Background release

29 June 2001


NEW YORK, 28 June (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council begins its 2001 substantive session in Geneva on Monday, 2 July. The annual session, held alternately in Geneva and New York, is scheduled to end on 27 July.

The theme of this year’s high-level segment, scheduled for 16 to 18 July, is the "Role of the United Nations system in supporting the efforts of African countries to achieve sustainable development".

The Council was established as a principal organ of the United Nations by Article 7 of the Charter. It generally holds one five-week substantive session each year. Each session includes a high-level special meeting, attended by ministers and other senior government officials, to discuss major economic and social issues. The year-round work of the Council is carried out in its subsidiary bodies, commissions and committees, which meet at regular intervals and report back to the Council.

The main functions of the Council are: to serve as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and to the United Nations; to make or initiate studies and reports and make recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related matters; to promote respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms; to call international conferences and prepare draft conventions for submission to the General Assembly; to coordinate the activities of the specialized agencies through consultations with and recommendations to them, and through recommendations to the Assembly and Member States; and to consult with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in matters of concern to the Council.

This year’s session will see participation by high-level representatives of government, the United Nations system and civil society actors. The session will be broken into five segments: coordination, operational activities, humanitarian, high-level and general. Among the issues discussed during those segments will be partnerships for development with the private sector and national disaster preparedness and response measures.

According to the Council, the theme selected for the high-level segment provides an excellent opportunity to harness the capacities of the United Nations system in relation to an issue which is central in international development cooperation: socio-economic development of Africa. It is also an especially suitable theme around which to strengthen the dialogue between governments, international organizations and civil society, and to engage the business community in support of the objectives of the United Nations system.

The segment will be opened by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Martin Belinga-Eboutou (Cameroon) and addressed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Participation is expected by: ministers or heads of Delegation from the 54 Council member countries as well as of observer countries; executive heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO); heads of the main United Nations Funds, Programmes and Specialized Agencies; representatives of NGOs and the media.

During the segment, round-table discussions will be held on the investment climate in African countries, financing investment and priority infrastructure needs. A high-level policy dialogue with international financial and trade organizations will also be held. Among the participants in that discussion will be the Director-General of the WTO and UNCTAD's Secretary-General.

There will also be four ministerial round-table discussions on: human resources development and capacity-building, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the implications of globalization, led by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; reversing environmental degradation, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and reversing the health crisis, in particular the spread of HIV/AIDS, led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

A key feature of the segment will be the African Forum for Investment Promotion, which will see the participation of, among others: African Ministers, private corporations, trade unions and investors, the African Development Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNCTAD, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and subregional development organizations. Discussions during the forum will be held on the investment climate in African countries, infrastructure and financing issues.

Another important feature of the segment will be a panel meeting of eminent personalities. The keynote address at that event will be given by former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

When it meets for the high-level segment, the Council will have before it a report of the Secretary-General on the segment’s theme [the final version of the text was not available at the time of the drafting of this Press Release]. In the report, the Secretary-General says the 2001 high-level segment of the Council is an important occasion to give impetus to the efforts of the United Nations, the United Nations system and the international community at large to better support African-owned development.

He writes that the United Nations has a key role to play in supporting the efforts of African countries in achieving durable peace and sustainable development. The United Nations system is uniquely placed to help create the momentum for a renewed international partnership between Africa and the international community, rooted in the commitment of African leaders. The main elements of this partnership must be substantially increased official development assistance (ODA) flows to the region, broader and deeper debt relief, and much improved access to markets.

The Secretary-General writes that there should be a better integration of United Nations system support with national development policies and programmes, and a shift of inter-agency coordination increasingly to the regional level, as key means to help advance African leadership and ownership. Multilateral and bilateral partners with regional and subregional programmes should work closely with the United Nations system, in particular the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to support initiatives for regional and subregional integration.

There should also be a further reinforcement of system-wide support for capacity-building in Africa, to proceed in parallel with the development of comprehensive and coherent responses to crises that effectively combine peace-building, emergency assistance and longer-term development support measures. Another observation is that resources must be urgently mobilized to help address the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other diseases, and to strengthen health systems in the context of a broad development approach where health sector reforms go hand in hand with poverty reduction and community participation.

The Secretary-General also writes that governments need to continue their efforts to improve governance, to build accountable, transparent public institutions and to strengthen civil society organizations. This will enhance their ability to develop their own development strategies, facilitate the broad-based participatory processes that engage all national stakeholders in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of national poverty reduction strategies, and give credibility to greater domestic ownership of development assistance.

The ability of the United Nations system to respond to the priority needs of African countries will ultimately depend on whether sufficient resources are made available to the system for operational activities. The Council could invite donor countries to substantially raise their voluntary contributions to United Nations funds and programmes for their activities in Africa.

Current membership of the Council is 54, with geographical distribution as follows: 14 members from African States; 11 from Asian States; six from Eastern European States; 10 from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 13 from Western European and Other States. Eighteen members of the Council are elected each year to serve three-year terms of office, beginning on 1 January and ending on 31 December.

The current 54 members of the Council, with their expiration dates are: Angola (2002), Benin (2002), Burkina Faso (2002), Cameroon (2002), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2001), Egypt (2003), Ethiopia (2003), Guinea-Bissau (2001), Morocco (2001), Nigeria (2003), Rwanda (2001), South Africa (2003), Sudan (2002), Uganda (2003), Bahrain (2002), China (2001), Fiji (2002), Indonesia (2001), Iran (2003), Japan (2002), Republic of Korea (2003), Nepal (2003), Pakistan (2003), Saudi Arabia (2001), Syria (2001), Bulgaria (2001), Croatia (2002), Czech Republic (2001), Georgia (2003), Romania (2003), Russian Federation (2001), Argentina (2003), Bolivia (2001), Brazil (2003), Costa Rica (2002), Cuba (2002), Honduras (2001), Mexico (2002), Peru (2003), Suriname (2002), Venezuela (2001), Andorra (2003), Austria (2002), Canada (2001), Denmark (2001), France (2002), Germany (2002), Italy (2003), Malta (2002), Netherlands (2003), Norway (2001), Portugal (2002), United Kingdom (2001) and United States (2003).

Mr. Belinga-Eboutou (Cameroon) serves as the Council President. Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), Bernd Niehaus (Costa Rica), Francisco Seixas da Costa (Portugal) and Mikhail Wehbe (Syria) serve as Council Vice-Presidents.

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