethnic cleansing", he said, and he wondered why the delegate of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had not equally referred to massacres in Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan. Finally, the meeting was a chance for transparent deliberation on the Assembly's preoccupation with Security Council reform, not the issue of Darfur. The forum should not be exploited in such a manner.

Also exercising the right of reply, the representative of Morocco, questioned the tenor of South Africa's statement yesterday on the Security Council report, particularly that the Council was unable to resolve issue of Sahara. That distorted the truth, and stemmed from bad faith. The truth was simple, he said, recalling that the Council was working to end regional conflicts, pursuant to the Charter provisions.

In more than a year and a half, there had been three resolutions that allowed for four negotiating rounds, he said. That new momentum had been made possible thanks to Morocco's efforts. All those resolutions had been unanimously adopted by the Council, he said, adding that resolution 1813 (2008) had been adopted under South Africa's Presidency.

He was not alone in viewing the inconsistency of South Africa's desire to play a main role on the continent and then undermine what the Council had done in regards to the Sahara. That view should not lead the Assembly astray by ignoring what the Council had achieved. He hoped South Africa would abandon its biased position, and responsibly contribute to finding a solution to overcome the Sahara dispute. Morocco wished to see the area become one of shared democracy, he added.

The representative of the Republic of Korea, referring to the Dokdo islands, reiterated his country's position, which had been articulated several times, and was supported by both international law and fact.

The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, commenting on Japan's statement, said that when opportunities were provided, Japan pretended that past crimes were groundless. That was hypocritical. It was well known that Japan had not reflected on its crimes against humanity or made honest reparations. It had forcibly drafted Koreans, and forced women and girls into sexual slavery. After its defeat in the War, Japan had destroyed documents related to its crimes, and doing that would not be sufficient to delete its "crime-woven traces".

He said Japan claimed to have apologized, but that was only a "tricky move" to divert international opinion. It was Japan's customary practice to say that it had repented when it was at a political impasse. High-level Japanese officials had asserted there were no documents regarding "comfort women". Such was the authentic nature of Japan's position on its blood-stained history, and today, many of those people lived in pain from such slavery.

Moreover, the facts about Japan's past crimes had been removed from textbooks, and those responsible for human slaughtering were today honoured as heroes, he said. Japan denied settlement of the issue and would surely repeat the same path of committing crimes against humanity. That was why the Democratic People's Republic of Korea took seriously Japan's moves against his country, notably through moves to grab Tok Islet, and the organized repression of Korean residents in Japan. If a permanent Security Council seat was given to Japan, that would be the same as instigating Japan's ambition, which was a dangerous risk.

Regarding the issue of the Sahara, the representative of South Africa said that based on its experience as a non-permanent member over the last two years, the Security Council should consider the conflict through a balanced approach based on self-determination.

The representative of Japan said, regarding the statement made by the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan had a consistent policy on the Tok Islet and would not repeat it today. Both countries had their own position. Both countries had to work together towards a mature partnership.

Regarding the statement of the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, he said Japan had already explained its position and would not repeat it. Still, he had to mention that Japan had conducted talks regarding the unfortunate past in normalizing relations. The allegation that Japan had refused to settle the issue did not reflect the facts, and he reminded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea that it must take concrete steps to initiate talks and normalize relations.

The representative of Morocco stressed that the position of South Africa on Sahara was not balanced. The partiality of the country was well known and showed "flagrant bias". Morocco had been actively engaged in finding a solution to the question of the Sahara with the support of the international community.

The representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said he had an obligation to reiterate the issue of Japan's crimes since the Japanese delegation had not understood the issue. Japan's crimes were not just an issue of the past, but an issue of the present, such as the recent "rash act" to grab Dokdo Island. Its violations of human rights and acts of repression were typical. Its crimes could not be covered up, no matter how much it tried.

Japan had no right to become a permanent member of the Security Council and charged with protecting international peace and security. Japan's insincerity had reached the extreme. He urged it to follow the example of other countries in resolving the issues of the past. Dokdo was a full sovereign territory of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and there was no room for talks. Dokdo Islet was a Korean territory. Japan was causing instability in the North Eastern Asian region and trying to evade its responsibility

The Representative of the Republic of Korea, exercising its second right of reply and responding to the delegate of Japan, said that the Republic of Korea Government was firm stating that the Dokdo islet was not a territorial issue.

Statements on Revitalization of the General Assembly

Opening the debate, MIGUEL D'ESCOTO BROCKMANN of Nicaragua, President of the General Assembly, said that by considering the revitalization of the Assembly, Member States had come face to face with concrete proposals that would let it reassert the Assembly's responsibilities as the chief deliberative policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations. He said democratization of the United Nations was the overarching priority of his Presidency and radical steps were needed to regain the Assembly's authority so it could perform its duties as the most democratic organ of the United Nations.

While the Assembly was the most representative body of the international system, it was not the most democratic. Indeed, while each Member State had one vote, until the Assembly restored the authority assigned to it under the Charter, its democracy would fall short of exercising the real leadership needed at this juncture in history, he said.

The report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the General Assembly provided an overview of the recommendations and changes that had been made over the past 16 years. The report identified the changes that were already helping to re-establish the Assembly's credibility as the chief deliberative and policy-making body, and the Assembly needed to act on the relevant resolutions that had not yet been implemented to further streamline its work.

There were clear opportunities to improve the exchange between the Assembly and other organs and specialized agencies of the United Nations. He suggested that the entire Assembly meet on a monthly basis with the President of the Security Council to produce more direct and dynamic exchanges. Further, the Assembly would benefit from briefings with the specialized agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system. He suggested finding ways to keep these exchanges "informal and candid", in order to add value to the work of all United Nations bodies.

Regarding efforts to formalize the procedures for selecting the Secretary-General, he urged the Assembly to put in place procedures for the timely review of candidates for Secretary-General well before the next election. He urged the Assembly to be practical in its response to that valuable report and identify opportunities for immediate action. "This will be the real measure of our vitality and of our determination to provide the dynamic leadership expected of us."

Finally, he said the Assembly had demonstrated "new agility" in taking up urgent issues of the day by drawing on enormous reservoirs of expertise inside and outside the United Nations system. "We must continue to seize these moments and organize action-oriented responses."

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, stated his delegation was committed to the democratization of the General Assembly through its commitment to multilateralism, international law and the Charter upon which the United Nations was founded. The reforms of the Organization and the General Assembly were a priority for the European Union and were crucial, especially after the 2005 World Summit, and he applauded the pragmatic working methods and results of the Working Group's report. Lessons drawn from the pilot countries also needed to play a role in the global reform efforts. In that respect, the cross cutting of gender issues, sustainable development, and human rights, among others, would further those efforts.

He then went on to cite several points of concern, among them the development of a method to ensure the implementation of resolutions already adopted, as well as a tool to follow up such implementation; the inclusion in the Secretary-General's reports of the General Assembly's work, specifically in regards the adoption and implementation of its resolutions; the introduction of modern technology in such areas as the voting system; the tardiness of the issuance of important reports, as well as ensuring the reports were available in more languages; and the participation of the Assembly in selecting the Secretary-General.

Although those highlighted what needed to be improved, he lauded the many efforts that had been successful and stated that finding solutions for those issues would enhance the improvement and progress in the revitalization of the General Assembly, an achievement which the European Union fully supported and was committed to ensuring through its own efforts.

MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), reiterated that revitalization of the Assembly, a body that must be guided by the principles of democracy, transparency and accountability, was critical to the United Nations' comprehensive reform process. Improvement of procedural and working methods was only a first step towards more substantive improvements to restore the Assembly's role, including in the maintenance of international peace and security, as outlined in Articles 10, 11 and 12, among others, in the Charter.

In that regard, he welcomed the Assembly President's decision to place the current session under the theme of "the democratization of the United Nations", and further welcomed the proposal to hold a High-level Dialogue on the Democratization of the United Nations, including a session to focus on empowering the Assembly.

While ready to continue support for all ongoing efforts to strengthen the Assembly's central role, Algeria would oppose any approach that sought to undermine the Assembly's achievements or diminish its current role. He noted with growing concern the Security Council's continuous attempts to encroach on issues which clearly fell within the powers of other principal organs. He underscored the need for full respect of the principal organs' powers.

His delegation had previously expressed satisfaction at the Assembly's central role during both the preparatory process of the 2005 World Summit and during its follow-up phase. In light of the gravity of the current financial crisis, the Assembly had an important role to play in bringing together the global community to address that issue. Genuine revitalization could not avoid addressing the lack of adequate resources made available to the Organization as a whole. In closing, he said the Movement looked forward to the creation of the Open-ended Working Group on General Assembly revitalization.

CLAUDIA BLUM ( Columbia), observing that the General Assembly was the only universal, deliberative, policy-making and participative body of the United Nations, thanked the successful efforts of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the General Assembly. Because of that Group's practical and efficient working methods, the diversity of the Assembly had been fully recognized in their report. However, she expressed regret that more Member States had not been willing to participate in efforts to improve the Assembly, as seen in the attendance to the Working Group, and the number of speakers on the issue today, as compared to the attendance to the Working Group on the reforms to the Security Council and the number of speakers on that issue over the last two days.

Speaking on specific issues in the report, she supported the need for new technology in the voting process which would engender more efficient work during elections. She also supported a working document for the General Assembly that would compile the work related to the revitalization provisions, as well as a reminder of what adopted resolutions needed to be implemented. There was also concern regarding the imbalance between the various bodies of the Organization.

In that regard, the General Assembly needed to have a more active role in the areas of peace, security, human rights and humanitarian law. Noting the frustration of Member States about the relationship between the Assembly and the Security Council, she called for the institutionalizing of communications between the Council and the Assembly. She concluded stating her firm belief that the General Assembly was the central and main body of the United Nations, and she urged Member States to show their political will to achieve a revitalization of its work and mandate.

BUI THE GIANG ( Viet Nam) said his delegation appreciated the work done over the past year by the Working Group and believed the documents before the Assembly could serve as productive inputs for discussion and assessment of the status of implementation. Revitalization of the Assembly's work should continue to aim at strengthening its central role and authority in the entire system.

He said the recent high-level meetings, such as those on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and on Africa's development needs, needed to be promoted in today's increasingly c