13 September 2006

Member States Urged to Build on Momentum of Past Year to Revitalize, Reinforce UN as "Beacon of Hope, Peace, and Prosperity", as Sixty-First Session Opens

NEW YORK, 12 September (UN Headquarters) -- Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain, the first woman in 37 years to serve as President of the General Assembly, opened that body's sixty-first session this morning, urging its Member States to keep building on the momentum generated over the past year to revitalize and reinforce the role of the United Nations so that it continued to be a "beacon of hope, peace and prosperity for all".

"The United Nations is an Organization of hope based on commitment, consensus and co-existence … only by working together can we make a real difference, and translate our commitments into effective actions," said Sheikha Haya.  "Today the United Nations faces many challenges.  It needs the confidence and support of the people of the world just as the people of the world need this Organization," she said.

She went on to praise the work of the Assembly accomplished last year under outgoing President Jan Eliasson of Sweden in realizing many of the wide-ranging reform measures set in motion by global political leaders at the 2005 World Summit, in the areas of development, peace and collective security, human rights, and upgrading the Organization's management structures.  "World leader's collective vision of a more responsive multilateral approach to the many challenges facing the world shall continue to guide our common efforts towards building a safer, freer and more prosperous planet for all human beings," she said.

Highlighting the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission and the new Human Rights Council, as well as the creation of the Central Emergency Response Fund and the adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, she said that it was important to build upon, widen and deepen the progress achieved so far.  "The Assembly has to continue to evolve and strive to deliver sustainable solutions to the major challenges of our time.  She appealed to the Member States to make the General Assembly and the United Nations even more effective.

The Assembly had the challenging task to meet the expectations of hundreds of millions of people around the world who were poor, malnourished, and illiterate, or suffering from disease, she said.  In addition, half the world's population, namely women, typically had less access to health care, employment and property ownership.  "To promote gender equality, we need to empower women so that they have more autonomy to lead their lives."  She also urged Member States not to lose sight of the United Nations crucial role in maintaining peace and security.

Finally, she drew attention to the two high-level events set to take place over the next few days:  the first-ever meeting on migration and development (14 to 15 September) and the five-year review of the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries (18 to 19 September).

Following the President's opening remarks, the representative of Iran welcomed her on behalf of the Asian States, as did the representative of Egypt.  The latter speaker, on behalf of the African States, called for special attention to his troubled continent in the coming year.  He highlighted a number of achievements that had been made during the sixtieth session, including the cancellation of some African countries' staggering debt, the start of a number of "quick win" projects, and increased cooperation with the African Union.

But, the Egyptian representative stressed that the myriad challenges facing the continent prodded the international community to lend a helping hand to end Africa's marginalization in the world economy and to institutionalize effective cooperation mechanisms to comprehensively address Africa's diverse requirements.  Among other things, he noted that the Peacebuilding Commission should act as a melting pot for collective efforts in that regard.  He also hoped that the sixty-first session would devote particular attention to the negative impacts of the illegal exploitation of Africa's natural resources, the underlying causes of Africa's ongoing conflicts, and how to boost its post-conflict peacebuilding capacities.

In other business today, the Assembly appointed the following States to serve on its Credentials Committee:  China, Guyana, Kenya, Madagascar, Monaco, Peru, Russian Federation, Tonga and the United States.

The Assembly also decided that the following United Nations programmes and bodies would meet during the sixty-first session (document A/61/320) on the strict understanding that such meetings would have to be accommodated within available facilities and services:  The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Committee on Relations with the Host Country; Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); United Nations Disarmament Commission; the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Ad Hoc Committee on the Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities; and the Committee on Conferences.

Also, the Assembly took note of a letter from the Secretary-General (document A/61/310), which informed the body that nine Member States that were in arrears in the payment of their financial contributions to the United Nations under the terms of Article 19 of the Charter.  These States are:  Central African Republic, Comoros, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Tajikistan.

[According to Article 19 of the Charter, a Member State in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization will have no vote in the Assembly, if the amount of those arrears exceeds the amount of the contributions due from the preceding two years.]

Following the moment of silent meditation or prayer, which traditionally opens each of its annual sessions, the Assembly then held a moment of silence commemorating the memory of His Majesty, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga, who died last Sunday.

Assembly President Al Khalifa offered condolences on behalf of the United Nations governing body.  Her statement was followed by expressions of sympathy from the representatives of Egypt, on behalf of the African States; Iran, on behalf of the Asian States; Belarus, on behalf of the Eastern European States; Dominican Republic, on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States; Italy, on behalf of Western European and other States; and the United States.

Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu (Tonga) said that the King was a pioneer; he had been the first Tongan citizen to receive a university degree.  He had also driven the development and modernization of the Tongan economy and education systems.  The King had moved the country away from its tradition of inward looking policies and had initiated contacts and cooperation with regional groups, as well as with the wider international community at all levels.  She thanked all those who had shown solidarity with her country in this time of sorrow.

The General Assembly will meet again at a time and date to be announced.

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