TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
MODERATOR: Good morning. I have the pleasure to introduce His Excellency Professor Diogo Freitas do Amaral, President of the General Assembly, who has been here, as you know, from the beginning of the Assembly and who has developed his own creative proposals and ideas, in addition to the official functions he is performing as President of the Assembly. I take the opportunity to welcome him here and to invite him to take the floor.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I thank you for your presence. My idea is to give you a brief summary of what has been going on in the General Assembly of the United Nations from mid-September until now. I will focus especially on two subjects, first of all the work of the plenary and of the Main Committees of the General Assembly, and secondly the reform process which has been going on and which will very soon enter into a decisive phase.
First of all, the work of the plenary and the Main Committees, which is the normal business of the General Assembly: it began, as you know, on 19 September; it will end tomorrow, 22 December. This is a little bit more than three months. I would like to stress some relevant moments, although of course I cannot make a very complete list of the issues.
First of all, of course, I would like to stress the importance and the unique character of the fiftieth anniversary special commemorative meeting, which, in my opinion, was a success, not only because of the high level and great number of heads of State and heads of government who came to New York, but also because of what they said. They made very important official statements on their commitment to the United Nations and on the reform of the United Nations. I really think that session those three days was the first round of our work towards reforming the United Nations system, because we have a very complete set of statements on that matter.
Related to the fiftieth anniversary, we had of course also the visit of Pope John Paul II, which was a very important moment. The Pope made important statements here at United Nations Headquarters.
Other relevant moments include the decisions taken to reinforce the aid to African development, and the initiatives taken and approved on disarmament, namely the preparatory work to conclude a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty as soon as possible in 1996, the call to the Russian Federation and the United States to resume their bilateral negotiations in order to reach an early agreement on preventing an arms race in outer space, and the call upon Member States to provide data for the Register of Conventional Arms.
Then, there was an important moment, in my opinion, which was the recommendation to establish a preparatory committee to draft a convention on the creation of an international criminal court. This is an issue that has been discussed for some years. And finally, on the recommendation of the Sixth Committee, it has been established that a preparatory committee should be created to draft the convention that would create the international criminal court.
Another point which I think is very interesting is that during this General Assembly an unprecedented number of States have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Out of 185 Member States we have now 182 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which I think is very positive news.
A world food summit has been scheduled to meet in Rome in November 1996, in one year's time, which will also be of importance. Important resolutions have been adopted by the General Assembly on the follow-up to the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development and on the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing.
Another thing which I think is important, not only on its merits but also because it is the first time it has happened as far as I know, is the resolution of the General Assembly by which the General Assembly itself acknowledges and endorses the permanent neutrality of the Republic of Turkmenistan. As far as I know, this is the first time in the history of international law that the neutrality of an independent country has been approved and adopted by a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
And last but not least, the General Assembly approved a resolution on the normalization of the financial situation of South Africa towards the United Nations, which means that, by consensus, the General Assembly has exempted South Africa from the arrears related to the period of apartheid. South Africa will pay, and has paid, its contributions for the democratic period, and has also announced a major financial contribution to the peace-keeping operations of the United Nations in Africa. But it has been considered as fair and just that the democratic Government of South Africa should not pay the arrears of the South Africa of the period of apartheid.
Finally, I would like to tell you that we anticipate that tomorrow, 22 December, the General Assembly will approve the United Nations budget for 1996-1997. We are still waiting for the final report of the Fifth Committee; I hope it will come today, and tomorrow we will be able to adopt the budget.
This is a brief list of some important and interesting events during these three months. Again, I would stress that I do not intend it to be an exhaustive and complete list: just some important moments of these three months.
At the same time and out of the plenary, out of the Main Committees I have been conducting the preparatory work for the United Nations reform process. As you know, from 1992 to 1995 different ad hoc working groups have been created by the General Assembly within the framework of the General Assembly to address different aspects of United Nations reform. So, in 1992 an ad hoc working group was created to study the Agenda for Peace; in 1993 an ad hoc working group about the enlargement of and equitable representation on the Security Council was set up; in 1994 the working group on the Agenda for Development and the working group on the financial situation of the United Nations were established; and finally, in September 1995, during the last days of the forty-ninth session, another working group was created, on the strengthening of the United Nations system, which is called on to deal with all other aspects of reform which are not included in the previous four.
So when I took office as President of the General Assembly, I had before me five working groups: five ad hoc open-ended working groups, which means working groups open to all Member States, not restrictive or small working groups, but working groups open to everybody. I had before me five working groups which, in one way or another, all dealt with United Nations reform. I announced in my inaugural speech, as you may remember, that I intended to give priority efforts to this reform process and that I would assume personally the chairmanship of these working groups at least four of them, because one of them is chaired by the Ambassador of Egypt: the working group on the Agenda for Peace. But the other four are supposed to be chaired by the President of the General Assembly, and so I announced that it was my intention to assume personally that role, as well as another one that has proved to be very important: the role of coordinating the five working groups. So far, as far as I know, they had been working separately. I thought that it would be decisive for the success of the reform of the Organization that there should be some coordination of the five working groups.
I had meetings with the Vice-Chairmen of those groups, and they agreed that some coordination was necessary and that it should be done by the President of the General Assembly. I then convened regular meetings, at least once a month, of all of them -- meaning the Chairman of the working group on the Agenda for Peace and the Vice-Chairmen of all five groups, totalling 10 persons. We have been working hard during these three months. We have come to the conclusion that we do not have here five separate working groups on separate aspects of the work of the United Nations; we have five working groups that deal with the reform of the United Nations. Two of them deal with purposes and objectives; three deal with ways and means. The two that deal predominantly with purposes and objectives are the working group on the Agenda for Peace and the working group on the Agenda for Development. These are the two principal objectives of the United Nations: peace and development. The other three deal with ways and means: the financial situation, Security Council, and other organs and bodies of the United Nations system.
Everybody agreed that my proposition was acceptable: to try to coordinate the work of those five working groups to avoid duplication, to establish interlinks and to progress simultaneously, so that by the end of the fiftieth session we could reach conclusions in all those working groups and put them together in a global package for the reform. A lot of preparatory work has been done: re-election of the Vice-Chairmen; creation and initial rules for the trust fund that has been established by the General Assembly to finance the work of reform; assessment of the work and documentation already produced by the first four working groups that existed from previous years; and preparatory meetings of the fifth working group, the working group on the strengthening of the United Nations system.
Then, we were able two weeks ago to establish, I think also for the first time, a common schedule of meetings for all five working groups and their subgroups, from 15 January to the end of March. This will be the first phase of our substantive work. Then we will plan a second round of meetings, going from the beginning of April to June. But for the first round, January to March, we have now approved, and have already distributed to all delegations, all Member States, a very complete and detailed schedule of all the meetings of all five working groups and all their subgroups, which means -- may I tell you -- 94 meetings in two-and-a-half months.
So when I say that I am investing in the process of United Nations reform, I am talking business. I do mean it. We will have 94 meetings from 15 January to 29 March, almost every day. As far as I remember, only two weeks are without meetings, because they are dedicated to informal consultations of different groups within the General Assembly. This has been approved; this has been circulated; and as from this week, every Member State knows when the meetings of the different groups and subgroups will take place in the first three months of 1996.
But this is not all, because I thought that it would not be enough to know when the different groups would meet; it would be also necessary to know which issues they would begin addressing. I have organized that with the Vice- Chairmen, and announcements are being published in the Journal from the different Vice-Chairmen of the five working groups explaining to the Member States which are the issues that will be addressed as a priority by the five working groups.
I can give you a broad idea. The group on the Agenda for Peace will begin by addressing preventive diplomacy and sanctions imposed by the United Nations. The group on the Agenda for Development will begin with a thorough review of the report of the Vice-Chairman published in the summer of 1995. The working group on the Security Council will address simultaneously the question of the enlargement and the question of the methods of work of the Security Council. The working group on the financial situation will begin with the question of assessments and the question of arrears. Finally, the working group on the strengthening of the United Nations will address first the reform of the General Assembly itself and secondly the reform of the Secretariat. Later on, it will deal with other questions.
When this plenary session closes tomorrow, I hope that all delegations will have received, or will be in the process of receiving, this complete information, both on the schedule of meetings and on the contents of those meetings. The Secretary-General has been invited by me to address the working group on the financial situation of the United Nations and the working group on the strengthening of the United Nations when it comes to consider the reform of the Secretariat, because we thought it would be useful and fair to hear the views of the Secretary-General on the matter.
To conclude my statement, I would like to tell you that the United Nations reform is under way, and substantive work will begin on Monday, 15 January, at 10 a.m. precisely. I think this time we will go ahead with it, and I hope that all delegations will cooperate in order to achieve substantive results.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
QUESTION: We welcome you on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association.
I understand that at your meetings with the committees on reform of the Security Council, the reform of the General Assembly and of the United Nations there were some ideas advanced in the last few days. Can you give us some details?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I can. I am very sorry. I have been discussing with the Vice-Chairmen of the different working groups not only the schedule of meetings and the issues to be addressed but also substantive ideas. How should we envisage the reform of the General Assembly, the reform of the Secretariat, the reform of the Security Council, measures to solve the financial crisis, etc.? But, of course, these are still private conversations and consultations, and I would not like to give the wrong impression -- that I am willing to impose myself on the working groups. I am calling the meetings; I am proposing the issues. I will, of course, participate in discussions, but I don't think it is the role of the President to say which reforms should be made. This is up to the working groups themselves. And so, if you don't mind, you will have to wait a little bit more. As soon as we have reached agreement on some issues I will let you know through further press conferences.
QUESTION: Looking at the working groups that have been at work, you mentioned An Agenda for Peace. Much of the vitality and the force behind the proposals in the Secretary-General's report are no longer relevant because the international situation has changed. There has been a major withdrawal of support from the United Nations, and the role of the United Nations in international peace and security has also been lowered. If you look at development, it never started. If you look at statistics, there is a plummeting of international support for development and for the role of the United Nations in it. If you look at the financial situation, nothing has happened, despite the variety of proposals that have been put on the table over the last two years.
In light of this history, how do you propose to put any kind of reality into this exercise?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me tell you that I understand the question, but I think that the real situation is not exactly as described. It is true that many things have changed, namely in the field of peace-keeping operations. But anyhow, I think that it was inevitable that a re-examination and reconsideration of United Nations policies on peace-keeping would have to be done, irrespective of changes in the international situation.
I think that, perhaps, at a moment when the United Nations is not under such heavy stress as it was one or two or three years ago, it will be easier to discuss this issue openly, frankly and quietly. Perhaps this is the better moment to come to conclusions. The press is publishing many articles on the lessons to be drawn from Bosnia and from other places, and I think that we have a good number of facts and comments that can help us to review and redefine the orientation of the United Nations on peace-keeping.
On development, I do not have the statistics, but I know that the discussions of the working group on the Agenda for Development have been very fruitful in the last year, under the guidance of the two Vice-Chairmen. They already have a draft report covering the first two of the three chapters of their final work. As far as I have understood from meetings with all the Vice- Chairmen, that group is the one that is more advanced; nearer to conclusion. They are quite sure or quite hopeful that by spring 1996 they will be able to present their final report on the Agenda for Development.
So, even if in the last years money for aid for development may have been reduced I don't have the statistics I think that all this thinking about the problem and finding the new orientations and new means to support them has been very fruitful and that this will probably be the first working group to finalize its work.
On the financial situation: Well, of course we know that there is a crisis. Again, I must tell you that the work done by the working group on the financial situation has been very helpful. They have identified all the problems and all the attitudes and different positions of member countries towards each problem. They produced a very good interim report in the summer of 1995, and they are now in a position to begin to find proposals for a solution. I am convinced that something will come out of that working group and sooner perhaps than from other working groups. And the Secretary-General himself has mentioned the possibility of a special session of the General Assembly in the spring to deal with the matter of the financial situation of the United Nations.
We are not so far from a final solution of the problem as one might think, although, of course, I recognize that it is difficult. But I think the fact that all of these problems are difficult should not discourage our efforts to deal with them and to present proposals for reform. If you ask me whether there will be consensus among all Member States on all the reforms proposed by the five working groups, I don't know. We will see when we begin substantive work by 15 January.
What I do know -- and with this I will conclude the answer -- is that now we have a new impetus for reform, which came, in my opinion, as I said, from the statements made by the great majority of heads of State and heads of government during the three-day special commemorative meeting for the fiftieth anniversary, and we have put up a machinery, an organization to do effective work and to reach conclusions. The time for abstract discussions has passed. Now, we have come to the time for concrete proposals and concrete solutions. This, I hope, will happen beginning on 15 January.
QUESTION: Looking from the outside at the issue of the enlargement of the Security Council, there are insurmountable differences, especially among those countries that want to be permanent or semi-permanent members of the Security Council, in spite of statements we heard during the anniversary session. So what are your hopes, what is your evaluation of the progress on this issue?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, we now know very clearly the position of every country. Second, we have some concrete proposals for solving the problem. We have to discuss them and see which one, if any, can gather the support of the great majority or the consensus of the countries. I am informed that new proposals for consensus are going to be presented in January. And finally, I think that although this is the most difficult problem -- I agree that the reform of the Security Council is the most difficult problem -- I personally do not think that it is insurmountable. Let us wait for the new proposals and for a comparison with the old ones. The fact is that there is general agreement on this: the presentation of problems, the identification of problems and issues has been concluded. Now, we will begin negotiating solutions.
QUESTION: What international conferences will we have in the coming year as we did this year in Copenhagen or in Beijing?
THE PRESIDENT: As far as I know, there is one for which preparation is very advanced, and that is the Habitat II Conference at Istanbul in June. Then - -- and this is not a conference, but it is also a very important meeting -- we will have the World Food Summit in Rome from 13 to 17 November 1996. And of course there will be others. If you want, I can give you a list. We have quite a number of them: a conference on the financing of development; the ninth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); a conference on international migration and development; a science and technology summit in Africa; a biodiversity conference in Argentina; a worldwide conference aimed at reducing hatred; an international peace conference; and so on. The list has been issued, we can give you a copy.
QUESTION: What time do you expect the General Assembly to take action on the Nigeria human rights question tomorrow, and, presuming that there is some form of condemnation expected, what kind of impact does this really have? The General Assembly is a very prestigious body, but a lot of people -- Human Rights Watch -- say that the United Nations does not really carry any weight any more and the United Nations avoids looking at internal matters, blocked by its own Charter. What real impact does it have?
THE PRESIDENT: It will be in the afternoon, we do not yet know exactly the time.
Secondly, I cannot predict what the immediate impact will be, but I have noticed that normally the General Assembly establishes the main guidelines, the principles of a solution, and then some time passes, there is difficulty in carrying it out, there are meetings, there are fights, but finally, when the problem is solved perhaps two, three, four or five years later it is normally solved according to the guidelines approved by the General Assembly. We are seeing that in the Middle East. We are seeing that in Bosnia. So I do not think it is a loss of time if the General Assembly openly debates an issue and approves the guidelines for solving the problem even, of course, if the General Assembly itself cannot negotiate or cannot find a solution, which is not its role. But normally, the principles and ideals that guide the solutions always come from the General Assembly. I think this is its proper role.
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. May I wish you a good holiday and a happy new year. I hope we will meet often from January to September 1996, and I hope to give you good news on the progress of the reform of the United Nations system. Thank you very much.
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