For information only - not an official document.
22 December 2000

Transcript of Press Conference by President of General Assembly At Headquarters, 21 December

Moderator: I would like to introduce the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Harri Holkeri, who will say a few words and will then take your questions.

The President: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The main session of the General Assembly will end tomorrow. It has been a very busy three-and-a-half months for all of us, and I think a rather productive time. Although the Assembly has taken action on many important issues, I would like to highlight just a few that I feel have been significant.

As I said in September, the Millennium Summit established the character of this General Assembly session, and also its main challenge: how to implement the Summit Declaration. In my view the Summit Declaration is one of the most important documents of our time. If we can achieve its targets, we will have an enormous impact on our world. So I am very pleased that the General Assembly has established a follow-up mechanism to the Millennium Summit. I elaborated a plan which, I believe, firmly established the Summit Declaration as an integral part of the ongoing work of the United Nations. And that plan was endorsed by the Assembly last week, in resolution 55/162.

For my part, I will keep the momentum going next year, through the special sessions of the General Assembly on human settlements and on HIV/AIDS, and through the other activities of the General Assembly.

I wish to remind you that tomorrow is not the end of the General Assembly; it is just the end of its main session. Next year, we will have a full calendar of meetings and conferences. I know that, in the past few weeks, two major items on the Assembly’s agenda have dominated our conversations: What will the Assembly decide concerning the implementation of the Brahimi report; and will it agree to a new scale of assessments?

As far as the Brahimi report is concerned -- the Secretary-General’s initiative to convene a high-level panel on peace operations -- the report presented by this panel was welcome and timely. The report is a valuable contribution to the efforts to strengthen one of the United Nations core functions -- the maintenance of international peace and security. As President of the General Assembly, I have encouraged the Assembly to consider this extensive report in a speedy manner and, together with Member States, we managed to reach agreement in the very short time of one month.

Given the complexity of this issue and the time pressure, I am quite satisfied with the results we have achieved -- much-needed additional resources and almost 100 new posts will be made available to the Secretariat. The final decision on this will be made by the Fifth Committee shortly, but the work will have to continue in New York and I trust that the political will is there to complete the effort.

On the scale of assessments, I have made appeals to the Fifth Committee to redouble its efforts to come up with a substantive negotiated agreement by consensus on the two scales of assessment. I have also emphasized the seriousness of the consequences to the Organization if there is failure. I understand that intensive negotiations are under way and that agreement might be near.

But those two issues, important though they are, were not the only things the Assembly had to deal with. I know the press covered the discussions and actions of the Assembly at the time they came up, so there is no need for me to speak about them again. Many of the Assembly’s items are the same each year, so you are probably more familiar with them than I am.

I was pleased that the General Assembly, on 1 November, admitted the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to membership in the United Nations and, on the very first day of my presidency, Tuvalu became the 189th Member State. These admissions are significant, as they strengthen the universality of the Organization and enhance its legitimacy and effectiveness.

Another important concern of mine has been to find ways to improve the functioning of the General Assembly itself. I have tried to work in an open and transparent way with my colleagues and to foster a collaborative spirit. I have instituted some changes, such as amending the rules establishing the dates for the opening of the Assembly’s session each year, and I am looking at ways to streamline the Assembly’s huge agenda. I will be working on this and other proposals next year.

They may seem to be small steps, but with many small steps we can have a big impact. However, this is a work in progress, but I think it is fair to say that already we can see some positive results.

Looking ahead to next year, I have already mentioned that this General Assembly will have a heavy work schedule, with two special sessions followed by a third one at the beginning of the next General Assembly and a number of major conferences.

Concerning the special session on HIV/AIDS, my office and I, with the help of two able facilitators, Ambassador Wensley of Australia and Ambassador Ka of Senegal, will have a central role in the preparatory process.

I will also chair two working groups that will start meeting next year on Security Council reform and concerning Africa’s special needs.

I will also take the opportunity next year to see how the United Nations works outside Headquarters, also as part of the follow-up process of the Millennium Summit. I will start with a visit to East Timor in January. The United Nations operation there is quite unique, and I am looking forward to seeing for myself the problems and the successes.

Before I end, I would like to thank Under-Secretary-General Kensaku Hogen, who is not with us today, for his Department’s assistance during this session and to wish him well personally in his forthcoming appointment.

So, here we are at the end of the year. I think we have all worked hard and I am sure you are looking forward to a well-deserved break. I wish all of you happy holidays and I look forward to working with you in the new year.

Question: Thank you on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. We are gratified to see that you are carrying over your reputation for promptness in getting started to the press, as well as to the General Assembly itself.

Have you seen the delegates responding, that is to say, are they attending more promptly than they did at the beginning of your administration?

The President: I think they have responded during these three-and-a-half months in the same way. They have been very cooperative. I announced my style at the very beginning. They knew what was going to happen. So we have not had any bigger problems in that regard, and I do not know what has happened before. I have heard some rumours, but I do not care.

Question: You mentioned that you had been to the Fifth Committee and urged them to redouble their efforts, and you stressed the seriousness of the consequences to the Organization if they failed to reach an agreement on the scale of assessments. I wonder if you could outline some of those. Also, what is failure? If they do not reach agreement, the existing scale stays in place?

The President: I do not want to speculate. Of course, there is the possibility that they will not reach agreement. But the problems will remain. As a Chairman, or as a President, I do not want to continue the discussion day after day. The main responsibility of a Chairman is to get the people to decide. If an agreement on the scale of assessments does not happen, of course there is an opportunity to continue with the old scale of assessments. But we all know that there are problems. We are now trying to solve those problems. What I really want to see is those problems solved by consensus. If there is a vote, it will open the gate to a very, very dangerous road.

Question: You mentioned that talks were under way and that there was some indication, I believe, that an agreement was near. Can you give us any details on exactly what you mean by that?

The President: Unfortunately, I do not know every detail, but it is my understanding that there are very few questions and very few Member States that have not yet joined the common agreement. But I hope that they will join the vast majority in the foreseeable future -- hopefully today.

Question: Can I ask for a follow-up? Can you give us an idea of the odds that you think of for success at this point? On this same issue, how do you see the odds now of an agreement coming forward?

The President: I asked Ambassador Sareva because he is my source of information, and he whispered to me that better than 50-50.

Question: Two related questions on the Brahimi report. As you pointed out, the other Committees -- not the Fifth Committee -- have recommended some 100 posts. But in fact the Secretary-General had requested 214. This is just indicative of a lot of work that is being done by the Committees picking at different aspects of the Secretary-General’s recommendations. Do you see this as weakening the overall impact of the recommendations as a result of peacekeeping reform? That is the first question.

The second question, related to that, is that one of the problems seems to be hesitancy on the part of Member States on preventive action. Do you see a greater role in some form by the General Assembly in preventive action, as opposed to the work of the Secretariat or the Security Council?

The President: I can hardly see a bigger role for the General Assembly in this regard. But that is only my first reaction to the question. As far as your first question is concerned, I think this was and is the beginning of the implementation of the Brahimi report, not the end. The work must continue. Of course, the Secretary-General wanted to implement the Brahimi recommendations to a larger extent than what was accepted by the Member States, but I am quite sure that we will be back to these issues next year.

Question: A little clarification, please. In answer to the second question about the General Assembly, where you say "hardly a bigger role", that is a little ambiguous. Are you saying that you already have a really large role or that no, you do not envision any role?

The President: Of course, in general terms the General Assembly has a role in every issue you can imagine, but it is not mandated to decide everything, because peacekeeping, according to the Charter, belongs to the Security Council.

Question: I want to get back to the reassessments again. There have not been many compromise proposals coming from the Chair of the Fifth Committee, as is sometimes the custom. I wondered if you were personally going to intervene and try to pull this together in the next week. Secondly, can you tell us what is Under-Secretary-General Hogen’s new appointment that you mentioned. Some of us seem to have missed that.

The President: First, the last question. I do not exactly know. Hogen had mentioned to me that he is going to be appointed to a new post in his own home country, Japan, and he will leave us in January. That is everything I know. You asked then about my personal intervention in my capacity as the General Assembly President. I think that is not needed. According to the latest information, I think I have done what I have done. I have urged. I have appealed. Together with the Secretary-General, I visited the Fifth Committee twice, and now I think the noble chairmanship of Ambassador Rosenthal is enough. Maybe I am childish, maybe I am too optimistic, but I tell you that I have a return ticket back home for Christmas.

Question: Excuse me, if I could just follow-up on that one. What I am trying to say is the appeals are one thing, the Secretary-General’s and everyone else’s appeals too. The concrete proposals that can finally put the stamp on this from the Secretary-General, the Chairman of the Fifth Committee or you…

The President: I think the effect of our appeals and our interventions was not substantive as such, but perhaps it led to stronger commitment by the Permanent Representatives of the Member States because the negotiations were based on the representatives in the Fifth Committee, more or less technicians in that field. When we made our intervention, it was made to the Permanent Representatives and they are more committed than they were before to the process and perhaps that has had a positive effect on the process.

Question: In addition to the conferences and special sessions that are going to be happening next year, what do you see as the big issues that the United Nations is going to be dealing with in 2001?

The President: I think one of the biggest issues is the special session on HIV/AIDS. I think that is of crucial importance. But of course, there are other issues as well, such as the follow-up to the World Summit for Children, even though it will be taking place during the fifty-sixth session of the Assembly. We also have Habitat, and -- well, the list is quite long.

Question: In addition to all of that, aside from all of the special sessions -- we know about those -- what do you see as the big issues that the United Nations is going to confront in 2001?

The President: I need a crystal ball now. Besides all of those conferences, meetings and programmes, I think that the biggest issues are peace and security and the development of human rights. These are the needs of mankind. We are so well protected here in New York, in our homes, that we do not hear how the world is crying, we do not hear what the conditions are in Africa and in many other countries in other parts of the world.

But development questions and human rights questions are the biggest ones. Just take a look at the Summit Declaration. We will be working on the follow-up of that Declaration next year and for many, many years thereafter, I think.

Question: There have been a lot of conferences and special sessions happening at the United Nations for a long time. Speeches are made, committees gather almost all the time. One hundred and eighty-nine countries are represented here, but still hunger is rampant in Africa and in the Far East. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis. The problem of AIDS has not been solved. Child pornography, trafficking in women, skirmishes, wars, armaments -- all this is still going on, yet this whole body cannot solve any of these problems. Are there any unknown forces more powerful than the United Nations?

The President: No, there are none. There are none. There are no better forums than the United Nations. We are trying to solve all the problems you mentioned. Of course, the United Nations is weak as an Organization to solve those problems. Many problems have been solved by the United Nations already, and the work must continue.

I will give one example. I am going to visit East Timor, because I regard that operation as a success. I want to encourage the people there to continue until they can leave the country a peaceful place for the people there to live. That is one example of something that has already been done.

The United Nations has not been very successful in Africa -- yet. But imagine that we stopped all of our efforts. What kind of place would this earth be then? It would be disaster for everybody, for all of us -- not just as nations, but even individually. A tremendous responsibility rests on the shoulders of the States Members of the United Nations, individually and jointly.

You are right that the existing problems are severe. But only the Member States can implement the decisions of the United Nations General Assembly. Only in cooperation with the Security Council can the Member States solve their problems as far as peace and security is concerned. But if you put it that way, it sounds very pessimistic. When I put it my way, I am trying to be realistic.

Question: Can you ever implement all of the Secretary-General’s proposals in the Brahimi report when you have a zero-sum budget, on the regular budget?

The President: We cannot live on a zero-growth budget any more, to put it realistically. Everybody knows that new resources are needed.

That brings me to another issue. You are well aware of what happened yesterday in the plenary meeting, when there was a disturbance by three young people. They were charged-up and stupid, and they came down. It is very unusual for these kinds of things to happen. But why did they happen? It was because there are not enough resources to ensure security to prevent these kinds of actions or to be speedy enough to react. I think that is a result of the zero-growth budget.

Someone asked me this morning if I should stop the guided tours. I said, never. What happened yesterday will not lead to the end of the guided tours. The General Assembly and the United Nations must be open and public institutions. But what is needed? More resources for security.

I happen to be the son of a police officer, and I known a little about these things. At one time in my life, I was responsible for the security of the central bank in Finland. I know the discussions. There are always people who say that security means extra costs, until something happens. You can find this kind of people even here in New York, or here among us.

So my answer will be that the guided tours must continue. But we must give an opportunity to the Security department to be better aware and better able to intervene immediately if something happens.

Question: Let me be clear, Mr. President. You are saying you do not have any intention of mediating the negotiations of the Fifth Committee, even though they are deadlocked, tonight and tomorrow?

The President: I did not say that. I said that my intervention is not needed at the moment. I am here 24 hours a day, always available to help if needed. But maybe I am too optimistic. But since the gap in the negotiations has narrowed this much, the final push is made by the people in the Committee themselves.

Question: When do you plan to go back to Finland?

The President: That is a good question. Christmas Eve in Finland is the most important event for families. I will be in Finland on Christmas Eve when supper is served at my home.

Question: Will you be here working on Saturday? Will we all be here working on Saturday?

The President: If you know the answer, please tell me. I already have reservations for a flight tomorrow night, and I also have reservations for Saturday night in order to be home Sunday morning. I have told you that I am open and transparent, so now you know that I have made double reservations, which is somewhat against the rules of civil aviation.

Question: I would like to go back to a broader question in view of the function of the General Assembly. Specifically, how do you see a group of States, such as the European Union or other regional groups, functioning as a coherent unit in the General Assembly deliberations? Does it help or hurt? Is it making things more effective or freezing the debate into rigid categories?

The President: To me, it has been amazing how well those different groups help the work of the General Assembly. As for regional groups and all kinds of denominations, they are very important.

On the other hand, since I come from a country that is a member of the European Union, I believe that it is marvellous work that they are doing. There is no need for 15 countries to explain the same thing. Only one -- the chairman from the country that has the presidency in the European Union -- comes and tells quite eloquently what is going to happen for their part. Then I would take some other groups, like the Group of 77 and China. It is very important that those countries discuss among themselves the issues and then come and tell us what are their points of view.

I would like to praise all of these different groups. There are landlocked countries, groups of small islands and so on. It has been very useful for me to meet the representatives of the groups, instead of having all 189 countries talk on the same issue. I am very pleased and satisfied with their work.

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