24 July 2001



GENEVA, 23 July (UN Information Service) -- The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning reviewed United Nations follow-up to world conferences and summits, with national representatives contending that the current habit of holding review meetings after five years was ineffective given the long-term nature of the goals set and the complexity of the issues involved.

Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, in a statement echoed by several other participants in the debate, said the basic procedure for assessing implementation of the results of major conferences should be entrusted to the relevant United Nations functional commissions followed by review by the Council.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council briefly discussed ongoing steps to revitalize United Nations activities in the economic and social fields. Several speakers called for reform and rationalization of the Council's agenda and activities.

Among those contributing to the morning's debate were representatives of China, Norway, Russian Federation, Japan, Switzerland, Israel, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Nigeria, Suriname, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, and the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres. Axumite Gebre-Egziabher, Coordinator for Istanbul + 5 of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), also took the floor.

The Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. to take up agenda items on implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Statements: Revitalization of UN Activities in Economic, Social Fields

MICHEL GOFFIN (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union and countries associated with the Union, said the European Union felt that the fundamental aim of United Nations reforms in the economic and social fields must be to strengthen the organization at all levels; and that the Council required flexible, effective and lightweight machinery which could meet modern-day challenges of development and globalization. Under the direct authority of the Council were 15 commissions and 17 committees. This huge intergovernmental complex posed major challenges for the coherence of policies.

While the European Union was pleased with reforms undertaken to date, it felt that, among other things, coordination should be strengthened between the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly; that the Second Committee's work would be rationalized through reducing the number of agenda items; that the Council's proceedings should include more extensive interaction with the Administrative Coordinating Council (ACC); that the Council should appraise the quality of its negotiated instruments such as agreed conclusions; that the Council's agenda should have a minimum of coherence and effectiveness; and that the proposed "Biennial Cooperation Forum" with civil society was worth considering, but should not result in a proliferation of similar exercises.

LIU JINGTAO (China) said in recent years there had been significant progress in the restructuring of the United Nations economic and social organs. Such efforts should continue. China supported the strengthening of ECOSOC's role of coordination within the United Nations. While many reforms had been put in place, there was room for improvement. While ECOSOC could provide appropriate coordination and guidance, the Bureau should only tackle procedural issues. Furthermore, if necessary, the Second and Third Committees could conduct a dialogue on similar concerns. The Secretary-General's report contained various proposals, including shortening the substantive annual session. Time was needed to further discuss and study these proposals. The final objective of reform was to strengthen, not weaken, the body.

STEFFEN KONGSTAD (Norway) said the potential of a more active and full participation of a broad range of civil society partners in the work of both the Second and Third Committees of the General Assembly had not been exploited. The broader and more active involvement of civil society was a major positive outcome of the global conferences and their follow-up processes, and it should be encouraged and further developed. Norway supported a reduction in the substantive session of the Council from four to three weeks. That would entail a rationalization of its agenda. A proposal to alternate between a high-level section in the operational and the humanitarian segments could be considered in that light. The humanitarian segment had not found its optimal form. In the discussion on how to improve it, it should be remembered that the segment was the only intergovernmental forum focusing on humanitarian issues, and as such, it provided a welcome opportunity to discuss substantive issues.

Concerning the general segment, it was the Council's weak point. The documentation was available too late to enable a detailed examination in the capitals of all the issues. This had, of course, much to do with the scheduling of meetings of the subsidiary bodies reporting to the Council. Scheduling these meetings at least eight weeks prior to the meetings of the Council did not seem to be enough. Certainly, it should be possible to do something about this. A shortening of the segment and a streamlining of its working methods, including dealing with housekeeping matters and some reports in separate meetings throughout the year, should contribute to a more focused segment, thus enabling the Council to fulfil its coordination and advisory role.

NICOLAI TCHOULKOV (Russian Federation) said his country had actively participated in the development and adoption of the General Assembly resolutions referred to under this agenda item. Despite the fact that some time had passed, the issue remained germane, and what really mattered was complete implementation of the resolutions. The Russian Federation again asserted its full support for the resolutions, especially the need to increase the role of ECOSOC as the main coordinating body in the United Nations in the field of economic and social affairs. It also felt there were many areas where cooperation could be strengthened between the Second and Third Committees, and between ECOSOC and the Bretton Woods institutions.

New ideas for further improving the work of ECOSOC were, of course, always welcome, but the Russian Federation thought it premature to review at this point the number of weeks devoted to the Council's substantive session.

Follow-up to Major United Nations Conferences and Summits

Before the Council under this agenda item is a report of the Secretary-General (document E/2001/62) on the implementation of agreed conclusions 2000/1 of the coordination segment of the Economic and Social Council on the coordinated implementation of the Habitat Agenda which details the follow-up of the agreed conclusions of 2000 on the coordinated implementation by the United Nations system of the Habitat Agenda. Among those conclusions was a request that the relevant United Nations bodies and agencies undertake a review of the implementation of their particular commitments of the goals of the Habitat Agenda.

Statements on Integrated, Coordinated Implementation, Follow-up to Major UN Conferences

AXUMITE GEBRE-EGZIABHER, Coordinator for the Istanbul + 5 of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), said the General Assembly special session referred to as "Istanbul + 5" had adopted a "Declaration on Cities and Other Human Settlements in the New Millennium" by consensus, and the document was very substantive and forward-looking. In July 2000, the Secretary-General had appointed a full-time Executive Director for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat); the Executive Director had been requested by the Commission on Human Settlements to establish an Urban Forum, which would hold its first meeting in May 2002; all Habitat partners had displayed their growing commitment in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda by organizing directly or actively participating in special events at the special session; and all regional economic commissions and Habitat in collaboration with other partners had held highly successful preparatory meetings in advance of the special session.

The special session had endorsed in its declaration the establishment of the Habitat Task Manager System proposed by the Council, Ms. Gebre-Egziabher said. It would allow better monitoring and mutual reinforcement of actions taken by international agencies in support of the Habitat Agenda.

Mr. GOFFIN (Belgium) speaking on behalf of the European Union and countries associated with the Union, said that during its coordinated segment last year, ECOSOC had discussed the problem of how to apply and follow up the results of the major conferences and summit meetings organized under the aegis of the United Nations in the 1990s. For various reasons, those discussions -- held at the suggestion of the European Union -- had failed to make any significant headway. The report drawn up by the Secretary-General was of high quality, and dealt with the fundamental question of procedures for following up major conferences by examining the work of the Council's functional commissions. These were invited by the Council this year to state their positions with regard to follow-up procedures, especially periodicity. The main shortcoming of "Plus 5" reviews was well known: a five-year period would seem to be far too short to allow any meaningful assessment of implementation policies to be made, whether at international or national levels. In view of the comprehensive, complex nature of the various plans, action programmes and other conference commitments, a much longer implementation period was required. As those primarily responsible for implementation, governments were increasingly aware of the fact that that was a long-term project. All the more reason to ensure that the task of assessing or -- to be precise -- measuring the impact of such implementation was carried out over a longer period, particularly in the case of emerging issues.

He said the basic procedure for assessing implementation of the results of major conferences should be entrusted to the functional commissions, which were the experts in the field. The European Union welcomed the decisions taken this year by three of those commissions -- the Commission for Social Development, the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development -- to include a five-yearly review in their multi-annual programme as a matter of priority. Only the Commission on Human Rights appeared to be entirely absent from the five-yearly review of the Vienna Action Plan. The Union was convinced of the need to strengthen the Council's hand in monitoring the follow-up to major conferences. Resolution 50/227 gave the Council a clear mandate in the context of the coordination segment to examine the horizontal and multisectoral issues arising from major conferences. Lastly, at the last stage of this three-stage review procedure, the Union reaffirmed the sovereign right of the General Assembly to decide whether or not to convene a special session or any other form of meeting with a high political profile, for the purpose of reviewing the progress made in applying the results of conferences and considering any possible new initiatives on emerging issues.

KENJI HIRATA (Japan) said five years was too short a time for meaningful review of the conclusions of conferences and summits; Member States and the United Nations system were swamped with such summits and their review meetings and lacked the time, energy and human resources to prepare for them all; and in the review meetings there was too much repetition of the same arguments on cross-cutting issues. All these problems were causing "review fatigue".

Instead, subsidiary bodies should carry out regular technical reviews on the implementation of the conclusions of conferences and summits, should focus on the core issues involved, and should submit progress reports to the Council; and the habit of automatically convening review meetings should be dispensed with and reviews should be carried out on a case-by-case basis reflecting need and urgency, and in such a way that there was no more than one such event a year. No one could afford to waste limited time, energy and resources or there would be a loss of confidence in the review process. The Council should take concrete action on this matter at the current session.

F. NORDMANN (Switzerland) said it should be recognized that the follow-up mechanisms to major conferences had not been effective. The interval was too short a period of time, and the discourse lacked coherence. The investment of time and money needed to hold such events cost a lot of money, and had to be reconsidered judging by their impacts. The Millennium Declaration had defined a new reference framework for integration coordination of the follow-up of the major conferences. That was a welcome advance. Switzerland favoured three structures reviewing the implementation of the policies of these conferences -- the functional commissions of the conferences, the Council, and the General Assembly. The functional commissions should have the technical follow-up, and then forward reports to the Council. The Council, after taking up concerns, should send recommendations to the General Assembly. The General Assembly then could determine whether a follow-up conference should be called. This integrated approach should not impede highlighting particular aspects of these major conferences.

RON ADAM (Israel) said new and innovative ideas were badly needed for the future of the United Nations, and, welcome as recent reforms had been, it was necessary to have a new approach to conferences and summits.

During preparations, States should refrain from drafting lengthy outcome documents -- weeks of endless preparatory committees were a waste of precious time and of money which should be devoted to the work of funds and programmes rather than to conference services. At summits themselves, Member States should avoid having a parade of speakers; there should be one session at the opening with participation of the heads of major stakeholders and representatives from each of the five regional groups making statements; in the time saved, there could be round-table discussions or working groups on the major topics and projects being considered. For follow-up, there should no longer be "Plus 5" summits; follow-up should be by the Council and its relevant subcommittees and expert groups, on a yearly or biannual basis, based on different projects and programmes and well-prepared research papers and reports by the relevant individual divisions in the Secretariat.

KATINDA E. KAMANDO (United Republic of Tanzania) said the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly in its Declaration on Cities and other Human Settlements had reiterated the need for strengthening the mandate and status of the Commission on Human Settlements and the status, role and functions of Habitat. Further, the General Assembly had endorsed the ECOSOC recommendation contained in its agreed conclusions of the last year's coordination segment. In that context, the Secretary-General was, among other things, requested to review the matter of the participation of Habitat in all aspects of the work of the Administrative Committee and its subsidiary machinery in the light of its role as focal point on the implementation of the Habitat agenda. Regrettably, in the Secretary-General's report, nowhere could the delegation find reporting on the implementation of the recommendations of ECOSOC and the General Assembly. Urgent measures should be taken by the Secretary-General, and the delegation expected that the response on the matter raised would be contained in the Secretary-General's report to the General Assembly.

Mr. LIU (China) said follow-up to conferences and summits was a tool that should be aimed at improving the efficiency of implementation of the outcomes of those meetings. Yet, despite the tremendous efforts made by developing countries to achieve the goals of summits, their work had often been severely hindered by a lack of support from the international community; further, the international community often had failed to take into account the specific conditions prevailing in various developing countries, making the help provided less effective than it might be.

The ECOSOC should focus on implementation at both the national and international levels. Donor countries had done very little in terms of providing the support promised and in terms of technology transfers. China called on those countries to honour their commitments. Review methods should be reformed and coordination strengthened between the Council and its subsidiary bodies. One option was to improve and unify the system of indicators used to monitor progress achieved, related to the goals set at conferences and summits.

ARMAN AARDAL (Norway) said there had been some positive outcomes to world conferences and their reviews, among them, the increased involvement of civil society; partnerships strengthened or created; and increased collaboration with the Bretton Woods institutions. Some of the problems encountered included the lack of time allocated for reviews, the temptation to reopen substantive issues agreed on at the global conferences, and the short-time span between the conferences and the reviews. Other problems had been the insufficient representation of developing countries, especially the least developed ones, and a lack of consistent mainstreaming of gender issues.

Norway felt that follow-up to substantive issues should be monitored and coordinated by ECOSOC and that there should be flexibility in planning how future reviews were carried out. One possibility would be to integrate the substantive reviews into the regular work of the commissions under the Council and then carry out more general and overall reviews in another format. Another would be to centre the follow-up process around subject areas and not automatically link it to fixed time periods. Norway emphasized the importance of reviewing participation in all aspects of the work of the Administrative Coordinating Council.

Mr. TCHOULKOV (Russian Federation) said the delegation supported the decisions adopted last year by ECOSOC, and also agreed with the decisions undertaken by the functioning committees of the Council. The usefulness of technical and political reviews was important. The optimum form for this work could in fact be making the functional committees' meetings coincide with the General Assembly sessions. That would make it possible to strengthen the role of the General Assembly as the supreme body of the United Nations system. The Russian Federation felt that there should be gradual inclusion of a review of the follow-up of the conferences, perhaps every 10 years, by taking into account all the objectives of the meetings.

CLAUDIA SERWER (United States) said her country supported the positions taken by other speakers on integrated, coordinated implementation and follow-up to major conferences and summits. The United Nations hoped, given everyone's fatigue, that there would be a move towards re-evaluating the currently automatic habit of holding review conferences. The United States believed the better approach was to do follow-up through functional commissions which would then report to ECOSOC, with review conferences held only occasionally when it was clear that such events were justified.

CONCHITA PONCINI, of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, said experience had shown that 10 years was the optimal period for major review and assessment of global conferences. The Federation's experience of the positive impact of the past World Conferences on Women had convinced it to call for a fifth such conference in 2005. The Federation believed that the speed of change due to the technological revolution and the effects of globalization meant that many new and important developments could occur over the next four years.

The Federation, as a representative of women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs), was concerned about the consequences of these developments and about the continuation of the process and maintaining progress towards achieving full implementation of the last women's summit programme for action; it asked ECOSOC to specify that a high-level, well-prepared and adequately resourced fifth World Conference on women would be held, and recommended that it be held in 2005, keeping to the 10-year schedule. A broad and open NGO forum to be organized in parallel with such an event would provide inspiration, empowerment and solidarity for women around the world.

OLESEGUN AKINSANYA (Nigeria) said his country accepted that there needed to be a certain level of streamlining of activities of the United Nations conferences. It was also understood that special conferences had contributed greatly in bringing to the forefront many issues that had to be discussed, and that required international cooperation. The review of outcomes of such conferences should not be restricted to a single body.

MICHELLE GREUTER, of the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres, urged a much greater use of the practical experience of local NGOs in evaluating programmes established to follow up the various Plans of Action and in monitoring local -- and sometimes national -- projects designed to put various elements of the Plans of Action into effect. Non-governmental organizations knew the needs, difficulties and potential of the local communities -- and they worked with the local authorities in implementing appropriate projects. But many, and perhaps most, of the constituent agencies did not have sufficient funds or staff to carry out these operations on a voluntary basis. The Federation suggested that governments -- national, regional or local -- contract with appropriate NGOs to work with them in developing projects to implement their commitments, and also contract with other NGOs to monitor and evaluate the effects of these projects. Other NGOs were suggested because no body should monitor itself, whether public or private. Locally based agencies, in addition, had the advantage of being equipped to sense the values and moods of the communities where they operated and could thus adapt programmes to the special circumstances that could determine community needs -- whether social, economic, cultural or ethnic. Any of these circumstances could determine the success or failure of a project.

IRMA L. TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname) said her country supported proposals for follow-up efforts that would be specific in nature and that emphasized implementation. More summits and conferences were not needed; what was needed was concrete action to implement what already had been called for. Greater support for such efforts also was required, along with greater political will on the part of all countries, developing and developed.

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