Poverty Remains World’s Biggest Challenge, Social Development Commission Chair Says as Session Concludes with Approval of 3 Texts, Election of New Vice-Chairs
The Commission for Social Development concluded its fifty-fourth session today, approving three draft resolutions for adoption by the Economic and Social Council with one on Africa’s development, traditionally endorsed by consensus, requiring a rare vote to address the United States’ concerns over language around trade issues, and more generally, “the right to development”.
In closing remarks, Commission Chair Ion Jinga (Romania) said the Commission had taken stock of achievements and challenges in countries, regions and around the world in reducing poverty and inequality and creating jobs. “Poverty continues to be the greatest global challenge of our time,” he said, stressing that millions of workers continued to fall behind and too many people lacked access to education, gender equality and climate change mitigation services. He had been impressed with the resolve to strengthen the Commission in the follow-up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
To create momentum, he said, the session had called for integrated economic and social policies, devised with the engagement of a broad range of stakeholders to give life to a shared vision. With that, he thanked participants for their spirit of cohesion and solidarity.
As the day began, the Commission approved a draft on “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” by an unexpected vote of 29 in favour, to 12 against, with no abstentions (document E/CN.5/2016/L.5). By its terms, the Council would emphasize that “increasingly unacceptable” poverty, inequality and social exclusion in most African countries required social and economic policies to be devised through a comprehensive approach. The Council would encourage African countries to prioritize structural transformation, modernize smallholder agriculture, add value to primary commodities and improve public and private governance institutions. For its part, the Commission would continue to raise awareness of the social dimensions of the New Partnership at its fifty-fifth session.
Introducing the draft, Thailand’s representative, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the text contained agreed language that had been updated from last year’s text, notably to integrate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into areas that were critical for the continent.
In a general statement before action, Nigeria’s representative, associating with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said African Governments had marshalled sustainable development strategies at national, regional and subregional levels to take ownership of their own development. Democracy, rule of law, good governance, transparency and respect for human rights had taken root in Africa. Such efforts required the commitment of partners, including the United Nations.
The United States’ delegate, whose delegation had requested the vote, said her Government would vote against the text, as it viewed the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the main venue for trade negotiation. She could not support a text calling on WTO members to conclude the Doha Round of trade negotiations. She said the term “improvement of market access” was unclear, despite its mention in past resolutions, and the United States would make no new efforts in that regard, recalling that duty-free access, which it did not support, would erode African preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Also, the right to development lacked an internationally agreed understanding, she concluded.
South Africa’s representative, associating with the Group of 77, attached great importance to the text as a vehicle for achieving sustainable development. South Africa would continue to advocate for social development as part of the global agenda, she said, urging partners to support African initiatives at continental and multilateral levels.
Thailand’s delegate added that action on the text would signal a “deep divide” on an issue that distracted from helping Africa enhance the New Partnership.
Explaining his vote before the vote, Austria’s representative, on behalf of the European Union, said it was unfortunate that a vote had been called over one sentence on trade. The operative paragraph contravened the Nairobi WTO ministerial meeting, held 2015, which had stated that there was no consensus on the future of the Doha Trade Round. Further, trade was not at the core of the resolution. For that reason, he would cast a negative vote.
In other action, the Commission approved a draft resolution on the priority theme, “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world” (document E/CN.5/2016/L.3), as orally revised by Romania’s representative, who had facilitated negotiations and introduced the text.
By the terms of the text, the Council would recognize that each country bore the primary responsibility for its own economic and social development and that “significant” additional domestic public resources — supplemented by international assistance — would be crucial in that regard. It would request the United Nations to continue to support national efforts to strengthen social development at the local, national, subregional, regional and international levels.
The Commission then approved, as orally revised, a resolution on its future organization and methods of work (document E/CN.5/2016/L.4), submitted by Vice-Chair Luz Andujar (Dominican Republic). The text would have the Council decide that the priority theme for the 2017-2018 review and policy cycle would be “Strategies for the eradication of poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”, and consider the biennialization of the Commission’s resolutions with a view to eliminating duplication in the negotiation of similar issues with the General Assembly. The Commission would keep its methods of work — including the functioning of the two-year review and policy cycle — under review, including at its fifty-fifth session in 2017, if necessary, in order to adjust to the Council’s cycle.
Speaking prior to action, Nigeria’s delegate, on behalf of the African Group, accepted the Chair’s proposal for the priority theme.
Citing procedural errors, Mexico’s delegate, on behalf of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and El Salvador and observers Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, stressed that the priority theme had been agreed this morning under procedures set out by the Bureau, which he regretted to say had not been respected. He expressed concern at the precedent that could be set, adding that his delegation had shown the “greatest flexibility” to reach consensus on the priority theme, based on respect for the rules of procedure.
After the action, the representatives of China and Chile outlined changes to be made in the Chinese and Spanish translations of the text.
The Commission then concluded its 2015-2016 review and policy cycle, it approved its draft provisional agenda and documentation for its fifty-fifth session (document E/CN.5/2016/L.1), as well as the report of its current session (document E/CN.5/2016/L.2), introduced by the Rapporteur. It took note of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes (A/71/61-E/2016/7) and a Secretariat note titled, “Emerging issues: implementing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development: moving commitments to results for achieving social development” (E/CN.5/2016/4).
Also today, the Commission concluded its general debates on the priority theme of “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, and on the “review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”. Speaking in those debates were representatives of Isa Viswa Prajnana Trust, Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, International Presentation Association, Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Fraternite Notre Dame, SustainUS, Fondation de la Progéniture de Denis Lomela Ifangwa, International Federation of Associations of the Elderly, Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America and International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.
Immediately following the conclusion of the fifty-fourth session, Mr. Jinga declared open the fifty-fifth session, following which Elisabeta David (Romania) and Ana Sandoval (Paraguay) were elected by acclamation as Vice-Chairs of the fifty-fifth and fifty-sixth sessions, while Brian Bowler (Malawi) was elected Vice-Chair of the fifty-fifth session. It postponed the election of a Chair from the Western European and Other States and a Vice-Chair from the Asia-Pacific States.
The Commission concluded its discussion on the priority theme, “rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”.
A representative of Isa Viswa Prajnana Trust stressed the need to ensure that the younger generation moved from the belief that material success was everything to the value systems that had contributed to civilizations, such as objective-subjective education and practices. The United Nations International Day of Yoga would be instrumental to promoting an education for total consciousness. Truly sustainable social development meant that a culture could empower every individual to live a life for total consciousness, which was also the foundation of peace and harmony upon which the United Nations was established.
A representative of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development said the principles of social inclusion would be highly relevant for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. “Simply put, progress cannot be achieved while social and economic deprivations persist,” he said. It was crucial for all stakeholders, including civil society, to complement government efforts if the world was to eradicate poverty and achieve lasting sustainable development. Empowerment of individuals and local communities through innovative social programmes constituted an essential part of development.
A representative of the International Presentation Association said the Secretary-General’s report had reminded all that market forces alone did not bring greater resilience, inclusion or environmental protection. Instead, broad-based resilience and protection from the risk of poverty, unemployment and exclusion relied on social policies that covered people, including universal access to social protection, justice and public services. In order to truly eradicate poverty, the international community needed to provide quality education to indigenous and marginalized people along with a culturally competent curriculum. Such practice would empower indigenous communities to develop solutions to meet the unique needs of their geography, economy and culture, he stressed. Drawing attention to the importance of capacity-building activities, he noted that indigenous and marginalized communities should be provided with training to build their economies based on existing resources.
A representative of the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights said vulnerable groups had been negatively affected by austerity measures in many countries. At a time when the world should be rejoicing following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, her organization was alarmed that some countries had “back-pedalled” on the rights of people with disabilities. Special attention needed to be paid to the plight of people with disabilities in countries that had adopted austerity measures. In reviewing the impact of those measures, it was crucial to also consider the gender perspective.
A representative of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, said the integration of social and environmental policies into macroeconomic frameworks, as called for in the Secretary-General’s report, would only reinforce the dominance of the economic order of the social and environmental orders. To be truly transformative, macroeconomic policies should reflect the social and environmental principles central to social, gender and environmental justice.
A representative of the Fraternite Notre Dame, said that without freedom of worship, there would be no peace and no social development. She cited as an example the situation of Christians in several regions, where they had fallen victim to segregation and exclusion that had hindered social development. Countries also had a responsibility to provide education and to protect its weakest members, including elderly persons, young children, the sick and persons with disabilities.
A representative of SustainUS said her organization had taken an active role in discussions on technology, youth and innovation in relation to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Her organization stood ready, willing and capable of bringing young voices to the forefront of such debates. There were 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 14 around the world today. “These voices must be heard,” she said. World leaders must work intergenerationally to identify solutions to global challenges. Youth face the highest economic risks due to the threat of high unemployment and other factors. High rates of unemployment hindered the social, economic and political benefits of untold millions, she concluded.
A representative of La Fondation de la Progéniture de Denis Lomela Ifangwa said her country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, and others in the heart of Africa had unimaginable potential for development, with forests, lands and waterways that contained many types of minerals and resources that held immeasurable value. It was a scandal that those resources were not being used constructively, as their rational use could effectively contribute to the fight against poverty and unemployment. Using those resources productively could bring an end to conflict and increase the world’s ability to combat climate change.
The Commission then turned to a discussion on the “review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”.
A representative of the International Federation of Associations of the Elderly said that the elderly actively participated in societies and, therefore, deserved the same rights as other populations. Those of all ages that were reliant on others to carry out daily activities must be able to receive assistance and care, while having their rights and dignity respected. A framework for support to limit the risks faced by the elderly must be established, while professionals must be trained to address their needs. The elderly must be able to freely enjoy their rights as fully fledged citizens. Outreach must be bolstered, particularly with regard to the plight of the most vulnerable. A shared vision of an inclusive society for people of all ages, based on economic justice must be guaranteed across all generations.
A representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the family as the basic unit of society entitled to protection by society and States. Several General Assembly resolutions had emphasized that the family be strengthened and receive comprehensive support. Falling family incomes had forced parents to cut education expenditures for their children. Citing examples of projects geared towards addressing those and related issues, he said Brazil had had a programme to provide money to mothers living in poverty, who in return must ensure that their children went to school. All unemployed family members should have access to education, job training and retraining and technology, he said, adding that microfinance initiatives had been successful in addressing poverty as women could start small businesses.
A representative of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse said older men and women were among the poorest in developing countries, and that more than half of older people worldwide — some 342 million — lacked income security. Older women faced greater risks of physical and psychological abuse due to discriminatory attitudes and the non-realization of the human rights of women, she said, adding that poverty was a form of violence that must be eradicated. Among other things, women had less status, less access to education, less choice in marriage and childbearing and less access to paid work and employment in the formal economy. The impact of differences and gender inequalities hit hardest in old age. However, opportunities for innovative social protection programmes existed and could lead to positive social change that promoted human rights for all older people.