New Delhi (ABC Live): 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development : Avoid Temptation to Fall into ‘Declarationist Nominalism’ Pope Francis, Joined Other World Leaders in Hailing Post-2015 Framework.
Climate change, environmental issues, the migrant and refugee crisis, and the general threat of terrorism were among the concerns voiced by delegates at the General Assembly, speaking as world leaders gathered in New York for the seventieth session of the six-day general debate, which was preceded by a three-day summit on the Sustainable Development Goals as well as a high-level thematic debate on the maintenance of international peace and security.Expressing hope in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Conference on Climate Change, Pope Francis emphasized that solemn commitments were not enough, declaring: “We must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences.” Instead of resting content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists, or thinking that a single solution would provide an answer to all challenges, the international community must remember the “real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights,” he stressed.
Following the Pope’s address, world leaders embraced a sweeping 15-year global plan of action to end poverty, reduce inequalities and protect the environment, at the opening of a special summit. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals — and titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” — the set of 17 goals and 169 targets would come into effect on 1 January 2016, replacing the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 as the world’s “development blueprint”.
Speaking before the post-2015 framework’s unanimous adoption, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: “We have reached a defining moment in human history.” Describing it as “a promise by leaders to all people everywhere”, he said the Goals formed an agenda “for people and the planet”, as well as “for shared prosperity, peace and partnership”. It conveyed the urgency of climate action, enshrined gender equality and respect for the rights of all, and pledged to “leave no one behind”.
Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) said the high-level segments had gathered higher numbers of Heads of State and Government than ever before to address challenges and opportunities relating to peace and security, development and human rights. It was reassuring that, while celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations, leaders had reaffirmed the spirit and principles of its Charter and confirmed their faith in the Organization’s central role in international cooperation, he said.
Midway through the general debate, the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time outside the United Nations, an occasion upon which President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to the General Assembly for support to see an independent State of Palestine take its rightful place among the community of nations.
Following that event, a high-level meeting on the theme “Maintenance of international peace and security” explored lessons learned over the past 70 years, took stock of current challenges and offered an opportunity to recommit to the Organization’s founding spirit. Secretary-General Ban emphasized that keeping pace with the evolving security landscape was a collective responsibility that required a staunch commitment to conflict prevention — through building capacities, investing resources and, above all, heeding the call of the United Nations Charter to “unite in strength”.
During a review of the World Summit on the Information Society, the General Assembly reaffirmed its vision to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society. Further terms of the wide-ranging text expressed Member States’ common desire and commitment to ensure that everyone could create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life premised on the United Nations Charter, and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As proceedings got under way in the Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), Kim Won-Soo, Under-Secretary-General and Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said the international community shared the noble goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, but divisions on how to achieve that goal remained deep. There was a palpable frustration over the pace and scale of disarmament, he said, urging the international community to “roll up its sleeves” and tackle disarmament issues. Towards that end, the Committee approved 55 draft resolutions and two draft decisions on a broad range of concerns, from curbing the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons to the humanitarian consequences of intentional or accidental nuclear detonations, to preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists and other non-State actors.
The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) recommended 43 draft resolutions and five draft decisions for action by the General Assembly. Discussions in the Committee echoed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, emphasizing the need for effective, fair and inclusive implementation of the ambitious new development framework. Throughout the session, delegations spotlighted the unique social, economic and environmental challenges facing countries in special situations. They stressed the need to help small island developing States, as well as least developed, landlocked developing and middle-income countries, bridge the digital divide and meet such emerging challenges as climate change. Financing for development also remained a critical focus of discussion, as did the importance of democratizing international financial institutions, building resilience and empowering women in science and technology.
After more than 50 formal meetings, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) recommended 62 draft resolutions and six draft decisions for adoption by the Assembly. They covered a broad assortment of subjects, including social development, human rights defenders, gender equality and women’s empowerment, the world drug problem and the protection of migrants and internally displaced persons. The Committee also held lively debates on the rights of the child, and country-specific draft resolutions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Syria, in addition to hearing briefings by special rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups of the Human Rights Council.
Hearing from dozens of petitioners and holding numerous interactive dialogues — as well as a joint meeting with the First Committee on outer space activities — the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) held 25 formal meetings to consider topics including decolonization, the Middle East, peacekeeping operations, special political missions, atomic radiation and questions relating to information. The session culminated in the approval of 25 draft resolutions and three draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved 23 texts for adoption by the Assembly, including a $5.4 billion programme budget for 2016-2017, about $400 million less than the current two-year expenditure. The Committee agreed that a new mandatory retirement age of 65 years for staff recruited before 2014 would take effect by 1 January 2018 at the latest, and approved the first major overhaul of salaries and benefits for Professional staff in 26 years. It also agreed on the new rates of contribution that each Member State would make to the regular and peacekeeping accounts, and approved drafts on the funding requirements of the Organization’s 36 special political missions, the Umoja enterprise resource planning system, the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and several project-management schemes, among other things.
In a mix of successes and disappointment, the Sixth Committee (Legal) took action on 17 texts and tackled new matters addressing global concerns. However, it failed, for the tenth consecutive year, to conclude a draft convention on measures to eliminate international terrorism.
Against a backdrop of drastically changing climate, growing political unrest, unprecedented refugee flows, increasing threats of terrorism, and rising socioeconomic inequality, the General Assembly’s theme “The United Nations at 70 — a new commitment to action” envisioned a range of critical discussions intended to highlight ways in which the international community could tackle those burgeoning threats.
In a historic year when the Organization commemorated its seventieth anniversary, it also adopted the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the high-level summit preceding the Assembly’s general debate. Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway said the international community was meeting during a time of great optimism as well as grave crisis. There was hope for the success of the historic 2030 Agenda, but at the same time, 60 million people were now refugees or displaced. With the war in Syria having forced 12 million from their homes, “business as usual” would not lead to real sustainable development, she emphasized.
The critical connection linking international peace and security with development was a theme that threaded throughout the general debate and thematic discussions, as were the conflict in Syria and the Security Council’s paralysis in handling it. At the opening session of the general debate on 28 September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called upon the Russian Federation, United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to overcome the diplomatic paralysis. There was no room to accommodate an apocalyptic cult such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da’esh (ISIL/Da’esh), he stressed, a sentiment echoed by many speakers during the debate, who voiced alarm over the growing threat posed by the extremist group and urged the international community to unite in its efforts to eradicate it.
Despite the dire state of the world, there were some hopeful signs of the peaceful resolution of disputes. Speakers in the general debate cited the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States and the recent conclusion of the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme as examples.
A recurring theme was climate change and its disproportionate effects on vulnerable small island developing States. Kiribati’s representative said that in some parts of his country, whole villages had been forced to relocate due to severe coastal erosion and flooding. The agreement to be concluded at the Climate Conference in Paris must include provisions on loss and damage as well as a special mechanism to fast-track urgent assistance for millions of people around the world requiring it, he added.
Calls for urgent action on climate change was not limited to small island States, as Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, reminded the Assembly that shrinking glaciers in the north of his country had contributed to higher sea levels in the south. Emphasizing the fragility of the Arctic ecosystem, where temperatures were increasing at more than twice the average global rate, he said the Paris Climate Conference was the last chance to get on the track to a sustainable future.
On 1-2 October the Assembly held a high-level thematic debate on the maintenance of international peace and security during which senior Government officials agreed that cooperation was vital in tackling twenty-first century security challenges. The line between traditional and emerging challenges had been blurred, speakers said. The security landscape had changed amid the meteoric rise of groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram, increased maritime insecurity and transnational organized crime. All means to tackle them must be explored.
The Assembly took up the theme of peace and security on 12 October when it considered the Secretary-General’s report on the future of United Nations peace operations. According to the report, peace operations must move away from “template” approaches towards more targeted efforts, with mandates tailored to specific demands on the ground. There was a need for capabilities that could deploy quickly and administrative procedures that supported “dynamic” field environments. The issue of accountability on the part of peacekeepers also featured prominently in the debate, with the representative of Bangladesh, a major troop-contributing country, expressing full support for the zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct among the ranks of peacekeepers.
Among other notable deliberations during the seventieth session was a meeting to adopt a draft resolution on the “investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him”. Transmitting the report of the Independent Panel of Experts established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 69/246, the report examined the probative value of new information concerning the deaths of the former Secretary-General and members of his party, relating, in particular, to the hypothesis of an aerial attack or other interference as a possible cause or causes of the plane crash. By the terms of the text, the Assembly urged all Member States to release any relevant records in their possession and to provide the Secretary-General with relevant information.
On 20 November the Assembly held a meeting on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean basin, with a particular focus on Syrian asylum seekers. With speakers calling for a comprehensive new approach to tackling the dramatic and unprecedented refugee crisis, the Secretary-General called attention to the plight of Syria’s neighbours, who were hosting 4.3 million desperate people, underscoring that such a small number of countries could not continue to shoulder the world’s responsibility. In light of recent terrorist attacks, he expressed deep concern about “misplaced suspicions” of migrants and refugees, especially those who were Muslim.
The Assembly also considered long-standing items on its agenda. During a two-day debate on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, it adopted six texts on subjects as diverse as the Syrian Golan and the United Nations special information programme on the question of Palestine. Speaking after the votes, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine expressed gratitude for the Assembly’s strong message, saying it reflected a principled position. It also signalled to the Palestinian people that the international community was not abandoning them, but was standing with them in their continual struggle to achieve the independent State of Palestine and save the two-State solution.
As the Assembly concluded its deliberations, approving the Organization’s budget of $5.4 billion for the 2016–2017 biennium, the Secretary-General said the United Nations would continue to respond to the needs of the world’s people and to make the most of the resources entrusted to it. While the Assembly had decided to add resources for development but reduced those intended for such areas as public information, the United Nations was nevertheless committed to implementing transformational initiatives like Umoja and all other mandates. He noted that the 2016-2017 budget was the last to be adopted during his tenure.
Acting High Representative Kim told the Committee that deep anxiety about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons reflected in the large number of Member States supporting the humanitarian consequences movement. A representative of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean said nuclear weapons were a “loaded gun pointing to the head of humankind”. Similarly, Jamaica’s representative said that any peace based upon deterrence was akin to peace between two people pointing guns at each other’s heads with their fingers on the trigger.
In the course of thematic debates leading up to the submission of more than 50 texts, speakers stressed that “there can never be the right hands for the wrong weapons”. South Africa’s representative, speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition countries, voiced the sentiments of many by arguing that increased military spending in a world where the basic needs of billions were not being met was not only unacceptable and unsustainable, but also at odds with the aspirations embodied in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
On other weapons of mass destruction, delegations expressed outrage over the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons in the Syrian conflict and recent reports alleging the use of sulphur mustard by a terrorist organization in both Syria and Iraq. Finland’s representative stressed that any use of chemical weapons anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstances, was unacceptable.
The disarmament aspects of outer space also gained attention. The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need for all nations to agree not to be the first to place weapons in outer space. Along similar lines, China’s representative warned that, given the temptation to attain the strategic advantage provided by military space capability, the growing tendency towards weaponization of that realm was having a greater impact on space security. He called for the start of multilateral negotiations on an arms control treaty for outer space.
Speaking during discussions on the conventional weapons cluster, Singapore’s representative asserted that the global illicit arms trade had spun dangerously out of control. More than 250 armed conflicts in the past decade had led to more than 50,000 deaths each year, record displacements, lost livelihoods and lost opportunities to eliminate poverty. The widespread availability of small arms and light weapons, and particularly their misuse, diversion and illicit circulation, had been a key enabler of conflict.
On the United Nations disarmament machinery, some delegations were of the view that the root cause of the institutional stalemate lay in political factors, while others blamed out-of-date rules of procedure. Austria’s representative said it was difficult to imagine that the Conference on Disarmament could regain its former relevance after 17 years of dysfunction. Speaking for the 38 States making up the Informal Group of Observer States to the Conference, Latvia’s representative recalled that when enlargement of that forum’s membership had last been considered, no action had been taken. A concrete decision on membership could provide fresh impetus to the entire internal process and demonstrate that the Conference was still able to reach consensus.
During the Committee’s debate on regional disarmament, delegations noted that as old disputes festered, new conflicts and tensions were emerging in several regions and subregions, from the Euro-Atlantic area to the Middle East and elsewhere. Many speakers called for the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, expressing regret that such a status had eluded the region for years after the adoption of a resolution intended for that purpose.
The Committee also debated several other issues, including the rise of cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism amid the rapid growth of information and communications technologies. Some pointed out that as the risks of an arms race in cyberspace grew, no State could achieve absolute security on its own. They called for the pursuit of a new cyber-security concept based on collective security.
Chairing the First Committee Bureau was Karel Jan Gustaaf van Oosterom (Netherlands), with Abiodun Richards Adejola (Nigeria), Abdulaziz AlAjmi (Kuwait) and Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria) serving as Vice-Chairs and Tasha Young (Belize) as Rapporteur.
Dominating the Committee’s general debate as it convened for the first time since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda was the need to address the unique challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable countries in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the general debate opened on 7 October, Chair Andrej Logar (Slovenia) urged the Committee to “step up its responsibilities” and take the lead in providing political guidance on the development issues addressed by the 2030 Agenda. Keynote speaker Abhijit Banerjee, Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described the 2030 Agenda’s ambition as a two-edged sword, saying that in order to prevent the international community from sliding backwards, it must focus on small and specific strategies that worked.
Throughout the session, delegations underlined the hard work that lay ahead. They called attention to the unique vulnerability of African countries, developing States, those affected by terrorism and people living under colonial occupation. Delegations from both least-developed and middle-income African States stressed the need to implement the new development agenda “without the burdens of the past”, as they called upon wealthy nations to restructure debt. They said financial and economic crises could be avoided by establishing shock-absorbing mechanisms, abolishing blockades and eliminating economic sanctions. Several delegates called for multinational and commercial systems to be more fair and inclusive, and for the removal of obstacles limiting membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Trade was spotlighted as an important element of development, and South-South cooperation as an integral part of encouraging trade among countries of the global South.
Representatives repeatedly underscored that 70 per cent of those living in poverty were inhabitants of middle-income countries, as concerned delegations from that category cautioned against weaning them off concessional support before they were ready to stand on their own. “The rate at which external support drops exceeds the rate at which resource mobilization initially rises,” Kenya’s representative pointed out. For their part, delegations from small island States continued to reiterate the critical need to build resilience to the growing impact of climate change. Developing countries urged the bridging of the digital divide and welcomed the establishment of a technology bank.
Spotlighting development challenges arising from unique circumstances, a member of Guinea’s delegation said the Ebola outbreak of 2014 had brutally interrupted progress in all areas, while a counterpart from Yemen said the conflict in his country had reversed development gains. Meanwhile, a delegate from Cameroon said Boko Haram’s terrorist activities and the consequent flow of migrants and refugees into his country threatened progress made on the Millennium Development Goals.
The Committee approved draft resolutions focused on consumer protection, mitigating the effects of climate change, strengthening efforts to improve the development of sustainable agricultural technologies, and financial inclusion for sustainable development. Throughout the session, delegations also stressed the need to recognize women as development catalysts in both developing and developed countries. To that end, the Committee approved several relevant draft resolutions, including one on women in development and another promoting women’s role in science.
As in previous sessions, the Committee approved a draft resolution that would require Israel to compensate Lebanon and Syria for the costs of repairing environmental damage caused by the Israeli Air Force’s destruction of oil storage tanks near Lebanon’s El-Jiyeh electric power plant. Another draft would demand that Israel cease the exploitation, depletion or endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and recognize the right of the Palestinian people to claim restitution.
The Second Committee Bureau was chaired by Andrej Logar (Slovenia), with Purnomo Ahmad Chandra (Indonesia), Enrique Carrillo Gómez (Paraguay) and Reinhard Krapp (Germany) serving as Vice-Chairs and Chantal Uwizera (Rwanda) as Rapporteur.
The global refugee crisis loomed large over the Third Committee’s work, with delegations also exploring the link between human rights and the freshly-adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during two months of meetings that generated more than 60 drafts for action by the General Assembly.
Addressing the Committee for the last time before stepping down from his post, António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), warned that the international multilateral humanitarian community was “no longer able to provide the core protection and basic life-saving assistance” to displaced persons, whose numbers had grown to more than 60 million worldwide.
Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) announced a high-level thematic debate on human rights, to be held on 12 and 13 July 2016 with a special focus on those affected by conflict and disaster. He told the Committee that all countries must uphold their obligations under international refugee law and that political solutions to conflicts that had prompted refugee flows must be found.
As in previous years, the Committee considered country-specific resolutions on human rights issues. Reports on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Syria provoked robust debate, with many delegations saying that the Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review process was a sufficient mechanism for examining such issues, and some speakers calling for an end to the targeting of specific States. Throughout the session, the situation in Syria wove through discussions, with delegates often citing the conflict as one of the main root causes of the current migration crisis.
Several draft resolutions approved by the Committee highlighted the importance of addressing the specific needs of vulnerable groups. In addition to texts on the protection of migrants and internally displaced persons, the Committee approved drafts focusing on, among other subjects, indigenous peoples, journalists and persons with disabilities. By a recorded vote of 117 in favour to 14 against, with 40 abstentions, the Committee approved a text by which the General Assembly would strongly condemn violence against and intimidation of human rights defenders, and underscore the responsibility of Member States and business enterprises in that regard. That text generated heated debate around the definition of the term “human rights defenders” and whether they should have special rights.
For the first time since 2009, a recorded vote was requested on the draft resolution concerning the rights of the child, triggering an intense discussion about the concept of sexual education. By that text, approved by a recorded 128 votes in favour to none against, with 44 abstentions, the General Assembly would call upon States to give full effect to the right to education for all children to develop and implement educational programmes and teaching materials, including comprehensive evidence-based education on human sexuality.
Following that vote, several delegations disassociated themselves from its references to sexual education, insisting that the United Nations should not be used to advance controversial values that impeded the sovereign right of States to advance human rights issues in accordance with their social and cultural backgrounds.
The Committee also approved a draft resolution on the girl child, by which the Assembly would strongly call upon States and the international community to create an environment ensuring the well-being of girls.
Also high on the Committee’s agenda was the need for concrete gender-equality and women-empowerment measures, with Yoko Hayashi, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, saying that the 2030 Agenda was an opportunity to transform those principles into reality and a “stand-alone goal”. Other draft resolutions on promoting the advancement of women included texts on violence against women migrant workers, on the improvement of the situation of women and girls in rural areas, and on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
For the first time, the Committee heard from the newly-appointed Independent Expert on persons with albinism, who spoke of severe discrimination and violence against albinos based upon traditional beliefs. Special rapporteurs, chairs of working groups of the Human Rights Council and independent experts presented reports on a variety of subjects, including women’s advancement, child protection, indigenous issues, torture, human rights defenders, the treatment of refugees, migrants and the right to education.
In addressing transnational crime, human trafficking and the world drug problem, delegates underscored the need for States and United Nations agencies to strengthen cooperation while placing human beings at the heart of solutions to such offences. Under the same agenda item, the Committee approved a draft resolution on, among other things, the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem, to be held in 2016.
Chairing the Committee was Omar Hilale (Morocco), with Greg Dempsey (Canada), Tamta Kupradze (Georgia) and Shiraz Arif Mohamed (Guyana) serving as Vice-Chairs and Adele Li (Singapore) as Rapporteur.
Against a backdrop of multiple prominent reviews of United Nations peace operations, including a High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) considered the topics of peacekeeping and special political missions in an unprecedented joint format, hearing from senior officials that reforms were urgently needed to help both types of mission respond more effectively to emerging challenges.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the Committee that modern conflicts were outpacing the Organization’s ability to address them. He called attention to the various reviews that had generated momentum for the changes needed to ensure that peace operations were designed, equipped and financed to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
General Assembly President Mogens Lykkentoft (Denmark) said he would table a draft resolution conveying a commitment to assess proposals made by the High-level Independent Panel and the Secretary-General.
Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the renewed attention to peacekeeping had come at a critical juncture, stressing: “We must, together, keep the political momentum alive, and maintain sharp focus on our shared objective to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping.”
In another break with traditional practice, the Committee took up outer space activities in a meeting held jointly with the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). Officials briefing the two Committees agreed that, as major cross-cutting issues, outer space security and sustainability must be addressed in a holistic manner within multilateral forums such as United Nations bodies. “Today’s meeting proves that we are on the right track,” said Victor L. Vasiliev (Russian Federation), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities. Discussing “possible challenges to space security and sustainability”, he said the joint meeting would add to the synergies among different United Nations entities dealing with space security.
Kim Won-Soo, Under-Secretary-General and Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said there was growing recognition of the need to address comprehensively the cross-cutting aspects of outer space and disarmament. The Group of Governmental Experts had been able to achieve consensus on transparency and confidence-building measures as well as increased cooperation among United Nations entities, he noted, adding that Member States were continuing discussions aimed at finding a way forward.
Peter Martinez (South Africa), Chair of the Working Group on the Long term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, agreed that challenges to the security of space activities were multilateral in nature, saying via video conference that the international community now had a chance to work together to preserve and protect the space environment for use by future generations.
Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, said the Outer Space Committee had positioned itself at the forefront of the overarching global sustainable development process, including by addressing challenges to space security and sustainability.
By the conclusion of its session on 9 December, the Committee recommended 25 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly, having tackled, in addition to peacekeeping and outer space, its other regular agenda items: decolonization; questions relating to information; United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; mine action; and atomic radiation.
Alongside Chair Brian Bowler (Malawi), the Second Committee Bureau comprised Vice-Chairs Abdulaziz AlJarallah (Kuwait), Danijel Medan (Croatia) and Jose Eduardo Proaño (Ecuador), as well as Clotilde Ferry (Monaco), Rapporteur.
In an eventful budget year, the Fifth Committee approved 23 texts, among them a $5.4 billion programme budget for 2016–2017 — $400 million less than the current two-year expenditure. It was the Committee’s “lunar” year — occurring every six years — which saw discussion of both the regular budget and the rates of contributions by Member States to the regular and peacekeeping accounts. The main session, from 8 October to 23 December, involved several important debates, including one on the first major revamp of salaries and benefits for Professional staff in 26 years, and another on ways in which the United Nations could “do more with less” through several business transformation initiatives.
On the budget, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had initially proposed $5.57 billion for the 2016–2017 cycle beginning on 1 January. Thanks to efforts to seek efficiencies, the proposed 2016–2017 outlay was 3.5 per cent less in real terms from the previous biennium, said Yukio Takasu, Under-Secretary-General for Management. Most savings came from cuts in staff posts and non-post resources across the Secretariat.
The Committee also approved the new scales for Member States’ financial obligations in 2016, making China the third-largest contributor to the regular budget, at 7.92 per cent of the total, behind the United States (22 per cent) and Japan (9.68 per cent). For the peacekeeping budget, China, at 10.28 per cent, was set to replace Japan as the second-largest donor, while the United States would shoulder 28.56 per cent and Japan 9.68 per cent. The methodology for calculating those rates was a thorny issue, as some delegations pointed to a gap between the assessed dues of many Member States and their respective capacities to pay. Delegations reviewed such factors as gross national income, low per capita income, high debt burden and a maximum assessment rate or ceiling.
Following intense discussions over the conditions of service and pay for staff, the Committee finally agreed that a new mandatory retirement age of 65 years for staff recruited before 2014 would take effect by 1 January 2018 at the latest. Delegates argued that although the new compensation package, proposed by the International Civil Service Commission, lacked sweeping changes, it was a step in the right direction. They agreed on a unified base/floor salary scale structure, replacing the dual scales that previously differentiated staff with dependents from those without, and on a revised education grant scheme, which would come into force from the school year in progress as of 1 January 2018.
Several business transformation initiatives came under scrutiny during the session. Delegates commended the implementation so far of the Umoja enterprise resource planning system, which went live at New York Headquarters in November, but expressed concern about the lack of transparency regarding the project’s full cost and a benefit-realization plan. Delegates also noted that the proposed global service delivery model, an initiative to streamline business processes and improve the delivery of administrative services, would enable the United Nations to better deliver on its mandates. However, it lacked an overall plan for integration and synergies with other projects, such as Umoja, the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), the Global Field Support Strategy, the information and communications technology scheme, and human resource reforms such as the mobility initiative.
As in previous sessions, delegates expressed worry that the Organization’s 36 special political missions now accounted for 20 per cent of the regular budget, with some speakers calling for a separate account to finance them and a serious review of their funding and backstopping arrangements. The Committee agreed on $567.25 million for special political missions during the 2016–2017 biennium.
The Committee also considered reform of key oversight bodies, among them the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which advises the 193 Member States on how to manage the world body’s vast human resources and finances. Due to a lack of consensus, the matter was deterred until the Committee’s March 2016 session. The Committee also approved a draft resolution stressing the need for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to increase the focus on investigations into frauds. It also approved a draft renewing support for the United Nations internal justice system, by which, among other things, the Assembly would welcome the panel of outside experts established in April 2015 to assess the system.
Several meetings were devoted to the management and renovation of property at New York Headquarters and worldwide. A draft resolution called for the prompt demolition of the Temporary North Lawn Building and the refurbishment of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library as well as the South Annex separated from the ongoing renovation initiative at New York Headquarters known as the Capital Master Plan. With more than 5,000 staff members based in eight buildings leased off campus at a cost of $56 million annually, delegates also called for urgent action to meet future office space needs and warned about the costliness of inaction.
Delegates aired concerns about the financing of proposed renovations for the historic Palais des Nations in Geneva — estimated to tally nearly $1 billion. They also discussed a proposal for a multi-year, $35.2 million project to upgrade the premises of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, to bring it in line with seismic standards.
The Committee’s Bureau comprised Durga Prasad Bhattarai (Nepal) as Chair, alongside Vice-Chairs Bachar Bong Abdallah (Chad), Omar Castañeda Solares (Guatemala) and Yotam Goren (Israel) and Rapporteur Gert Auväärt (Estonia).
As the United Nations celebrated its seventieth anniversary, delegations aimed, with high hopes, to conclude a draft comprehensive convention on measures to eliminate international terrorism, only to recognize at their meeting on 13 November that, once again, outstanding disagreements could not be resolved. Expressing their collective disappointment, Committee Chair Eden Charles (Trinidad and Tobago) emphasized his concern over the failure to conclude the draft, particularly in light of recent attacks in Lebanon. That night, everyone had gone home to the news of the attacks in Paris, and on the morning of the session’s final substantive meeting, news had broken of an attack in Mali, he said.
The lack of a legal definition of terrorism remained a major sticking point, with disagreement over the need to distinguish between acts of terrorism and legitimate struggles by peoples under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination in the exercise of their right to self-determination, as advocated by Iran’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement. Other speakers held that no cause could justify terrorist acts.
While delegations agreed on the urgency of the situation, including Nigeria’s representative, who supported continuing efforts towards a final draft, his counterpart from Liechtenstein said that, having failed to meet the mandate 10 times, “we should acknowledge that we are unable to fulfil this task and let the work continue in another forum.” Nonetheless, virtually all delegations called for the United Nations to play a central role in combating terrorism through its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation in preventing the financing of terrorism, while stressing that all measures undertaken must be consistent with international law.
The Committee did, however, achieve some notable successes during the session. One hard-won accomplishment, as reported by Virginia Morris, Secretary of the Advisory Committee of the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, was the inclusion in the Secretary-General’s proposed budget of funding for the Programme’s core activities as it commemorated its fiftieth anniversary.
Many delegates underlined the value that they personally had derived from the Programme’s professional educational activities. Speaking for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Ecuador’s representative described the Programme of Assistance as “a building block” for understanding and engaging the substantive norms of international law upon which the United Nations was founded. Noting that ACABQ had approved the Secretariat’s request for necessary resources, he urged: “We just need to take the steps from now to the end of the year so as to have those activities […] funded through the regular budget.”
Those steps had been taken and, with the General Assembly’s adoption of the budget for the biennium 2016–2017 on 23 December, funding had been approved, enabling the Programme to train more than 100 lawyers in its regional courses for Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the International Law Fellowship held at The Hague. It had also been able to provide support for more than 1 million users in all 193 Member States through the Audiovisual Library of International Law.
The seventieth session also saw improvements in relations with the host country. Nicholas Emiliou (Cyprus), Chair of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, said that, while the timely issuance of entry visas remained a concern, there had been progress on other long-standing matters. Syria’s representative noted “a degree of success” in the provision of banking services while his counterpart from Cuba thanked the Committee and the host country for having expedited diplomatic processing in relation to immigration and customs matters. The representative of the United States described the Committee as “a valuable forum in which to discuss relevant issues relating to this large, diverse and dynamic diplomatic community in New York”.
Recognizing the key achievements of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the Committee provisionally approved the draft revised Notes on Organizing Arbitral Proceedings and parts of a model law on secured transactions, with the aim of providing urgently needed assistance to States seeking to modernize their secured transactions legislation.
During its annual two-week deliberations on the report of the International Law Commission, covering some eight substantive topics, speakers praised that body’s efforts. The Russian Federation’s representative described its work as exceptional in that, unlike academic research, the Commission considered the practices of States with different legal systems as well as comments from delegates in the Sixth Committee. Noting the Commission’s conclusion of its work on the most-favoured-nation clause, Malaysia’s representative said the final report on the matter could help States in the negotiation, drafting, interpretation and application of such clauses within treaties, provided that it served only as a non-legally binding guide. However, delegations also highlighted the need for further efforts in the area of international investments and dispute settlement.
Another area debated during the annual review of the Commission’s report was protection of the atmosphere. The representative of the Federated States of Micronesia described that topic as the most pressing challenge facing humankind today, stressing that while States bickered over the many ills facing the international community, “our planet — our home — is falling apart around us”. Japan’s representative hailed the draft guideline stipulating the obligation of international cooperation on the matter as one of the most important outcomes of the Commission’s session.
The Committee also deliberated on four draft articles provisionally adopted by the Commission on “crimes against humanity”, a new topic in its programme of work. Those drafts concerned the prevention and punishment of such crimes, setting out the general obligations of States, as well as their definition. Many delegations welcomed the approach maintaining the definition of such crimes contained in article 7 of the Rome Statute. However, some speakers expressed concern that the elaboration of a convention on the topic would place at risk the consensus that had been reached on that definition. Still others pointed out that that the definition was not universally accepted.
Taking up the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission, the Committee noted that the small number who committed crimes besmirched the reputation, credibility, impartiality and integrity of the Organization. Such crimes also undermined the success of operations and wider efforts to promote the rule of law, security, development and human rights. In that context, Côte d’Ivoire’s representative lamented the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against United Nations personnel, urging States to establish special jurisdictions with regard to grave offences committed by their nationals in other countries. In addition, Norway’s representative, speaking for the Nordic countries, said it was time to strengthen the language of the resolution on the matter, and to request that Member States provide information to the Secretariat on follow-up to referred cases in their national jurisdictions.
Charing the Sixth Committee Bureau was Eden Charles (Trinidad and Tobago), alongside Vice Chairpersons Andreas Motzfeldt Kravik (Norway), Boris Holovka (Serbia) and Natalie Y. Morris-Sharma (Singapore) and Rapporteur Idrees Mohammed Ali Mohammed Saeed (Sudan).
(Posted by: Jatinder Kaur December 30, 2015 in World, Investigative News Comments Off on 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Alternates MDGs)