Statement by His Excellency Mr. Kul Chandra Gautam
Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on International Affairs and the Peace Process
New York, 22 February 2011
Excellencies, dear friends,
I wish to thank our Chair and the whole Asian Group, for this opportunity to share with you some of my views and vision on how together all of us representing the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region can best contribute to the work of the United Nations, particularly during our region’s presidency of the 66th session of the General Assembly.
Many nations of our diverse and dynamic region are custodians of ancient civilizations, and represent great success stories of recent developments. Every five years when our region gets the opportunity to preside over deliberations of the General Assembly, we cherish the hope of bringing our ancient wisdom and forward-looking vision in addressing the formidable challenges facing our world community.
The UN’s General Assembly is by far the most universal and democratic institution ever designed by mankind – a veritable parliament of the world. The Charter of the United Nations assigns the General Assembly the role of the chief deliberative, policy-making and norm-setting body.
Despite its imperfections, no other global institution today offers a better and more equitable forum than the General Assembly for the peoples of the world to voice their views and vision, hopes and dreams, and yes, even their fears and frustrations.
I am often asked what will be my priorities if/when I get elected as President of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly (PGA-66). A fair question, that is tough to answer.
The GA has a huge agenda – of nearly 200 items annually – usually passed on from one session to the next. As the common house of all equal member states, we recognize the importance of all agenda items which represent the legitimate concerns of our diverse membership.
But we would all agree that certain issues are of such urgency and global importance that they merit our collective priority attention. These are issues that cut across sectoral and geographic boundaries and impact massively on the security, development, human rights and well-being of large numbers of our peoples.
If I am elected PGA, I would want to identify a small number of such big issues as our priorities, in close consultation with all member states, starting with you – our fellow members of the Asian Group.
In this rapidly globalizing world, there are a growing number of problems that individual states, no matter how large and powerful, cannot resolve through national efforts alone. These are sometimes known as “problems without passports” – such as climate change and global warming, pandemics, massive humanitarian crisis, threat of international terrorism, and the challenge of harnessing the potential of the global commons for the good of humanity.
Many of these issues can best be addressed and advanced through cooperative, multilateral action led by the United Nations, as global problems demand global solutions.
I would group such overarching issues of global importance into four clusters of priority for the 66th session of the General Assembly:
Let me elaborate for you some salient points of each of these priorities:
1. Giving continuity and momentum to complete some major unfinished initiatives of previous PGAs
Every PGA is the inheritor of a legacy of important initiatives of previous PGAs. We all know, for example, that the current PGA-65 is giving great importance to establishing the centrality of the United Nations in global governance.
I would give continuity to this important mission, if I am elected as PGA-66.
There are now many forums – the G-20, the G-7, the Bretton Woods Institutions, etc. where efforts are being made to tackle some of the great problems facing humanity. We welcome all such constructive and practical initiatives, as complementary to the UN’s central role in resolving global problems and setting global norms.
As many of these other forums and institutions do not reflect the equitable and universal representation of all countries, it is imperative to ensure greater coherence and coordination between these mechanisms and the United Nations.
The UN General Assembly is the only institution that embodies universal and equitable representation of all member states – big and small, rich and poor, reflecting the great diversity of our peoples.
It is, therefore, important that the GA should be assured of its rightful place to express the views, the hopes and aspirations of all peoples of the world in determining the architecture of global governance, and to ensure that international principles and the ethos of multilateralism are preeminent in resolving global problems.
As PGA, I would make every effort to strengthen the UN’s central role in global governance.
2. Reform and revitalization of the UN
The United Nations cannot be effective in influencing vital global developments if it is – or is perceived to be – an inefficient, divided and lackluster organization. I would, therefore, attach great importance to the reform, revitalization and strengthening of the United Nations system, starting with the General Assembly itself.
We need a holistic agenda for UN reform. Reform is a continuous process and its primary objective should be to adapt the UN to the changing realities of the world, to enhance its global standing and promote its effectiveness in delivering results.
On the reform of the Security Council, our leaders meeting at the 2005 World Summit expressed their support for early reform, a position reaffirmed in many resolutions approved by the UNGA before and after that momentous summit.
But it is clear that the positions of many members, and groups of members, on this issue are still quite far apart. To help narrow the divergence of views among member states, we must build on the work of the inter-governmental negotiations on the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other related matters.
To ensure the broadest possible acceptance of proposed reforms, further progress needs to be made to develop a consensus, among other issues, on strengthening the democratic underpinnings of the Security Council; ensuring more equitable geographic representation, especially of regions and groups of countries that have been historically under-represented; enhancing the Council’s accountability to the broader membership of the United Nations, without weakening its effectiveness.
I wish to emphasize that as far as the daily lives of most ordinary people in the world are concerned, the decisions and effectiveness of the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs and bodies are of great importance as envisaged in the UN Charter. Revitalization of the GA must, therefore, command our high priority.
The report of the ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly identifies four major issues and key steps which we need to implement to strengthen its effectiveness and credibility:
The President of the 64th session of the GA has shared with us some very helpful views and recommendations in this context, and I am sure we can count on similar guidance from the President of the current 65th session, with his singular focus on improving global governance.
Let us focus on finding ways to more effectively implement these recommendations rather than commissioning further studies and fine-tuning that seem to paralyze us.
Let us make the best use of the General Assembly, with its democratic legitimacy drawn from its universal membership, to help redress the deeply entrenched imbalances in the broader international system. As they say, instead of just cursing the darkness, let us light a candle where we can.
3. A special push for the development and environmental agendas
The development agenda of the UN is closest to my heart. I have been a life-long development professional. Having personally played a key role in crafting the time-bound, measurable human development goals and strategies in the major international conferences of the 1990s, starting with the World Summit for Children and culminating in the Millennium Summit of 2000, I feel passionately about making the development agenda central to the UN’s work.
We already have the Millennium Development Goals and the sustainable development agenda. And we are actively engaged in marathon negotiations on climate change and global warming.
During the term of the 66th session of the GA, we must strive to bring some of these negotiations to fruition and to establish the mutually reinforcing linkages between the development and environmental agendas.
The Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development next year offers us an excellent opportunity to forge a historic consensus. Given the significance of the interplay between climate change, models of economic development, and our pursuit of internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, we must make Rio+20 a watershed event.
For many of our countries, the climate change issue is one of life and death, existential concern. The multiple negative effects of climate change resulting in water scarcity, floods, food insecurity and loss of biodiversity are greatly exacerbating the vulnerabilities of poor countries and sustainability of growth in richer countries.
Global warming which causes the melting of the Himalayan glaciers is directly related to the rising sea levels that threaten the very existence of many small island developing states, including those in our Pacific region.
There are some sharp short-term divisions among nations on the climate change agenda. But we must take a longer-term view and try to find win-win solutions in tackling the issues of climate change, global warming and protection of our biodiversity.
Common but differentiated responsibility and capacity must be honoured as the defining principle in all climate change negotiations.
Besides forging a win-win consensus on the substance of the development and environmental agenda at the global level, we must strive to ensure that the UN system offers member states, especially developing countries, well coordinated support for their implementation.
I feel strongly that for the vast majority of developing countries, the most meaningful and necessary reform of the UN system, is at the field level where UN agencies, funds and programmes and international financial institutions operate and impact on the daily lives of our peoples.
Despite many efforts, we have yet to achieve a sufficiently well-coordinated UN system that is truly effective in “delivering as one”. For this, we in the General Assembly must support processes that promote greater system-wide coherence.
It is my conviction that such coherence will not flow from some grand design or master plan made here in New York or Geneva. Rather it will be based on a framework that we develop which is responsive and adaptable to the needs and realities of individual countries.
I believe that my own 3-decade plus professional experience in the operational activities of the UN development and humanitarian system will be helpful in this context.
My deep familiarity and empathy with development challenges facing our countries comes not just from chairing conferences, reading reports and meeting with diplomats and political leaders, but also from working in the field in many developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.
I hope that you would consider a PGA with such first-hand experience in successful implementation of development and humanitarian programmes in the field, as bringing a unique strength to the development pillar of UN’s work.
4. The peace and security agenda.
While issues related to international peace and security are the main domain of the Security Council, articles 10 to 14 and 35 of the Charter of the UN assign a very special role for the General Assembly as well.
I would like to see the General Assembly playing a more assertive, complementary role in promoting and consolidating international peace and security, by addressing the root causes of conflict and violence in our societies.
After all, peace and development are intertwined as two sides of the same coin. As the most representative body of the United Nations, the General Assembly must play a major role in putting together the building blocks of peace, security and development – which touch and impact on the daily lives and well-being of all citizens of the world.
I wish to emphasize the need for the GA to play a more effective role in strengthening peace-keeping operations, which are among the most important and visible activities of the United Nations.
The Asia-Pacific region has a big stake as our countries contribute nearly half of the UN’s total peace-keeping personnel. We want to see greater participation of Troop Contributing Countries in peace-keeping matters, and better coordination among TCC/PCC and major contributors of funding for peace-keeping.
We need better planning and management, faster deployment, effective operations, a clear exit strategy, improved safety and living conditions for peace-keepers, and more effective protection of civilian populations, especially of women, children and other vulnerable groups.
Drawing on lessons learned from the UN’s practical experience and from studies such as those contained in the Brahimi Report and the New Horizon Initiative, I hope we can work together to bring some tangible improvements in the effectiveness of peace-keeping operations.
Smooth transition from peace-keeping to peace-building, and post-conflict reconstruction and development merit deeper engagement of the General Assembly. The GA, for example, played an equal role with the Security Council in establishing the Peace Building Commission to help post-conflict countries rebuild and rise from the ashes.
Prevention of conflict and avoiding the all-too-frequent relapse into violence in post-conflict situations are matters requiring deeper involvement of the GA and its subsidiary bodies.
I confess that all of this is a very tall order for a one-year term of the GA presidency. I am sure there will be many other ideas that will come up in my consultation with member states prior to assuming the office of PGA-66.
If elected, I will try my best to reach out and be responsive to the views and guidance of all member states, and work closely with you in taking the reform agenda forward. As PGA, my doors will be always open to anyone who wants to offer advice and consult with me.
In discharging my duties, my motto and guiding principle will be: “strive for the ideal, and settle for the practical”. Accordingly, I will push for accelerated progress where radical change is not possible and build on such steps to create a momentum for lasting and substantive change.
As the old Chinese saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My experience of over 3 decades in the UN system, also tells me that great gains can be made over time if we are moving in the right direction with a broad vision and clear goals.
One real hope I have is to help re-establish the role and status of the General Assembly as the first among equal Principal organs of the UN, with the legitimacy of its universal membership.
It upsets me when people sometimes dismiss the General Assembly as unimportant and irrelevant.
Let us recall its glorious history:
It was the General Assembly that helped usher the greatest achievement of the United Nations – decolonization and independence of the majority of its current membership.
It is the GA that approved the ground-breaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many subsequent human rights treaties and conventions. We live in a more just and fair world today thanks to these instruments devised by the GA.
It is the GA which introduced the hugely important and innovative idea of the “Law of the Sea”, and the prospecting of outer space, which help ensure that our future generations will benefit from these common heritages of humanity.
It is the GA that that first highlighted the plight of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and the vulnerabilities of Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
It is the GA that created the Central Emergency Reserve Fund (CERF) that provides a stand-by facility for the UN to respond to major humanitarian disasters so people in peril will not perish while governments and donors are scrambling to mobilize funding and logistics support.
And it is the General Assembly that is currently engaged in identifying elements of a coherent and inclusive approach for a new global economic governance architecture for today’s globalized world.
Indeed, world leaders recognize the moral authority and substantive value of the GA. That is why so many of them come to address the Assembly each year.
We owe it to our leaders, and to our peoples, to reform and revitalize the GA and to reestablish its pre-eminence as the first among equal principal organ of the United Nations. We must vigorously counter any attempt to push the GA towards a secondary role.
Excellencies, dear friends,
It would be a great honour and privilege for me, and for Nepal, to have the opportunity to serve the United Nations in the capacity of President of its General Assembly . With nearly 200 member states and observers, for most countries, the opportunity to serve as PGA comes less than once in a century. It is, therefore, important that collectively we bestow such opportunity very thoughtfully to countries and candidates who are most deserving at the right time.
The Charter of the United Nations espouses the sovereign equality of all member states. It is guided by the principles of equitable representation, inclusiveness, fair opportunity for countries big and small, rich and poor, the most developed and the least developed.
If we look at the pattern of representation of Asia as President of the General Assembly, over the decades, we note that our predecessors were very fair and judicious. In the large and diverse region of Asia, the PGA post rotated among its many sub-regions – from the Philippines to Iran, and from Thailand to Lebanon in the early decades; and in recent decades from Sri Lanka to Iraq, Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia to the Republic of Korea and on to Bahrain.
We must acknowledge that some member states in our region, such as from the Pacific Islands and Central Asia have not been represented so far at the PGA level. Following the logic of equitable sub-regional rotation, we must give them preferential consideration when they present suitable candidates in the future.
For now, the principle of equitable, fair and inclusive representation, which is at the core of the UN Charter, would indicate that Nepal ought to be our collective logical choice for President of the 66th session of the General Assembly.
No one from South Asia has been PGA for the past 25 years. No one from an LDC or LLDC has been PGA for a quarter of a century. Justice and fairness demand that the legitimate and overdue aspirations of a country like Nepal from among such historically under-represented countries, presenting a candidate with strong qualifications, ought to get your priority support.
Nepal has been a loyal and committed member of the United Nations since 1955. As a strong believer in multilateralism, Nepal attaches great importance to the work of the United Nations, and has made significant contribution in its mission of promoting international peace and security, universal human rights and socio-economic development.
In the 55 years of its membership, Nepal has served with distinction in many organs of the United Nations, its funds and programmes, and Specialized Agencies.
Nepal has an exemplary record of contributing to nearly 40 UN Peace Keeping Operations around the world. Over 80,000 Nepalis have served in UN peace-keeping missions, and 64 of our compatriots have died in the line of duty.
We expect every nation to contribute to the work of the UN according to its capacity. In this context, Nepal’s contribution to the UN is second to none.
I am confident that all Member States here recognize the legitimate aspirations of Nepal; the contribution of blood, sweat and tears of its citizens to the UN’s noble mission; the solid credentials of its candidate; and our potential intellectual and professional contribution to the work of the General Assembly.
On behalf of Nepal, I appeal to your sense of fairness, equity, and recognition of strong credentials, in making the tough but right choice you need to make between two countries and candidates – both of whom are your good friends – and will remain so regardless of the outcome of this PGA contest.
Excellencies, dear friends,
The Asia-Pacific region has given to the United Nations some of the most outstanding PGAs, of which we can all be very proud.
Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, the very first Asian PGA, blazed the trail for us; and Iran’s Nasrollah Entezam followed him ably.
India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman PGA.
A Thai Prince/diplomat Wan Waithayakon, and Lebanon’s multi-lingual, scholar/diplomat Charles Habib Malik provided great leadership in the 1950s.
Pakistan’s renowned international jurist Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, and Afghanistan’s journalist/diplomat Abdul Rahman Pazwak made their mark in the 1960s.
Indonesia’s charismatic politician Adam Malik, and Sri Lanka’s veteran civil servant Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe made us proud in the 1970s;
The Iraqi diplomat Ismat Kittani and Bangladeshi freedom fighter Humayun Rashid Choudhury led this organization in the difficult decade of the 1980s.;
Veteran Saudi diplomat Samir Sihabi, and Malaysia’s Razali Ismail guided the GA with healthy humour and wisdom in the 1990s.
Korea’s gentle politician Han Seung-soo and Bahrain’s women’s rights activist Sheika Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa ushered us into the new Millennium.
Now, with your support I hope to be a worthy successor to these distinguished Asian predecessors. I am confident that you will make the right choice on Friday, February 25th.