Background Release

12 February 2001


NEW YORK, 9 February (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission for Social Development will hold its thirty-ninth session from 13 to 23 February at Headquarters in New York.

During its first meeting, the Commission will elect its officers and adopt its agenda and other organizational matters. It will then begin its considerations of the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, Denmark 1995).

Since the convening of that Summit, the Commission has been the key United Nations body in charge of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. It meets once a year, usually in February. Since 1995, it has taken up one key concern of the Summit each year.

The priority theme for 2001 is "Enhancing Social Protection and Reducing Vulnerability in a Globalizing World". As it begins its considerations of its main theme on Tuesday morning, the Council will hold an expert panel discussion on the issue. It will also have before it a related report of the Secretary-General.

During its 10-day session, the Commission will also consider its sub-theme, "The Role of Volunteerism in the Promotion of Social Development". As it reviews that issue the Commission will hold an expert panel discussion, a non-governmental organization segment, a general discussion. It will have before it a note by the Secretariat making reference to the contribution from the United Nations Volunteer Programme (document E/CN.5/2001/5), and a note by the Secretary-General on the role of volunteerism in the promotion of social development.

The Commission will also consider its multi-year programme of work for 2002-2006.

Report of Secretary-General

The report on enhancing social protection and reducing vulnerability in a globalizing world (document E/CN.5/2001/2) states that in the context of preparation for the current session of the Commission, the Secretariat organized two expert group meetings on social protection in Berlin, Germany, and Cape Town, South Africa. The objectives of the meetings were to explore ways and means to develop social protection systems for vulnerable and unprotected people, as well as to put forward suggestions regarding new mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of these systems in various country contexts.

According to the Secretary-General, the present reports draws extensively on the deliberations of the expert group meetings. The overall purpose, however, is broader, namely: to contribute to defining the terrain of social protection in the contemporary world; to review the challenges to social protection in the face of globalization and other global trends; and to enable the Commission to provide specific recommendations to promote human development and effective social protection policies, both nationally and internationally.

The Secretary-General says that social protection is a multifaceted and broad-based theme. One of the difficulties in taking an integrated approach to it is that information, whether quantitative or qualitative, is fragmented and dispersed, often making it difficult to identify and cover the whole spectrum of social protection components. While seeking to bring major issues to the forefront, the present report cannot presume to elaborate on all technical issues subsumed within social protection. Rather, its purpose is to facilitate the deliberations of the Commission, as well as to provide necessary inputs to recommendations and innovative solutions that the Commission may wish to propose.

The report states that an enabling policy framework for social protection should be embedded in the context of the goals and commitments of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, reinforcing the commitment to social justice. This includes reaffirming the commitment of the international community to human rights and the related obligations to promote, respect and fulfil the rights and solidarity of all peoples. Since all governments expressed their will to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by the year 2015, policies and strategies for this aim must include social protection measures, as part of the broader strategies adopted to achieve this goal.

Addressing actions at the national level, the report stresses that in designing their social protection systems, countries should define the provision, funding, delivery and administration that is most appropriate to fulfil the prioritized objectives. Since the attainment of social justice rests on the principle of solidarity, governments should rely on their general revenues to fund basic protection to the vulnerable and excluded. While other sources of funds can supplement government revenues, it is the sole responsibility of governments to look after their vulnerable and excluded population.

The report goes on to say that social protection strategies should be developed in a process led by governments, but involving civil society, including the private sector and people in poor communities. For countries where the private sector is playing a larger role in key areas of social protection, there is a significant need to review practice and capacity in the public sector for the regulation of such activity. The objectives of social protection policy should be to achieve security for all through a pluralist and pragmatic approach. Policy must also be sensitive to the political, cultural, social and economic context of the country concerned.

The Secretary-General also underscores that social protection strategies should form part of a comprehensive approach to prevent key risks that might have an adverse impact on the poor, mitigate the impact of shocks when they occur, and assist people in coping with the aftermath of such shocks.

The Secretary-General goes on to say that, while most of the recommendations in his report can be broadly applied at the national level for all countries, there is a need to develop some recommendations specific to the situation of developing and transitional countries.

In that context, he continues, the objective of national strategies should be to build a multi-layered and pluralist social protection system, with a mix of public and private providers in which the government's responsibility to guarantee social protection for all is ensured. Such a system should be participatory, gender-sensitive, affordable and flexible, should encourage independence rather than dependency, and should be economically, politically and socially sustainable.

The Secretary-General goes on to say that substantial investment in improving the governance of systems of social protection in developing and transitional countries is necessary. There is also an obligation for the international community to respond to calls for assistance. In addition, social protection systems should support social objectives that seek to enhance equity and equality, social justice and the maintenance of the social fabric.

In countries in rapid transition, continues the report, social restructuring needs to keep pace with economic restructuring. Social protection systems need to be maintained to allow rapid economic and social change to occur in a secure and stable environment. Countries in transition need to pursue broader goals than simply the highest possible rates of aggregate economic growth. The maintenance of social solidarity and cohesion is essential to a positive transition process.

Addressing recommendations for action at the international level, the Secretary-General states that the Economic and Social Council was invited by all governments, at the five-year review of the Summit held in Geneva in 2000, to launch a global campaign to eradicate poverty. It is highly desirable that initiatives to develop effective social protection policies be incorporated within the campaign. More effective coordination of organizations within the United Nations family remains a priority in the field of social protection, and it is recommended that the campaign address this issue.

To strengthen the capacity of the global community to assist poor countries and regions in pursuing effective social protection, the Secretary-General suggests that the Commission may wish to pursue its work on innovative forms of revenue-raising. The Commission may encourage members to build on encouraging recent developments, which have shown a small reversal in the prevailing trend of declining development assistance in the last 20 years.

The Secretary-General states that when debt is cancelled and reduced, steps have to be taken by donors and intergovernmental agencies to ensure that the resources released are expended on social provision, social protection and poverty alleviation. He also recommends that the Commission initiate a process to strengthen approaches to gender mainstreaming in social protection, including setting targets for the extension of social protection to women and other excluded populations.

The report also draws attention to the initiative, which emerged in Geneva at the five-year review of the Summit, to share best practices on social protection systems among government and civil society organizations. The establishment of a global network aiming to share information and experience of social protection instruments would give concrete form to this aspiration. The Commission may wish to pursue the necessary groundwork to establish a workable arrangement for this, which would include reviewing existing provisions for sharing experience and practice in the field of social protection.

In addition, the Secretary-General encourages the international community to take steps to promote the establishment of an international social observatory to monitor and assess the impact of globalization on different vulnerable categories. There is a particular need to focus on its impacts on the working poor –- an issue that is often neglected in social protection debates, the report states.

Additional Reports

During its review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, the Commission will have before it the following reports of the Secretary-General: towards the Second World Assembly on Ageing (document E/CN.5/2001/PC.2); follow-up to the International Year of the Family (document E/CN.5/2001/4); and implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (document E/CN.5/2001/7).

During its consideration of programme questions and other matters, the Commission will have before it the following notes of the Secretary-General: draft proposed programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003 (E/CN.5/2001/L.2); nomination of members of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (E/CN.5/2001/8); and the report of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (document E/CN.5/2001/3).

Overview of Commission

The Commission is a functional body of the Economic and Social Council. Its 46 members are elected for terms of office of four years on the following basis: 12 from African States; 10 from Asian States; five from Eastern European States; nine from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 10 from Western European and Other States.

As a result of the Social Summit, the mandate of the Commission was reviewed and its membership expanded from 31 to 46 members in 1996. Past themes of the Commission have been: review of the Social Summit; social services for all; social integration and participation of all; productive employment and sustainable livelihoods; and eradicating poverty.

Committee Membership

The current members of the Commission with their terms of expiry are: Algeria (2002), Argentina (2002), Austria (2004), Bangladesh (2004), Belarus (2003), Benin (2003), Bulgaria (2004), China (2004), Croatia (2002), Czech Republic (2004), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (2002), Denmark (2004), Dominican Republic (2002), Ecuador (2003), El Salvador (2004), France (2003), Gabon (2004), Germany (2003), Ghana (2003), Guatemala (2002), Guinea (2003), Haiti (2002), Indonesia (2003), Iran (2002), Italy (2004), Jamaica (2004), Japan (2003), Kazakhstan (2004), Kenya (2004), Mexico (2004), Morocco (2002), Nigeria (2003), Peru (2003), Republic of Korea (2003), Russian Federation (2003), South Africa (2004), Spain (2002), Sudan (2003), Swaziland (2002), Sweden (2002), Switzerland (2004), Thailand (2002), Turkey (2002), United Republic of Tanzania (2004), United States (2003), and Viet Nam (2004).

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