The UN General Assembly Advances the Global Agenda

Presiding over the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, I quickly learned that an effective president needs to be able to juggle many issues and remain in close contact with key negotiating groups and regional constituencies. There are a plethora of agenda items that the Assembly must consider each year and a variety of competing interests and issues among Member States that must be resolved to broker consensus.

During the session, the Assembly met in plenary 83 times, the General Committee five times. It held four meetings of the Tenth Emergency Special Session to discuss the situation in
Israel and the Palestinian Territories and had 20 informal consultations; by March 2007, it adopted 258 resolutions. I have also travelled and have been invited on official visits to several countries. With such a packed agenda, my days are very long and I rely heavily on my excellent team of international civil servants and diplomats.

One of the most memorable highlights of my presidency was overseeing the historic change of UN leadership: paying tribute to the record achievements that will be Kofi Annan's legacy, and swearing in his capable successor, Ban Ki-moon. I have developed a close relationship with both Secretaries-General. By working closely together, I believe, we are better able to align Member States interests with that of UN bureaucracy and deliver on our shared programme of work more effectively.

When I took over the presidency in September 2006, there was a clear programme of work to follow-up on. At the 2000 Millennium Summit and the 2005 World Summit, Heads of States and Government set out and proposed a clear road map to achieve a vision of a more coherent, more effective United Nations rising to new global challenges. The outcome of these seminal moments in the Organization's history have focussed our collective efforts and provided renewed impetus to embark on wide-ranging reforms, so that we can better achieve our goals. A United Nations that can respond effectively to climate change, peace and security issues, and human and natural disasters, and working to deliver the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), can help provide prosperity and justice for all.

Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth General Assembly, made concrete progress with Member States and established new institutional mechanisms: the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund to address the special needs of countries emerging from conflict; the Human Rights Council; the Central Emergency Response Fund; and an ambitious Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

During the first half of my presidency, Member States concluded lengthy negotiations to strengthen the Economic and Social Council and to unanimously endorse the Secretary-General's proposals to reorganize the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and for Disarmament Affairs. The landmark Conventions on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities and on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance were adopted. A new scale of assessment for the apportionment of the UN expenses was successfully approved. And with the adoption of the Capital Master Plan, we can finally begin preparation to renovate the UN Headquarters complex in New York.

The General Assembly has been reviewing its programme of work to reflect changing political and economic realities. As part of this revitalization, I have initiated three thematic debates involving non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academics and the private sector to broaden our perspective on the most pressing issues of our times. These debates bring issues of substance to Member States through a wider set of stakeholders. They have an impact beyond "business as usual" and are part of the United Nations connecting with people on the ground.

In November 2006, at the thematic debate on development and the MDGs, the Islamic Development Bank announced the creation of a $10-billion fund to fight poverty and provide education and health care, particularly for girls. The just concluded second debate, on the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment, had attracted much political interest around the world. The final debate, which will open on 10 May, will try to develop tangible ideas that can catalyze greater dialogue between different cultures and civilizations, in an era when difference is increasingly a reason for mistrust. In tackling these issues, I have tried to pursue a style of leadership that encourages greater cooperation and trust between Member States. I believe in the "one UN family" approach, because by working together we are stronger and can better achieve our common goals.

I also take a keen personal interest in the Human Rights Council to ensure that it functions more effectively. I have called on Member States to fully support the Peacebuilding Fund so that the Peacebuilding Commission can have the resources it needs to make an impact. And, following the adoption of a recent resolution, I am confident that UN staff will greatly benefit from the first serious overhaul of the United Nations system of administration of justice in 60 years. For the remainder of my one-year term, I will be working closely with Member States on outstanding items from the 2005 World Summit, such as strengthening international environmental governance, reforming the Security Council and improving United Nations system-wide coherence.

On Security Council reform, I am confident that the current round of consultations can pinpoint areas of agreement and illuminate potential compromises to provide the fundamental "building blocks" for a negotiated outcome. There is broad agreement that reform is essential to make Council decisions more legitimate and better reflect geopolitical realities. Also, consultations on the preparations for the follow-up process to the Doha Financing for Development Conference in 2008 will soon begin. And I hope that membership can conclude discussions on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, we can no longer refute the scientific evidence. Climate change and environmental degradation threaten the development goals for millions of the world's poorest people, hitting hardest those countries least responsible. The scale of the problem requires clear objectives, strong ecological governance at the global level and urgent action. If we can reach consensus on these important issues, we have the opportunity to make a real difference and strengthen the institutional framework of UN environmental activities.

Promoting gender equality and empowering women are concerns close to my heart and my homeland. I have worked to advance women's rights in a region where some cultural and religious traditions continue to perpetuate inequalities between men and women, including restricting their human rights and civil liberties. I also believe that we need to look honestly at the status of women's representation at the United Nations. As an international organization, we must set an example. We need to establish a real plan of action to achieve a 50/50-gender balance, something that we had committed ourselves to have done by 2000. The African Union has shown us what political will and leadership can do, by achieving virtually overnight a 50/50-gender balance at the highest level of decision-making. So it is possible -- and maybe not even that difficult!

I am grateful to NGOs and women's groups that have worked relentlessly to increase the visibility of these issues. I recognize that many Member States consider the current international structures of promoting gender equality to be too weak to cope with the scale and urgency of the issues we face today. The political and practical importance of action to strengthen the UN gender architecture has been convincingly put forward by the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence. In view of the urgency to make progress, any proposals that can give the systematic and sustained attention needed to achieve the goals set out in the United Nations Charter, the MDGs, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action should be considered positively and constructively.

For all our successes and failures during the past 60 years, the United Nations has achieved much and served us well. We have been an indispensable force, driving forward the discourse of human development by defining and creating a global consensus behind the MDGs. We have played a leading role in developing the concept of sustainable development, responded rapidly to many humanitarian disasters, mobilized international action for the protection of the environment and expanded peacekeeping operations -- from five in the late 1980s to over 20 today -- a major factor in the reduction of armed conflicts. We must always bear in mind that the creation of the United Nations represented the burning hope of a generation for a better world after the ashes of the Second World War. It represents a paradigm shift from a culture of war to a culture of peace: replacing bombs and bullets with cooperation and compromise. And in facing up to the challenges of their times, world leaders recognized that prosperity and peace are indivisible and, to be sustained, need to be shared by all.

Now more than ever before, dealing with inequality and achieving the MDGs and wider development objectives are central to global economic stability and prosperity. However, if we do not show the political will to implement the reform agenda, the United Nations will not be able to deliver on its promises. In the long term, this will undermine our legitimate position at the heart of the multilateral system. The UN credibility will be tested by our ability to transform the Organization, to continue to work in unity with purpose and meet the high expectations of millions of people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.

We already have a clear vision of what a better world would be like, as well as a clear road map to achieve this. We have a shared responsibility to strengthen and renew the values and institutions, which are our only and best hope of building that world. All we need is the political will -- our very survival depends on us doing this together. But just as the world has changed, the means by which we seek to achieve this are going to have to change too. We must ensure that the UN system remains fit for purpose and that it can rise to the future challenges of the twenty-first century. Only then will we have done our duty. Only then will we be able to pass on our world safely and securely to the next generation.