Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

23 December 1996


Praises 'Extraordinary Statesman', Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali;
UN Must Provide Timely Leadership on 'Issues of Our Time', Says Assembly President

During its fifty-first session, suspended on 18 December, the General Assembly elected the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan of Ghana, who described himself in his address to the plenary as a son of Africa and a lifetime international civil servant.

The Secretary-General elect, addressing the nations and peoples of the world, said the United Nations was their instrument for peace and justice. "Use it; respect it; defend it", he said. "It can be no wiser, no more competent and no more efficient than those Member States that now comprise and guide it." The United Nations -- "this indispensable, irreplaceable institution" -- must not be permitted to "wither, languish or perish as a result of Member State indifference, inattention or financial starvation", he said.

Paying tribute to the vision and energy of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "an extraordinary statesman who led the United Nations through a turbulent period of transition from the cold war to a new, still emerging era", Mr. Annan said "all of us recognize, and history will record with gratitude, his important contribution".

In his farewell address to the Assembly, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali stressed that nothing is more precious to the United Nations than its reputation, which rested on four pillars: impartiality; equity; efficiency; and achievement. A fifth principle was independence.

"If one word above all is to characterize the role of the Secretary-General, it is independence", he emphasized. "The holder of this office must never be seen as acting out of fear of, or in an attempt to curry favour with, one State or group of States. Should that happen, all prospects for the United Nations would be lost. The Secretary-General's loyalty must be international and nothing but international, and the international civil service must be a real civil service."

In closing remarks before suspending the session, the Assembly President, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), said for the United Nations to remain at the centre of international relations, it must not only be perceived as a vibrant organization in terms of its management, but also in terms of the qualitative and timely leadership it brings to bear on the "issues of our time", such as disarmament, development, protection of the environment and the role of civil society in multilateral affairs. Sharing his assessment of the session's work, he recalled the several meetings in observance of international days or anniversaries of institutions, and said that such commemorative occasions should be used to examine the application of and recommitment to the principles at the heart of multilateral efforts. "We must with courage blow the smokescreen of rhetoric away", he said. "Our collective energies should be used instead to chart an honest and appropriate course for the United Nations, so that it is better able to meet its expectations."

The suspension of the fifty-first session followed the adoption by the Assembly, on the recommendation of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), of the medium-term plan for 1998-2001, a document spelling out the strategic objectives of the United Nations. It sets the pursuit of international peace and security and the promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development among the Organization's priorities.

On the recommendation of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the Assembly adopted what many delegations considered a breakthrough in the efforts to achieve "North-South partnership" on international economic matters, the resolution endorsing the results of the ninth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD IX) (Midrand, South Africa, May).

The Assembly adopted an International Code of Conduct for Public Officials and recommended that States use it as a tool to guide their anti-corruption efforts, through its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). The Assembly also recommended a comprehensive set of proposals on the rights of the child, including the protection of children during war and calling on countries to outlaw the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to eliminate child labour.

Nuclear disarmament issues dominated deliberations of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). Some States hailed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was opened for signature at Headquarters on 24 September, as an historic achievement, but many others said it had only succeeded in solidifying a dangerous and discriminatory nuclear-weapons regime.

Among several resolutions from the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) on the question of Israeli practices, the Assembly this year, for the first time, adopted a text concerning Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Assembly demanded the complete cessation of all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Acting on the recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal), the Assembly took action to facilitate the establishment of an international criminal court and outlined a wide range of measures to suppress international terrorism.

Highlights of the fifty-first session follow:


General Assembly President Razali Ismail (Malaysia), in his closing remarks to the fifty-first session, said the significant strides made during the session to enhance efficiency, increase productivity and reduce wasteful practices had demonstrated that the Assembly could be strengthened and the image of the United Nations refurbished.

Reform was also highlighted in the Assembly's general debate, which began on 23 September. During three weeks, 181 world leaders, including 12 Heads of State, one Crown Prince, 17 Prime Ministers, 17 Deputy Prime and 106 Foreign Ministers, addressed the Assembly, with many stressing that United Nations reform must be undertaken with a view to restoring the Organization's credibility and delivery capacity, and enhancing its relevance. However, many speakers urged a cautious process that would not involve "reform for reform's sake", but instead strengthen the Organization and allow it to meet the many future challenges.

With world leaders calling on the United Nations to remain a central force in development cooperation, leaders from Africa and other developing regions spoke of the need for international support for their efforts at economic and social progress and integration into the world economy. While accentuating the need for poverty-reduction efforts, many speakers noted that the increasing globalization of the world economy had led to further economic isolation for developing States. The decreasing aid from donor nations was noted by the Assembly with great concern, and appeals were made to arrest that tendency.

Following the general debate, reform remained on the agenda, with plenary discussion of Security Council reform. A variety of views were expressed about such major issues as increasing the overall Council membership, extending permanent membership to other Member States and the future of the veto power. Many speakers urged the Assembly's two working groups addressing Council reform to complete a package plan to increase Council efficiency and transparency and to strengthen its relationship with the Assembly. While the Assembly called on the Council to include more substantive information in its annual report to the Assembly, some Member States cautioned against making piecemeal revisions while deliberations continued in the Assembly's working groups.

Cooperation between the United Nations and such regional groups as the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and their potential role in conflict prevention and settlement, was reviewed extensively. The serious implications of regional and in-country conflicts for the United Nations were also noted. Highlighting the importance of ties with such groups, the Assembly called upon the Organization to enhance collaboration with regional bodies in peace-keeping, peace-building, preventive diplomacy and crisis early-warning systems.

The Assembly also reviewed the increasing complexity of providing humanitarian assistance and called on the United Nations system to strengthen its ability to respond to emergencies around the globe. The international community was also specifically asked to support assistance to areas such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda and to the Palestinian people. Mine clearance, in a world with some 110 million land-mines in more than 70 countries, was also discussed extensively.

Many trouble spots around the world were discussed, with speakers attempting to assess what the international community and the United Nations had done to assist civilian populations and their leaders to cope with conflict. Regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda, the Assembly reviewed the multifaceted efforts of the international community to bring peace and stability to those nations. Stating that justice was inseparable from future stability in both countries, the Assembly demanded that all parties concerned cooperate fully and consistently with the work of the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

A bleak picture was drawn regarding the current state of the Middle East peace process, with many Member States saying that the movement towards lasting peace had stalled since the new Israeli Administration took office. The Assembly demanded that the parties to the Middle East peace process fulfil their earlier commitments and pursue, in earnest, negotiations towards a comprehensive and lasting peace. In contrast, the progress made in Central America towards peace and democracy was held up as a successful model of conflict settlement and an achievement of the international community and of the United Nations.

As it had for many years, the Assembly overwhelmingly called upon the United States to end its unilateral economic embargo against Cuba. The new United States legislation referred to as the Helms-Burton Act, which attempts to penalize third States engaged in trade with Cuba, led many to join Cuba in calling upon the United States to repeal all laws and measures that affected the sovereignty or freedom of trade and navigation of other States.

International nuclear-disarmament efforts were also reviewed in depth, particularly the recent adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The Assembly also called upon all States to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to enhance safety in nuclear installations and technical assistance to developing countries and ensure the effectiveness of the nuclear safeguards system. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iraq were urged to cooperate with the IAEA, while Israel was requested to place its nuclear facilities under the Agency's safeguards regime.

Vice-Presidents of the Assembly are: Andorra, Angola, Bahamas, Burundi, China, Cyprus, France, Ghana, Honduras, Latvia, Libya, Niger, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Russian Federation, Sudan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

First Committee

Nuclear disarmament issues dominated deliberations of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and revealed a division over how to proceed on such issues, despite some recent successful disarmament initiatives. That division was made apparent in the debate in the Committee on the CTBT after it was opened for signature at Headquarters on 24 September. In the Committee, some States hailed the CTBT as an historic achievement, but many others said it had only succeeded in solidifying a dangerous and discriminatory nuclear-weapons regime.

Disagreement was also evident over the approach and pace of nuclear disarmament, as indicated in several First Committee texts. Draft resolutions on nuclear disarmament submitted by the Non-Aligned Movement called for the elimination of nuclear weapons "within a time-bound framework". That concept was opposed by several nuclear-weapon States. A draft on bilateral nuclear arms negotiations introduced by the non-aligned called for the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, again within a time-bound framework. However, a competing draft on that issue submitted by the United States and the Russian Federation called for no such time limitation on negotiations, but rather welcomed such recent initiatives as the strategic offensive arms reductions treaties -- START I and II -- and the removal of nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics.

A new resolution was adopted welcoming the 8 July advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. The opinion stated that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and the resolution called on all States to fulfil that obligation immediately. However, several States opposed the text on the grounds that it used a selective portion of the Court's opinion in order to repeat calls made in other drafts for immediate multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

In years past, nuclear-weapon-free zones had been considered a "second front" of nuclear disarmament, but as evidenced by the persistent calls for their creation, they have now acquired a prominent place on the disarmament agenda. A new draft on a nuclear-weapon free Southern hemisphere was adopted this year and it incorporated an amendment by Pakistan specifying South Asia as a region where a further zone could be negotiated.

On the issue of other weapons of mass destruction, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the First Committee at the outset of its debate that "no matter how fool-proof the chemical weapons prohibition regime may be, it will not be credible without the participation of the two major Powers". In light of that concern, a resolution welcoming the impending entry-into-force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention) also included language to consider the implications of implementing that Convention without the ratification of the Russian Federation and the United States -- the two declared possessors of chemical weapons.

The officers of the First Committee are: Chairman, Alyaksandr Sychou (Belarus); Vice-Chairmen, Andelfo J. Garcia (Colombia) and Andre Mernier (Belgium); and Rapporteur, Parfait Serge Onanga-Anyanga (Gabon).

Second Committee

In the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), for the first time, a resolution on international trade and development was co-sponsored by developing and developed countries. Many delegations considered the consensus resolution as a breakthrough in the efforts to achieve "North-South partnership" on international economic matters. The text endorsed the results of the ninth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD IX) (Midrand, South Africa, May) and emphasized the need for balance in the handling of the so-called "new issues", such as labour standards and trade and environment, in the post-Uruguay Round work programme of the World Trade Organization.

The debate on development matters focused increasingly on trade, investment and financial issues, including the external debt problem of developing countries, and culminated in many significant resolutions. Among them was the text stressing that the new challenges and opportunities presented by the phenomenon of global financial integration should constitute a very important element of the dialogue between the United Nations system and the Bretton Woods institutions. The Assembly also noted that a number of developing countries, especially those of Africa, have not benefited from the globalization of finance and continued to be in great need of official development assistance.

Acting on the report of the Economic and Social Council, the Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration against Corruption and Bribery in International Commercial Transactions, by which States pledged to deny the tax deductibility of bribes paid by any private or public corporation or individual of a Member State to any public official or elected representative of another country. Also under the Declaration, States pledged to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in an effective and coordinated manner.

Traditionally among the most difficult to negotiate, this year's resolution on the external debt problem of developing countries was more focused, concentrating on recent initiatives, such as the one by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for the heavily indebted poor countries. The resolution again stressed the importance of a development- oriented and durable solution to the debt problem.

On the recommendation of the Second Committee, the Assembly agreed to defer holding the high-level development-through-partnership dialogue on the theme of the "social and economic impact of globalization and interdependence and their policy implications" to its fifty-second session.

Also through its Second Committee, the Assembly took several actions relating to the recent United Nations major conferences. Among those was the resolution that decided on the date for its special session on an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which will be held from 23 to 27 June 1997.

The officers of the Second Committee are: Chairman, Arjan P. Hamburger (Netherlands); Vice-Chairmen, Mohammad Reza Hadji Karim Djabbary (Iran) and Kheireddine Ramoul (Algeria); and Rapporteur, Silvia Cristina Corado-Cuevas (Guatemala).

Third Committee

In response to growing international concern about the devastating impact of armed conflict on children, the Assembly recommended the Secretary-General appoint a special representative on children in armed conflict. The recommendation was one of a comprehensive set of proposals to protect children during war as presented to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) by the Secretary-General's Expert, Graca Machel.

With the Expert's detailed report focusing special attention in the Committee on the plight of many of the world's children, the Assembly adopted a seven-part resolution on the rights of the child, which also called on countries to outlaw the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to eliminate child labour.

An 11-article United Nations Declaration on Crime and Public Security which urges States to combat transnational crime was among six resolutions on crime prevention and criminal justice adopted by the Assembly on the recommendation of its Third Committee. It also adopted an International Code of Conduct for Public Officials and recommended States use it as a tool to guide their anti-corruption efforts. In addition, it decided to hold a three-day special session in June 1998 to propose new strategies and specific measures to deal with drug abuse and trafficking.

The refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region of Africa was the backdrop to the Third Committee's debate on refugee issues. The Assembly urged the international community to support a search by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for durable solutions to refugee problems, including voluntary repatriation, integration and resettlement. It also addressed assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors and asked the world community to help rehabilitate the environment and infrastructure of asylum countries affected by refugees.

The Assembly adopted 38 texts on a wide range of human rights issues, including the situations in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Estonia and Latvia, Haiti, Rwanda, Myanmar, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Kosovo, Sudan, Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). As in past years, special rapporteurs and special representatives of the Commission on Human Rights reported to the Committee on such issues as racism and racial discrimination, religious intolerance and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Addressing the advancement of women, the Assembly expressed concern that the goal of 50/50 gender distribution in staffing at the United Nations Secretariat by the year 2000 might not be met, especially at policy and decision-making levels. It encouraged governments to identify and regularly submit more women candidates for United Nations posts. It also decided that from 1997, for an interim period, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hold two three-week sessions annually, each preceded by a pre-session working group.

The officers of the Third Committee are: Chairman, Patricia Espinosa (Mexico); Vice-Chairmen, Mohammad Masood Khan (Pakistan) and Fessesha Asghedom Tessema (Ethiopia); and Rapporteur, Victoria Sandru (Romania).

Fourth Committee

Among several resolutions from the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) on the question of Israeli practices, the Assembly this year, for the first time, adopted a text concerning Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Assembly demanded the complete cessation of all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan.

In another resolution the Assembly called on Israel immediately to end the closure of the occupied territories and ensure freedom of movement within the Palestinian territory. During the Committee's debate, in the context of the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices and the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), many speakers decried the closure as a form of "collective punishment" against the Palestinian people. The Assembly welcomed the move of UNRWA headquarters to Gaza, and called on Member States to alleviate the Agency's profound financial crisis.

The Assembly adopted two resolutions on information questions. In an amendment in the plenary to the Fourth Committee's resolution on public information policies, the Assembly deleted a request that the Department of Public Information (DPI) be advised of the costs of activities mandated by resolutions beyond those annually recommended by the Committee on Information. By the amended text, the Assembly addressed such issues as the importance of United Nations Information Centres in developing countries, and the use of new and traditional information technologies. By another resolution, the Assembly urged increased assistance to develop communications infrastructures and capacities in developing countries.

On decolonization, the Chairman of the Fourth Committee informed the Assembly that he had initiated informal consultations on related texts in an effort to break a deadlock between the administering Powers and the Special Committee on decolonization. By a recorded vote, the Committee deferred, until March 1997, action on an omnibus draft resolution related to the situation in the 12 Non-Self-Governing Territories. Representatives of the administering Powers assured the Committee that they sought the deferment solely to further dialogue and attempt to reach consensus on the text.

In a resolution on Western Sahara, the Assembly expressed continued support for the Secretary-General's efforts to organize a self-determination referendum for the people there. It encouraged Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) to start direct talks at the earliest possible date. The Assembly also reaffirmed the importance of the work of the Special Committee on decolonization.

In the Committee's debate on peace-keeping, concern was expressed about the practice of the Department of Peace-keeping Operations of utilizing loaned officers, which some representatives said was shifting the balance in decision-making and other areas away from the United Nations Charter policy of equitable geographical representation. The Committee also considered plans by the Department for establishing a rapidly deployable mission headquarters, to be used at the outset of a new peace-keeping operation until the normal headquarters team was in place.

The officers of the Fourth Committee are: Chairman, Alounkeo Kittikhoun (Lao People's Democratic Republic); Vice-Chairmen, Anastasia Carayanides (Australia) and Sonia R. Leonce-Carryl (Saint Lucia); and Rapporteur, Walid Doudech (Tunisia).

Fifth Committee

On the recommendation of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), the Assembly adopted a medium-term plan for the period 1998-2001, a document spelling out the strategic objectives of the United Nations. The plan sets the pursuit of international peace and security and the promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development among the Organization's priorities. The plan, as adopted by the General Assembly, provides the framework for the United Nations budget.

The new medium-term plan sets the following eight priorities: development of Africa; promotion of human rights; coordination of humanitarian assistance efforts; promotion of justice and international law; disarmament; drug control; crime prevention; and combating international terrorism in all its forms.

In order to convert those priorities into concrete programmes and activities, they were included in a budget outline the Fifth Committee approved for the first half of the medium-term plan's period. For the period 1998-1999, the outline would have the Secretary-General base the 1998-1999 budget on an estimate of $2.480 billion, at revised 1996-1997 rates.

Detailed deliberations on the budget will begin in 1997, when it is examined by the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). For the first time in its history, the ACABQ will convene in 1997 without the United States as one of its members, as France and New Zealand were elected to the two seats available to the Western European and Other States Group in secret-ballot elections.

In the area of human resources, the Assembly adopted a 0.4 per cent increase in base/floor salary for Professional and higher category staff of the United Nations. The Secretary-General's proposal to separate about 37 staff involuntarily was stopped on the Committee's recommendation, which then asked him to provide further information and analyses on the effects of vacancies on the implementation of mandates. The Secretary-General was further requested to limit short-term appointments against regular budget posts to temporary replacements in cases of mission service and leave; and to limit exceptions to regular rules and procedures for recruiting, appointing or promoting under-secretaries-general and assistant secretaries-general, special envoys and staff of his Executive Office.

Action on the issue of gratis personnel or loaned officers was deferred until the resumed session. The existence of such personnel was given higher prominence by a statement made in the Fifth Committee in October by the representative of Sierra Leone, James Jonah, who had been an Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations. He described the increase in the numbers of such staff as a "vicious attack on the international Secretariat" and a tactic to destroy the international civil service.

The officers of the Fifth Committee are: Chairman, Ngoni Francis Sengwe (Zimbabwe); Vice-Chairmen, Syed Rafiqul Alom (Bangladesh) and Klaus-Dieter Stein (Germany); and Rapporteur, Igor V. Govmenny (Ukraine).

Sixth Committee

Acting on the recommendation of its Sixth Committee (Legal), the Assembly took action to facilitate the establishment of an international criminal court and outlined a wide range of measures to suppress international terrorism. It also welcomed completion by the International Law Commission of its draft code of offences against the peace and security of mankind and its provisional draft articles on State responsibility.

The Assembly also approved efforts aimed at developing electronic access to treaty information, welcomed a new Model Law on Electronic Commerce, addressed the economic problems of third States affected by Security Council sanctions, and supported plans to elaborate a framework convention on the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses.

On the international criminal court, the Assembly set the dates for forthcoming meetings of its Preparatory Committee, so that it might complete a draft convention for submission to a diplomatic conference of plenipotentiaries. The Assembly decided that the conference would be held in 1998, to finalize and adopt the convention. It also asked for establishment of a fund to facilitate the participation of the least developed countries.

By a declaration attached to the Assembly's resolution condemning terrorism, Member States reaffirmed that they should take appropriate measures to ensure that asylum seekers have not participated in terrorist acts. They emphasized that asylum seekers may not avoid prosecution for terrorist acts while awaiting the processing of their asylum applications.

The Assembly welcomed the aim of developing a comprehensive electronic database to disseminate treaty information through on-line access, endorsing the proposed dissemination of treaties via the Internet. It recognized the particular value of such access in countries where the cost of maintaining complete collections of treaties in bound volume form was relatively high.

The host country was again urged to consider lifting travel controls with regard to certain missions and Secretariat staff of certain nationalities, under another resolution. The Assembly also stressed that diplomatic indebtedness remained a problem of significant concern, reaffirming that non-compliance with contractual obligations could not be condoned.

Other texts adopted on the Legal Committee's recommendation addressed the United Nations Decade of International Law (1990-1999), protection of victims of armed conflicts and of diplomatic missions, law relating to the new international economic order, and the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization.

The Committee officers are: Chairman, Ramon Escovar-Sajom (Venezuela); Vice-Chairmen, Felicity Jane Wong (New Zealand) and Dimitra Mazilu (Romania); and Rapporteur, Pascaline Boum (Cameroon).

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