24 January 2006

"UN Facing a Test of Multilateralism" says President of United Nations General Assembly

Jan Eliasson on Three-day Visit to Austria

VIENNA, 24 January (UN Information Service) -- "Today's problems are so clearly global, be it drugs, terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. No country can solve these problems alone. The United Nations is facing a test of multilateralism in the next few years - we have to prove that we have multilateral solutions," said the President of the Sixtieth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Eliasson (Sweden), on the topic of reforming the United Nations. Mr. Eliasson, who is currently on a three-day visit to Austria, was addressing representatives of the media at a press briefing held in Vienna today.

Mr. Eliasson, who has been an active and dynamic proponent of institutional reform within the United Nations system, spoke on the follow-up to the commitments made at the World Summit held in New York in September 2005, which brought together the largest ever gathering of Heads of State and Government. World leaders are looking at the General Assembly to give new momentum to global developmental goals, peace and security, human rights and strengthening the United Nations. "The General Assembly has never had such an opportunity to revitalize itself, by doing what it has been asked to do in the outcome document," said Mr. Eliasson.

As President of the chief deliberative body of the United Nations, Mr. Eliasson acknowledged that though the UN had been taking a beating in public opinion in some parts of the world, it was important to remember that the United Nations played a major role in many positive developments worldwide. Most recently, these include the UN operations in Afghanistan, and the elections in Liberia, which would not have been made possible without the UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. "Let us not forget the other UN; everyday, the UN is out there, helping people with AIDS, improving access to drinking water, providing solutions," said Mr. Eliasson.

In the process of implementing the decisions emanating from the 2005 World Summit, the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly have already established a new Peacebuilding Commission. The Commission aims at preventing countries emerging from conflict from falling back into chaos. "It is sad that over the past 20 years, conflict has erupted again in almost half the countries in post-conflict situations. Many countries in Africa and Latin America are waiting for positive actions from the Peacebuilding Commission," said Mr. Eliasson.

A new relief fund that will respond with instant financial aid in the case of humanitarian disasters was also established in December last year, and should be operational by March 2006. The new Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) replaces the smaller Central Emergency Revolving Fund and aims at a total volume of US$500 million in grants and loans, which will be made available within three to four days of a disaster situation. "Most people in natural disaster situations die in the first four days. We cannot hesitate. This new fund makes it possible for us to be in the field rapidly and immediately, and then we will fill up the fund from behind. This is a very practical and qualitative step forward," said Mr. Eliasson.

The President of the General Assembly mentioned that the most pressing negotiation was on the Human Rights Council; he hoped to finalize the work in the next month. Mr. Eliasson also pointed to the importance of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Showing a glass of water as an example, he said that this was a luxury for 1.2 billion people in the world.

 The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of the United Nations and Associated Personnel has also been adopted. Other tangible outputs of the 2005 World Summit are the new whistleblower protection policy and a state-of-the-art financial disclosure mechanism, to help increase transparency.

While here, Mr. Eliasson has meetings scheduled with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schűssel, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Ursula Plassnik, President of the Austrian National Assembly Andreas Khol and Heads of Vienna-based organizations.

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