Press Releases

    11 May 2005

    UN-ESCWA Twenty-Third Ministerial Session Continues, Discusses Impact of Peace, Security on Economic and Social Development

    (Reissued as received.)

    DAMASCUS, 10 May (United Nations Information Service) -- UN-ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy called on member countries today to look over the report launched by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 20 March 2005, entitled "In Larger Freedom" and to prepare meticulous, constructive notes pending discussion of the document at the United Nations next September. Tallawy said this would give the vision, interests and worries of the Arab region the attention they deserve in said document, and, hence, in the policies of the international community.

    The Executive Secretary was speaking at the opening of the Roundtable on Peace and Security and their Impact on Economic and Social Development, which was held this morning as part of the functions of the session. The twenty-third UN-ESCWA Ministerial Session began yesterday in Damascus under the patronage of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and will continue until Thursday, 12 May 2005.

    Tallawy said the report identifies a number of priorities in development, security and human rights, referring to global institutions, mainly the United Nations and the role it can hopefully play to follow-up on these priorities. She provided an explanation of what the Secretary-General is calling for in the three-part report, namely:  freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to live in dignity.

    The Executive Secretary quoted a number of experts as saying that Western Asia could have reached a growth rate approaching that of countries in South-East Asia, and that unemployment could have been cut in half, had the area not suffered the wars, occupations and instability it did. “Furthermore, the whole world might have avoided a lot of anguish had the situation in our region been different.  Owing to this region’s position and its resources -- here I am not only referring to oil or other natural resources but also to its vast human resources -- the developments, tensions and events that befall our countries have a global effect economically, culturally, and socially. Hence, it is no surprise to find the attention of the whole world focused on this region in particular."

    Chaired by Taleb Rifai, Regional Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Roundtable also included Mahmoud Abdel Fadil, Economics Professor at Cairo University, Maan Bashour, Secretary-General of the Arab National Conference, and Nabil Sukkar, Managing Director of the Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development and Investment.

    In his intervention, Mr. Abdel Fadil said the UN-ESCWA region has come to face a new set of challenges, including division, fragmentation, living in dignity, pollution, and environmental degradation.  This is in addition to other crucial threats such as expanded Israeli settlement, the Greater Middle East Initiative, and the increased role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in making security arrangements with some Gulf countries without coordinating with all the Arab countries.

    Abdel Fadil highlighted the danger of these challenges on the future of economic and social development in the UN-ESCWA region and the most important methods of facing them.  These methods include expanding the concept of security to cover food, water and technological security; drawing up a new social contract that strengthens social immunity and anticipates a widening of the gap between the rich and poor through a number of integrated social policies; widening the scope of democracy to become a safety valve for the future and protect society from external and internal pressures; intensifying development aid, as well as the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Palestine and Iraq; establishing an early warning system to monitor developments threatening society; building regional coalitions and a new fiscal system; coordinating negotiation policies with international organizations such as ILO and with the international Arab sector such as the Arab Monetary Fund and the Council of Arab Economic Unity.  He called on UN-ESCWA to support all current procedures in the Security Council; current reforms in the United Nations; cooperation with the League of Arab States (LAS) and adherence to it as a framework for Arab negotiation and coordination despite the hardships it is facing as an Arab regional system.

    For his part, Mr. Bashour considered that it would have been better for the United Nations Secretary-General to add a part to his report entitled, "freedom from the fear of chaos", especially since constructive chaos serves the interests of the West and represents a principal threat to international peace and security. This chaos, he said, is based on two pillars: outside occupation, i.e. Palestine and Iraq; and inside disturbance and tension, i.e. the invasion of our surroundings and the return of traditional measures to them.  Bashour said it was not possible to attend to peace and security without facing occupation and disturbance. "This global chaos extends to regional and clear or hidden civil wars, as well as external pressure and internal tension.  To face this issue, a long-term workplan must be set, characterized mainly by the role of the United Nations, be it as a mechanism or a forum for discussion and debate. There must be an international platform where the world can discuss its issues and which represents a balancing agent between interests and Powers in the world, with the sole stipulation that it not be a cover for any powers dominating the world, as this would spell an end to the role of the UN."

    Mr. Sukkar said that lack of security is a hindrance to development, as well as economic and political integration.  He pointed to the signs of conflict and violence in the region such as: land expropriation, armed aggression by one State in the region against another; economic sanctions against Iraq and Libya and, recently, Syria; the violence practiced by some regimes and the violence against marginalized factions within the nation. He added that the violence in Iraq led to the destruction of infrastructure, turning it into a poor country. It also increased confessional segregation and religious extremism, as well as the spread of diseases and of poverty. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait led to the displacement of Palestinians and the return of Egyptian labourers from Iraq to their homeland.  Meantime, the war in Lebanon led to destruction, the loss of investments, brain drain, flight of capital, and rise of corruption based on arms deals during the war.

    Sukkar called for a rapid and just resolution of the Palestinian conflict although "the document proposed by the United Nations does not approach the subject as a violation of rights but rather as one that just aims at achieving growth and stability." He considered that, “as far as the Arab reform agenda goes, the peoples of the region must launch reform initiatives despite the weakness of their institutions."  He concluded, "UN-ESCWA has issued a series of studies which could form a good basis for broadening the scope of the desired reform."

    Following the round table, the Executive Secretary presented a report on the implementation of the 2004-2005 regular budget activities of UN-ESCWA, which provided an opportunity to highlight the activities of the divisions by their chiefs. This was followed by a presentation of the financial and budgetary position, the technical cooperation programme, the regional advisory services and the recommendations of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services on its audit of the Regional Commissions. A press briefing was then held, wherein two flagship studies published by UN-ESCWA were launched, namely:  "Annual Review of Developments in Globalization and Regional Integration in UN-ESCWA Member Countries, 2004" and "Summary of a Survey of Economic and Social Developments in the UN-ESCWA Region, 2005".

    A round table on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in UN-ESCWA member countries is being held during the afternoon sessions. Participants are discussing the draft programme of work for 2006-2007 and cooperation between UN-ESCWA and LAS. This is in addition to a presentation of the projects UN-ESCWA hopes to implement in member countries, with a view to strengthening national development capacities and regional integration.

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