For information only - not an official document.
    6 November 2000
 Transcript of Press Briefing at Vienna International Centre 


Harri Holkeri (Finland)
President of Fifty-fifth Session of General Assembly

6 November 2000

VIENNA, 6 November (UN Information Service) -- Director of United Nations Information Service in Vienna (UNIS): Welcome to this extraordinary press conference which we are holding on the occasion of the visit of the President of  the 55th  Session of the General Assembly which is currently in session and we are very lucky to have him here with us in the middle of his very busy working schedule in New York. The President has in a historic step agreed to address the Congress of  NGOs (CONGO) which took place this morning and we are now being joined by Dr. Afaf Mahfouz who chairs the Congress of NGO's which goes on for the next two days. Because we only have 25 minutes for this press conference I will give the floor straight away to the President.

The President: Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, I came over to meet the NGO’s who have their conference here in order to encourage them to work for further cooperation between the United Nations and civil society. NGO’s are by no means the only partners but they are quite important partners and representatives of civil society. I may in fact be the first President of the General Assembly meeting with these organizations on this level. That is why I am here.

I am returning back to New York this afternoon and will be back in my ordinary business tomorrow morning but since I had this opportunity to meet you, distinguished representatives of the media I am very happy because I can try to deliver the message of the General Assembly even here. What I have in my mind is that I have been in office for two months as I was elected on the 5th September 2000. Our starting point in our General Assembly work in New York was, at the beginning of the Assembly,  a Millennium Summit, the biggest gathering of  world leaders involving 147 heads of governments or state. A document was published called the Millennium Declaration. It is a very comprehensive document covering almost every aspect of the work of the United Nations and that declaration has mandated the General Assembly to implement those questions touched upon  at the Summit. We are not only mandated but we are also responsible for that.

What are the main questions? I can’t give the whole list but may I state that it is a very important document for implementation of the human rights programmes, it is an important document for the implementation of development programmes, it is of urgent importance for the reform of the Organization itself and not only as regards the famous Security Council reform but also the renewal of the working methods of other parts like the General Assembly itself,  in order to make it more effective and more representative. Then there is one group of issues related to peace keeping. You may know the so called Brahimi Report which is a very important issue and we are just now working on that in New York, how to re-allocate the resources for  peacekeeping and how to reform the present structures. This Brahimi report is the most urgent issue but not the only big issue under consideration at the moment.  We have some other problems in NY other than this. The big issue which must  be decided before the end of the year is the budget and the question which is related to this, the assessment of payments, and you know that there are some critical voices on that and we have not reached the point yet where we can tell you how the scale of assessments is going to look like. But that is a question as far as the regular budget  is concerned which must be decided by the end of the year and then there is a question of another scale of assessment related to the peacekeeping operations and that’s a very difficult issue as well.

So we have our hands full but now the General Assembly is working in an effective way. The First Committee has  already finished it’s work and we have almost been able to keep the timetable we drafted in the beginning. I did not mention globalization which was one of the big issues in the Millennium Summit Report .

We have all in all 183 items on the agenda and I think, frankly speaking, this is too many items. We have to somehow reduce the number of agenda items. It is easy to put a new item on the agenda but quite difficult to delete any item. That is quite human because every agenda item is somebody’s baby and that somebody is always against killing his or her baby when the reduction of agenda items are to be discussed but something must be done.

There is also a huge amount of reports which are requested from the Secretariat. This amount of reports published annually is also a problem because the Secretariat has no resources to produce a report on every item so something should also be done in this regard.

These are some of the  everyday problems that I am facing at this moment and I am ready for your questions but before that let me give the floor to Dr. Mahfouz.

President of CONGO: Thank you very much Mr. President I would like to once again express our thanks and appreciation for you Mr. President for taking the time and yes you are the first President of the General Assembly to come to our General Assembly. I wanted to emphasize and underline how this visit is very special because it reflects  the beginning of the Charter of the United Nations. “We the peoples …”,  and we the people, we are the NGO representatives and the government representatives we work together for a better world. We work together, and here is the theme of our General Assembly,  to eradicate poverty, we work together for equality, we work together for social justice for a world free of racism and prejudice. At least if it is not free we can help the work to neutralize their drive or instincts to become prejudiced or racist or sexist. We appreciate your coming to us and I would like to mention that the President when he took office in New York the first thing he did was he invited NGO representatives to luncheons just to hear and to listen to them and to their concerns so we can make our work, our relationship with the Untied Nations more productive more useful and more enriching and I salute him on behalf of the Conference of NGOs  and all my colleagues.

Director of UNIS: Thank you Ms. President and now we are going to take your questions.

Question:  I would like to know the latest state of discussions as regards Security Council reform. Can you explain to us how the future composition of the Security Council may look like and how are you going to deal with the problem of veto rights?

The President: It is a fact that the world has changed since the end of world war two or since the United Nations was founded. Then there is another fact, the Charter of the United Nations  which is written  in a  way that it is not so easy to change it. The Members of the United Nations have already worked seven years in a special  working group by examining what are the possibilities to reform the work of the Security Council, and perhaps even the Security Council itself. Quite a lot of progress has been made on the side of the working methods but as far as the membership of the Security Council is concerned not much has happened. I think the whole range of human fantasy has already been in use and the details which are on the table cannot be increased further. Now it is my responsibility as a President of the General Assembly  to chair the working group. I have certain dates, the first one is 16 November when the General Assembly is going to discuss Security Council reform on the basis of previous work done and thereafter I have to nominate two vice-chairman and then decide in what format or how we are going to continue, that is if the working group is going to be mandated for the next period. It is totally in the hands of the Member States. The working group is an open ended working group, every Member State can participate in its work and that means that it is totally in the hands of the Member States what is going to happen. I am going to listen to the voice of the Member States but what I do hope is that there is no need, at least I see that there is no need, to repeat all the argumentation given before. It remains to be seen if next September, when I leave from the office, the discussion is still the same as it has been until now, but at least I tried to get some movement. 

Question: One minor and one major question. We always hear good stories about the Millennium Summit could you perhaps mention one or two specific negative issues of the Summit ?  And the major question is that we have seen the United Nations being bypassed  for example in the Gulf and in Serbia and when it comes to payments to the Organization there is one country which is calling the shots, under these circumstances what sort of UN are we having?

The President: The Millennium Summit was not only platitudes and positive things. It touched the realities of this world, for example Africa. The Millennium Summit pointed out clearly that there are big risks and big problems in Africa. The Millennium Summit did not accept the present situation. If you read the Millennium Declaration it is full of problems it wants to find a decision for and it gave impetus to the work which is to be done in the existing structures of the UN family. The will of the political leaders of the world was not to accept the present situation but go forward  and that is my starting point. What is going to happen as regards the questions you touched such as the scale of assessment question in the General assembly, well we have 189 members, every country has one vote, every country big or small one vote but we want to work on the basis of consensus and that will be a very very difficult question to solve but it must be solved before the end of the year. But a person in my position comes into the picture at the very end not now. I would violate my neutrality by saying something about the substance of this issue at this moment. I would not like to do that. 

Question: Mr. President could you highlight the common spirit of the Millennium Summit and how can governments, member countries, NGOs and the United Nations cooperate in translating the Millennium Declaration into action?

Mr. President: We have all the existing structures in full use. We have all the special agencies, we have special conferences, special programmes  and they all are obliged to make their contributions in order to implement what the Millennium Summit ordered. Next year we have a special conference on HIV/Aids which is a very  important issue, it is a big problem and everybody is invited, NGOS and other sectors of the civil society, the governments and the United Nations as a whole. The governments are in the front line, they bear the main responsibility for action in every question  but the governments cannot do everything and that is why for instance NGOS are needed. 

Question: How do you see the future role of NGO’s regarding the activities of the United Nations? For example as regards the convention on landmines, NGOs initiated this convention, are we going to see similar actions in the future?

Mr. President: This of course very much depends on the NGOs themselves  and landmines was a good example but there are other examples as well, like environmental questions and human rights. But for me as a European, it is an easy issue and most of these questions are regarded as normal in societies like Austria or Finland or elsewhere in Europe. But it is not exactly the same in a number of other parts of the world. The way of thinking is different and that is why the role of NGOs varies according to the local conditions.

Question: I would like to come back to the question of my colleague regarding the problem that some of the very important issues were decided without the UN the examples given by my colleague were the Gulf and Serbia.

The President: These issues are related to the Security Council and that is why I left those questions unanswered. If the President of the Security Council would be here it would be the right question for him but not for the President of the General Assembly. The Brahimi report is one good example and one good answer to  what should be done in the future in order to avoid situations like in the Balkans or in Africa or elsewhere. The peacekeeping operations of the Untied Nations have not always been big successes there are big failures as well and the Brahimi report in that regard is of urgent importance.

Question: What is your view on the fact that the world has stopped being bipolar and became unipolar?

The President: I don’t want to speculate but what has happened at least to the questions related to violence the problems are not necessarily between States anymore as they used to be but they are inside a certain community like in Africa at this moment or like it was in Yugoslavia.  The nature of problems have become more and more difficult.  When is international intervention justified? That is the big issue both politically and legally.

Director UNIS: Thank you very much.

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