Speakers Welcome More Accessibility for Disabled People, but Voice Concern Over Virtual Meetings, as Fifth Committee Charts Progress in Improving Conference Management
Delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today considered the progress and challenges facing the Secretariat as it manages the United Nations conference services at its four headquarter duty stations around the globe.
The representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Organization’s liquidity crunch had led to a hiring freeze, particularly in language services, and he urged the Secretariat to recruit language professionals as a priority. While concerned about the low percentage of virtual meetings held with interpretation, he noted the greater accessibility persons with disabilities now have to United Nations premises and conference services and encouraged the Secretary-General to continue these efforts.
Addressing another concern with virtual meetings, the speaker for the Russian Federation noted that online conference services, a necessary measure during the pandemic, have adversely affected interpreters’ health. He asked the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management to evaluate the need for conducting remote and hybrid meetings once the pandemic ends and emphasized it is not wise to continue without legal parameters and technical requirements endorsed by the General Assembly.
Echoing this concern, Switzerland’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said the Secretariat needs a mandate to develop the necessary modalities, including legal and technical definitions, to ensure resources for virtual meetings can be guaranteed once pandemic measures are lifted. The different needs of the four conference-servicing duty stations — New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi — and the entities that use them must be reviewed. The Fifth Committee also must remember the importance of conference services when discussing the programme budget, to ensure sufficient resources are provided, he said.
Szymon Pękala, Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introduced its report for 2022, which was adopted at its substantive session held from 6 to 12 September 2022. The report includes a draft resolution on the pattern of conferences and a draft calendar of United Nations conferences and meetings for 2023 for the Fifth Committee’s consideration and recommendation for the Assembly’s adoption.
Movses Abelian, Under‑Secretary‑General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the pattern of conferences in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi in 2021. He said the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management’s top priorities are quality, timeliness, sustainability, multilingualism, accessibility and cost-effectiveness at the four duty stations. The Department continues to make succession planning and nurturing its workforce, especially in language areas, a priority. “This ensures a supply of a well-qualified workforce as no technologies would ever fully replace the human intellect in these areas of our work,” he said.
Patrick Chuasoto, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its related report on the pattern of conferences. He noted that while the easing of the liquidity constraints in 2021 made it possible to fill some vacancies that had previously been subject to the hiring freeze, there is still a higher-than-usual vacancy rate in some language units in Nairobi. He expressed hope vacant posts in all duty stations would be filled quickly.
Also speaking today was the representative of Qatar.
The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m., Thursday, 10 November to discuss the United Nations pension system and the administration of justice.
Pattern of Conferences
SZYMON PĘKALA, Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introduced the Committee’s report for 2022 (document A/77/32), which was adopted at its substantive session, held from 6 to 12 September 2022. The report includes a draft resolution on the pattern of conferences and a draft calendar of United Nations conferences and meetings for 2023 for the Fifth Committee’s consideration and recommendation for adoption by the General Assembly. On matters related to the calendar, he said the Committee gave seven bodies the approval to meet during the main part of the Assembly’s seventy-seventh session with the understanding that all meetings would be allocated conference services on an “if available” basis, so the work of the Assembly and its main committees was not impeded. The Committee approved 12 requests for intersessional departures in 2021 and 2022 and four additional requests were approved after its substantive session. After informal consultations dedicated to negotiations, the Committee decided to adopt the draft resolution that is annexed to the report and recommended for the Assembly’s adoption, he said.
MOVSES ABELIAN, Under‑Secretary‑General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the Secretary‑General’s “report on the pattern of conferences” (document A/77/91), which provides information on procedures and activities relating to the pattern of conferences in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi in 2021. He said the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management’s top priorities are quality, timeliness, sustainability, multilingualism, accessibility and cost-effectiveness at the four duty stations. The Department continues to make succession planning and nurturing its workforce, especially in language areas, a priority. “This ensures a supply of a well-qualified workforce as no technologies would ever fully replace the human intellect in these areas of our work,” he said. The Department’s long-term strategy of continuous modernization has helped make the servicing of meetings and the timely provision of documentation possible.
The introduction of several innovations allowed for new efficiencies and reduced security risks, he said. This included connecting multilingual data from the Journal to verbatim reporters and précis-writers; the submission of meeting proceedings to the Journal from e‑deleGATE, which means the automatic generation of Journal meeting summaries; and the conference calendar website is now available in six official languages. In addition, more e‑deleGATE modules are accessible so they can be navigated with screen readers and include multilingual content; and the Indico. UN registration tool is an entry point to the virtual kiosk, a new digital documentation service, as well as to digital recordings of meetings and fully automated speech‐to‐text transcripts.
He said the Department will keep building on technological innovations and work with other departments to integrate its applications into enterprise systems. While the total number of meetings held in 2021 did not reach pre‐pandemic levels, it increased compared to 2020, and there was a 5 per cent increase in meetings held globally. The Department’s compliance with document submission, processing and issuance deadlines was more than 90 per cent and the number of words submitted globally for translation increased to just over 219 million in 2021, up from 216 million in 2020, he said. The Department will continue to ensure the successful delivery of core mandates, the principle of multilingualism, efficient conference management operations and quality services for its clients.
PATRICK CHUASOTO, Vice‑Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its related report on the pattern of conferences (document A/77/544). On meetings management, he noted that while virtual and hybrid modalities continue to be used, there is still no definition of such meetings agreed upon by the General Assembly. Turning to documents management, he shared that the overall compliance with the deadlines for submitting documents for processing dropped from 92 per cent in 2020 to 91 per cent in 2021. Highlighting that a major effort was launched in 2021 to clear the backlog of international treaties that required translation, he voiced hoped that the information on its financial aspects will be included in the next budget submission.
On staffing, he pointed out that the easing of the liquidity constraints in 2021 made it possible to fill some vacancies that had previously been subject to the hiring freeze. Underscoring that there was a higher-than-usual vacancy rate in some language units in Nairobi, he expressed hope that vacant posts in all duty stations will be filled expeditiously. Noting the efforts made by the Secretary-General to meet future staffing challenges, he encouraged him to strengthen such efforts while also ensuring accessibility for all individuals.
JIBRAN KHAN DURRANI (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern over the low percentage of virtual meetings held so far with interpretation. He called for further efforts to increase the availability of these services, in line with multilingualism. Highlighting the liquidity shortage faced by the Organization which has led to a freeze in hiring particularly in language services, he encouraged the Secretariat to prioritize the recruitment of language professionals. Recalling the updated instructions concerning the use of space for meetings, conferences, events and exhibits at the Headquarters in New York, he urged other duty stations to follow suit and update their respective information circulars on the use of their premises, bearing in mind that every activity hosted must be consistent with the purposes and principles of the Organization.
Expressing support for the steps taken to increase the accessibility of persons with disabilities to the United Nations premises and conference services, he encouraged the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to ensure accessibility for all individuals to all duty stations. Pointing out that the related Secretary-General’s report lacks sufficient information on conferencing facilities, he stressed that in some bodies such as the Economic Commission for Africa, regular renovations and technological improvements are needed to ensure its ability to provide cutting-edge conference services. Voicing concern over the deteriorating conditions of the Nairobi conference centre, which are severely hampering its capacity to provide services, he expressed hope that a project would be initiated to address such conditions.
Mr. BLICKLE (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said the pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing trend towards greater use of technology to enable and enrich meetings — a trend unlikely to disappear in the near future. While there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings for some interactions, there are proven advantages to remote participation, including the participation of delegates and civil society representatives who cannot travel to the venue. Member States should choose a smart mix of meeting formats. While business continuity measures related to the pandemic have enabled the new modes of participation, the Assembly needs to make a decision so resources can be guaranteed once the pandemic measures are terminated. The Secretariat must be given a mandate to develop the necessary modalities, including legal and technical definitions and the different needs of the four conference-servicing duty stations and the entities that use them must be taken into account. The Fifth Committee must also remember the importance of conference services when discussing the programme budget, to ensure sufficient resources are allocated, he said.
ABDULAZIZ MOHAMMED AL‑SULAITI (Qatar), aligning himself with the Group of 77, commended the headway the Organization has made to digitize United Nations documents and expand their access to others by placing them on the Internet. The Internet is an important source of information about the founding of the United Nations and is critical to safeguard the Organization’s memory and help Member States develop their views. His delegation supported the digitization project to preserve all the historical documents that could be damaged, including documents produced between 1945 and 1972, he said. The Qatar Government has partnered with the United Nations and provided $5 million for the first phase of the digitization process from 2013 to 2018, plus $2.5 million for the second phase from 2019 to 2023. He reaffirmed Qatar’s commitment to advance the work of the United Nations and its entities to achieve peace and security and address international challenges.
DANIIL A. DEVYATKIN (Russian Federation), describing this year’s draft resolution on the pattern of conferences as “a technical renewal of previous agreements”, noted that this speaks to the fact that the Secretariat’s work in implementing existing mandates to ensure high-quality services in conferences has been successful. Pointing out that while providing conference services online was a necessary measure due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, he stressed that this has had an adverse impact on the health of the interpreters. Requesting the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management to evaluate the need for conducting remote and hybrid meetings after the pandemic is over, he emphasized that it is not “wise” to continue with this in the absence of legal parameters and technical requirements endorsed by the General Assembly.
Mr. ABELIAN thanked Member States for their support and acknowledged the work of the 2,000 staff members at four duty stations whom had helped keep multilateralism alive during the pandemic. He said the Department is ready to follow the mandates of Member States yet needs clear parameters to meet their expectations. Referring to the high vacancy rates in Nairobi and New York City, he said the hiring freeze is the main contributing factor and the Department is working hard to correct the situation. He said he expects the Department to achieve the Assembly’s approved vacancy rate in 2023. He noted that the Department is not responsible for the budgets of the regional commissions, which have their own budgets. Thanking Qatar for its voluntary contributions which helped to digitize all United Nations archives, he said the digitization is important work for the Organization as well as for academics and universities.