18 January 2006

Economic and Social Council Opens 2006 Organizational Session; Need for Strengthened Body to Implement World Summit Goals Stressed

Ali Hachani of Tunisia Elected President

NEW YORK, 17 January (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) played a central role in advancing the international development agenda and must be strengthened if the Organization was to successfully implement the decisions and goals set forth during last year's World Summit, several speakers stressed today, as the Council opened its 2006 organizational session.

Ali Hachani (Tunisia), who was elected today as President of ECOSOC for 2006, stressed that the United Nations had yet to fully promote social progress and improved living standards. However, the 2005 World Summit Outcome -- which assigned new mandates and functions to ECOSOC to advance the development agenda and thus, lift millions of people from deprivation and destitution -- was a substantial breakthrough. The Summit also mandated ECOSOC to promote the global policy dialogue. In addition, the outcome of last November's World Summit on the Information Society assigned the Council the task of providing oversight to implementation and follow up to Summit decisions, particularly through a stronger Commission on Science and Technology for Development. In the coming months, the Council must take the necessary steps to advance those goals.

For example, Mr. Hachani said, the dialogue should be a platform for open discussion with broad representation from all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector and academia. He added that the theme of this year's high-level debate -- promotion of employment and decent work for all --would be particularly relevant to the forthcoming General Assembly's high-level dialogue on international migration and development. Moreover, the 2007 biennial Development Cooperation Forum gave ECOSOC a unique opportunity for a comprehensive, high-level review of international development cooperation. ECOSOC was also uniquely positioned to promote improved, coordinated responses from the United Nations and other partners to humanitarian disasters. Last year's meetings on food security in Africa and the avian flu crisis illustrated the Council's potential to respond to situations that threatened long-term development goals.

Echoing those views, outgoing ECOSOC President Munir Akram (Pakistan) said the Southeast Asian Tsunami and the recent earthquake in northern Pakistan brought home the need for a comprehensive and coordinated international response to humanitarian crisis, in which ECOSOC should play a key role. Last year, the Council had stepped up its involvement in such issues, sponsoring such events as its session on voices against poverty, the bureau summit and briefings on Africa's food crisis. An unprecedented number of Heads of State and Government, Governments, United Nations agencies, civil society and private-sector representatives had participated in its work. But, despite last year's significant progress, much remained to be done, including an annual ministerial review, participation in the Peacebuilding Commission, promotion of system-wide coherence and broadly securing implementation of the development agenda. Moreover, the policy that ECOSOC activities be performed within existing resources was ineffectual. Upcoming decisions were important to reviving ECOSOC's role as the apex of development. It would be up to the Council to put that into practice.

Similarly, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden), expressed hope that ECOSOC would become an organ of enhanced impact this year. He said he looked forward to working closely with Mr. Hachani and the Bureau to turn the agreements reached in 2005 into action. The Council's response to the avian flu, the African food crisis and the South-East Asian Tsunami crisis had brought key decision makers together and helped focused the world's attention on serious matters. Last year had been the year of commitments, and 2006 would be the year of implementation. He urged General Assembly Members to bring their negotiations on a reformed programme of work for the Council to a swift conclusion and noted that, with less than 10 years remaining until 2015, much of the world still lagged behind in meeting its millennium targets. 

Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, agreed, saying ECOSOC's purpose was to drive implementation of the internationally agreed Development Goals, and that 2006 would be the year when the "rubber hits the road". ECOSOC members would be responsible for ensuring effective implementation of the Summit's decisions on development issues and on ECOSOC reforms. The annual ministerial-level reviews for tracking and evaluating the progress of development goals could provide a meaningful picture, especially when enriched by national presentations and voluntary reviews. The global policy dialogues and Development Cooperation Forum could strengthen engagement among the United Nations and outside actors, including those dealing with North-South, South-South and bilateral cooperation.

The representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, and the representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed their support and determination to assist the Council in implementing the decisions of the Summit Outcome Document, including resolving the food crisis in Africa and managing the avian flu epidemic in Asia, implementing the millennium targets and the strengthening of ECOSOC.

Also during the meeting, the Council elected its Vice-Presidents, Gediminas Šerkšnys (Lithuania) from the Eastern European States; Léo Mérorès (Haiti) from the Latin American and Caribbean States group; Hjálmar W. Hannesson (Iceland) from the Western European and other States group; and Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka) from the Asian States group, by acclamation.

In addition, the Council adopted, as orally amended, its provisional agenda for ECOSOC's 2006 organizational session, contained in document E/2006/2.

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