NGO PRESS CONFERENCE ON UN REFORM
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
31 August 2005
The General Assembly’s September Summit presented a singular opportunity that if missed would disappoint the millions of people expecting specific measures for United Nations reform, representatives of major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein.
Providing an update on the status of negotiations on the draft outcome document for the Summit, William Pace of the World Federalist Movement noted that the General Assembly President had agreed to a new convening of a core group of Member States to negotiate seven areas of concern, namely the Human Rights Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, the responsibility to protect, the International Criminal Court, disarmament and non-proliferation issues, the definition of terrorism, development and the Millennium Development Goals. Member States not represented in that core group were concerned that the format for negotiations was not transparent enough. The United States wanted the negotiations to consider all of the paragraphs of the outcome document. President Ping planned to submit a new draft on 6 September.
The establishment of a strong Human Rights Council was central to the outcome of the September Summit, said Yvonne Terlingen of Amnesty International. It would also be a key measure of the Summit’s success and one of the most important developments in human rights history since the establishment of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights. The current text provided the basics to ensure the creation of a strong council, including such essential elements as peer review and a review of all human rights situations, which were crucial aspects for better human rights machinery.
There were, however, three broad problems with creating a strong Human Rights Council, she said. Over a dozen countries wanted to delete all substantive provisions from the text and replace them with provisions for an open-ended working group that would decide on such matters as the mandate of a future human rights organ. Such a decision would jeopardize major achievements in the human rights field. It was difficult not to see the current situation as an effort to block the creation of a new council. Many countries had failed to come out in strong defence of the current text. The countries that had opened up the draft outcome text for renegotiation had a heavy responsibility for ensuring that an effective council was adopted.
On the issue of funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said the current document included crucial provisions for redoubling the Office’s budget. Many countries had made numerous pledges to strengthen the Office. It was a mystery, therefore, that the countries that had talked most loudly had failed to support the text calling for a doubling of the budget.
On the issue of the International Criminal Court, given that it was an essential part of the Millennium Declaration, eliminating reference to it in the outcome document would be a step backwards, she said. The Security Council’s referral of the situation in Darfur to the Court was an important precedent and added to the urgency of retaining the Court in the final outcome document. Taking out language that referred to it would be a major reversal.
Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam said that organization was concerned that some governments, including the United States but not the United States alone, were working to weaken the outcome document, taking out key wordings on the responsibility to protect. She was concerned by efforts during the current negotiations to water down language as it would be a huge disappointment to the millions of people expecting commitments at the September Summit.
On the issue of poverty reduction, she said she was concerned about efforts to remove references to the Millennium Development Goals and to water down commitments on aid levels and debt relief. She worried also that there would be trade-offs between development commitments and wording on the responsibility to protect. President Ping had presented a compilation text that Member States were currently considering. References to the Millennium Development Goals, commitments to achieve 0.7 per cent overseas development assistance must be in the final text. Other areas of concern included debt relief to middle-income countries, trade concerns and financing for development.
Addressing the issues of disarmament and non-proliferation, Mr. Pace noted that the governments that had led the process on that issue in the last six months had done their best to recover some of the ground lost particularly during the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Conference. They would use the Summit to get “back to even”, so to speak. On the matter of a Peacebuilding Commission, the United States had proposed that the Commission only be an advisory body of the Security Council and subject to Permanent-5 veto.
He said he saw the emergence of a similar pattern on almost all issues during the negotiations, whereby a large number of countries represented by the various groups would support an issue and a small number would object to it. Often there were only two or three permanent members opposing a proposal. It was important to understand who was undermining progress on the various issues so that the Secretary-General did not become a scapegoat.
Why did countries not want to make commitments, even though they said they believed in them? a correspondent said.
Responding, Ms. Reindorp said one could not generalize on motives. On the issue of the responsibility to protect, for example, determined blockers included such countries as Cuba, Syria, Pakistan, Russia and China. When governments hide behind issues such as sovereignty and non-interference, lives would be lost, and that was an outcome no government could want.
On development issues, the key concern was that the United States did not allow the process to take a step backwards; even from some of the positive measures the United States had taken during the Bush administration to increase aid levels. Watering down the text would not be in the interest of the United States Government in its determination to make a difference in the area of development.
Responding to a question on the International Criminal Court, Mr. Pace said some permanent members wanted exclusive control over peace and security issues, even though the Security Council was the most failing principle organ of the United Nations.
A correspondent noted that the United States objected to the portrayal of it having destroyed consensus on an almost agreed-upon text. What was an accurate portrayal of how things were going and what impact had the United States had on the outcome text?
Responding, Ms. Reindorp said the 5 August draft document presented by President Ping was a negotiating text. Many Member States had articulated that the development cluster was an area subject to broad agreement. The extent of the changes proposed by the United States was more extensive than those sought by any other Member State.
The United States had taken a different position up until the appointment of Ambassador Bolton, Mr. Pace added. With his arrival there had been a shift from affecting human rights reforms to a more protectionist point of view. China and Egypt were doing the same. A small number of countries were set on trying to sabotage the document. Cuba was on one side and the United States on the other.
Asked about the possibility of gradual reforms, Mr. Pace said the draft referred to ongoing negotiations some 40 times. There would be negotiations on whatever was agreed to in the document. The countries supporting a Peacebuilding Commission wanted enough clarity on how the new institution would operate.
If governments failed to make clear commitments regarding the development cluster, progress would be so gradual that the Millennium Development Goals would not be met even in 100 years, Ms. Reindorp added. This was the moment to achieve the development goals. Specificity in the outcome document was crucial. There was no point to saying one agreed to establishing a human rights commission if the specificities for it were diluted. There was genuine recognition that the United Nations needed to be strengthened in the key areas outlined by the Secretary-General. The outcome document needed all the specificity it had at the moment.
Responding to a question on the issue of small arms, she said that while the current text did include reference to small arms, it was very weak and commitments had been watered down through the successive drafts. Oxfam had been pushing for governments to agree to tighter controls, in particular binding instruments on arm transfers. There was growing recognition that the matter of small arms was a problem, and it would be a missed opportunity for governments not to say that in the document.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|