For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1652
Release Date:  26 June 2000
General Assembly President Says Social Development Special Session
Best Hope for Putting “Heart” into Globalization Process

 NEW YORK, 23 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of the President of the General Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), at a press encounter for the Assembly special session “World Summit for Social Development and Beyond:  Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World” in Geneva:

This is only the second time that the General Assembly will be holding a special session outside its Headquarters in New York.  We are meeting in the beautiful city of Geneva –- the United Nations other home –- at the kind invitation of Switzerland, and we thank the Swiss Government and the people for their generous hospitality.

The convening of back-to-back General Assembly special sessions sets a record.  Two weeks ago, we met in New York for the special session on women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality, and agreed on further actions and initiatives to implement the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women.

This twenty-fourth special session, on social development and related people-centred issues, is part of the continuum of follow-up to the global conferences organized by the United Nations in the 1990s, on environment, human rights, population, shelter, social development, women, food security and small island developing States. 

Our purpose here in Geneva, ladies and gentlemen, is to determine how well the global community has met the goals it set itself, in 1995, of achieving social development and equity for all in a globalizing world, through the implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.  Bearing that in mind, governments gathering here will consider and agree on what practical actions and new strategies they can take, individually and collectively, to further the global agenda for social development.  An array of social issues will be addressed, with South-North dialogue, globalization, poverty eradication, debt cancellation, resource mobilization and social justice as main themes.

The 1995 Social Summit marked the first time ever that heads of State and government had deliberated upon and accepted the significance of social development and prosperity for all.  The leaders agreed to give those goals the highest priority, by placing people at the centre of their concerns for sustainable development and human security.  The Secretary-General’s comprehensive report on the implementation of the outcome of the Summit found that one of its main objectives -– to promote heightened awareness and commitment to social issues by governments and civil society -– had, in large measure, occurred and that the social ramifications of major economic developments are now considered as priority issues.  That report is worthwhile reading and I recommend it.  

At Copenhagen, 117 heads of State or government were joined by representatives of 186 countries who also committed themselves to pursuing specific policies that would ultimately lead to the eradication of poverty, towards full and productive employment and towards just and inclusive societies.  They did so by adopting the Copenhagen Declaration, an audacious document containing 10 definitive commitments to promote social development and social justice, uphold labour standards, mobilize resources for development, pay special attention to the development needs of Africa and ensure that the policies of the international financial institutions did not hurt people.  The Programme of Action set goals and targets for social development and a plan to fulfil the commitments set forth in the Declaration. 

Conscious of the need to continually address social development needs, the General Assembly responded positively, in resolution 50/161, to the recommendation of the Social Summit to hold a special session in 2000 to review and streamline implementation after the Summit, in order to move the social development agenda forward.  Let me reiterate here that the special session is not an occasion to renegotiate the outcome of Copenhagen; rather, it is an opportunity to remove the roadblocks that have prevented the full implementation of the commitments.

Five years on, what are the results since Copenhagen?  The assessments, by governments and other entities, range from uneven to discouraging to disappointing to disheartening to disastrous to abysmal.  Developing countries place much of the blame at the door of globalization as the greatest obstacle to achieving social progress. 

In fact, the outcome document foresaw the very problems that have accompanied rapid globalization.  However, its warnings of the perils of the global impact of financial crises, and of not addressing the needs of people, were not heeded, and many of the dangers that were forecast have sadly come about.  There is no denying that while globalization holds a promise of providing a better life to more people, the benefits of the new economies have, however, eluded the majority of the world’s population, with more people living in poverty today than there were five years ago.

It is often said that globalization needs a human face.  But it needs a heart as well.  This special session offers the best forum where countries and peoples can decide to put a little heart into the process.  It is about bridging differences and finding a common course of action.

We all recognize that social development and the implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action are seen as a national responsibility, and that governments are expected to demonstrate the necessary political will to provide the resources to put their commitments into action.  However, cooperation, commitment and assistance from the international community, including relevant international organizations and actors in civil society, are critical to hasten implementation and mitigate the challenges of globalization.  What is required, by all and from all, is a global partnership to achieve social development and economic justice.  Although this will be a meeting of governments, the special session will, as in the past, provide an opportunity for non-governmental organizations, representatives from business, parliaments and other important stakeholders in civil society to interact throughout with United Nations Member States. 

Nothing short of a renewed and massive political will, buttressed with increased resources at the national, regional and international levels to invest in people and their progress, can achieve the noble objectives set forth in Copenhagen in 1995. 

We’ve invited you here today, ladies and gentlemen of the media, to brief you and to answer your questions on different aspects of the special session.  Sharing this podium with me are the United Nations most senior leaders on development in general, social development in particular and also labour issues.  

Each day during the special session, my Spokeswoman, Shirley Brownell, will be briefing you on what is happening in the plenary debate and in the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, where the finalization of the outcome document will take place.

 With these opening remarks, I’m happy to cede the microphone to the experts seated at this table with me, but I’ll also be available to answer your questions, if any.

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