16 September 2003


NEW YORK, 15 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement, as delivered by Assembly President Jan Kavan (Czech Republic) to today’s concluding meeting of the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly:

The United Nations has been through a very difficult year.  During this fifty-seventh session, the General Assembly discussed a wide range of issues from conflict prevention to more effective implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, from more coordinated and integrated follow-up to major United Nations conferences and summits to one of the most important issues on the UN agenda -– reform of the United Nations system.  We have reached consensus and adopted many resolutions and decisions, however, some of the ideas and proposals have not been finalized.  I expect that consideration of these ideas will continue in the fifty-eighth session.  However, I also hope that the United Nations will focus not only on General Assembly matters, and its revitalization, but also on further involvement of the United Nations in guiding the world’s affairs.  I am convinced that the role of the United Nations should be far more decisive than it has been in recent times and that it should correctly reflect the role assigned to it in the Charter. This obviously applies also to the Security Council and its responsibilities in areas of maintenance of international peace and security, today particularly including Iraq.

For the United Nations to be better equipped for such a key role it has to implement major reform.  I hope that some time in the not too distant future, the Security Council will reflect both the needs and the geopolitical situation of the beginning of twenty-first century.  I also expect, as I made clear in my Note of the President of the General Assembly, dated today, on revitalization of the General Assembly, that the General Assembly will be strengthened and become more effective and action-oriented.  Moreover, I hope that the General Assembly will unequivocally embark on the road leading, in time, to what the former Permanent Representative of France, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, called the parliament of the world.

Among the activities of the General Assembly during my tenure as President, the adoption of resolution A/REV/57/337 on the Prevention of Armed Conflict stands out as particularly significant.  This resolution responds to the Secretary-General’s challenge to transform a culture of reaction into a culture of prevention.  The strength of the resolution lies in its scope.  It recognizes that the root causes of conflict are multi-dimensional and interrelated, thus requiring a comprehensive and integrated approach.  It addresses the role of and need for cooperation among the wide range of actors involved in conflict prevention, including governments, the United Nations and its agencies, civil society, and other relevant players.  My report on the results of the open-ended informal meeting on the topic “The role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict” was made available to you today.

An open meeting held at the beginning of September attempted to explore -- in an interactive way -- the future role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict and to define how to effectively link the work of civil society in this arena with the efforts of governments and the United Nations.

An inseparable part of the conflict prevention strategy within the United Nations system is the fight against extreme poverty.  We, therefore, have to do our utmost to support the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, not only for moral and humanitarian reasons, but to create an optimal socio-economic environment that will help reduce tension and secure a stable and more just world.

The integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits was a new, comprehensive and cross-cutting concept.  An Ad-hoc Working Group was established to look at the whole mechanism of the follow-up processes to these conferences and summits.  It identified ways for simplifying, improving efficiency and integrating efforts of the United Nations system in support of the implementation of conference outcomes.  The General Assembly decided in its resolution A/57/270B, inter alia, to hold a politically attractive major event -- which I perceive as a summit -- in 2005 to review progress achieved in implementing commitments contained in the Millennium Declaration and the outcomes of conferences and summits in the economic and social fields.  I believe that the resolution will further strengthen the leadership role of the General Assembly and the coordinating role of ECOSOC in the international development agenda.

A high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly last September was devoted to discussion of United Nations support for the newly created New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative.  As a result, all Member States expressed strong commitment to helping African countries fight and overcome the most difficult problems facing the continent -- extreme poverty, lack of water and sanitation, the spread of disease, insufficient education, et cetera.  A special department was created within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to implement the NEPAD initiative.

The General Assembly plenary devoted several days during October and November 2002 to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In December 2002, the General Assembly, in resolution A/RES/57/299, adopted my proposal to organize a high-level meeting on this issue in September 2003.  This year marks the first year the promises made in the Declaration of Commitments on HIV/AIDS are due.  Further commitments come due in 2005 and 2010.  The high-level meeting will focus on sharing best practices and lessons learned in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Throughout the fifty-seventh session, I paid special attention to closer cooperation among the various agencies and organizations of the United Nations system.  I benefited greatly from regular meetings with the Presidents of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as with the Chairmen of the Main Committees.  As a part of an ongoing dialogue between the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions, I have had meetings with the President of the World Bank and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.  The Czech Presidency took all necessary steps to ensure thorough preparation of the first High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development to be held in October 2003.

I wholeheartedly share the Secretary-General’s views on the need for thorough reform that would result in greater effectiveness of the United Nations.  This approach requires not only reform within the Organization, but also qualitative change in the attitude of Member States in dealing with reform, bearing in mind that the final objective of this exercise is for the United Nations to have a more decisive say in world affairs.  I am sure that you will all agree that for this to take place, the renewed political will of Member States is crucial.  It seems to me that, following recent experiences, not only is there a widespread awareness of such a need, but, at least among some countries, there is a greater political will than ever to do something about it.  It remains to be seen if the opportunity offered will be seized upon or missed, as has happened several times in the past.

During the fifty-seventh session, the General Assembly was mindful of these issues, and the various reform processes of the United Nations moved forward.  One of the most important issues discussed was the strengthening of the United Nations system.  The Secretary General put forward 36 diverse reform proposals that seek to align political priorities with the Millennium Development Goals and streamline the Secretariat.  In response, the General Assembly formulated its common position in resolution A/57/300.  Many of the proposals will strengthen the impact of the Organization’s work, especially in economic and social areas, by clarifying roles and responsibilities in technical assistance and inter-agency coordination in respect of human rights; in information services at Headquarters and abroad; streamlining of management; rationalizing documentation and publication services and so forth.

A challenging task for every General Assembly President over the past 10 years has been to break a stalemate over Security Council reform, including issues such as the addition of new members, both permanent and non-permanent, and restriction on the power of the veto.  The debate over Iraq injected additional fuel into the discussion of the need for Security Council reform.  It seems to me that the minds of many politicians and diplomats are focused more clearly on this problem now than at any other time in the last ten years.  However, after chairing the Working Group on Security Council reform during the fifty-seventh session, I am deeply convinced that the stalemate can only be broken if there is a major political breakthrough in the capitals of some key Member States.  I am aware that the history of the last century suggests that such breakthroughs are achieved following major catastrophes such as the two world wars, which led to the foundation of the League of Nations and the United Nations, respectively.  At the same time I believe that the international community has reached a far higher degree of sanity and thus we will not need any more reminders of the need for a change of the status quo than we have already encountered.

To be fair, it should be acknowledged that the Working Group on Security Council reform did achieve a few small steps.  Its report was streamlined significantly, taking out all proposals that were no longer supported by any Member State. Also during this session, I distributed an informal questionnaire concerning the work and working methods of the Working Group.  My informal summary of the results of the questionnaire was distributed to the membership.  I am, of course, well aware that the responses received do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire membership and even the distribution of the questionnaire was perceived by some Member States as somewhat controversial.  At the same time, it sparked an interesting and concrete discussion of the issues, which had been lacking during earlier deliberations.  Similarly frank and useful discussions on this topic took place in a variety of informal settings and I would, therefore, strongly recommend the more frequent use of these settings for the future exchange of ideas.  Although the result of the questionnaire was inconclusive, it reconfirmed almost universal frustration over the inability of the Working Group to produce desired outcomes.

The main focus of the General Assembly’s revitalization efforts has been on improving working methods and planning a more streamlined agenda.  By adopting resolution 57/301, the General Assembly amended the opening date of the session of the General Assembly and the opening date and duration of the general debate, thus addressing numerous requests by Member States for a more accommodating arrangement regarding this important event.

I completely agree with the Secretary-General’s observation that many speeches in the General Assembly are “repetitive and sterile”.  Our proposals for more joint debates, clustering, as well as biennalization and triennalization of agenda items, were intended to deal with part of this problem.  I, of course, understand that diplomats sometimes have to read out long speeches written in their capitals whose content, frequently aimed primarily at their own citizens, does not necessarily command a great deal of interest throughout the world, including this Assembly.  As part of the revitalization efforts, we have attempted to complement this phenomenon by convening open-ended interactive panels emphasizing informal and frank dialogue and exchange of experiences.  Last November we convened such a panel of the Plenary of the General Assembly for the first time.  That panel -- “Afghanistan:  one year later” -- facilitated an in-depth discussion on the subject and helped to enrich the subsequent debate on this issue.  The open meeting on the role of civil society in preventing armed conflict was another step towards more informal and interactive debates that have a potential to invigorate the discussion in the General Assembly on various topics.

From November 2002 to June 2003, we organized many informal consultations on various proposals on General Assembly revitalization.  The principal elements have been summarized in a Note by the President of the General Assembly.  Finding consensus on these proposals, including some sort of action plan and time frame for implementation, will remain a task for future Presidencies.

Other proposals regarding revitalization are included in the document “From promise to practice:  revitalizing the General Assembly for the new millennium”, resulting from a retreat on this issue held in May 2003.  Yet other interesting proposals were discussed -- at informal meetings, at lunches, and, most importantly, in the corridors of this building.  I found particular merit in a call for a two-year term for the President of the General Assembly.  That would, in my opinion, provide the Presidency with a greater chance to implement initiatives on difficult or controversial issues when reaching consensus is not possible in one year.

At the sunset of my Presidency, I would like to share a few reflections on the past 12 months.

In presiding over the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly, I focused on a few major issues which were priorities of the Czech Presidency.  I did so because I strongly believe that the United Nations, and the General Assembly in particular, is unique and most likely the only forum where global issues can be considered in an integrated manner taking into account all their political, economic, environmental and social aspects.  For instance, conflict prevention is not only a political issue but has very important economic, social and other dimensions.

There are many international organizations that are dealing with diverse isolated issues within their specific mandates.  But there is only one forum -- the General Assembly -- in which Member States can consider existing and emerging global or regional problems in their entirety, while taking into account linked and overlapping institutional structures.  We have an international organization for trade; we have other institutions for development and finance.  It is, however, in the General Assembly where these issues can be considered together in a holistic manner.  Our focus must not disintegrate into a multiplicity of agenda items which duplicate debates taking place in other organizations.  If this were to happen, the impact of the work of the General Assembly would be greatly diminished and its relevance undermined.  Any trend in this direction has to be reversed so that we can focus clearly on major issues and deal with them in their complexity and integrity.

In this regard, I believe the priorities of my Presidency have been closely interlinked.  The struggle against international terrorism cannot be seen solely from a military or security perspective.  It is obviously linked with the issue of the prevention of armed conflict and the need to nip in the bud any conflict before it engulfs a whole region with resulting tragic loss of human life.  The issue of prevention is logically linked to the issue of the causes of conflict.  The lengthy negotiations prior to adoption of the resolution on the prevention of armed conflict highlight the numerous and interrelated issues involved, including extreme poverty, underdevelopment, intolerance and even the perceived indifference of the international community to people’s suffering.  Therefore, to target extreme poverty, as the Millennium Development Goals seek to do, is to target the potentially fertile soil of frustration, anger, and feelings of powerlessness that may result in radical or even terrorist behaviour.

As I have already made clear, I believe that the United Nations needs fundamental reform and renewed and vigorous political will on the part of Member States to see it implemented.  Let me remind you that many Member States welcomed some of our general reform ideas, but when it came to specific proposals, this support miraculously vanished.  In this on-going debate, where questions of national interest and prestige are perceived to be at stake, achieving a consensus is particularly difficult.  However, with a great deal of determination and courage, a successful outcome can be achieved.

The relevance of the United Nations is and will continue to be judged by its actions, not by lengthy discussions, recycled speeches on irrelevant items or indefinite postponing of decision-making.  I am convinced that in order to secure, or -- as some may say -- regain, its place on the chessboard of world affairs, the United Nations has to not only continue its reform process, but also modify its ways to more effectively respond to the challenges of the turbulent international environment.  I urge all Member States to work for the reform of the United Nations with inspiration, strong political will and sincere dedication.

I would like to pay tribute to the memory of those United Nations staff members who were killed as a result of their selfless commitment to the ideals of this Organization.  They were in places where they were often directly in harm’s way to further the cause of peace and security and to provide humanitarian assistance to others.  This year will be remembered as a poignantly tragic year in the history of the United Nations, which lost many dedicated people in Eritrea, Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most notably in Iraq.  My thoughts are with their families and loved ones.

I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to all those who have helped me in the discharge of my duties.

During the year in which I have been privileged to preside over this body, I have learned to rely on the cooperation and guidance of Member States on many issues.  Their active participation in meetings has enriched this session and this presidency in immeasurable ways.

I would like to thank the Vice-Presidents, who have taken my place on a number of occasions in chairing plenary and other meetings. This distinct club of diplomats has served as my link to the membership in dealing with many important issues before the General Assembly. My profound gratitude also goes to the Chairpersons, Vice-Chairpersons and Rapporteurs of the Main Committees alike, who have been of invaluable help in facilitating the work of the Assembly as a whole.

I have always greatly relied on the Vice-Chairs of the working groups and the facilitators on Conflict Prevention, Integrated Follow-up, HIV/AIDS, United Nations Reform and General Assembly Revitalization.  I am, therefore, deeply indebted to all of them for their valuable work.

My heartfelt appreciation goes to Secretary-General Kofi Annan for his tireless efforts in promoting the noble ideals of this Organization.  And my warmest gratitude also goes to Under-Secretary-General Chen Jian and his Office for all the support they have afforded me and my Office.  Certainly, I would be remiss if I did not thank the United Nations Secretariat, particularly the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, and its General Assembly Servicing Branch, the structure that makes all these meetings possible.  Furthermore, I would like to recognize all the interpreters, translators and Conference Officers, as well as security officers, who work behind the scenes and ensure that our meetings operate smoothly.  I thank them for all their hard work and dedication.

Let me also recognize the tireless efforts and reliable support I have received from my own Office headed by the Chef de Cabinet and her Deputy.  My sincere thanks also go to all members of my team, who have been working with me with great determination, professionalism and enthusiasm, frequently into the small hours.  My deep appreciation goes not only to my Czech diplomatic staff but also to UN support staff, including those from Egypt, Philippines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, who helped me in the demanding task of the Presidency of the General Assembly.

Finally, I wish to extend my very best wishes for success to my most esteemed successor, President-elect of the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly, Julian R. Hunte, Minister of External Affairs, International Trade, and Civil Aviation of Saint Lucia.  President Hunte and I have had a number of useful discussions on various topics and I am very glad to see that our views coincide on many issues indicating that the desired continuity from one session to the next will be preserved.  I am confident that under his able stewardship, the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly will achieve many fruitful results.

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