PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF FIFTY-NINTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
13 September 2005
“We have a document; it’s a good document; it was not an easy process, but we do have a document”, Jean Ping, President of the fifty-ninth General Assembly said at a Headquarters press conference this evening following the closing of the session and the adoption of a draft outcome document to be forwarded to the World Summit tomorrow morning.
Turning directly to questions, beginning with United Nations reform, he said that was a process that did not “fall like manna from heaven”, and which was well under way. Regarding management reform, the most important element was to look clearly at the level of responsibility. The General Assembly, which was a political decision-making body much like a national assembly, took decisions on the budget and monitored its implementation, for which it needed an appropriate tool. That meant not only the internal oversight under the Secretary-General, but also an independent body to monitor his activities, as well as those of the Secretariat. At the same time, there was also a need to retain the Secretary-General’s authority and flexibility in the area of management.
Asked how an entire section on disarmament and non-proliferation had “vanished” from the outcome document, he replied that reflected the contradictions among Member States and the difficulty they had had in agreeing on those issues a few months ago at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It had only been possible to record those difficulties in trying to agree on such crucial issues, but it was to be hoped that it would be possible to move forward and not remain “stuck”.
Turning to terrorism and Saudi Arabia’s proposal to establish an international anti-terrorism centre, he noted that terrorism was of concern to the entire world and that if a country made a contribution by offering to set up such a mechanism to combat it, that should be encouraged. However, other States would have to agree on whether it was to be international in scope.
Asked whether the quest for consensus at the United Nations was the best way to negotiate in light of the recent negotiations, he recalled the time when Member States had talked about an “automatic majority” in the Assembly, meaning that a certain number of small States from the developing world would vote with a single automatic voice. That had led to the idea of consensus to bring the greatest number of Member States into the decision-making. That decision, in turn, had led to consequences -– consensus did not leave everyone totally satisfied, but it enabled them to move forward.
Responding to a request to identify the most controversial point of United Nations reform, he said that everybody talked about Security Council reform, but that was just one small segment of institutional reform. An attempt was under way to reform United Nations institutions in this century, but the impression was that it involved only the Security Council. That was because that organ was the “seat of power”, where peace and war were discussed and binding decisions taken. It was an important body and States wanted to be part of it, but development matters were just as vital for a great many human beings. Millions on the African continent had been completely marginalized by extreme poverty, the spread of disease and war. Development was essential for that continent. He praised the outcome document for addressing all the major development issues, such as official development assistance (ODA), debt cancellation, trade and investment.
Regarding peace and security, discussions had focused on terrorism, he continued. Clearly, the text condemned terrorism and a decision had been taken to have a general convention against it, in addition to the 12 existing ones. Agreement had emerged for such a convention to be drafted and adopted next year. That represented significant progress in counter-terrorism efforts. Discussions had also centred on disarmament, but the difficulties encountered in that regard had already been explained. Small arms and light weapons had also been discussed, but Member States had been unable to arrive at a consensus.
Noting the adoption of a peacebuilding commission, he said its importance would come into play in helping States to avoid a relapse into conflict and to move towards sound economies. Concerning the rule of law and human rights, the document covered sanctions, as well as the Human Rights Commission. The latter body was no longer credible, so it should be replaced by another that would not suffer the same shortcomings. The new body –- a human rights council –- was placed at a higher level. Whereas the Human Rights Commission in Geneva was a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, the new body would be under the authority of the General Assembly. Difficulties had emerged in the details, as usual, including those relating to membership and voting. They had been deferred for discussion at the sixtieth Assembly session.
Asked what he would say to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people who could have been helped by a stronger outcome document, Mr. Ping said reform was a process. A plan could have emerged as had occurred with the Marshall Plan in 1945, but for various reasons Member States did not seem to have the political will for something quite as overarching. Still, one could not say that nothing had been done.
There were deep differences everywhere, and in some cases, it had not been possible to move forward, he said in response to another question. There had been some discrepancies concerning issues agreed at previous summits, such as the right to self-determination in situations of colonial domination and foreign occupation. As President, he had decided that those points on which agreement had already been reached should be retained. Thus, the preamble to the text retained the right to self-determination, particularly regarding territories under colonial or foreign occupation.
Asked how it was possible to convene a high-level conference on terrorism when there was still no definition of terrorism, he said that for more than 10 years discussions on terrorism had been held without agreement on a definition. A general convention to combat terrorism was imperative. If States could not agree on a definition, such a convention could still be drafted. “Must we define an elephant if we’re going to protect it?” he asked.
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For information media • not an official record
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