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


Fifty-eighth General Assembly
HIGHLIGHTS
GA/10226
24 December 2003

REFORM, REVITALIZATION OF UNITED NATIONS TO FACE NEW GLOBAL THREATS STRESSED

DURING 58TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY, MEETING IN WAKE OF SOBERING WORLD EVENTS


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Acting on the recommendations of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Assembly adopted 22 resolutions and two decisions on a wide-range of agenda items, including decolonization, information, the effects of atomic radiation, international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, the work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories. Nearly half of the 22 resolutions focused on the Middle East, including five texts on UNRWA and another five on the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices. The Committee’s review of United Nations peacekeeping and information activities featured in-depth presentations by the heads of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Public Information.

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Summary of the plenary and Main Committees follows.

Plenary

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Three times during this substantive part of the Assembly’s session, Arab delegations called for the resumption of the body’s long-running emergency special session on illegal Israeli practices in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories. The first meeting, on 19 September, was called by the Arab Group and non-aligned countries following the United States veto in the Security Council of a text demanding that Israel not threaten to deport or threaten the safety of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Assembly overwhelmingly approved a similar text by a vote of 133 in favour to 4 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, United States), with 15 abstentions.

Again citing the Security Council’s “failure to act” on serious issues of international peace and security – prompted by the United States veto of an Arab-led resolution which would have declared illegal the security barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank – delegations called for another resumed emergency special session in late October. The Assembly subsequently adopted a measure demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the wall being built in the West Bank by a vote of 144 in favour to 4 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, United States), with 12 abstentions.

Following the release of the Secretary-General’s report which said that Israel was not in compliance with the Assembly’s demand that it halt construction of the barrier and take it down, delegations called for another resumed session. The Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel's construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank by a vote of 90 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 74 abstentions.

First Committee

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With the dangers of proliferation and the possible use of nuclear weapons again commanding world attention, the General Assembly appealed for progress in nuclear disarmament and in addressing the risk that non-State actors might one day acquire mass destruction weapons, through the adoption of 52 resolutions and decisions of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).

Second Committee

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Among 37 draft texts the Committee approved this year, several focused on the key areas of trade, commodities, external debt, science and technology, the international financial system, and globalization. Three drafts were approved in recorded actions, including one on the permanent sovereignty of Arab populations in the occupied Palestinian and Golan territories over their natural resources. ...

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Third Committee

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) highlighted the need for greater international cooperation and heightened national initiatives to combat terrorism and transnational crime, eradicate poverty, promote human rights and protect the rights of children, women, elderly people and people with disabilities. Those issues were among issues addressed in 73 draft resolutions approved by the Committee for action by the General Assembly. Other drafts recommended for action by the Assembly included texts on social development, the right of peoples to self-determination, the situation of Palestinian children, the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the need for durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons.

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Among the draft resolutions approved on the promotion and protection of the rights of children, the Committee approved by recorded vote a draft addressing specifically the situation of Palestinian children, which stressed the rights of Palestinian children to live free from foreign occupation and demanding that Israel respect relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In response to that action, the delegation of Israel proposed a draft on the situation of Israeli children, which it subsequently withdrew due to what it said were hostile changes to the draft proposed by other delegations.

Fourth Committee

The dire political, economic and humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories once again dominated the Fourth Committee’s (Special Political and Decolonization) discussion on issues related to the Middle East. While the Fourth Committee discussed a range of issues during the session, from the effects of atomic radiation to peacekeeping to information, almost half of the 22 resolutions and two decisions adopted by the Committee focused on Middle East-related issues, including the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

Following often passionate debate on the Agency’s operations, the Committee, agreeing to consolidate elements of the UNRWA-related texts, approved five draft resolutions on the matter -- two less than in the previous year. Several speakers welcomed the consolidation, saying it reflected the Committee’s commitment to streamlining the Assembly’s work. By the terms of one of the texts, on assistance to Palestine refugees and support for UNRWA, the Assembly reaffirmed the importance of the Agency’s operations for the well-being of the Palestine refugees and for the stability of the region. Regretting the death of six Agency staff members during the reporting period, the Assembly called on all relevant parties to take effective measures to ensure the safety of UNRWA personnel, the protection of its institutions, and the safeguarding of the security of its facilities.

Delegates voiced strong support for UNRWA, calling for the lifting of the financial and logistical obstacles that hindered its work. Outlining the challenges facing the Agency, its Commissioner-General, in his annual report to the Committee, pointed to road closures, demolitions and the deteriorating economy in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel’s representative, while endorsing the UNRWA humanitarian mandate, called attention to what he described as the increasing politicization of the Agency. Many speakers condemned Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people under occupation and expressed deep concern over the construction of a separation wall, which undermined Palestinian’s trust in the Road Map. In that regard, the Committee approved a draft text demanding that Israel stop and reverse construction of the wall.

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For information media - not an official record