For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1653
Release Date: 27 June 2000
General Assembly Opens Special Session on Follow-up
To 1995 Social Summit

Secretary-General Urges Renewed Efforts to Reduce Poverty

GENEVA, 26 June (UN Information Service) -- A week-long General Assembly Special Session began its review this morning of the implementation of commitments made at the 1995 United Nations Social Summit, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for an end to "extreme squalor (that) was an affront to common humanity" and numerous heads of State contending that more should be done to reduce the foreign-debt burdens of impoverished nations and to remove barriers to their exports.

Mr. Annan said in opening remarks that no country could be called truly prosperous so long as many of its citizens were left to fend for themselves against ignorance, hardship and disease, and asked if 15 years from now most people in developing world be left out of the "new universe" of mobile phones and the Internet, while the industrialized world, with a few enclaves in the South, rushed farther and farther ahead.  He also asked if many societies would remain polarized along lines of ethnicity, race or class, and prone to outbursts of group hatred and violence.  He said that if the answer to any of those questions was yes, one should not be able to claim convincingly that one was winning the battle against human misery.

Theo-Ben Gurirab of Namibia, President of the General Assembly who was elected President of the Special Session, told the gathering that what was needed was globalization with "a head, a heart and a human face".  He added that there should be a balance between the power of the market forces that produced technology, knowledge and prosperity, and the crippling reality that distribution of these benefits was increasingly and dangerously skewed; and that foreign debt relief and removal of trade barriers, among other steps, were needed to enhance the positions of the world's poorer countries.

Debate at the morning meeting focused on "proposals for further initiatives for social development" and included statements by the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Special Session; the Prime Minister of Morocco; the President of Equatorial Guinea; the Vice-President of South Africa; the Prime Minister of Cambodia; the President of Albania; the Vice-President of the Dominican Republic; the President of Ghana; the Prime Minister of Namibia; the Prime Minister of Lesotho; and the Deputy Prime Minister of Liechtenstein.

These speakers described, among other things, national efforts to improve citizens' economic and social circumstances.

Officially titled the "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World", the Special Session -- the twenty-fourth in the General Assembly's history -- is intended to review the fulfilment of 10 international commitments made at the 1995 Social Summit, which was held in Copenhagen and aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving full employment and strengthening social integration.

The commitments relate to (1) an enabling environment for social development; (2) poverty eradication; (3) full employment; (4) promotion of social integration; (5) equality and equity between women and men; (6) universal and equitable access to high-quality education and health services; (7) acceleration of development in Africa and in the least-developed countries; (8) inclusion of social development goals in structural-adjustment programmes; (9) resources for social development; and (10) international cooperation for social development.

Clearing the way for the week's work, the Special Session adopted its agenda and elected officers, who in addition to Mr. Gurirab included States Vice-Presidents already serving in that position for the fifty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly: Algeria, Bolivia, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, France, Grenada, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Lithuania, Monaco, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Seychelles, Tajikistan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the United States.  It also was decided that Chairpersons of the Main Committees of the current General Assembly would serve in the same capacity during the Special Session.  An Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole was created, with Cristian Maquieira of Chile, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session, elected as Chairman.

The special session will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue discussion of further initiatives for social development.


THEO-BEN GURIRAB (Namibia), President of the United Nations General Assembly and President of the Special Session on Development, said one of the most urgent challenges of our time was being confronted.  It was the challenge of putting the needs of the people at the centre of the global agenda of peace and development and democracy.  Heads of State and Government and numerous representatives from across the world, who had attended the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, had anticipated this crisis of globalization.  They had called for balance between the power of the market forces that produced technology, knowledge and prosperity and the crippling reality that distribution of the benefits was increasingly and dangerously skewed. 

Mr. Gurirab said that here, there should be real solutions to the acute problems of real people.  In searching for such solutions, the past must be reviewed, but more important, a future plan of action must be agreed upon, one that would bring together Governments, businesses, parliaments, NGOs and the civil society into a constructive partnership for joint action.  At this stage, political will, resources and sustained efforts were required, to shift economic globalization to a new course that would focus on poverty eradication, full employment and shared prosperity.  Today, the main challenge facing humankind was represented by the awesome force of globalization.  It was said that millions in the world welcomed globalization, while millions feared it.  What the world actually needed was globalization with a head, a heart and a human face. It was really no guesswork that there was a storm over globalization.  In recent months, from Seattle to Washington to Davos, actions spoke louder than words.  Those confrontations were witnessed.  And it could have been just a warning shot fired across the bow.

Mr. Gurirab said the most frequently cited indication that social development was not yet secure on the international agenda was the decline in the official development assistance that had continued since Copenhagen, where the goal of committing 0.7 per cent of gross national product was reaffirmed.  The burden of Third World debt was in fact even more crushing than the absence of aid.  For example, a number of African countries were forced to pay more for debt service than for education and health combined.  On their part and in partnership with Governments and NGOs, the UN agencies and programmes continued their most indispensable work in the field, saving lives and assisting reconstruction and development.

If the alternative to aid was trade, it should follow that the prerequisite for trade was tariff reduction, and strengthening of trade preferences, Mr. Gurirab said.  Most developing countries depended on commodities for more than half of their export revenues.  Their primary economic sectors were agriculture and textiles, which were precisely the areas that many industrialized countries so doggedly protected.  There would be no more effective way for the industrialized countries to demonstrate commitment to sustainable social development than to implement special and differential treatment of the exports of developing countries.

This Special Session in Geneva was a vital link in a chain extending from the eventful past and leading to the Millennium Summit in New York in September as well as to the scheduled High-Level Event on Financing for Development in June 2001.  No doubt, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions should work even more closely on financing for development. 

KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that all must agree that the World Summit for Social Development in 1995 was indeed ahead of its time.  Events since then had confirmed its central insight, which could be stated in two closely related propositions: first, economic growth, if it was to be broad-based and sustainable, required investment in people -- their health, their education and their security; and secondly, essential though it was, growth would not by itself guarantee that most people in a country had the chance to participate in decisions that would affect their lives.

No one should be discriminated against, Mr. Annan went on to affirm.  No one should be obliged to conform to an official culture, or be denied the right to associate with others to defend their particular identity or interests.  In short, social and economic welfare were not separate concepts.  Without economic prosperity, no country could provide for all the social needs of its citizens.  But nor could any country be called truly prosperous so long as many of its citizens were left to fend for themselves against ignorance, hardship and disease.  Nor yet could any country achieve prosperity by subordinating all social concerns to the achievements of a few quantitative benchmarks.  What mattered in the last resort was the quality of life -- a big part of which was the feeling that one belonged freely to the society.

Mr. Annan said those conclusions applied to rich and poor countries alike, but they were of special significance for the global debate on development.  In that context, they had been advocated for years within the United Nations, but were now much more widely accepted by other multilateral organizations.  It was surely a sign of the times that that very afternoon he should be launching a new report, "A Better World For All", which was co-signed with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  It was the first time ever that the four main international  bodies concerned with development had together reviewed progress towards the internationally agreed goals for reducing extreme poverty, and had articulated a common vision of the way forward.

Mr. Annan said that just ahead was the Millennium Summit, which would  take place in September at United Nations headquarters -- the largest gathering of heads of states and governments the world had ever seen.  If the spirit of Copenhagen could be maintained here in Geneva, he said he had every hope that it would be further strengthened in New York.  In the Report, which Mr. Annan had presented for consideration by the Summit, he had put great emphasis on social objectives.  He believed they should not be seen as adjuncts to the struggle.  If social problems were not tackled the world over, society as a whole would not function properly -- and poverty would not be defeated, either.

Fifteen years from now, would there still be tens of millions of primary school age children who were not at school, the Secretary-General asked.  Would tens of millions of young people of both genders still be searching unsuccessfully for work?  Would small children and pregnant women still be dying every minute from malaria and other preventable diseases?  Would young people still be contracting and spreading the HIV virus because they did not know how one caught it or how to avoid it?  And would treatment for AIDS still be priced far beyond the means of those suffering from its in developing countries? 

Would whole regions of the world and large groups even in the richest societies still be condemned to live on the margins of the global economy,  Mr. Annan continued to ask.  Would most people throughout the developing world still be left out of the new universe of mobile phones and the Internet, while the industrialized world, with a few enclaves in the South, rushed further and further ahead, using even newer technologies that none of the participants in the Assembly had yet heard of?  And would many societies still be polarized along lines of ethnicity, race or class -- prone to outbursts of group hatred and even violence?

Mr. Annan said that if the answer to any of those questions was yes, one should not be able to claim convincingly that one was winning the battle against human misery, even if -- as Mr. Annan firmly hoped -- one had succeeded in halving the proportion of people living on one dollar a day or less.  And that brought him to the questions of resources.  It was only natural that the poor countries of the world, which had so few resources of their own, should look for help to the rich ones.  Many of those rich countries had acute social problems of their own.  But none of them could be indifferent to the social conditions in which so many people in poor countries lived.  Such extreme squalor was an affront to the common humanity.  All were impoverished if the poor were denied opportunities to make a living.  And it was within the international community's power to extend those opportunities to all.

The case for making extra resources available, through debt relief and increased development aid, could be made compelling when it was clear that those resources would indeed be used to provide social services which benefited the poor, Mr. Annan said.  But it was hard indeed to make that case when there was reason to think that extra resources might be used to purchase weapons, or to raise the living standards of an already privileged elite.  Similarly, more open markets could only benefit countries, which were able to supply those markets, at competitive prices, with goods that people wanted to buy.  That meant countries which by good governance and sound economic policies had created a propitious climate for investment, both domestic and foreign.  Those, which were racked by conflict, or held back by unnecessary regulations, or plundered by unaccountable officials, would benefit little from economic assistance whatever form it would take.

CRISTIAN MAQUIEIRA (Chile) Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session, introducing the report of the Preparatory Committee (A/S-24/2 and Add.1 and 2 (Parts I-III)) for the Special Session, said the root of the agreement to emerge from the Special Session had been drawn up by the Committee; the intent was to have a political declaration, a chapter on review of the Copenhagen agreements, and the adoption of new initiatives for implementing the agreement of the Social Summit.  A large part of the first two documents -- the declaration and review -- had been negotiated; what remained was finalization of the matter of new initiatives.

He worried that many people in the room and around the world had lost faith in the institutions governing the world, Mr. Maquieira said; that was because so many people lived in such an unfair, unjust world.  These were interesting times for the United Nations; progress had to be made or the UN would no longer be seen as relevant.  The issues that had arisen at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization greatly concerned the United Nations.  It was the UN's job to be a voice for those who did not have a voice, including the billions who lived in poverty, many of them in extreme poverty.  Only the United Nations had a sufficiently broad mandate to tackle all the relevant problems related to the shortcomings of globalization and to maximize globalization's benefits.  It was necessary to integrate social rules into the heart of the doctrine of globalization.  Commitments benefiting the North were not going to function if they did not also serve the interests of the South.

ABDERRAHMAN EL-YOUSSOUFI, Prime Minister of Morocco, said the Government of Morocco had set forth an integrated development that aimed to translate into reality the objectives sought in Copenhagen.  The Government had also decided to increase the resources allocated to social sectors -- from 31 per cent in 1995 to 47 per cent in 1999.  These helped extend basic social services to the most vulnerable members of the society.

In the area of combating poverty, specific programmes had been initiated.  As for the struggle against unemployment, the Moroccan Government had implemented a policy aimed at developing productive and job- generating investments through the reform of the training-integration system.  The Government had also developed a micro-credit system, and initiated the reform of the social security system and involved, within the framework of the labour code, the social partners to put in place an allowance regime for job losses.

TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO, President of Equatorial Guinea, said the international community should adopt a method in which poor people were integrated in the world community.  While the rich countries were getting richer, the poor and developing countries did not make any progress.  In addition, the political stability which was much desired for the sustaining of development programmes had not been fully achieved in some regions. 

The evaluation given to the developing countries since 1995 was generally poor.  The solidarity of the entire international community was essential with regard to the poor countries.  His country in particular did not get any aid from the international society to boost its development.  Since the Copenhagen Summit, Equatorial Guinea had adopted programmes designed to alleviate poverty and to intensify its development programmes.  The United Nations Development Programme had been among those who assisted in the implementation of those development programmes.  He said that his country had been working to implement programmes aimed at improving tax collection and other financial improvement, however, because of lack of external aid in that sector the project was not able to be realized.  Mr. Mbasogo said that the objectives defined during the Copenhagen Summit were still far from being fully implemented.  Except for a few countries, the future remained uncertain for many developing countries.

The President of Equatorial Guinea said that aid to the developing countries should not be conditioned by the political situation of a country.  No country wished to remain in a situation of misery and unstable politics.  The international community was highly needed to advance the development of the developing countries. 

Mr. Mbasogo said that in order to alleviate the debt burden of the developing countries, a new world order should be designed to give more advantage to their development growth.  The debt repayment of the developing countries had retarded their development programmes and implementation of their development projects.  The external debt repayment, which would have been diverted to national development, was too much and at times not affordable.  The developed countries should do more to alleviate the debt burden of the developing countries and assist them to boost their development.  The situation of poverty in those countries was also related to the lack of resources.  He called on the developed countries and international financial institutions to cancel the external debt of the developing countries.

JACOB ZUMA, Vice President of South Africa, said the South African Government was dedicated to reducing poverty, improving the availability and quality of education, improving health care, promoting employment, and improving infrastructure; great strides had been taken to ensure free access to health care for children under age 6 and for pregnant women.  However, many challenges remained, among them the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which had the potential to reverse all the country's gains.  Poverty provided fertile ground for exacerbation of the pandemic.

South Africa urged the international community to ensure that existing trade and patent regimes were not skewed in favour of the corporate sector at the expense of the most vulnerable populations, Mr. Zuma said; vital health care and medication remained out of the reach of the people who needed it most.  South Africa supported debt relief for the highly-indebted and poorest nations, most of which were in Africa, and it considered that international agreements on free and fair trade and the promotion of peace and justice were integral for the advancement of the Southern African region.  Much-needed investments in infrastructure and rural-development initiatives had been set back by external debt and macro-economic constraints.  South Africa's commitment to eradicating racism was apparent in its hosting of the upcoming World Conference against Racism.

SAMDECH HUN SEN, Prime Minister of Cambodia, said this was the first major UN assembly at the start of the new millennium, and it was important that the meeting focused entirely on social development and poverty eradication.  It was also clear that national and international policies had been uneven since the Copenhagen Conference in 1995.  There had been little progress in some key areas.  Globalization and unprecedented technology advances had created successes and obstacles.  There never had been such a disparity between wealthy nations and impoverished nations.  Almost 900 million people in Asia were living below the poverty line.  Thirty per cent did not have access to clean water, and 50 per cent were not literate.

This was an important juncture to adopt an all-inclusive paradigm.  In developing that paradigm, more attention should be paid to social protection.  The sense of sharing should be re-enforced.  It had been lost in the race for economic growth.  It was a necessity, not a charity.  In practising the sharing concept, successes would be seen in reducing poverty and closing the economic divide in the globalized world.  A good step had been taken to write-off the heavy burden of outstanding loans by some of the poor countries. 

The Prime Minister of Cambodia said that it went without saying that the developing countries had their part to play as well in the fight to eradicate poverty, promote full and productive employment, foster democracy and social integration, and create enabling environments for social development.  For this purpose, they had to adopt and apply policies to preserve peace and security within and among nations; strengthen rule of law; ensure effective state institutions, transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs; encourage the participation of all citizens in the decisions that affected their lives; and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development and gender equality.

REXHEP MEIDANI, President of Albania, said his country had made big efforts to achieve the democratization of its institutions and its civil society.  It had also strengthened the independence of the electronic media and the press with the aim of guaranteeing the human rights and the expression of opinion within a state of law.  Being a young democracy, Albania deployed efforts with the view to consolidate market economy, public order, and the structures of democratic institutions within the context of the new Constitution.

Considering economic development as an important element and an integral part of social progress, the Government of Albania had given priority to economic development of the country through the free private initiatives, Mr. Meidani continued to state.  To that end, concrete measures had been put in place for the promotion of the privatization process in the strategic sectors of the Albanian economy, including the banking system.  In addition, new legislation had been enacted to allow the free flow of investment and to attract international financial institutions to play an important role in the growing economy. 

Mr. Meidani continued to say that within the objectives fixed during the Copenhagen Summit, Albania had established good cooperation with the World Bank involving important economic sectors.  In addition, progress had been made in the social development sector on issues such as health, education, and public administration.  He also mentioned the initiatives taken recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the assistance provided to reduce the level of poverty in the country.  The international community had the conscience to be able to construct and advance a democratic world without working towards the sense of social development.  That effort was and would remain the primordial force allowing the promotion of social development in the whole world.  Albania was confronted with multiple social problems which were the direct results of the transitional period; also repeated crises had struck the country and the region. 

JAIME DAVID FERNANDEZ MIRABAL, Vice-President of the Dominican Republic, said the Copenhagen Summit had summarized the aspirations of the world's peoples.  In response, in 1996 the Dominican Republic had developed a national plan for social development; the intent was to reach the man and woman in the street who really did not seem to know what commitments had been entered into by Governments at the Social Summit.  That was vital if citizens were to know and demand that those commitments be honoured.  The Dominican plan aimed to involve local governments, citizens' groups, and bilateral aid in meeting those commitments.  Citizens were not to be patronized -- they should not be objects of Government good intentions but participants in effective development on their own behalf.

Efforts had been made to improve respect for democracy and justice in order to respect the rights of women, children and the disabled in the Dominican Republic, the Vice-President said; employment had been promoted, so that the rate of joblessness had declined; economic growth over the last four years had averaged 8 per cent; infant and maternal mortality had been halved, as had rates of illiteracy and dropping out of school.  But there were disturbing inequalities -- the haves, who had access to the Internet and other modern technologies, were getting ahead fast, while most others were increasingly being left behind.  The country was trying to reduce this gap; a common agenda of Governments and civil society was needed; there should be more cooperation of the sort that empowered ordinary people and involved less bureaucracy and red tape.

JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS, President of Ghana, said colleagues and development partners should demonstrate greater support for the implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action.  Painful as the short-term consequences of structural adjustment policies had been, many of the countries had implemented them in the hope that there would be real long-term benefits to be felt.  But these expectations had not been met.

Ghana aimed to achieve 100 per cent school enrolment, which was a Social Summit target, and was committed to providing universal access to basic health care -- currently 60 per cent of the health sector budget appropriation was for primary health care and the provision of health care facilities, particularly in rural areas.  The health strategy provided free medical care to pregnant women, children under five and the aged. HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem in Ghana and he urged the developed world to extend even further to developing countries greater access to advanced medication against the disease and to eliminate mother-to-child transmission.

Transparency in governance was essential, Mr. Rawlings said.  The governments of the developed world and their financial and banking institutions must pass the necessary legislation to make it impossible for the proceeds of corruption in the developing countries to be kept in their countries and in their vaults.  Where this was done, they must make it possible to uncover and recover them.

HAGE G. GEINGOB, Prime Minister of Namibia, stated that given the nature and the broad scope of many of the goals and targets expressed in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, Namibia recognized that achieving the agreed goals would require much stronger and more comprehensive action, political will and adequate financial resources.  Because of the inter-linkages among the ten commitments on social development, Namibia had identified poverty eradication, employment creation and social integration as core issues for immediate remedial action.  And with the first ten years of independence, Namibia had embarked upon the task of addressing those core issues through establishing the required national actions.

Mr. Geingob continued to state that his country had put in place and maintained a well-functioning physical infrastructure, strong institutional underpinnings for market development, sound economic policies, and a well-organized apparatus of public administration.  Since 1998, per capita income in Namibia had amounted to $ 1,748 and the real growth rate had averaged over 3 per cent annually, the budget deficit had been kept well below 5 per cent and inflation relatively low in single digits.  Poverty in Namibia was concentrated among the historically disadvantaged groups, and was disproportionately found among rural people.  About 47 per cent of Namibian households were relatively poor and 13 per cent lived in abject poverty. 

While Namibia continued to made strenuous efforts to implement the Government's strategies and action programmes, Mr. Geingob wished to emphasize that the classification of Namibia as a "middle income" country by some financial institutions would jeopardize its chances of accessing financial resources required in the effective implementation of the poverty reduction strategy.  In addition, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Namibia was threatening the social and economic gains made so far.  HIV/AIDS was a serious developmental challenge for the country.

Mr. Geingob called upon the international community to support the developing nations in their efforts to create critical infrastructure services.  And serious attention should be given to the systematic biases and asymmetricies in the workings of the international trading system, which limited the growth prospects of poorer nations.  It was no longer realistic to expect developing countries to meaningfully promote economic and social development in their countries, while at the same time continuing to service the debt.  The debt of developing countries needed to be cancelled. 

PAKALITHA MOSISILI, Prime Minister of Lesotho, said the runaway horse of globalization could take those who were skilled enough to stay on its back a long way, but unfortunately the great majority of mankind consisted of weak and unskilled riders; they needed help, as did the weaker developing countries.  The risks involved had been illustrated by the reversal of gains made by the countries of Southeast Asia during the financial crisis of 1997.  Lesotho had designed a poverty reduction plan and had identified as priority areas good governance, improving social services for the poor, creating employment and income opportunities for the poor, and addressing poverty-related environmental degradation.  Much progress had been made, but challenges remained in the areas of poverty, education, and HIV/AIDS, which threatened to have disastrous consequences for the country's development efforts.

Lesotho was fully committed to developing a culture of democracy, good governance, human rights, and Constitutionality, the Prime Minister said.  But developing countries could not fight alone against poverty with their limited financial resources.  Increased Official Development Assistance was necessary, as was further debt reduction, not only for the most-indebted countries but for all debt-stressed least-developed countries.  After Copenhagen it was clear that the commitment made at the summit to act as one human family was far from being realized.

MICHAEL RITTER, Deputy Prime Minister of Liechtenstein, said eradicating poverty was still a top priority on national and international agendas as the gap between rich and poor countries grew despite existing efforts since Copenhagen.  Economic and social development had always helped promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and it was evident that resources, in addition to values, were needed to improve them.  By contributing to various programmes and projects, Liechtenstein supported the international fight against poverty.  The task was challenging, and could only be fulfilled with cooperation between all countries.

Mr. Ritter said Liechtenstein was in a privileged situation to be in a position to provide its inhabitants with a comprehensive network of social security and financial assistance.  Persons who fell out of this net had the right to economic assistance, which guaranteed life above subsistence level. 

Liechtenstein had managed to reduce its unemployment rate to a very low figure in recent years -- about 1 per cent -- and work was provided not only for residents, but also for citizens from neighbouring countries.  Gender equality was promoted in the workforce, and in the Equality Act of March 1999, the right to equal pay for equal work was guaranteed.  Other measures in the Act addressed discrimination, access to all jobs for all people and empowering women to participate in the public decision-making process.

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