The primacy of the United Nations in dealing with global issues - whether economic and social development or international peace and security - continued to be the key theme as the General Assembly moved into the third day of its annual high-level debate.
In an address to the Assembly's morning session, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal said there was much work to be done in combating poverty, particularly in the least developed countries. In spite of relative improvement in Africa since 1995, it would not be possible to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), given the progress to date. Africa was compromised by subsidies - which also increased unemployment - and marginalized in world trade. African debt was a thorny issue, and his nation would hold a summit next year on how to end the debt of Africa. He stressed that it was the will of the continent to fight against unemployment, which was a major focus for Senegal in the development area.
Mr. Wade also said he was pleased to see the progress made so far to finance the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) initiative, although it was insufficient. He proposed a conference to close the agricultural divide. He also proposed digital solidarity among peoples, and the establishment of a digital fund to overcome the digital divide. Giving Africa the means to progress in information technology would help the continent resolve the digital divide issue.
Tassos Papadopoulos, President of Cyprus, noted that this was the last General Assembly session before the review of the MDGs, and there must, therefore, be an evaluation of the ambitious targets set to determine a hierarchy of priorities, identify and pursue specific targets and objectives and assess progress. More specifically, making development an issue of global concern would measure the ability of the UN to induce significant changes and advances where they were most needed.
He said Cyprus attached particular importance to the revitalization of the Assembly and reform of the Security Council, especially the latter, whose structure should reflect contemporary political realities and a more balanced geographical representation. Consolidating effective multilateralism in a flexible and versatile UN was the best way to address the complete spectrum of global crises and ensure that preventive mechanisms were in place to avert each one. "Such consolidation also applies to security deficits and particularly terrorism, the underlying causes of which, we have been unable to eliminate despite our concerted efforts," he stressed.
Botswana's President, Festus Mogae, noted that the resources provided to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic remained inadequate, even though the international community agreed that the disease was one of the greatest challenges of our time. He urged that combating that scourge "must remain high on our priorities for action because the epidemic had a debilitating impact on everything that we do to improve the human condition."
Mr. Mogae also argued that the problems of Africa were global problems. "We cannot isolate ourselves nor be isolated from the rest of the world and be expected to single-handedly find solutions to (African) conflicts. We need consistent and continued international support," he stressed. The international community must take urgent measures to arrest the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan, while the Government of the Sudan should be receptive to the proposals contained in the Secretary-General's report and also take due cognizance of the Security Council's recent resolution, particularly with regard to the speedy delivery by the international community of much needed humanitarian assistance.
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, speaking also in his capacity as Chairman of the African Union, said that the problem of unremitting conflicts in various regions of the world, and the ever-increasing difficult task of seeking solutions to them, seriously challenged the world body. Improvements were still necessary, however, to enable the UN to address the social and economic challenges that inevitably confronted countries emerging from conflict, as those issues underpinned the causes of the conflicts in the first place. He also appealed for the continued enhancement of the capacity of regional organizations to undertake crisis resolution initiatives in their respective regions.
Mr. Obasanjo said that, while the UN was justifiably seized with the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the question of small arms and light weapons could no longer be ignored. The latter were killing people daily at a rate cumulatively amounting to "monumental destruction". Nigeria and the AU welcomed the start of negotiations for an internationally legally binding instrument to enable States to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons globally. Of particular interest to Africa was the enormous potential that such an instrument could have on peace and security in his region.
Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, said that virtually every major issue faced by States today had both a domestic as well as a transnational dimension. "It is becoming increasingly apparent that unless we fashion a global response based on consensus to these challenges, we [will] not succeed in creating a world that manifests the ideals of the United Nations," he said.
The UN and its agencies, he said, were the only instruments available for responding effectively to challenges facing the world. What was missing, however, was sustained commitment to democratize the functioning of the Organization. "It is common knowledge that the UN is often unable to exert an effective influence on global economic and political issues of critical importance," he said, due to its "democracy deficit," which prevented effective multilateralism. Reforms and restructuring of the Organization could provide a crucial link in an expanding chain of efforts to refashion international structures, imbuing them with a greater degree of participatory decision-making, representative of contemporary realities.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that against the backdrop of the current international situation, the question arose whether the United Nations was still suited to its mandate and whether its work enjoyed the international acceptance it needed. There was no alternative to a world acting multilaterally, and to make multilateral cooperation sustainable, a courageous and comprehensive reform of the UN was needed. Among the questions that needed to be addressed were the issues of more effective prevention and peacebuilding; peacekeeping reform; the understanding of the right of self-defence; and the definition of terrorism.
Silvan Shalom, Foreign Minister of Israel, called on the UN to refocus its priorities, saying the Assembly should "end its obsession with Israel" and ensure that the Organization's resources were allocated more equally and effectively. The UN also needed to provide solutions to the challenges of hunger and poverty, disease and weapons proliferation, among others. He called on the Assembly to address the involvement of Iran and Syria in terrorism, and Syria's continued occupation of Lebanon.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland, Albert Shabangu, said Africa had placed its trust in NEPAD to be a vehicle for the shift away from underdevelopment and conflict of the past by addressing the fundamental root causes of the continent's problems. The continent's united effort was also addressing the conflicts that continue to threaten peace, stability and security on the African continent. "We realize that, without these elements, our development goals will continue to elude us, especially because, apart from resources that are wasted on arms, our people can only be productive and be able to trade amongst themselves and with the rest of the world under conditions of peace, security and stability," he said.
Greece's Foreign Minister, Petros Molyviatis, noted that, from the tragedy of 11 September 2001 to the Madrid bombings to the unspeakable brutality witnessed in Beslan, a dark parade of blind violence had caused immense human suffering and increased the international community's responsibility, and its will, to fight terrorism. Furthermore, the world faced additional challenges in the guise of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human trafficking, organized crime, failing States, environmental catastrophe, social- and economic crises, pandemics, large-scale humanitarian disaster, hunger and poverty, which must be faced with solidarity, regardless of geography, culture or religion.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy highlighted the need to strengthen the multilateral system and reinvigorate the role of the UN as one of the main international priorities. Effective multilateralism depended much more on political will and shared goals than on structures and procedures. The entire international community must be involved, starting with the States that commanded greater resources and capabilities. Multilateral decisions could be difficult, but that was no excuse for inaction. The starting point for the reform of the Organization was a review of its policies.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said that, more than ever, the UN remained the one irreplaceable, legitimate framework for collective action against the challenges confronting the world. On all fronts, the UN was acting, acting for conflict resolution and prevention, for refugee assistance and for counterterrorism. Yet, at the same time that it waged a merciless fight against terrorism, the international community must also redress that scourge's roots; it must give the world's excluded people hope, restore their dignity and establish dialogue and cooperation among civilizations, cultures and religions.
Foreign Minister Morshed Khan of Bangladesh said the MDGs provided the best hope for the world's poor. The success of those Goals would, however, largely depend on the existence of an enabling international economic environment, particularly in the areas of trade, finance, ODA and technology transfer. Extreme poverty was a gross denial of human rights, and the rise in senseless terrorism was a warning that failure in development was not an option, and that poverty could breed extremism. To effectively rid the world of the tragic consequences of poverty, its root causes needed to be addressed.