17 September 2003


NEW YORK, 16 September (UN Headquarters) -- Declaring that the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly would be an “action-oriented” one, Assembly President Julian Robert Hunte (Saint Lucia) urged delegations to act quickly, decisively and with cooperation to tackle problems requiring urgent solutions, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the situation in Iraq and ongoing unrest in the Middle East.

“The people of the world looked to the United Nations for hope in implementing solutions to their problems”, said President Hunte, opening the Assembly’s new session this afternoon.  The Assembly, he hoped, was ready to break new ground.  “However, this would require choosing principle over expediency, precision over ambiguity, objectivity over bias, creative thinking over inflexibility and, above all, action over inaction”, he said.

Today, the United Nations found itself at a critical juncture, challenged by an extraordinary set of circumstances and the magnitude of new and existing problems, he said.  What then should the Organization do?

“We must actively pursue the benefits of multilateralism”, he said, adding that “we must reaffirm the central role of the United Nations ... and reassert the authority of the General Assembly as the sole universal organ charged under the Charter with important supervisory and policy-making responsibilities.”

At the top of the meeting, the President recalled the Assembly’s unanimous adoption yesterday of a resolution, which condemned the 19 August attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and urgently called on all nations to help find and prosecute the perpetrators of this "vicious act".

Before calling on all delegations to observe a minute of silence, he stressed that, as the new Assembly session began, it was necessary to reiterate full support for the United Nations and respect for the dedicated staff, who, whether in the field or at Headquarters, give their all, sometimes “paying the highest price for peace”.  “We must recommit ourselves to the safety and security of the United Nations”, he said.

In action today, the Assembly appointed the States that would govern its Credentials Committee for the current session:  Antigua and Barbuda, Cape Verde, China, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Fiji, New Zealand, Russian Federation, and the United States.


Also this afternoon, the Assembly took note of a letter from the Secretary-General (A/58/360) informing him that 14 Member States were in arrears in payments of their financial contributions to the Organization, in line with Article 19 of the United Nations Charter.

Those States included Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Liberia, Niger, Republic of Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, Tajikistan and Vanuatu.  Under the article, a Member State in arrears cannot vote in the General Assembly “if the amount of the arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two years”.

Considering next a request from the Chairman of the Committee on Conferences (A/58/356), the Assembly decided, according to its rules of procedure, to “explicitly authorize” meetings during the main part of the current session for the following bodies:  the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The Assembly’s General Committee will convene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 17 September, to consider the Assembly’s organization of work, adoption of the agenda and allocation of items.


Opening Statement of General Assembly President

JULIAN ROBERT HUNTE (Saint Lucia), President of the General Assembly, opened the fifty-eighth session, saying that he was deeply honoured to serve as President at a time of serious challenge for the United Nations, and for the world.  Paying tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, and the other staff who lost their lives or suffered injury in the recent attack in Baghdad, he stressed the importance of supporting United Nations action to protect staff from terrorist attacks.  Moreover, the people of the world looked to the United Nations to safeguard fundamentals such as sustainable development and peace and security, which could only be done by holding firm to the principles and purposes of the Charter.  The central role of multilateralism -- and the United Nations as the most important multilateral organization -- needed to be reaffirmed, as did the authority of the General Assembly.

He expressed his keen interest in hearing the proposals the Secretary-General would be making for the radical restructuring of the Organization.  As President, he was also open to other proposals for the revitalization and strengthening of the Assembly.  That revitalization should balance continuity with change.  Current global problems and challenges had opened a window for the Assembly to broaden its impact on global affairs, and in that regard, the Assembly needed to move boldly to respond to criticism with deeds, not words.

To begin, he said, the Assembly should be placed at the centre of the unfolding global socio-economic transformation.  Globalization and trade liberalization had changed both the structures and the processes of the world economy, but they could not be allowed to create or accentuate inequity and injustice, enriching only the few. Furthermore, many developing countries faced a serious challenge in coming to terms with the rules of the new system.  The Assembly had an important role to play in ensuring that globalization and trade liberalization were compatible with the achievement of equity in the global economy, and that the aspirations of all countries for sustainable development, prosperity and peace were met.

Moreover, he said that while some had argued that leadership on global development issues rested with the development agencies, the Assembly had been mandated by the Charter to provide policy guidance on development issues. During the session, the Assembly should take action on pressing development issues such as commodities trading and corporate accountability through interactive dialogue.  It should also address issues related to support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), HIV/AIDS and the propensity of conflict to retard socio-economic development.

Noting the continued violence in the Middle East and the danger posed by conflicts, such as that in Iraq, he welcomed the Assembly’s opportunity to review the report of the Security Council, and stressed that the Assembly could not retreat from taking a decision on Security Council reform.  Other pressing issues before the United Nations included the scourge of terrorism and the need for adequate resources to carry out the United Nations mandate.

Finally, he stressed that the people of the world looked to the United Nations for hope in implementing solutions to their problems.  The world could not afford for talks to collapse in stalemate.  He hoped the Assembly was ready to break new ground and record significant accomplishments.  However, that would require choosing principle over expediency, precision over ambiguity, objectivity over bias, creative thinking over inflexibility and, above all, action over inaction.

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