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2021 Session,
1st Meeting (AM)

Economic and Social Council Adopts Texts Regarding Palestinian Population, Other Agenda Items, But Fails to Agree on Sustainable Development Ministerial Declaration

Delegates Also Fill Vacancies in Six Subsidiary Bodies, Take Note of Over 50 Texts Previously Adopted by Silence Procedure during 2020 Session

The Economic and Social Council, holding the first plenary meeting of its 2021 session in the General Assembly Hall today, adopted four resolutions and one decision, took note of more than 50 texts adopted by the silence procedure during COVID-19-related restrictions at Headquarters and filled subsidiary body vacancies, but failed to agree on a draft ministerial declaration on sustainable development ahead of the Decade of Action on achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Council first took note of resolutions and decisions adopted through its silence procedure from 3 April to 1 August, pursuant to decision 2020/205 on the procedure for taking decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, contained in document E/2021/CRP.1, including the provisional agenda for its 2021 session (document E/2021/1).  For details, please see “Action taken by the Economic and Social Council at its 2020 session” (document E/2020/INF/2).

The 54-member Council was, however, unable to reach a consensus on revisiting the draft ministerial declaration on sustainable development that had been considered but not adopted during its previous session, as it took up the draft decision titled “Reconsideration of the draft ministerial declaration of the high-level segment of the 2020 session of the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum on sustainable development, convened under the auspices of the Council” (document E/2021/L.8).

Tabled by the representative of Guyana, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, “L.8” would have the Council reopen, on an exceptional basis, the consideration of the draft Ministerial Declaration for the 2020 High-level Segment of the Economic and Social Council and the High-level Political forum, prepared by the co-facilitators of the Declaration on the basis of negotiations, and issued as document E/2020/L.20–E/HLPF/2020/L.1 on 17 July.  Guyana’s delegate said the world is at a critical point in implementing the 2030 Agenda, and the opportunity should not be missed to adopt the draft ministerial declaration.  As such, she called for efforts, at the earliest possible date, to address the issue expeditiously.

Several representatives cautioned against setting a precedent for changing Council procedures, even during unprecedented COVID-19-related restrictions, without consulting the Office of Legal Affairs.  Germany’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed hope that the Council would seek legal advice, adding that the text proposed by the Group of 77 does not match the document placed under silence procedure during the 2020 session.  Further, ministerial declarations are typically adopted when high-level representatives are present, which is not the case today.  As such, she opposed the Group of 77 proposal, pointing out that no decision was made in the last session to defer the matter to the current session, and the modalities of the political forum indicate that there should not be two such declarations made under a single session.

Echoing this point, the representative of the United States said that changing a process without the advice of the Office of Legal Affairs would be unprecedented.  Adding to that, Canada’s delegate said her delegation prefers that a ministerial declaration be considered once per session and opposes holding a rushed negotiation of such an important text.  Achieving consensus would require serious negotiations, which could not be accommodated during the current session, she observed.  Australia’s representative said the rules of procedure under COVID‑19-related restrictions made it clear that any breaking of silence indicated that no adoption was possible.  Changing the “rules of the game” at this late stage would bring into question the way people engage in good faith, she said, emphasizing that there is no procedural basis in this case, and the way forward is to focus on the 2021 political forum.

Council President Munir Akram (Pakistan) noted that, while reconvening the previous session’s political forum would be unusual, “we are going through unprecedented times and the draft decision stresses that this would be done on an exceptional basis”.  While it would be an encouraging message to the international community if the political forum and the Council adopted an ambitious declaration on accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals while addressing the impacts of COVID-19, he acknowledged divergent views on the draft decision and agreed to pursue consultations with interested delegations and seek legal advice on the matter, adding that “it would be a pity to start the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals on a divisive note”.

The Council then adopted the resolution “Support to Non-Self-Governing Territories by the specialized agencies and international institutions associated with the United Nations” (document E/2021/L.5), by a recorded vote of 32 in favour to none against, with 21 abstentions.  Through that text, the Council, taking note of the reports of the President of the Council (document E/2020/52/Rev.1) and the Secretary-General (document A/75/73), recommended that all States intensify their efforts within the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system of which they are members to ensure the full, effective implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, contained in Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), and other relevant United Nations resolutions.

Prior to the vote, the representative of the United States said his delegation would abstain, as the text contains language that is inconsistent with provisions of the his country’s Constitution regarding the conduct of foreign relations.  After the action, the representative of the Russian Federation said that, because the Council’s consideration of this political matter is a distraction from its mandate, his delegation had abstained.

Adopting a resolution contained in the annex of a note by the Secretary‑General (document E/2020/12), transmitting a report on the “New strategic vision of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia”, the Council endorsed the new strategy.

The representative of the United States applauded the Council for its consideration of the draft.  The representatives of Japan and the Republic of Korea expressed concern about the transparency of the process of negotiating the resolution.

The Council then adopted, by a recorded vote of 47 in favour to 3 against (Australia, Canada, United States), with 4 abstentions (Brazil, Malawi, Togo, Ukraine), the draft resolution “Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan” (document E/2021/L.6).  By the terms of the resolution, the Council called for accountability on attacks against Palestinians and urged the international community to continue to pursue policies concerning all illegal practices in occupied territories.  It also demanded that Israel comply with the April 1994 Protocol on Economic Relations between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and called upon Israel to restore and replace civilian properties, vital infrastructure, agricultural lands and government institutions that have been damaged or destroyed due to its military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Calling for the full opening of Gaza border crossings, in line with Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), the Council also stressed the need to preserve the territorial contiguity, unity and integrity of the Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to guarantee the freedom of movement of persons and goods there, as well as to and from the outside world.

By a recorded vote of 43 in favour to 3 against (Australia, Canada, United States), with 8 abstentions (Brazil, Germany, Jamaica, Montenegro, Netherlands, Switzerland, Togo, Ukraine), the Council adopted the resolution “Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women” (document E/2021/L.7).  By its terms, the Council called upon Israel, the occupying Power, to immediately cease all measures contrary to international law, as well as discriminatory legislation, policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.  It also called for urgent measures to ensure the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Territory, including East Jerusalem, in accordance with the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law and as called for by the Security Council in its resolution 904 (1994).

Prior to the adoption of those resolutions, several representatives explained their delegations’ position, with Germany’s delegate, on behalf of the European Union, saying that members will vote in favour of “L.6”, but concerns remained.  Noting that the term “Palestinian Government” is understood to refer to the Palestinian Authority, he said the use of the term “Palestine” cannot be construed as recognizing it as a State, and the Union has not expressed a position on the term “forced displacement”.  The United States representative said his delegation would vote against “L.6”, which is an unbalanced, biased resolution.  The only realistic path forward is through negotiations, and not through a politicized resolution.  He said “L.7” was unhelpful for all involved and that the Council should refocus its energies on shared goals.  Israel’s representative described “L.6” as deeply flawed and lacking in balance, underscoring the close cooperation among the Government of Israel, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority in mitigating the impact of COVID-19.  On “L.7,” she said it was a politically motivated text that places all blame on Israel as if it was the only cause of the problems faced by Palestinian women.

Expressing different perspectives, an observer for the State of Palestine said that “L.6” reasserts the economic and social rights of the Palestinian people in the face of persistent violations that undermine their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and their fundamental rights.  He added that “L.7” sets out what needs to be done to transform the reality of Palestinian women.  Syria’s representative, referring to “L.6”, strongly rejected plans, as reported in some Israeli media, that the Government of Israel intends to expand settlements in the Syrian Golan.  He also said that Israel is imposing its curriculum in schools in the Syrian Golan in an attempt to separate young people from Syria.

Finally, the Council adopted the decision “Enlargement of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” (document E/2021/L.4), through which it took note of a request by Malawi to enlarge the Executive Committee’s membership and recommend that the General Assembly, at its seventy-fifth session, decide on the question of enlarging the membership from 106 to 107 States.

In other business, through a drawing of lots, the Council President announced that Ukraine would occupy the first seat on the body for its current session, with other members following by English-language alphabetical order.

The Council then moved on to fill vacancies in several of its subsidiary bodies — some by acclamation, others by secret ballot, with the results to be announced in writing when they become available.  It elected Colombia, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, by acclamation, to the Statistical Commission for a four-year term beginning on 1 January 2021, with candidates from the Asia-Pacific States to be elected by secret ballot.

It then elected Argentina, Austria, Dominican Republic, Israel, Latvia, Nigeria, Turkey and Zambia, by acclamation, to the Commission on the Status of Women for a four-year term beginning at the first meeting of the Commission’s sixty-sixth session in 2021 and expiring at the close of the sixty-ninth session in 2025, with candidates from the Asia-Pacific States to be elected by secret ballot.

Next, it elected Angola, by acclamation, to the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2021.

It then elected China, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and the United States, by acclamation, to the Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting for a three-year term beginning on 1 January 2021, with candidates from the Eastern European States to be elected by secret ballot.

Turning to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it elected Nadir Adilov (Azerbaijan), Laura Maria Crăciunean-Tatu (Romania), Seree Nonthasoot (Thailand), Lydia Carmelita Ravenberg (Suriname) and Shen Yongxiang (China), by acclamation, for a four-year term beginning on 1 January 2021, with candidates from the African States and the Western European and other States to be elected by secret ballot.

It then elected Belgium, Germany and Greece, by acclamation, to the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)/United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to complete the term of office of Canada, Austria and Italy, respectively, beginning 1 January 2021 and expiring on 31 December 2021.

Lastly, to the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission, it elected, by acclamation, Colombia, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Switzerland and Thailand to a two-year term beginning on 1 January 2021 and expiring on 31 December 2022 or until they cease to be a member of the Economic and Social Council.

The representative of the Russian Federation, at the conclusion of the meeting, said that it is unacceptable for treaty bodies to use contentious terms and notions.  In that regard, remarks adopted by the Committee on Economic and Social Rights calling for the rejection of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation undermine traditional family values.  He added that it is unacceptable for parts of the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to be linked to climate change issues.

Also speaking today were representatives of Grenada (as Chair of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples), Brazil, Malawi, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

For information media. Not an official record.