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Delegates Discuss Efforts to End Poverty amid Rising Inequality, Unprecedented Human Displacement, as Social Development Commission Continues Session

Delegates from around the world shared their experiences in combating poverty against the backdrop of both long‑standing and emerging challenges — including an unprecedented global displacement crisis, protracted conflicts and a rising tide of intolerance — as the Commission for Social Development continued its fifty‑sixth annual session today.

Speakers also cited economic sanctions, lack of adequate support from development partners and a slow recovery from the past decade’s financial crisis as major obstacles to poverty eradication.  Some pointed to rising inequality as another crucial impediment, calling for more progressive policies to distribute wealth, while others emphasized the need to focus on key groups such as women and youth.

With the discussion focused squarely on the drivers of — and possible antidotes to — poverty, South Africa’s Chief Director for Economic Development recalled former President Nelson Mandela’s belief that extreme poverty “demeans us all”.  Young people in South Africa continued to lack employment opportunities, she said, while the current global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In response to such challenges, the Government was working to boost job creation, realize the goal of free education for all and ensure the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities and older persons.

Spotlighting another vulnerable — and particularly critical — group, Zimbabwe’s Minister for Labour and Social Welfare said women comprised 80 per cent of her country’s agricultural workforce as well as 60 per cent of its informal employment sector.  Outlining concrete plans in such areas as employment creation, social protection and inclusive development, she said a national strategy now also reserved a 20 per cent quota for women’s ownership of agricultural land.

Denmark’s Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation echoed the importance of focusing anti‑poverty initiatives on women, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would also benefit entire societies.  Calling for special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis — 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty — she also emphasized that eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort.  For that reason, Denmark had delivered on the target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years, and encouraged other countries to do the same.

Many speakers, including the Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, voiced support for efforts to provide both universal health care and social services to all.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, he said, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Other strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour and transportation, and efforts were under way to support entrepreneurs and train workers in the latest technologies.

Echoing those sentiments, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus warned against selfish, politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Describing his country’s efforts to guarantee employment and decent work for all, he added that combating poverty required a global approach, and encouraged the international community to assist in creating a “more just world” for humankind.

Several speakers, including the General Director of Youth for the Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, focused on progressive efforts to redistribute wealth more fairly.  Noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America and had dramatically reduced its poverty rate, he said the Government had established a minimum wage, made health care a universal right, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Stressing that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth, he also described Uruguay’s recent strides in such areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

During its afternoon session, the Commission held a high‑level panel discussion on the theme, “Towards sustainable and resilient societies:  Innovation and interconnectivity for social development”.  Moderated by Jeremy Millard, Chief Policy Advisor, Danish Technological Institute, of Denmark, it featured five panellists:  Gong Sen, Research Fellow of the Development Research Centre of the State Council and Executive Vice‑President of the China Centre for International Knowledge on Development; Noor Al Malki Al Jehani, Executive Director of the Doha International Family Institute; Walter Valdivia, Senior Fellow to the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, a science policy think tank at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior policy editor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; Maria Garrido, Research Assistant Professor and principal research scientist at the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington; and Donna Scheeder, President from 2015 to 2017 of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Also delivering statements today were ministers, representatives and youth delegates from Niger, Congo, Chile, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Hungary, Sudan, Thailand, Mexico, Georgia, Israel, Switzerland, Kenya, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Namibia.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 31 January, to continue its work.

Statements

PETRONELLA KAGONYE, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, associating herself with the statements delivered on Monday on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said her country had integrated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals into its “Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation”.  That plan addressed such issues as employment creation, poverty reduction, social protection and inclusive development, she said, noting that the majority of women in Zimbabwe were employed in the agricultural sector where they comprised 80 per cent of the workforce and 60 per cent of the 5.4 million people in the informal sector.  National strategies had reserved a 20 per cent quota for women entitled to apply for ownership of agricultural land, while others focused on the special needs of young people and prioritized education, leading to the achievement of gender parity in primary school enrolment rates and high literacy rates.  Still other programmes targeted the needs of populations including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and orphaned and vulnerable children.

AMADOU AISSATA ISSA MAIGA, Minister for Population of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country had put in place several strategies to combat poverty and strengthen its population’s well‑being.  Its main framework for action aimed to see all men and women, especially the most vulnerable, benefit from basic services.  It also sought to boost women’s land ownership and offered a holistic vision of social protection and the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance where needed.  Niger had also passed laws to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and which enshrined their basic rights to employment, social services and freedom from discrimination.  “We must make the issue of disability a priority,” she stressed, citing concrete progress achieved since Niger’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, such as improved accessibility to public buildings and widespread awareness‑raising campaigns.  Social protection for older persons had also been enshrined in the country’s laws, ensuring their access to medical care and establishing a national solidarity office to address relevant issues.  As a result of those and other initiatives, poverty in Niger had fallen by 2.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014, she said.

ANTOINETTE DINGA‑DZONDO, Minister for Social Affairs of Congo, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said poverty‑targeted efforts were particularly important, especially for vulnerable groups.  Poverty affected half of Congo’s 4 million citizens, of whom 60 per cent were under age 30, almost 5 per cent were older persons and 1.4 per cent were living with disabilities.  Government programmes aimed at addressing various needs by expanding social protection services.  Projects targeted special needs, including cash transfers and job creation efforts, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) initiative was making further steps such as boosting the digital economy, yet challenges remained, such as streamlining budgets and coordination.

JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ MOLINA, Vice‑Minister for Social Development of Chile, said poverty and violence were social obstacles to most societies, with international organizations playing a central role in efforts to address those challenges.  Highlighting the multidimensional nature of poverty, he said many aspects must be addressed simultaneously, including health, housing and religious life.  Chile was changing its methodology for measuring poverty, having submitted relevant reports to the United Nations.  It strongly supported the 2030 Agenda.  More detailed data had painted a clearer national picture of needs, from political participation to social protection gaps.  The new socially democratic Government was poised to promote a range of social issues, including education, women’s rights and shaping a new Constitution for the twenty‑first century.  Such efforts aimed at redirecting society towards a more humane and sustainable one.

ALEXEY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, expressed support for poverty reduction, as everyone should be covered by health and social services.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour, transportation and support for entrepreneurship.  Special efforts were, among other things, reaching those in remote areas and training workers in the latest technologies.  Turning to the work of the Commission, he said it had played a leading role in providing agreed upon guidance with regard to many issues, including youth, persons with disabilities and the role families could play.

EDI SUHARTO, Vice Minister for Social Services of Indonesia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Sustainable Development Goals had provided a universal and global agenda, but now a comprehensive approach was needed to achieve those targets by 2030.  Indonesia had taken a number of steps towards those goals, for instance, with efforts aimed at cutting poverty to 7 per cent by 2019 from 10.7 per cent in 2016, and primary school enrolment having already climbed to more than 95 per cent.  Empowerment was key to development, including enhancing health and education sectors while reducing unemployment, but challenges remained.  While poverty was decreasing in Indonesia, the heart of the problem was its chronic cycle that must be broken.  Ensuring inclusive development was the way forward, he said, calling on stakeholders to find innovative strategies to make the 2030 Agenda succeed.

TAMADER ALRAMMAH, Deputy Minister for Direct Localization and General Director of Social Welfare and Family of Saudi Arabia, associating herself with the Group of 77, said anti‑poverty policies should be tailored to the specific cultural contexts of individual countries.  However, some elements were common to all nations, she said, describing Saudi Arabia’s own national programmes.  Those included a range of new social transformations aimed at empowering people, strengthening the participation of women in the workforce, bolstering food security, enacting new economic reforms and providing social protection to all.  Saudi Arabia was working to make social assistance available to persons with disabilities and their families, putting in place a national plan to that effect.  In addition, strategies had been enacted to protect the elderly and meet their special needs, including through the establishment of 38 centres for older persons throughout the country, the provision of stipends and the launch of a detailed study on their well‑being.  Efforts were also under way to promote education, including through the provision of scholarships, she said.

KAREN ELLEMANN, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, spotlighted four issues her country viewed as critical to eradicating poverty by 2030.  First was the need to build strong partnerships, including between Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, all of which needed to work together to ensure that efforts were directed towards common goals for people, planet and prosperity.  Second, eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort, she said, noting that Denmark had delivered on the United Nations target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years in a row, and encouraging other countries to do the same.  Third, there was a need to focus on gender equality and young people, especially young women, she said, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would benefit not only them but also their countries as a whole.  Finally, it was critical to pay special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis, 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty.

GABRIELA AGOSTO, Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies of Argentina, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the statement delivered yesterday on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said some challenges — including climate change, migration and poverty — were facing all countries of the world.  The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals were leading global efforts to confront such issues, she said, noting that Argentina was also working on a national level to guarantee quality social services, universal health care and education to all.  Among other things, the country guaranteed a basic income floor to its people and was working to expand its family allowance policy, while also adjusting the allowances provided to pensioners in order to improve the quality of life of older persons.  A national habitat plan was working with local and provincial governments to enhance access to water, sanitation, lit sidewalks and other important infrastructure.  Another critical pillar of the Government’s work dealt with education, including the provision of early education to all children, accessible from the time they were 45 days old.  That plan provided support to families, she said, noting that it helped with food security and allowed new parents to return to work.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary) said a steady population decline had led the Government to introduce several measures since 2010.  From childcare benefits to decent work — seen in robust school attendance and an unemployment rate of less than 4 per cent — Hungary was focusing on further reaching those in need.  Free services, including meals and textbooks in schools and childcare for working parents, were among ongoing initiatives.  For those in need, affordable summer camp was accessible and subsidized housing available.  By working and establishing financial health, development goals could be successfully attained.

ZSOFIA RACZ, youth delegate from Hungary, said all countries faced different challenges.  For her country, challenges involving an ageing population must be addressed and future generations must have the tools to continue the brilliant work of the United Nations.  Ensuring youth participation was a priority and young people must be empowered, she said, highlighting the importance of the “zero step” in light of a declining population.

IBRAHIM ADAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED, State Minister at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, provided a snapshot of his country’s national plan.  With 17 target areas such as youth employment, education, health and sanitation, Sudan aimed at broadening the reach of services to the most vulnerable.  Expanded programme areas included providing clean drinking water and long‑term security.  A strategy to develop microfinancing structures was supporting social projects for the full employment of youth and for strengthening institutions to combat poverty.  Sudan had also launched a social census to determine further needs and priorities.  Pursuant to the Secretary‑General’s report, what Sudan had achieved was enormous.  Drawing attention to the scourge of conflict as a driver for poverty, he said war created persons with disabilities and destroyed communities.  As such, conflict‑related issues must be duly addressed.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said establishing equal opportunity was the only way to eradicate poverty.  Belarus had focused efforts on guaranteeing employment and decent work for all, alongside initiatives to gather disaggregated data to better inform future projects.  Successfully combating poverty required a global approach, one that considered donor and recipient countries and their respective efforts to achieve sustainable development.  The international community could also assist in the progress of humankind in a more just world.  Countries must refrain from taking selfish politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Instead, partnerships must be fostered, he said, adding that Belarus would soon host a forum on development cooperation.

PUTTIPAT LERTCHAOWASIT, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development of Thailand, associating himself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that poverty eradication had always been the basis for Thailand’s development since the time of the late King Bhumibol’s reign from the mid‑1940s.  The 20‑year national strategy framework and twelfth national socioeconomic development plan articulated visions for structural transformation to address inequality in a comprehensive manner, and focused on implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Starting in 2002, Thailand’s universal health coverage scheme made access to basic health care an entitlement for all, including documented and undocumented migrants and their families.  Basic education for all, regardless of nationality, was also accessible in Thailand.  As poverty could have more negative effects on women, the Government had given particular attention to that area.  It was urgent that a strong commitment to sustainable development be translated into concrete actions.

OLIVER ARROYO, Director General for Evaluation and Monitoring of Social Programs of Mexico, said a five‑year national strategy was under way, part of efforts to enhance progress on attaining the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.  Actions had been guided by two main elements — the multidimensional nature of poverty and a policy of inclusion.  Food, education, health and social security were among the action areas, he said, providing examples of how the Government was making gains in breaking the cycle of poverty.  Among gains, a labour reform in 2012 had created 3.5 million formal jobs, and chronic child malnutrition had been reduced.  Quality education was also a priority.  Meanwhile, other projects focused on pension payments, particularly for women, and other social protection measures.  Reviewing working methods of the Commission should be considered alongside the transformation of its mandate so it could remain a pillar of development at the United Nations.

SOPIO KILADZE, Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, stressing that “poverty has deep roots and many faces”, said the phenomenon’s manifestation depended on circumstances that differed from country to country.  In Georgia, the Government had fundamentally reformed its human rights protection system — especially with regard to civil and political rights — but poverty remained a major related challenge.  About 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty, she said, adding that children, youth, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups were among those affected.  Two main policies, namely Georgia 2020 and the global 2030 Agenda, were driving the Government’s efforts to combat poverty.  Among other things, Georgia had implemented its Social Worker Institution Reform Plan, drafted a legal child code to ensure the dignity of all children, and was working to stimulate the creation of more jobs through an active labour market policy.

AVIVIT BAR-ILAN, Head of Bureau, Department for International Organization, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Israel, said that, over the past three decades, the world had seen incredible results in the eradication of poverty.  However, 10 per cent of the world’s population still lived below the poverty line in 2013.  “If we are determined to win this battle, it will require the active participation of our entire societies,” she stressed, calling on all citizens to make the world more inclusive and tolerant.  Youth were particularly critical, as decisions made today would determine the course of tomorrow.  Israel took its youth, and their views, seriously.  More and more young people in the country were choosing to take a gap year between school and their military service, participating in programmes aimed at building leadership, assisting communities and sparking social change.  At the other end of the age spectrum, ageing persons were often socially excluded simply because of their age, and were disproportionately at risk of inadequate and insecure income as well as insufficient access to services.  Among other programmes, Israel was working to link together its ageing population with its youth, as the former had vast knowledge and experience to share with the latter.

JEAN-MARIE BOUVERAT, Chair of Delegation, Office of Social Insurance, International Organizations of Switzerland supported the international community’s efforts in favour of social protection, which was a fundamental approach to eradicating poverty, addressing inequalities and including the marginalized.  Switzerland also supported the development of agriculture in developing countries, as poverty was currently concentrated in rural areas.  Agriculture was clearly the driving force behind rural development, particularly development related to value chains.  One of Switzerland’s objectives, especially through its development cooperation, was to promote resilience and preparedness of vulnerable communities, especially in relation to climate change.  Social protection and support by the international community, including through cash transfers, could help curb the destructive practices by poverty‑stricken populations.  By providing social protection to populations displaced by humanitarian crises, it was also possible to relieve pressure on the environment and natural resources, such as through the practice of deforestation for fuel oil.

VALERIE MATLOU, Chief Director for Economic Development of South Africa, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said former President Nelson Mandela — who would have turned 100 in 2018 — continued to inspire people around the world.  President Mandela had believed that abject poverty was an assault on the dignity of those who suffered from it, and “demeans us all”, she said, adding that older persons were often disproportionately affected.  Outlining several efforts by her Government to improve the well‑being of older persons, including their access to social services, she warned that today’s global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In addition, the global economy’s slow recovery from the recent crises continued to negatively impact South Africa, with its youth largely excluded from the labour market due to lack of opportunities.  In response, the Government was working to boost job creation and realize the goal of free education for all, while ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.

FEDERICO BARRETO, General Director of Youth, Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America as well as progressive social policies, said the country had dramatically reduced both poverty and extreme poverty in the last decade.  Uruguay was also committed to the 2030 Agenda, including its promise to leave no one behind.  Among other things, it had established a minimum wage, created a Ministry of Social Development, made health care coverage a right to all Uruguayans, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Moreover, he said, the Government believed that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth.  All vulnerable groups — including young children and older persons — had the right to assistance, he said, underlining the Government’s focus on early childhood care and education through such initiatives as the establishment of care centres.  Uruguay had also made strides in such progressive areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

JOSEPHINE MURIUKI, Director of the Department of Social Development, Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection of Kenya, supporting the position of the Group of 77, emphasized that 768 million still lived in extreme poverty, the majority in sub‑Saharan Africa and Asia.  Breaking the cycles of poverty was difficult and all efforts must be made to achieve progress in doing so.  Kenya’s development priorities included food security, nutrition, housing and manufacturing, with projects such as health packages offering new services and initiatives to subsidize education and training programmes.  In addition, information and communications technology (ICT) had been integrated in schools and mobile financing programmes had transformed the economic and social landscape, which had seen mobile phone usage doubling in recent years.  The Government was also in the process of implementing a pension payment plan, slated to commence in March.  Kenya was committed to social development, the 2030 Agenda and the eradication of poverty, she said, adding that partnerships must be strengthened to attain the goals and reach those farthest behind.

KARLA VANESSA LEMUS, Director for Social Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, highlighted poverty eradication gains, including subsidies and programmes aimed at reaching vulnerable groups.  Policies had introduced a range of efforts, from providing decent work opportunities to reducing malnutrition, she said, emphasizing that poverty was multidimensional, from temporary hardships to lack of access to services.  That paradigm shift must be considered when shaping programmes, policies and dialogue.  Such dialogue on the 2030 Agenda must include challenges middle‑income countries faced, with a view to ensuring that gains were not reversed.  The Secretary‑General’s report had failed to include those and other challenges.  For its part, El Salvador had taken steps to make progress, including preventing adolescent pregnancies and promoting respect for the human rights of older persons.

MAGINO CORPORAN LORENZO, Director of the National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic, endorsing the positions of the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said his Government had created a platform to coordinate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Providing several examples, he said a road map on eradicating poverty included projects to address the needs of young people.  Policies and programmes to assist youth aimed at including them in the labour market.  A society must include equal rights and the promotion of sustainable development, he said, underlining the importance of access to decent work.  As such, innovative programmes were now creating jobs with flexible hours.  For the first time in the Dominican Republic, policies had promoted healthy ageing and protected the rights and well‑being of older persons.  Turning to climate change challenges, a team had been established to address the related needs of older persons.  Efforts also targeted the needs of persons with disabilities.  Placing people at the centre of development was the key to achieving the goals, he said.

ALBERT BIWA, Deputy Director of Social Welfare of Namibia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said national policies had already triggered growth and progress, but more needed to be done to break the cycle of poverty.  Adopting a social welfare approach based on human rights was the way forward.  Namibia had established a ministry to coordinate poverty eradication.  A blueprint was now targeting efforts, based on principles such as ending hunger, education and training development, gender equality and women’s empowerment and with a view towards leaving no one behind.  The Government was also investigating further efforts to prevent a duplication of services and was offering grants and cash transfer programmes to vulnerable groups.  It has also adopted a social safety net approach in eradicating poverty while implementing policies to reduce unemployment and allocating part of the national budget to education and tackling hunger, with services ranging from school lunches to helping farmers.

Panel II

The Commission held a high‑level panel discussion on emerging issues titled “Towards sustainable and resilient societies: Innovation and interconnectivity for social development”.  Moderated by Jeremy Millard, Chief Policy Advisor of the Danish Technological Institute in Denmark, the panel featured presentations by Gong Sen, a Research Fellow of the Development Research Centre of the State Council and Executive Vice‑President of the China Centre for International Knowledge on Development; Noor Al Malki Al Jehani, Executive Director of the Doha International Family Institute; Walter Valdivia, a Senior Fellow to the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, a science policy think tank at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior policy editor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; Maria Garrido, a Research Assistant Professor and principal research scientist at the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington; and Donna Scheeder, President (2015‑2017) of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Mr. MILLARD said that society was not just about economics and technology, but also about social development and people’s happiness and welfare.  Many people thought of technology as neutral, but it was also very much socially constructed.  Technology was often driven by the market, but it could also be driven by social need and social good.  One challenge today was the way technology was penetrating the digital world and every aspect of life.  A fourth industrial revolution was under way — a blend of the digital, physical and biological worlds.  He cited the example of 3D printing, which made it possible to turn digital bits of information from one part of the world into objects in another part.  Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, could take the place of medium- and high‑skilled jobs, as well as low- and no‑skill ones.  A fundamental issue, however, was what machines did best and what people did best.  Most algorithms being developed today were excellent at specialized tasks, but not so much at doing a range of tasks together and seeing the links between them.  There were still a lot of things that human beings could do, he said.

Mr. SEN, examining regional disparity and the rural‑urban divide in China through two case studies, first presented information on Chongqing, a municipality that had witnessed exponential growth based in part on the development of the transportation sector.  Alongside road and railway projects, air routes had been augmented, turning the city into a travel hub.  He then turned to the case of Alibaba Taobao village programmes, the effective rural revitalization initiative aimed at reducing urban population pressures and fostering economic growth.  From 2009 to 2017, the number of Taobao villages rose to 2,118 from 3, with projected employment opportunities climbing to 3 million jobs in 2020.  Grassroots entrepreneurship was the driving force, with efforts strongly backed by infrastructure, public services and the development of e‑commerce learning centres.

Ms. AL MALKI AL JEHANI explained interconnectivity benefits and challenges in the Arab world, saying that ICT had transformed societies, with social media engaging 80 million users in 20 countries.  Yet risks existed, as social inequalities, including low literacy rates and poverty, remained the most pressing development challenge, exacerbated by pervasive discrimination against women and weak youth engagement.  Social media also had mixed benefits among families, improving communication while also reducing personal contact, and among youth, providing them with an online voice, as with the Arab Spring, but also posing risks, by promoting radicalization.  Education had seen colossal benefits, with boosted teaching and learning opportunities, but challenges included widening regional disparities, lack of public investment and high costs.  Providing examples of how interconnectivity was promoting social progress, she said Qatar had launched an app to better serve older persons.  Among several recommendations, she encouraged support for innovative ICT in social and sustainable development efforts at national and regional levels related to the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. VALDIVIA said many Governments, non‑governmental organizations and businesses believed ICT was beneficial, with many supporting the belief that simply providing access to the Internet would promote development.  However, providing interconnectivity alone was not enough.  Markets were configured depending on technologies that emerged and transformed their industries and an array of economies, giving birth to new market arrangements.  Resilience and sustainability rested on equality, a principle that must be considered when examining how to embrace technology in an effective way to promote greater equity and more participation.  In that way, societies could possibly steer the direction of their communities along a more inclusive, democratic path.

Ms. GARRIDO discussed how access to information could create more socially and economically inclusive societies, highlighting the ever‑broadening online community, which now included 45 per cent of the world.  Noting that access to information had been included in 19 of the targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, she presented several key elements to promote those objectives.  Affordability was critical, she said, noting that 80 per cent of the globe was covered by at least 3G networks.  One way to make it affordable was through community mobile networks, which offered a cooperative‑based approach, with Government support essential to broaden access, as seen in Indonesia and Mexico.  Bridging the ICT gender gap was also imperative, in view of the fact that 40 per cent of women in less developed regions were active online, when compared with 80 per cent in more developed areas.  Social policies must support gender equality, including providing access, skills and leadership training, but they must also support freedom, as 60 per cent of Internet users lived in countries where people were arrested or imprisoned for posting content on political, social and religious issues, and 49 per cent of users lived in countries where people had been attacked or killed for their online activities.

Ms. SCHEEDER said sustainable development hinged on meaningful, inclusive access to information, which in turn depended on libraries.  The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions had launched the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, involving more than 570 organizations.  Its principles declared that access to information empowered people to exercise their civil, political, economic and social rights, learn and apply skills, make decisions and participate in an active civil society, create community‑based solutions, ensure accountability and measure progress.  Access and development links recognized the multidimensional nature of poverty, which included information poverty that kept half the world’s population offline.  “If we ignore the need to bridge the information poverty gap,” she said, “we get caught in a negative downward spiral.”  Such gaps must be addressed; inaction was not an option.  Libraries, often the only public space where communities can gather, were an essential part of an information ecosystem, bridging the digital divide.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates posed questions on national and global concerns, with many agreeing that interconnectivity contributed to development by, among other things, strengthening relations between Governments and the citizens they served.  Some shared examples of ways their Governments were making strides in broadening online access and services.  The delegate for South Africa described online social record management and cash transfers.  The speaker for Argentina said services included distance learning and digital literacy programmes for vulnerable groups, and the Vice‑President of Costa Rica elaborated on a strategy providing Internet access to poor households.  The representative of Hungary said her Government was providing free online textbooks to children nationwide, and the speaker for the European Union said members were developing a new approach to digitalization without leaving anyone behind.

Some made suggestions on ways forward.  The representative of Germany highlighted insights from an ongoing national dialogue on labour, saying substantial investments in skills and education were needed to help workers adapt to new technology, and innovation must be supported with a view to creating new work frameworks.  The speaker for Haiti called for solid public policies and strategies based on addressing the multidimensional nature of poverty, and the delegate for Cuba said genuine international cooperation was needed.  Raising the issue that poverty seemed to target the youngest generations, between ages 15 and 35, and rural populations, the representative of Burkina Faso said ethics must be considered in the pursuit of technological solutions.

A Member of Parliament from Ghana pointed out that the very principle of community was being challenged, with increased online use at, for example, the dinner table.  He then asked how to use the Internet to bring communities together and asked how connectivity was defined in various countries, particularly related to poverty reduction.

Mr. SEN, responding to the latter question, said beneficial connections could and should be made to the broader world to improve communities.  To the former, he confessed he had no idea how to deal with the Internet at the dinner table.

Ms. AL MALKI AL JEHANI, addressing that question, said families must make decisions to socially connect rather than disconnect by going online.  She reminded some delegates that most participants existed and lived before the Internet existed.

Mr. VALDIVIA emphasized that measuring connectivity could include examining access to digital banking or other financial services.  As for online connectivity at dinner, he said perhaps those who checked their phones at the dinner table could be punished by following the President’s Twitter feed for two hours.

Ms. GARRIDO emphasized that there was a need to reconceptualize the definition of connectivity.  In addition, the issue of available public social spaces should be examined.  Responding to a query on what key skills men and women would need in the future, she said information and mobile literacy were critical.

Ms. SCHEEDER added that a commitment to continuous learning was also important, as was connecting with one another during family time.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of several non‑governmental organizations.

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Commission for Social Development

Note: Full coverage will be available after the meetings' conclusion today.

Statements

PETRONELLA KAGONYE, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, associating herself with the statements delivered on Monday on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said her country had integrated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals into its “Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation”.  That plan addressed such issues as employment creation, poverty reduction, social protection and inclusive development, she said, noting that the majority of women in Zimbabwe were employed in the agricultural sector where they comprised 80 per cent of the workforce and 60 per cent of the 5.4 million people in the informal sector.  National strategies had reserved a 20 per cent quota for women entitled to apply for ownership of agricultural land, while others focused on the special needs of young people and prioritized education, leading to the achievement of gender parity in primary school enrolment rates and high literacy rates.  Still other programmes targeted the needs of populations including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and orphaned and vulnerable children.

AMADOU AISSATA ISSA MAIGA, Minister for Population of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country had put in place several strategies to combat poverty and strengthen its population’s well‑being.  Its main framework for action aimed to see all men and women, especially the most vulnerable, benefit from basic services.  It also sought to boost women’s land ownership and offered a holistic vision of social protection and the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance where needed.  Niger had also passed laws to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and which enshrined their basic rights to employment, social services and freedom from discrimination.  “We must make the issue of disability a priority,” she stressed, citing concrete progress achieved since Niger’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, such as improved accessibility to public buildings and widespread awareness‑raising campaigns.  Social protection for older persons had also been enshrined in the country’s laws, ensuring their access to medical care and establishing a national solidarity office to address relevant issues.  As a result of those and other initiatives, poverty in Niger had fallen by 2.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014, she said.

ANTOINETTE DINGA‑DZONDO, Minister for Social Affairs of Congo, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said poverty‑targeted efforts were particularly important, especially for vulnerable groups.  Poverty affected half of Congo’s 4 million citizens, of whom 60 per cent were under age 30, almost 5 per cent were older persons and 1.4 per cent were living with disabilities.  Government programmes aimed at addressing various needs by expanding social protection services.  Projects targeted special needs, including cash transfers and job creation efforts, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) initiative was making further steps such as boosting the digital economy, yet challenges remained, such as streamlining budgets and coordination.

JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ MOLINA, Vice‑Minister for Social Development of Chile, said poverty and violence were social obstacles to most societies, with international organizations playing a central role in efforts to address those challenges.  Highlighting the multidimensional nature of poverty, he said many aspects must be addressed simultaneously, including health, housing and religious life.  Chile was changing its methodology for measuring poverty, having submitted relevant reports to the United Nations.  It strongly supported the 2030 Agenda.  More detailed data had painted a clearer national picture of needs, from political participation to social protection gaps.  The new socially democratic Government was poised to promote a range of social issues, including education, women’s rights and shaping a new Constitution for the twenty‑first century.  Such efforts aimed at redirecting society towards a more humane and sustainable one.

ALEXEY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, expressed support for poverty reduction, as everyone should be covered by health and social services.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour, transportation and support for entrepreneurship.  Special efforts were, among other things, reaching those in remote areas and training workers in the latest technologies.  Turning to the work of the Commission, he said it had played a leading role in providing agreed upon guidance with regard to many issues, including youth, persons with disabilities and the role families could play.

EDI SUHARTO, Vice Minister for Social Services of Indonesia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Sustainable Development Goals had provided a universal and global agenda, but now a comprehensive approach was needed to achieve those targets by 2030.  Indonesia had taken a number of steps towards those goals, for instance, with efforts aimed at cutting poverty to 7 per cent by 2019 from 10.7 per cent in 2016, and primary school enrolment having already climbed to more than 95 per cent.  Empowerment was key to development, including enhancing health and education sectors while reducing unemployment, but challenges remained.  While poverty was decreasing in Indonesia, the heart of the problem was its chronic cycle that must be broken.  Ensuring inclusive development was the way forward, he said, calling on stakeholders to find innovative strategies to make the 2030 Agenda succeed.

TAMADER ALRAMMAH, Deputy Minister for Direct Localization and General Director of Social Welfare and Family of Saudi Arabia, associating herself with the Group of 77, said anti‑poverty policies should be tailored to the specific cultural contexts of individual countries.  However, some elements were common to all nations, she said, describing Saudi Arabia’s own national programmes.  Those included a range of new social transformations aimed at empowering people, strengthening the participation of women in the workforce, bolstering food security, enacting new economic reforms and providing social protection to all.  Saudi Arabia was working to make social assistance available to persons with disabilities and their families, putting in place a national plan to that effect.  In addition, strategies had been enacted to protect the elderly and meet their special needs, including through the establishment of 38 centres for older persons throughout the country, the provision of stipends and the launch of a detailed study on their well‑being.  Efforts were also under way to promote education, including through the provision of scholarships, she said.

KAREN ELLEMANN, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, spotlighted four issues her country viewed as critical to eradicating poverty by 2030.  First was the need to build strong partnerships, including between Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, all of which needed to work together to ensure that efforts were directed towards common goals for people, planet and prosperity.  Second, eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort, she said, noting that Denmark had delivered on the United Nations target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years in a row, and encouraging other countries to do the same.  Third, there was a need to focus on gender equality and young people, especially young women, she said, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would benefit not only them but also their countries as a whole.  Finally, it was critical to pay special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis, 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty.

GABRIELA AGOSTO, Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies of Argentina, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the statement delivered yesterday on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said some challenges — including climate change, migration and poverty — were facing all countries of the world.  The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals were leading global efforts to confront such issues, she said, noting that Argentina was also working on a national level to guarantee quality social services, universal health care and education to all.  Among other things, the country guaranteed a basic income floor to its people and was working to expand its family allowance policy, while also adjusting the allowances provided to pensioners in order to improve the quality of life of older persons.  A national habitat plan was working with local and provincial governments to enhance access to water, sanitation, lit sidewalks and other important infrastructure.  Another critical pillar of the Government’s work dealt with education, including the provision of early education to all children, accessible from the time they were 45 days old.  That plan provided support to families, she said, noting that it helped with food security and allowed new parents to return to work.

KATALIN NOVÁK, Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs, Ministry of Human Capacity of Hungary, said a steady population decline had led the Government to introduce several measures since 2010.  From childcare benefits to decent work — seen in robust school attendance and an unemployment rate of less than 4 per cent — Hungary was focusing on further reaching those in need.  Free services, including meals and textbooks in schools and childcare for working parents, were among ongoing initiatives.  For those in need, affordable summer camp was accessible and subsidized housing available.  By working and establishing financial health, development goals could be successfully attained.

A youth delegate from Hungary said all countries faced different challenges.  For her country, challenges involving an ageing population must be addressed and future generations must have the tools to continue the brilliant work of the United Nations.  Ensuring youth participation was a priority and young people must be empowered, she said, highlighting the importance of the “zero step” in light of a declining population.

IBRAHIM ADAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED, State Minister at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, provided a snapshot of his country’s national plan.  With 17 target areas such as youth employment, education, health and sanitation, Sudan aimed at broadening the reach of services to the most vulnerable.  Expanded programme areas included providing clean drinking water and long‑term security.  A strategy to develop microfinancing structures was supporting social projects for the full employment of youth and for strengthening institutions to combat poverty.  Sudan had also launched a social census to determine further needs and priorities.  Pursuant to the Secretary‑General’s report, what Sudan had achieved was enormous.  Drawing attention to the scourge of conflict as a driver for poverty, he said war created persons with disabilities and destroyed communities.  As such, conflict‑related issues must be duly addressed.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said establishing equal opportunity was the only way to eradicate poverty.  Belarus had focused efforts on guaranteeing employment and decent work for all, alongside initiatives to gather disaggregated data to better inform future projects.  Successfully combating poverty required a global approach, one that considered donor and recipient countries and their respective efforts to achieve sustainable development.  The international community could also assist in the progress of humankind in a more just world.  Countries must refrain from taking selfish politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Instead, partnerships must be fostered, he said, adding that Belarus would soon host a forum on development cooperation.

PUTTIPAT LERTCHAOWASIT, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development of Thailand, associating himself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that poverty eradication had always been the basis for Thailand’s development since the time of the late King Bhumibol’s reign from the mid‑1940s.  The 20‑year national strategy framework and twelfth national socioeconomic development plan articulated visions for structural transformation to address inequality in a comprehensive manner, and focused on implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Starting in 2002, Thailand’s universal health coverage scheme made access to basic health care an entitlement for all, including documented and undocumented migrants and their families.  Basic education for all, regardless of nationality, was also accessible in Thailand.  As poverty could have more negative effects on women, the Government had given particular attention to that area.  It was urgent that a strong commitment to sustainable development be translated into concrete actions.

OLIVER ARROYO, Director General for Evaluation and Monitoring of Social Programs of Mexico, said a five‑year national strategy was under way, part of efforts to enhance progress on attaining the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.  Actions had been guided by two main elements — the multidimensional nature of poverty and a policy of inclusion.  Food, education, health and social security were among the action areas, he said, providing examples of how the Government was making gains in breaking the cycle of poverty.  Among gains, a labour reform in 2012 had created 3.5 million formal jobs, and chronic child malnutrition had been reduced.  Quality education was also a priority.  Meanwhile, other projects focused on pension payments, particularly for women, and other social protection measures.  Reviewing working methods of the Commission should be considered alongside the transformation of its mandate so it could remain a pillar of development at the United Nations.

SOPIO KILADZE, Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, stressing that “poverty has deep roots and many faces”, said the phenomenon’s manifestation depended on circumstances that differed from country to country.  In Georgia, the Government had fundamentally reformed its human rights protection system — especially with regard to civil and political rights — but poverty remained a major related challenge.  About 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty, she said, adding that children, youth, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups were among those affected.  Two main policies, namely Georgia 2020 and the global 2030 Agenda, were driving the Government’s efforts to combat poverty.  Among other things, Georgia had implemented its Social Worker Institution Reform Plan, drafted a legal child code to ensure the dignity of all children, and was working to stimulate the creation of more jobs through an active labour market policy.

AVIVIT BAR-ILAN, Head of Bureau, Department for International Organization, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Israel, said that, over the past three decades, the world had seen incredible results in the eradication of poverty.  However, 10 per cent of the world’s population still lived below the poverty line in 2013.  “If we are determined to win this battle, it will require the active participation of our entire societies,” she stressed, calling on all citizens to make the world more inclusive and tolerant.  Youth were particularly critical, as decisions made today would determine the course of tomorrow.  Israel took its youth, and their views, seriously.  More and more young people in the country were choosing to take a gap year between school and their military service, participating in programmes aimed at building leadership, assisting communities and sparking social change.  At the other end of the age spectrum, ageing persons were often socially excluded simply because of their age, and were disproportionately at risk of inadequate and insecure income as well as insufficient access to services.  Among other programmes, Israel was working to link together its ageing population with its youth, as the former had vast knowledge and experience to share with the latter.

JEAN-MARIE BOUVERAT, Chair of Delegation, Office of Social Insurance, International Organizations of Switzerland supported the international community’s efforts in favour of social protection, which was a fundamental approach to eradicating poverty, addressing inequalities and including the marginalized.  Switzerland also supported the development of agriculture in developing countries, as poverty was currently concentrated in rural areas.  Agriculture was clearly the driving force behind rural development, particularly development related to value chains.  One of Switzerland’s objectives, especially through its development cooperation, was to promote resilience and preparedness of vulnerable communities, especially in relation to climate change.  Social protection and support by the international community, including through cash transfers, could help curb the destructive practices by poverty‑stricken populations.  By providing social protection to populations displaced by humanitarian crises, it was also possible to relieve pressure on the environment and natural resources, such as through the practice of deforestation for fuel oil.

VALERIE MATLOU, Chief Director for Economic Development of South Africa, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said former President Nelson Mandela — who would have turned 100 in 2018 — continued to inspire people around the world.  President Mandela had believed that abject poverty was an assault on the dignity of those who suffered from it, and “demeans us all”, she said, adding that older persons were often disproportionately affected.  Outlining several efforts by her Government to improve the well‑being of older persons, including their access to social services, she warned that today’s global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In addition, the global economy’s slow recovery from the recent crises continued to negatively impact South Africa, with its youth largely excluded from the labour market due to lack of opportunities.  In response, the Government was working to boost job creation and realize the goal of free education for all, while ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.

FEDERICO BARRETO, General Director of Youth, Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America as well as progressive social policies, said the country had dramatically reduced both poverty and extreme poverty in the last decade.  Uruguay was also committed to the 2030 Agenda, including its promise to leave no one behind.  Among other things, it had established a minimum wage, created a Ministry of Social Development, made health care coverage a right to all Uruguayans, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Moreover, he said, the Government believed that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth.  All vulnerable groups — including young children and older persons — had the right to assistance, he said, underlining the Government’s focus on early childhood care and education through such initiatives as the establishment of care centres.  Uruguay had also made strides in such progressive areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

JOSEPHINE MURIUKI, Director, Department of Social Development, Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection of Kenya, supporting the position of the Group of 77, emphasized that 768 million still lived in extreme poverty, the majority in sub‑Saharan Africa and Asia.  Breaking the cycles of poverty was difficult and all efforts must be made to achieve progress in doing so.  Kenya’s development priorities included food security, nutrition, housing and manufacturing, with projects such as health packages offering new services and initiatives to subsidize education and training programmes.  In addition, information and communications technology had been integrated in schools and mobile financing programmes had transformed the economic and social landscape, which had seen mobile phone usage doubling in recent years.  The Government was also in the process of implementing a pension payment plan, slated to commence in March.  Kenya was committed to social development, the 2030 Agenda and the eradication of poverty, she said, adding that partnerships must be strengthened to attain the goals and reach those farthest behind.

The Director for Social Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, highlighted poverty eradication gains, including subsidies and programmes aimed at reaching vulnerable groups.  Policies had introduced a range of efforts, from providing decent work opportunities to reducing malnutrition, she said, emphasizing that poverty was multidimensional, from temporary hardships to lack of access to services.  That paradigm shift must be considered when shaping programmes, policies and dialogue.  Such dialogue on the 2030 Agenda must include challenges middle‑income countries faced, with a view to ensuring that gains were not reversed.  The Secretary‑General’s report had failed to include those and other challenges.  For its part, El Salvador had taken steps to make progress, including preventing adolescent pregnancies and promoting respect for the human rights of older persons.

MAGINO CORPORAN LORENZO, Director of the National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic, endorsing the positions of the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said his Government had created a platform to coordinate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Providing several examples, he said a road map on eradicating poverty included projects to address the needs of young people.  Policies and programmes to assist youth aimed at including them in the labour market.  A society must include equal rights and the promotion of sustainable development, he said, underlining the importance of access to decent work.  As such, innovative programmes were now creating jobs with flexible hours.  For the first time in the Dominican Republic, policies had promoted healthy ageing and protected the rights and well‑being of older persons.  Turning to climate change challenges, a team had been established to address the related needs of older persons.  Efforts also targeted the needs of persons with disabilities.  Placing people at the centre of development was the key to achieving the goals, he said.

ALBERT BIWA, Deputy Director of Social Welfare of Namibia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said national policies had already triggered growth and progress, but more needed to be done to break the cycle of poverty.  Adopting a social welfare approach based on human rights was the way forward.  Namibia had established a ministry to coordinate poverty eradication.  A blueprint was now targeting efforts, based on principles such as ending hunger, education and training development, gender equality and women’s empowerment and with a view towards leaving no one behind.  The Government was also investigating further efforts to prevent a duplication of services and was offering grants and cash transfer programmes to vulnerable groups.  It has also adopted a social safety net approach in eradicating poverty while implementing policies to reduce unemployment and allocating part of the national budget to education and tackling hunger, with services ranging from school lunches to helping farmers.

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Amid Divisions over Jerusalem, Korean Nuclear Programme, General Assembly Hears Defence of Diplomacy, Dialogue to End Crisis, Put World on Sustainable Path

Secretary-General, Other Leaders Raise Alarm about Climate Change, Terrorism, Warning Safety of Millions Dependent on Robust Action, Funding

Convening for its seventy-second session amid a multilateral system overwhelmed by crises, the General Assembly heard world leaders defend diplomacy and dialogue while expressing a strong will to galvanize support to confront climate threats, resolve languishing conflicts and build a sturdy path towards sustainable development for all.

Along with a series of high-level events on some of those pressing matters, the Assembly convened in December a rare emergency meeting on the status of Jerusalem, during which it decided to ask nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem, as delegates had warned that the recent decision by the United States to do so risked igniting a religious war across the already turbulent Middle East and even beyond.

The Assembly declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition, by the terms of the draft resolution “Status of Jerusalem”, adopted by a recorded vote of 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions.  The Assembly also demanded that they comply with all relevant Security Council resolutions and work to reverse the “negative trends” imperilling a two‑State resolution of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.

Addressing the general debate for the first time since taking office, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that conflict was spreading, inequality growing and the climate changing while people around the world were hurting and angry.  “We are a world in pieces,” he said.  “Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide.”

Furthermore, global anxieties about nuclear weapons were at their highest in decades, he went on to say.  Condemning missile tests carried out by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he urged that country to comply with Security Council resolutions and stressed “we must not sleepwalk our way into war.”

Raising a range of critical concerns, he said more must be done to address the threat of terrorism by examining the roots of radicalization, including high levels of youth unemployment.  Political solutions were needed in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and beyond.  On climate change dangers, he said “science is unassailable” and it was time to act.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development served as a blueprint to solve challenges, including inequality in a world where eight men still held the same wealth as half of humanity.

Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) said that in recent years, some 65 million people had been forced to flee their homes.  In conflict, civilians rather than armed soldiers paid the heaviest price.  And still, too much time and money was being spent reacting to conflicts and not enough on prevention.

The United Nations was not made for diplomats or dignitaries — it was made for people, he said.  Indeed, the Organization would be tested by how it addressed the plight of millions.  “We cannot turn this into an exercise of bureaucracy,” he said, adding that the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change could not be met without adequate financing.  “We cannot sit and wait patiently for trillions of dollars to materialize.”

During six days of debate during which world leaders criticized both the United Nations and one another, some expressed concern over allegations levied against their countries.  Many called for United Nations reform, stressed that climate change must be attributed to nations emitting dangerous levels of pollution and urged rich countries to help build a fairer world order.  Meanwhile, in his first speech to the Assembly, the President of the United States struck a notably different tone compared to recent years.

President Donald J. Trump of the United States warned that if forced to defend itself or its allies against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, his country would have “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.  He condemned that country’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, saying that those weapons now threatened the entire world.  President Trump also said it was “far past time” to address the threat posed by Iran, which continued to fund terrorism, support the Syrian regime and finance Yemen’s civil war.  “We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities,” Mr. Trump said, characterizing the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme as “an embarrassment”.  The United States would no longer enter deals from which it received nothing, he explained, pledging to always “put America first”.

Ri Yong Ho, Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that his country had a right to defend itself as outlined in the United Nations Charter.  “The possession of nuclear deterrence by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a righteous self-defensive measure” intended to establish a balance of power with the United States, he explained, emphasizing that the United States would now “think twice” before launching a military provocation.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said it would be a pity if the Joint Plan of Action was destroyed by “rogue newcomers to the world of politics”.  Iran would not be the first to violate the pact, he declared, adding that his country would nevertheless “respond decisively and resolutely to its violation”.  By violating the agreement, the new United States Administration would only destroy its credibility and undermine international confidence.

Against that backdrop, some Heads of State defended diplomacy and multilateralism, with Foreign Minister Margot Wallström of Sweden saying the world was facing a critical and opportune time to come together.  Unless countries grasped that chance, they would “face the consequences”.  It was simple.  “Going it alone” was not an option.  “This is the moment for multilateralism, not unilateralism”.  President Emmanuel Macron of France, while respectfully noting the decision of the United States to pull out from the Paris Agreement, emphasized that the accord was “not up for renegotiation”.  Taking it apart would demolish the existing pact between States — and between generations, he added.

In similar vein, several Caribbean delegations described the death and destruction wrought by the 2017 hurricane season.  Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that half of his two-island nation had been completely “decimated” by Hurricane Irma.  Two category 5 hurricanes hitting the Caribbean in just 12 days could no longer be dismissed as “vagaries of the weather”, he said.  Echoing that sentiment, Deputy Prime Minister Louis Straker of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said that any attempt to disavow the Paris Agreement was an “act of hostility” and an insult to the intelligence of the peoples of island States.

President Evo Morales Ayma of Bolivia stressed that inequality — whether spurred by the destruction of the environment, greed, inequality — was immoral.  President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria added that many of the globe’s woes stemmed from widening inequalities between rich and poor countries that were also “underlining root causes of competition for resources, and anger leading to spiralling instability”.  Urging wealthy countries to carry their share of the burden, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey called on the European Union to make good on its pledge to help his country feed, shelter and care for three million Syria refugees.

On the question of Palestine, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt stressed that “it is time to permanently overcome the barrier of hatred”.  While peace would eliminate one of the main pretexts used by terrorists in the Middle East, responsibility must be shared widely.  “We in the Muslim world need to face our reality and work together to rectify misconstrued notions which have become an ideological pretext for terrorism,” he said.

The General Assembly also held several high-level events during that week.  On 26 September and amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, ministers and representatives of 46 Member States, delegations, United Nations system and civil society took the floor to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.  Many called for firm political will to advance towards the total elimination of all nuclear weapons.  “The only world that is safe from the use of nuclear weapons is a world that is completely free of nuclear weapons,” said Secretary‑General Guterres.

On 27 September, the Assembly endorsed the “political declaration on the implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”.  Member States agreed to address factors that increased people’s vulnerability to trafficking, including poverty, unemployment, conflict and gender discrimination.  “It is so important to hear the voice of survivors,” emphasized Grizelda Grootboom, a civil society representative from South Africa, as she described her emotional personal experience working in brothels and as a drug trafficker for her pimps.  Secretary-General Guterres said tens of millions of people around the world were victims and that countless businesses in both the global North and South benefited from that misery.

As the main part of the session got under way, speakers continued to call for unity even as rifts between nations widened on several critical issues.  Debate emerged during the Assembly’s second plenary meeting, with countries divided on whether to include a new agenda item on the concept of the “responsibility to protect”.  Concerns about selectivity and double standards emerged as the Assembly considered the report of the Human Rights Council, Security Council reform and its own revitalization.  While delegates welcomed historic indictments by the International Criminal Court and other judicial bodies, the latter part of the session was dominated by the United States’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and by expanding political and humanitarian crises in the region.

Intense debate in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) spanned a range of pressing issues, from divergent views over the newly adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to alarmed calls for action to address the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s testing activities.  That crisis should serve as a “wake-up call” for Member States, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said, with delegates agreeing that it illustrated the importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and its verification regime.  Overcoming the languishing impasse in the disarmament machinery was also discussed, with representatives stressing that political will was the key to advancing gains.  Towards that end, the Committee approved 58 draft resolutions and decisions on a broad range of concerns, from addressing chemical weapon threats to reigning in the illicit arms trade, including new texts on the role of science and technology in disarmament efforts and on further practical measures to prevent an arms race in outer space.

Underscoring sluggishness in global economic growth, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) focused on bolstering efforts to implement the ambitious 2030 Agenda.  With development hampered by weak investment, low productivity, economic uncertainty and climate change, delegates noted that the international community had fallen behind in eradicating poverty, hunger and malnutrition.  In tackling slow growth, they highlighted the need to reverse a decline in development financing, especially for least developed countries, tackle unsustainable debt, open up trade and reform the international financial system.  Speakers also stressed the importance of South-South cooperation and innovative financing with outside partners, including the private sector.  Pointing to the devastating effects of climate patterns, they urged financial institutions to make recovery financing accessible for middle-income countries.  Addressing those and other vital concerns in meeting development goals, the Committee sent 41 resolutions to the General Assembly for adoption.

Unilateralism found many expressions in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), with States unafraid to stand alone throughout the substantive segment as they discussed social development, crime and drugs, women’s advancement, and the rights of children and indigenous peoples in the broader promotion of fundamental freedoms.  Over eight weeks, the Committee produced 59 resolutions, most by consensus but several only after contentious votes on amendments to them, illustrating a general theme:  while delegates might agree on larger, abstract goals, they were divided on the best path to achieve them.

Dozens of petitioners addressed the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), which held 28 formal meetings to consider topics including decolonization, Middle East questions, peacekeeping operations, special political missions, atomic radiation and questions relating to information.  The Committee also held numerous interactive dialogues as well as a joint meeting with the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) on outer space activities.  The session culminated in the approval of 38 draft resolutions and two draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved 15 resolutions and 2 decisions for adoption by the Assembly, including a $5.397 billion programme budget for 2018-2019 — 5 per cent less than the final budget approved for the 2016-2017 biennium and $193 million below the $5.405 billion proposed 2018-2019 budget unveiled by the Secretary-General.  In doing so, the Committee reached consensus on across-the-board reductions in such areas as contractual services, furniture and equipment, consultants and travel, as well as reduced funding for special political missions.  Examining the Secretary-General’s management reform package, it agreed that the Organization should adopt a yearly budget cycle from 2020 with a view to simplifying and streamlining its work.  The Committee also approved draft resolutions for funding the newly-established Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Office of the Victims’ Rights Advocate, plus texts on human resources, flexible workplace strategies at Headquarters, the Umoja enterprise resource management project and the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, among other topics.

While fiery discussions on the rule of law and the International Law Commission’s use of a recorded vote during its consideration of immunity tested the Sixth Committee’s (Legal) tradition of consensus, delegates also reaffirmed their commitment to international law education, tackled a wide-range of topics as diverse as international trade and protection of atmosphere, and analysed the best approach to support the fight against impunity.  Those vigorous debates resulted in the Committee recommending 17 resolutions and 6 decisions to the General Assembly, all of which were adopted without a vote.

Plenary

The General Assembly opened its seventy‑second session — the first to begin under Secretary-General António Guterres’ tenure — on 12 September.  In opening remarks that day, Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) said the session would see several historic events, including the negotiation of a new intergovernmental compact on migration and the signing of the recently‑negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Member States would also work to maintain momentum for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with support from the United Nations system.  Welcoming the Secretary‑General’s reform efforts, some of which would be reflected in the Assembly’s own revitalization process, he declared: “We must follow our commitments from yesterday with actions now”, adding that the Assembly should contribute to maintaining a “fresh outlook” at the United Nations.

Despite those calls for unity of purpose, however, polarization on several key issues emerged on 15 September, during an organizational meeting convened to adopt the Assembly’s work programme and provisional agenda.  Debate erupted over a proposed new agenda item — namely, the concept of the “responsibility to protect”, which would obligate States to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and could allow for United Nations action in situations where that obligation was not met.  Favoured by some States, the item also drew strong condemnation, as delegates including those of Syria, Cuba and the Russian Federation warned that it could be easily manipulated to further countries’ own political goals.  Other speakers, however, described the responsibility to protect as the “cornerstone” of the Secretary‑General’s new conflict prevention agenda.  The Assembly ultimately voted to include the item on its agenda, with States voting by 113 in favour to 21 against, with 17 abstentions, to do so.

Calls for enhanced multilateralism dominated the Assembly’s annual high‑level debate, held from 19 to 25 September.  On its closing day, however, President Lajčák acknowledged that not all remarks had been positive, with many officials having criticized both other States and the United Nations itself.  Delegates also rebutted allegations, levied by others during the debate, that their Governments had violated human rights or sponsored terrorism.  Myanmar’s delegate, recalling that some had accused his country of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, warned that such a term “must not be used lightly”.  Venezuela’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, joined others in condemning United States President Donald Trump’s threats of war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, echoing former President Hugo Chávez’s famous 2006 declaration that the “stink of sulphur” had returned to the Assembly with President Trump’s arrival.

Among several historic bright spots over the course of the session was the Assembly’s consideration of the final report of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, established in 1993 to prosecute serious crimes committed during the Balkan wars.  Briefing the Assembly for the last time as the Tribunal prepared to close its doors on 31 December, President Carmel Agius recalled that it had brought to justice 161 individuals over its 24 years of work.  Many delegates hailed the Court as having “blazed a trail of remarkable firsts” while also making significant contributions to international jurisprudence.  The Tribunal’s two remaining cases, involving the accused war criminals Ratko Mladić, Jadranko Prlić and five of the latter’s associates — including Slobodan Praljak, who would later commit suicide by poisoning — were slated to be finalized before the end of 2017.

The Assembly also considered the reports of the International Court of Justice (28 October) and the International Criminal Court (30 October), with the latter’s President, Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, declaring: “The Court is not perfect, but […] it is delivering”.  Since 2016, convictions or sentences had been issued against six persons, including Jean Pierre Bemba, former Vice‑President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Court had also delivered its first verdict regarding the destruction of cultural property, convicting a former Al‑Qaida affiliate group member of directing attacks against religious and historic sites in Mali.  In the subsequent debate, many speakers welcomed reversals by the Gambia and South Africa of earlier decisions to withdraw from the Court’s Rome Statute, while calling on Burundi to do the same.

In three separate meetings, the Assembly — convening concurrently with, but separate from, the Security Council — struggled to fill five seats on the International Court of Justice.  On 9 November, four of the five judges — Ronny Abraham (France), Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia), Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil) and Nawaf Salam (Lebanon) — were elected, having received the required absolute majority of votes in both the Assembly and the Council.  However, in several rounds of voting on 9 and 13 November, the two bodies failed to reach an agreement on the final vacancy.  The deadlock between the two remaining candidates — Dalveer Bhandari of India and Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom — was broken on 20 November following the withdrawal of Mr. Greenwood’s candidature.  Mr. Bhandari, along with the four other elected members, would begin a nine‑year‑term on the Court on 6 February 2018.

On 1 November, longstanding political divisions took centre stage as the Assembly considered its annual resolution calling on the United States to lift its decades‑old economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.  Historically adopted by a vote, the text — by whose terms the Assembly reaffirmed the sovereign equality of States and the importance of free trade between them — was once again favoured by most States, with only the United States and Israel voting against it.  That vote marked a departure from 2016, when the United States had chosen to abstain for the first time amid improved diplomatic relations between Cuban President Raúl Castro and then‑United States President Barack Obama.  “The American people […] have chosen a new President”, the representative of the United States said this year, referring to the reversal.  In response, Cuba’s Foreign Minister said President Donald Trump lacked any authority to question Cuba, and described the blockade as brutal, illegal and obsolete. 

Concerns about selectivity continued to emerge over the next few weeks as the Assembly considered the work of the Human Rights Council (2 November), reform of the Security Council (7‑8 November) and revitalization of the Assembly itself (13‑14 November).  Following a briefing by Human Rights Council President Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli (El Salvador), the representative of the European Union said the Geneva‑based body had addressed violations around the globe and given a voice to the most vulnerable.  However, some delegates — including those of Syria, Iran and Israel — raised alarms over double standards in the Council’s work.  Meanwhile, on 7 November, the Assembly heard expressions of frustration that a lack of political will on the part of an “elite few” continued to stymie efforts to transform the Security Council into a more modern, fair and representative body.  As the Assembly turned to its own revitalization, representatives stressed that the organ must remain a forum for constructive dialogue and urged nations to resist drawing “red lines” or clinging to “static positions” in negotiations.

Member States considered issues related to nuclear energy on 10 November, as the Assembly considered the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s annual report.  Echoing statements delivered at the Assembly’s 26 September high‑level summit on nuclear disarmament, many speakers said the peaceful use of nuclear energy could help achieve important development and environmental goals.  Many expressed concerns over recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, calling on Pyongyang to immediately abandon such activities.  Representatives also cited the IAEA’s certification that Iran was complying with its obligations under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  That country’s delegate stressed that the agreement — also known as the “Iran Nuclear Deal” — could neither be renegotiated nor unilaterally annulled at the behest of one of its signatories.

Taking up the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East on 29 and 30 November, the Assembly adopted six related resolutions, all by recorded votes.  Among those was a text titled “Jerusalem”, by whose terms the Assembly stated that any actions by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the Holy City were illegal and therefore “null and void”.  Convening on the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations resolution that had partitioned Palestine with the aim of creating two separate States, the Assembly heard expressions of concern that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land continued to thwart that goal.  “The people of Palestine will not disappear, nor will they surrender to a dismal fate,” said the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, emphasizing that Israel’s illegal settlement expansion, human rights abuses and refusal to heed the international community’s calls were seriously jeopardizing the pursuit of peace.

Meeting on 6 December — the same day President Donald Trump announced the United States’ intention to become the first country to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — the Assembly adopted a resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) by a recorded vote.  By its terms, the Assembly welcomed the OIC’s work in combatting violent extremism and terrorism.  Syria’s representative, however, said the OIC’s host nation, Saudi Arabia, was in fact the chief sponsor of most terrorism around the globe.  Citing the United States decision on Jerusalem as a “historical turning point”, he also asked: “What is the OIC doing today on behalf of Jerusalem?”, adding that Saudi Arabia had pushed OIC members to accept a communiqué welcoming the United States aggression against Syria.

On 1 December, States diverged in their interpretations of a new resolution titled “Effects of terrorist acts directed against religious sites on the culture of peace”.  By the terms of the text — which was drafted in the wake of a 24 November terrorist attack against a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and adopted without a vote — the Assembly condemned terrorism directed against religious sites as well as any “advocacy of religious hatred” that constituted an incitement to violence.  While many speakers welcomed the resolution’s strong message, some raised concerns over its “fast‑tracked” drafting, which had lacked any significant negotiation.  Meanwhile, others expressed alarm over its use of “unbalanced” language and its omission of references to human rights.

During a rare emergency meeting 21 December, the Assembly decided to ask nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem, as delegates warned that the recent decision by the United States to do so risked igniting a religious war across the already turbulent Middle East and even beyond.  By a recorded vote of 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions, the Assembly adopted the resolution “Status of Jerusalem”, by which it declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition.

Calling on all States to refrain from establishing embassies in the Holy City, the Assembly also demanded that they comply with all relevant Security Council resolutions and work to reverse the “negative trends” imperilling a two‑State solution to the conflict between Israel and the State of Palestine, both of which call Jerusalem/Al‑Quds Al‑Sharif their capital.

“America will put its embassy in Jerusalem,” said Nikki R. Haley (United States).  In addition, her country’s citizens would remember the countries that had voted on the draft resolution and had disrespected the United States.

Riad Al‑Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said the United States’ decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital and to move its embassy there was an aggressive and dangerous move that could inflame tensions and lead to a religious war.  The text’s adoption echoed the voice of the majority of the international community on the question of Jerusalem.  The decision would have no impact on the Holy City’s status and compromised the role of the United States in the peace process.

Danny Danon (Israel) said “Jerusalem has been, and always will be, the capital of the State of Israel” and that his country knew the Holy City was sacred to billions worldwide and encouraged everyone to visit and pray there.  However, one‑sided anti‑Israel resolutions had been pushing the Middle East peace process back for years and the newly adopted draft resolution only encouraged more violence and instability, he said, warning that the text sanctioned Palestinians to continue on a dangerous path.

First Committee

Despite differences on the way forward, delegates of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) expressed a common desire to achieve a nuclear‑weapon‑free world.  During a session that heard 131 statements and approved 58 draft resolutions and decisions, 28 without a vote, many speakers stressed a need for a new approach to nuclear disarmament made all the more urgent by recent testing activities conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, cautioned that crisis should serve as a “wake‑up call” to Member States, as the world was facing unprecedented danger.  With some delegates saying the situation illustrated the importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty and its verification regime, the Committee approved a related draft that had the Assembly urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and all annex 2 States, to promptly sign and ratify the Treaty.

But, on the heels of the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at a United Nations conference in July, divergent views emerged.  Non‑nuclear‑weapon States held up the instrument as a lightning rod for hope and some delegates pointed to awarding the 201  Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons as validation of an increasingly powerful movement.  Some nuclear‑weapon States said new language referring to the treaty had affected their vote on several draft texts, emphasizing that the Conference on Disarmament was the sole negotiating platform for such international instruments.

Other delegates, including Canada’s representative, remained unconvinced that the new instrument would be effective, asserting that the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remained the cornerstone for progress.  Meanwhile, many delegates said fresh efforts to improve arsenals compromised the non‑proliferation regime’s credibility and presented a real disarmament setback, with the Permanent Observer of the Holy See saying nuclear Powers were racing to modernize weaponry, making clear that atomic bomb use remained a real option.

Assessing new and emerging threats, several delegates expressed concern about cyberspace and the potential misuse of information and communication technology to the detriment of international peace and security.  Without the proper governance in place, even the most positive technological advances could be repurposed with dangerous consequences, the Committee heard.

Such advancements at a time of global instability could lead to a potentially “combustible situation”, warned Ms. Nakamitsu.  As the United Nations grappled with such challenges, she urged the Committee to pick up the pace of its work, stressing that the pace of technological innovation had “outstripped the pace of international deliberations”.  Cross‑border terrorist threats, punctuated by regional tensions, ignited new fears about weapons of mass destruction.  In that context, issues pertaining to the Middle East featured prominently in discussions, with recent reports on chemical weapon use in Syria central to the discourse.  Consensus on a draft resolution condemning the use of such weapons eluded the Committee for a second year as contested language on Syria triggered a spirited exchange among Member States.

Delegates also traded views throughout the session on a host of other critical issues, including nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, fissile material, humanitarian challenges posed by improvised explosive devices and the detrimental effects of unregulated arms transfers.  On the latter issue, a number of speakers underscored the need for major weapons exporters to join the Arms Trade Treaty.  Citing the “astronomical proportion” of global defence budgets, Nigeria’s representative condemned the enormous resources devoted to nuclear arsenals by nuclear‑weapon States while some delegates expressed concerns about the burgeoning $1.7 trillion military expenditures surpassing development spending.  The illusion of security that nuclear weapons provided must be exposed, otherwise other countries might be tempted to develop them, Brazil’s delegate said, adding that it was unacceptable that arsenals continued to play a key role in military strategies.

The Committee Chairperson was Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom (Iraq).  Serving as Vice‑Chairs were Alfredo Fernando Toro‑Carnevali (Venezuela), Terje Raadik (Estonia) and Georg Sparber (Liechtenstein).  Martin Eric Sipho Ngundze (South Africa) was Rapporteur.

Second Committee

As the international community geared up to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) focused on major obstacles in its path, including sluggish economies, persistent poverty, climate change and meagre resources.

Briefing the Committee’s general debate, Columbia University Economics Professor Arvind Panagariya hailed the global agreement on development goals, but noted that modes of reaching them remained in dispute.  The international community must focus on rapid economic growth by expanding manufacturing, exports, services, urbanization and wages.  Similarly, Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that economic progress was far below needed levels to meet 2030 targets.  Weak investment and low productivity had hampered development, compounded by high levels of economic uncertainty, declines in average income and extreme weather patterns.

Emphasizing that about 1.6 billion people still lived in multidimensional poverty, speakers said the world was also behind in eradicating hunger and malnutrition.  The number of chronically undernourished people had increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.

Delegates repeatedly highlighted the need to increase development financing in tackling the global economic slowdown and natural hazards, especially in small, vulnerable countries.  They also pointed to the imbalance between core (general) and non‑core (project‑specific) United Nations funding, which increased operational costs and fragmented the development system.  Particularly challenged was the Group of Least Developed Countries, where total official development assistance (ODA) had declined from $41 billion in 2014 to $37.3 billion in 2015, speakers stressed.  Also struggling was the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, where investments were urgently needed in transport, energy and communications — vital in reducing the high costs of trade.

With development financing on the decline, attaining development goals meant scaling up on alliances and partnerships, especially with the private sector, delegates argued.  Moving from philanthropic funding to innovative financing — putting markets to work for sustainable development — would be critical in development planning.  Compounding meagre resources were unsustainable developing country debt levels, the inequitable trading system and unilateral sanctions, they noted.  Moreover, globalization had failed to bring sweeping benefits, as several middle‑income countries were now suffering from the so‑called “megatrends” of labour market shifts, rapid technological advances and climate change.

Hazardous climate patterns plunged 26 million people into poverty each year, delegates stressed, with annual average loss in less developed countries more than 20 per cent of social expenditure.  Efforts had been made to combat the phenomenon, they agreed, but those endeavours would fail unless the world changed production and consumption levels, promoted renewable energy and protected oceans.  Middle‑income nations were particularly hard hit by natural hazards, as they were unable to access concessional financing for rebuilding, speakers said.  It was “unthinkable” that States reduced to abject poverty within hours of a hurricane were barred from accessing needed funding, forcing them to borrow at market rates.

As in previous sessions, delegates also expressed concern about Israel occupation and natural resource exploitation in the occupied Palestinian Territories and the Syrian Golan, which continued to hamper social and economic development.  In tackling 2030 Agenda roadblocks, the Committee approved 41 resolutions, including texts focused on liberalizing trade, strengthening multilateral finance, avoiding unsustainable debt and boosting commodity trade.  Other drafts sought to bolster transport links, agricultural technology and climate efforts as well as open up funding for middle‑income nations, increase ODA and expand South‑South cooperation.

The Second Committee Bureau was chaired by Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), with Cristiana Mele (Italy), Menelaos Menelaou (Cyprus) and Kimberly Louis (Saint Lucia) serving as Vice‑Chairs, and Theresah Chipulu Luswili Chanda (Zambia) as Rapporteur.

Third Committee

Unilateralism found many expressions in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), with States unafraid to stand alone throughout the substantive segment as they discussed social development, crime and drugs, women’s advancement, and the rights of children and indigenous peoples in the broader promotion of fundamental freedoms.  Over eight weeks, the Committee produced 59 resolutions, most by consensus, but several only after contentious votes on amendments to them, illustrating a general theme: while delegates might agree on larger, abstract goals, the were divided on the best path to achieve them.

Votes on those drafts, and States’ occasional dissociation on consensus resolutions, revealed issues that continued to garner agreement and others that sheared individual nations off their regional and political blocs.  The consensus eventually reached on four texts — rights of the child, persons with disabilities, youth and the girl child — papered over divisions on the role of parents and guardians, particularly in sexuality education.  All four faced amendments passed by recorded votes, forcing changes before their approval.

The willingness to stand alone was expressed in familiar refrains, with Sudan’s delegate suggesting three separate amendments to remove references to the International Criminal Court from texts on children’s rights, internally displaced persons and torture.  All three proposals failed in recorded votes.  States’ appetite to go it alone was also seen in calls for votes on texts usually approved by consensus, including one on drinking water and sanitation, which Kyrgyzstan rejected following the defeat in recorded votes of two amendments it had proposed.

The United States, meanwhile, bucked the trend on several occasions, requesting a vote on a draft on the World Summit for Social Development, which it opposed along with Israel, while 170 others voted in favour.  Expressing regret over that request, China’s delegate said the United States was “too sensitive” and must learn from Beijing’s commitment to compromise. 

The United States also stood out by disassociating from references to the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in a draft on the protection of migrants.  On a draft aimed at strengthening the United Nations role in enhancing elections and promoting democratization, the United States helped to stymie three amendments put forward by the Russian Federation that would have altered language around national electoral bodies and observer missions.  In other action, the United States and Ukraine voted against a text introduced by the Russian Federation on combating the glorification of Nazism, after Washington’s copious proposal to change sections deemed dangerous to freedoms of speech, thought, expression and association was narrowly rejected.  

Delegates hued to more traditional positions on all four country‑specific drafts — on the situations in Myanmar, Iran, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with the latter passing by consensus and several questioning the merit of targeted drafts.  Myanmar’s delegate called the resolution related to his country discriminatory and “procedurally unwarranted”, as the issue was under the purview of the Human Rights Council.  

The draft nonetheless passed on 16 November by a vote of 135 in favour to 10 against (Belarus, Cambodia, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Philippines, Russian Federation, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe) with 26 abstentions, following a 25 October update by the Special Rapporteur on the situation, who pressed authorities to allow the Council’s fact‑finding mission access to the region and to let the Rohingya population know they were welcome to return.

In other cases, the Committee found consensus where it previously had none.  A text on human rights defenders — a hard‑fought showdown in 2015 — was approved by consensus with nary an explanation of vote save Estonia’s delegate, on behalf of the European Union, expressing concern about qualifying language.  Approval of a draft on the Human Rights Council report — by an overwhelming recorded vote of 117 in favour to 2 against (Belarus and Israel) with 66 abstentions — was less dramatic in 2017 than a year earlier, when the text faced both substantive and procedural opposition. 

The Committee also found consensus on other weighty issues such as drugs and crime, approving without a vote two separate omnibus drafts titled “International cooperation to address and counter the world drug problem” and “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”, respectively.  Other areas of convergence included texts on albinism, the safety of journalists and a text designating 21 August as the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.

In all, the Committee heard from 10 treaty body representatives, 35 Special Rapporteurs, 6 Independent Experts and 6 Working Group Chairs, as well as the Special Representatives on Children and Armed Conflict, and on Violence against Children.  It also held dialogues with the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and the President of the Human Rights Council. 

The Third Committee Bureau was chaired by Einar Gunnarsson (Iceland), with Nebil Idris (Eritrea), Alanoud Qassim M. A. Al‑Temimi (Qatar) and Dóra Kaszás (Hungary) serving as Vice-Chairs and Andrés Molina Linares (Guatemala) as Rapporteur‑designate.

Fourth Committee

Many petitioners and delegates called for upholding the rights of indigenous populations over those of colonizers, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) held its annual debate on decolonization against the backdrop of preparations for a historic referendum in New Caledonia and concerns over environmental degradation, immigration and militarization in Guam.

In relation to the decades‑old dispute over Western Sahara, several petitioners called for a renewed spirit of compromise in negotiations on the self‑determination of that Non‑Self‑Governing Territory.  Eric Jenson, former Head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), recalled that the Secretary‑General had issued an unusually comprehensive and compelling report on that issue in April.  Radically, its proposals included agreement on the form and nature of a self‑determination exercise, he said, pointing out that the Secretary‑General had appointed a new Personal Envoy to help restart the talks.

Moreover, delegates from several African countries called for greater regional cooperation for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara.  Senegal’s representative noted that a settlement in Western Sahara could potentially lead to the resolution of other regional challenges, including terrorism, organized transboundary crime and irregular migration, among others.

Amid commemoration of the landmark Outer Space Treaty’s fiftieth anniversary, and in a break with traditional practice, the Committee took up the question of peaceful uses of outer space in a joint meeting and panel discussion with the First Committee.  Officials briefing the joint session agreed that transparency on security in space as well as confidence‑building measures could help to reduce mishaps, misinterpretations and miscalculations in that realm.

Thomas Markram, Deputy High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, acknowledged that some aspects of the legal regime covering outers space remained largely undeveloped, including the lack of a common understanding on applying the right of self‑defence in accordance with international law while avoiding severe long‑lasting consequences.  He observed that the Outer Space Treaty was not designed to resolve comprehensively all possible challenges to outer space security, adding that concerns about the weaponization of space had been left for future deliberations.

By the conclusion of its session on 10 November, the Committee recommended 38 draft resolutions and two draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly, having tackled, in addition to those topics, its other regular agenda items: questions relating to information; United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories; peacekeeping operations; special political missions; mine action; and atomic radiation.

Alongside Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela), Committee Chair, the Fourth Committee Bureau comprised Vice‑Chairs Ahmed Abdelrahman Ahmed Almahmoud (United Arab Emirates), Ceren Hande Őzgür (Turkey), Yasser Halfaoui (Morocco) and Angel Angelov (Bulgaria), Rapporteur.

Fifth Committee

With a new reform‑minded Secretary‑General in place, and under pressure to rein in spending, the Fifth Committee approved 15 draft resolutions and 2 draft decisions, including a $5.397 billion budget for the 2018‑2019 biennium — 5 per cent less than the final budget approved for 2016‑2017, and $193 million below the proposed 2018‑2019 budget which the Secretary‑General put before the Committee on 11 October.

The reductions were due, among other things, to across‑the‑board cutbacks in such areas as contractual services, furniture and equipment, consultants and travel.  The Committee also agreed to limit spending on 34 special political missions to $508.49 million, compared with the Secretary‑General’s request for $636.6 million.

The proposed 2018‑2019 biennium budget could be the last of its kind, after the Committee — acting on the Secretary‑General’s management reform proposals — agreed that the Organization should, from 2020, shift to an annual budget period with a view to simplifying and streamlining its work.  The change would be initially on a trial basis, pending a final decision that would be taken during the Assembly’s seventy‑seventh session.

“Clearly the status quo is not an option,” the Secretary‑General told the Committee on 4 December when he introduced two reports on shifting the management paradigm at the United Nations.  He argued that, in order to take effective and timely action, managers must have the authority — under clear conditions — to make decisions closer to the point of delivery.  He went on to ask Member States for a broader scope of commitment authority that would allow a swifter response to unforeseen development and human rights issues.

Tasked with overseeing the Secretariat’s financing and management, including pay and conditions for its nearly 40,000 staff, the Fifth Committee met 29 times between 5 October and 23 December.  From the outset, delegates called for transparency and flexibility in tackling the new budget, while at the same time voicing their frustration over the perennial problem of delayed documentation.

The Committee agreed on financial and staff resources for the newly established Office of Counter‑Terrorism and the Office of the Victims’ Rights Advocate, asked the Secretary‑General to pursue the implementation of flexible workplace strategies at Headquarters, and approved $62.06 million for the ongoing implementation of the Umoja enterprise resource management project.  It also reached consensus on staffing and financing requirements for the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINJUSTAH), as well as the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

During its meetings, delegates emphasized that cost‑of‑living adjustments must be applied consistently throughout the United Nations system, after several Geneva‑based organizations and staff associations disputed an overall post adjustment decrease of 4.7 per cent for staff in that city.  The International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) had recommended the decrease following a cost‑of‑living survey.  The Committee also discussed strengthening measures to protect whistle‑blowers from retaliation.

As in years past, representatives considered the state of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.  While its assets totalled a record $62 billion at the end of October, delegates expressed concern over the quality of service it was giving to its more than 200,000 participants, as well as its failure in 2016 to meet its 3.5 per cent return‑on‑investment target.

The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the $2.31 billion overhaul of Headquarters known as the Capital Master Plan until its first resumed session in March.  It did, however, debate other major renovation and construction projects.  Those included an upgrade to the Bangkok headquarters of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a proposed $14.19 modernization of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) premises in Santiago, Chile, and a sweeping renovation of the historic Palais des Nations campus in Geneva.

Comprising the Committee’s Bureau were Michel Tommo Monthe (Cameroon) as Chair, with Abbas Yazdani (Iran), Julie O'Brien (Ireland) and Anda Grinberga (Latvia) serving as Vice-Chairs.  Felipe Garcia Landa (Mexico) was Rapporteur.

Sixth Committee

Vigorous debates on legal subtleties punctuated the Sixth Committee’s (Legal) meetings during its seventy‑second session, as it discussed matters such as the scope and application of universal jurisdiction, the responsibility of international organizations, and the expulsion of aliens.  In particular, the subject of rule of law provoked a heated discussion, with some speakers noting that definitions of the principle varied, while others warned against its politicization.  During the course of that debate, delegates spotlighted country‑specific initiatives that put rule of law into practice and made its application more effective.

The representative of Colombia said that a new era was emerging in his country, which was working towards judicial reform with the passage of a law that permitted the reintegration of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia‑People’s Arm (FARC‑EP) members into society.  The representative of Senegal, meanwhile, noted that his country had created “houses of justice”, which were provided free of charge and made the judicial process available to all.

However, despite such progress, several representatives offered a note of caution, with Indonesia’s delegate recalling violations of international humanitarian law in the State of Palestine.  The rule of law at the international level would always be a fiction if the international community did not minimize its politicization, she said.  Zimbabwe’s representative also weighed in, stating that the “rule of law should not be an abstract concept in academic discourse”.  The issue should not exist in a vacuum, independent of the realities on the ground.  That idea was also echoed by Ronny Abraham, President of the International Court of Justice, as he addressed the Committee on the judicial practice of the Court.  The trust that States placed in the International Court of Justice was vital to the future of international jurisdiction, he said, underscoring that States were sovereign entities and in full freedom to consent and not consent to the Court’s jurisdiction.  Outlining several complex and contentious cases, he called on delegates to ensure that the trust of States in the Court was strengthened.

During the Committee’s annual consideration of the International Law Commission report, delegations investigated the delicate balance between codification and the progressive development of law, with speakers praising the Commission’s hard work while reminding that body of the limitations of its mandate.  Almost a dozen legal matters were considered during the seven‑day review.  Among those topics was “Protection of the atmosphere”, with speakers parsing legal nuances while acknowledging the urgency of the issue.  Chile’s delegate emphasized that it was not enough to address the protection of the environment alone.  However, the representative of the Czech Republic noted that the Commission had no competence to tackle underlying issues such as the interaction between the oceans and the atmosphere, and the impact of human activities on the climate. 

The Marshall Islands’ delegate, speaking for the Pacific small island developing States, pointed out that member nations of her group were among those who had contributed the least to global warming but were now most at risk of being obliterated by the phenomenon before the century was over.  She and other delegates also called for the inclusion of a new topic in the work of the Commission: the legal implications of rising sea levels.

In a significant achievement, the International Law Commission had adopted a complete set of draft articles, “Crimes against humanity”, during its sixty‑ninth session.  Georg Nolte, Commission Chair, pointed out that, among the three core international crimes, only crimes against humanity lacked a treaty focused on building up national laws, national jurisdiction and inter‑State cooperation in the fight against impunity.  Several delegates applauded the emphasis on prevention in the draft preamble and praised the draft texts for being concise. 

However, during the Commission’s consideration of “Immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction”, the proposed draft article 7 — which addresses crimes under international law in which immunity ratione materiae does not apply — had elicited strong divergent views, leading the Commission to depart from its tradition of consensus and to adopt the text by a recorded vote.  China’s delegate called for caution and prudence, saying that the draft article had been hastily adopted without thorough discussion.  Germany’s representative stressed that it was States, not the Commission, that created international law.  The Commission’s mandates “must not be blurred”, she warned, while Greece’s delegate called for a balance between respect for the sovereign equality of States and the crucial need to combat impunity for the most serious crimes under international law.

As in past sessions, the Sixth Committee’s debate on the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law highlighted its commitment to meeting the increased need for international law training and research materials.  The Programme was stepping up to that task through regional courses and online resources.  Its Audiovisual Library of International Law was hailed as “a practical and living tool”, reaching 1.5 million users from all 193 Member States, with lectures in Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian.  Further, in order to reach users in countries with limited access to reliable high‑speed Internet, the Codification Division had begun to make audio files of the lectures available on the Library web platform.

The Regional Courses in International Law, funded through the United Nations regular budget, had been held in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia‑Pacific in 2016 and 2017.  Expressing appreciation for the foundational knowledge in international law provided by those courses, Tonga’s representative pointed out that in his small island developing State, whose legal counsels were often inundated with domestic legal affairs, the Programme played a crucial role in legal education.

During the Committee’s annual deliberation on the report on relations with the host country, various delegations raised their concerns, ranging from the question of privileges and immunities and the issuance of entry visas to travel regulations and restrictions on certain Member States.  During the debate, the Russian Federation’s delegate called attention to “an unprecedented violation” by the host country of the immunity of mission premises, spotlighting the 2016 seizing by United States authorities of a Long Island premise that had been part of the Russian Permanent Representation to the United Nations.  Nonetheless, the representative of the United States said that property did not fall within its obligations under the Headquarters Agreement or the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The Committee also got a glimpse into the fast‑moving currents of international commerce during its debate on the report of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).  The finalization and adoption of two legislative texts addressing electronic commerce and secured transactions marked a productive year for that international trade body.  While the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records and Explanatory Notes would bring about a number of benefits to commerce due to speed and security of transmission, the Guide to Enactment of the Secured Transactions Model Law would be of key assistance to legislators.  Delegates exhorted the body to continue to keep pace with rapid technological advances and diversification of trade activities.

Chairing the Sixth Committee Bureau was Burhan Gafoor (Singapore), alongside Vice‑Chairs Duncan Laki Muhumuza (Uganda), Angel Horna (Peru), Carrie McDougall (Australia), and Rapporteur Peter Nagy (Slovakia).

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As General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Urging End to United States Embargo on Cuba, Delegates Voice Concern About Possible Reversal of Previous Policy

The General Assembly today adopted its annual resolution calling for an end to the United States-led economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba, expressing near universal concern over President Donald Trump’s announced intention to tighten the blockade, a reversal from the previous Administration’s efforts to normalize relations.

Of the 193 Member States, 191 voted in favour with the United States and Israel voting against, signifying a shift in policy from last year when both countries abstained from the vote for the first time since it was tabled in 1992.

The resolution titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” (document A/72/L.2), reiterated its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures, in line with their obligations under the United Nations Charter and international law, which, among other things, reaffirmed the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.

Introducing the text, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla said that the United States’ new policy on Cuba was intended to take relations back to a past of confrontation.  Two thirds of the United States population, including Cuban immigrants living in the United States, were in favour of lifting the blockade, he said.  Action to the contrary meant that the United States Government was acting in an undemocratic fashion.  He recalled that on 16 June, President Trump announced a series of measures intended to tighten the blockade in a hostile speech before an audience made up of staunch followers of the Batista regime, annexationists and terrorists.

He underscored the “total isolation of the United States in this room” and said that without any evidence, it was using as a pretext the ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana and adopting new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade.  “President Trump does not have the least moral authority to question Cuba.  He is heading a Government of millionaires destined to implement savage measures against lower‑income families, poor people, minorities and immigrants,” he said.  The United States had its own set of issues to deal with, including the country’s lack of guarantees in education and health, the assassination of African‑Americans by law enforcement and the brutal measures threatening the children of illegal aliens who grew up in the United States.

Recalling the military interventions carried out by the United States against Cuba, he said that 60 years of domination had been ended by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.  When Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz and then United States President Barack Obama made their hopeful announcement in December 2014, Mr. Obama described the blockade against Cuba as an obsolete policy which had failed to meet its goals.  However, the embargo was never recognized for what it was: a massive violation of the human rights of Cubans and an act of genocide.  Citing Cuban figures, he said between April 2016 and April 2017, losses caused by the blockade to the Cuban economy had been estimated at over $4 billion.  “There is not a Cuban family or social service that has not suffered the deprivations resulting from the blockade,” he said.

The representative of the United States said that people would wonder how the United States passively accepted the resolution in 2016 and adamantly rejected it now.  “The American people have spoken.  They have chosen a new President, and he has chosen a new Ambassador to the United Nations,” she stressed.  As long as the Cuban people continued to be deprived of their rights by their dictator regime, the United States would not fear isolation in the Assembly or anywhere else.

“Our principles are not up for a vote,” she underscored, adding that as long as the United States was a member of the United Nations it would stand up for human rights “even if we have to stand alone”.  “It is true that we have been left nearly alone in the opposition to this resolution,” she added.  But year after year, the Assembly’s time was wasted as the United States was subjected to ridiculous claims.  The Cuban regime was responsible for the suffering of the Cuban people.  The United States response had been to stand with the Cuban people and their right to determine their own future.  She also recalled that only the United States Congress could lift the embargo.

To the Cuban people she said: “I know many of you have been hopeful of the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.  That is not changing.”   But since “this gesture of good will”, the Cuban Government had expanded its political detentions, with reports of 10,000 politically motivated detentions in 2016 alone.  The Government of Cuba was busy choosing the successor to the Castro dictatorship; the results of the election process were determined before the first vote was cast.  That was why the United States opposed the resolution in continued solidarity with the Cuban people.  “We might stand alone today, but when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people we will rejoice with them as only free people can,” she said.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that her region viewed the embargo “not just as a punitive act against Cuba, but as an impediment to our shared regional development.”  She noted that opposition to the embargo policy was almost universal, adding that citizens across the United States were joining the international community by increasingly voicing their disapproval and calling for the lifting of unilateral sanctions.  Today, 73 per cent of United States citizens and 63 per cent of Cubans living in the United States supported the lifting of the blockade.

Many countries said they had welcomed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in 2015 as a crucial step towards the normalization of relations.  The representative of Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern that the current United States President’s new policy aimed at strengthening the embargo.  He underscored the principles of the United Nations Charter, including the sovereign equality of States and non‑intervention in internal affairs.  Limited foreign investment and difficult access to development credits translated directly into economic hardship for the Cuban people.  If those economic sanctions continued, Cuba’s development potential would be unfairly undermined, making it impossible for it to embark on the path towards sustainable development.

The representative of the Russian Federation called the embargo a relic of the past and a glaring interference in the internal affairs of a State.  The embargo was not just a discriminatory practice, unfair and pointless, it undermined the basis for regional and global stability by making sanctions a way of life.  He said that while his country had welcomed the United States abstaining from the vote last year, any expected normalization of relations had been halted by the new Administration in Washington D.C.  “What we are hearing today is hostile cold war rhetoric,” he added.

Many Member States said that differences among States must be resolved through the multilateral system rather than unilateral actions, with the representative of Singapore, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), underscoring: “Differences between States should be resolved through engagement and inclusion, not confrontation and isolation.”

Bolivia’s delegate said that the illegal blockade of Cuba was a clear example of the unilateral fashion in which the United States conducted itself.  The United States had sought to “teach” lessons about democracy and human rights to others as it continued to promote torture and maintain clandestine jails.  “They want to believe they are exceptional,” he said, adding that the United States was only exceptional in its prideful acts.

The representative of Venezuela called the embargo a “savage and disproportionate act”, which represented a ridiculous pretext to attempt to prevent Cuba from exercising the right to choose its own system of governance.  Like Cuba, his country had also been subjected to the illegal sanctions of the United States and like Cuba, Venezuela would continue to stand against them.

Also speaking today were Gabon (on behalf of the African Group), El Salvador (on behalf the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Cote D’Ivoire (on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation), Viet Nam, Paraguay, India, Egypt, Algeria, Colombia, South Africa, China, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Estonia (on behalf of the European Union), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Argentina, Kenya, Syria, Iran, Angola, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Namibia, Myanmar, Belarus, Chad, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador and Zimbabwe.

Throughout the day Member States expressed their condolences to the victims and family members of those affected by the terrorist attack which took place in New York’s Lower Manhattan yesterday.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 November, to take up report of the Human Rights Council.

Statements

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), speaking on behalf of the African Group, associated himself with the statement to be delivered by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, recalling that at a recent summit of the Heads of State and Governments of African nations, leaders had decried “loud and clear” the longstanding embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States.  Following recent improvements in relations, he regretted to note the embargo had been strengthened, which was clearly a step backward in the bilateral relations between the two countries and a matter that must be urgently addressed.

Noting that the embargo had undermined collective efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, he said the international community must stand together to bring an end to that blockade, which had caused hardship and constituted an infringement on the Cuban people’s right to development.  Recalling Cuba’s many positive contributions to African countries over recent decades, he said the Group fully supported “L.2” and called for a diplomatic and political solution that would prove beneficial to both Cuba and the United States.

DIEGO FERNANDO MOREJÓN PAZMIÑO (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern that the economic, commercial and financial embargo remained in full application.  Recalling the positive steps the Government of the United States had taken between 2015 and 2016, he regretted to note that the current President’s new policy aimed at strengthening the embargo.  The Group of 77 was committed to the principles of the United Nations Charter, including the sovereign equality of States and non‑intervention in internal affairs, and any policy or action disregarding those principles should be seriously considered for immediate repeal.

Underscoring the sanctions’ negative effects, he said that from April 2016 to June 2017, the embargo’s impact on Cuba’s foreign trade amounted to more than $4 billion.  Limited foreign investment and difficult access to development credits translated directly into economic hardship for the Cuban people.  If those economic sanctions continued, Cuba’s development potential would be unfairly undermined, making it impossible for it to embark on the path towards sustainable development.  He also highlighted Cuba’s immense contributions to the international community, including to Ebola‑affected areas in Africa.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), recalled that the draft resolution to end the embargo had been consistently adopted by an overwhelming majority since it was first tabled in 1992.  Since then, ASEAN had voted unanimously in favour of the text.  “Differences between States should be resolved through engagement and inclusion, not confrontation and isolation,” he said, welcoming the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in 2015.  That was an important step toward the normalization of bilateral relations, and remained essential to building better regional relations in the Americas.

A very important step would be for the United States to end its economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba, he said.  That would significantly improve the quality of life and living standards of the Cuban people and contribute to the country’s economic and social development.  Bringing an end to the embargo would also advance the General Assembly’s efforts towards achieving an inclusive 2030 Agenda, he said, calling on the United States and Cuba to chart a new way forward.

Mr. HASBUN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed progress made between 2015 and 2016 by Cuba and the United States.  However, he regretted to note that the blockade was still a reality for the Cuban people, posing an undeniable obstacle to their normal development, and that the new policy announced by the current United States Administration sought to strengthen sanctions.  The latter ran contrary to the letter, spirit, purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

Reiterating his strong rejection of the application of such illegal measures as the Helms‑Burton Act, he urged the United States Government to end those actions.  Highlighting that the United States Congress had the authority to completely eliminate the blockade, he said the President of the United States, if he so wished, could use his broad executive powers to substantially modify the application of sanctions.  Reiterating CELAC’s special declaration on the necessity of ending the blockade, he said the return to Cuba of the territory where the Guantanamo Naval Base was located should be an element of the process of normalizing relations through a bilateral dialogue in line with international law.  CELAC supported “L.2”, he said, hoping it would be adopted.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), associated herself with CELAC, the Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement.  Noting that CARICOM had maintained close relations with Cuba throughout the years, she said the sanctions worked contrary to the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda.  Striving for peace and the right to development had been CARICOM’s deepest concern.  “In this context, we view the embargo not just as a punitive act against Cuba, but as an impediment to our shared regional development,” she said.

“Opposition to this policy is now almost universal in nature,” she emphasized, noting that citizens across the United States were joining the international community by increasingly voicing their disapproval and calling for the lifting of unilateral sanctions.  Today, 73 per cent of Americans and 63 per cent of Cubans living in the United States supported the lifting of the blockade.  Yet, on 16 June, the current President of the United States had announced intentions to strengthen the blockade.  With such a policy in place, the current Government would reverse any progress achieved by the former Administration.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said during the Assembly’s seventy‑first session, the United States had chosen for the first time to abstain in the vote on the draft resolution on the need to end the embargo against Cuba.  That decision had led to much hope in the international community and had been followed by the reopening of embassies, restoration of commercial flights between the two countries and a visit to Havana by former United States President Barack Obama.

However, recent actions by the current President of the United States had reversed many of those decisions, he said.  “The time had come to lift the embargo against Cuba to enable its people to take full advantage of the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind,” he said, noting that member States of OIC would vote in favour of “L.2” and urging others to do the same.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that apart from violating international law and the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the embargo violated Cuba’s right to fully interact with the international community.  The Non‑Aligned Movement had always rejected unilateral coercive measures, especially against developing countries, and the current sanctions were a perfect example of their adverse effects, including denying Cuba access to global markets and assistance from international financial institutions and erecting obstacles to global connectivity and access to information.  “The embargo is inappropriate for our time,” he stressed, adding that it would negatively affect Cuba’s ability to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Initial steps to normalize relations between the two countries had regrettably been reversed, he said.  Calling for a total end to the blockade, he said 191 Member States had voted in favour of the draft resolution in 2016, which had expressed the international community’s unanimity and urgent call to respect the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  The United States stood alone in implementing such coercive measures, he said, calling on that country to comply with all relevant United Nations resolutions and bring about a full and immediate end to the embargo.  For its part, the international community must stand together against such unilateral and coercive measures.

Mr. RAMÍREZ, speaking in his national capacity, said Venezuela fully supported the critical principles of State sovereignty and non‑interference in the domestic affairs of all countries.  Warning against double standards, he said the embargo ran contrary to international law and was an act of criminal aggression against another State.  That “savage and disproportionate act” was the most abject form of flouting international law and represented a ridiculous pretext to attempt to prevent Cuba from exercising the right to choose its own system of governance.  Even in the face of that hostility, Cuba had been able to stand as a “moral point of reference” for the world, extending support to all counties in need without preconditions.  Their noble people had also played a major role in fighting against colonialism and apartheid around the world.  Describing attempts to reverse the process of normalizing Cuba‑United States relations as a re‑emergence of the latter’s long, sad history of imperialism and aggression, he said Venezuela had also been subjected to that country’s illegal sanctions.  Like Cuba, however, Venezuela would continue to stand strong against them.

NIKKI HALEY (United States) said that for more than 55 years, the Cuban regime had used the General Assembly’s annual debate as a “shiny object” to distract the international community from the destruction it had inflicted on its own people.  Even during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Castro dictatorship allowed the then Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, the Cuban regime and its Soviet allies had claimed that the real threat to peace was not the missiles aimed at the United States, but rather the United States’ discovery of those missiles.  At the time, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations had identified the Cuban regime’s habit of pointing its finger at anyone but itself.

But the real crime was the Government of Cuba’s oppression of its people and its failure to meet their most basic living standards, she said.  Year after year, the Assembly’s time was wasted and the United States was subjected to ridiculous claims.  The regime was responsible for the suffering of the Cuban people.  The United States response had been to stand with the Cuban people and their right to determine their own future.  For that reason, the United States would vote against the resolution.  “It is true that we have been left nearly alone in the opposition to this resolution,” she added.

People would wonder how the United States passively accepted the resolution in 2016 and adamantly rejected it now, she continued.  “The American people have spoken.  They have chosen a new President, and he has chosen a new Ambassador to the United Nations,” she stressed.  As long as the Cuban people continued to be deprived of their rights by their dictator regime, the United States would not fear isolation in the Assembly or anywhere else.  “Our principles are not up for a vote,” she underscored, adding that as long the United States was a member of the United Nations it would stand up for human rights “even if we have to stand alone”.  In reality the Assembly did not have the power to end the embargo.  Only the United States Congress could do that.  What the Assembly was doing today was political theatre.  It was aiding the Cuban regime in sending a warped message to the world that the sad state of the Cuban economy and oppression of its people was not its fault.

The United States strongly supported the Cuban peoples’ dreams to live a country where they could speak freely, have uncensored access to the Internet, provide for their families and determine their leadership, she said.  “I know many of you have been hopeful of the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.  That is not changing,” she emphasized.  What the Cuban people did not know was that their Government responded to “this gesture of good will” by expanding its political detentions, with reports of 10,000 politically motivated detentions in 2016 alone.  “Your Government silences its critics,” she underscored, adding that the Government of Cuba had exported its destructive ideology to Venezuela.  “Now millions of Venezuelans join you in being denied their basic rights,” she added.  The Government of Cuba was busy choosing the successor to the Castro dictatorship; the results of the election process were determined before the first vote was cast.  That was why the United States opposed the resolution in continued solidarity with the Cuban people.  “We might stand alone today, but when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people we will rejoice with them as only free people can,” she said.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), noting that the blockade ran counter to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter, said it had inflicted enormous damage to the Cuban economy and prevented the country’s people from fully enjoying their human rights.  Despite it, the Government of Cuba had always generously responded to emergency appeals by sending doctors, medicine and equipment to countries affected by epidemic diseases or natural disasters.  Measures recently announced by the United States Government to reinforce the sanctions would reverse positive developments achieved since 2015.  The immediate removal of the blockade would be beneficial for both Cuba and the United States, and for peace and development in the region and the world.

JULIO CÉSAR ARRIOLA RAMÍREZ (Paraguay), associating himself with CELAC and the Group of 77, rejected any measures that contravened international law and eroded the foundation of multilateralism.  Dialogue and direct negotiations in good faith were the appropriate way to resolve disputes between countries.  He urged the United States and Cuba to refrain from reversing recent progress and to start a new chapter based on trust, respect and development.  He expressed support for “L.2”, urging all Member States to do the same.

SUDIP BANDYOPADHYAY (India), associating himself with the “Group of 77” and the Non‑Aligned Movement, recalled how 191 Member States had voted in favour of the resolution in 2016, expressing strong support to lift the embargo.  Its continued existence continued to undermine multilateralism and the credibility of the United Nations.  Embargoes impeded the full achievement of economic and social development, in particular among children and women.  They also hindered the full enjoyment of human rights, including the right to development, food, medical care and social services, and would severely impact Cuba’s ability to implement the 2030 Agenda.  He also commended Cuba’s expertise in healthcare and its swift response to the Ebola crisis in Africa.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLIZ (Bolivia) said the illegal blockade was a clear example of the unilateral fashion in which the United States conducted itself in the world.  Recalling that former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela had spotlighted Cuba as an example of selfless service to other nations and peoples, he said the United States had sought to “teach” lessons about democracy and human rights to others as it continued to promote torture and maintain clandestine jails and about multilateralism while refusing to believe in the science of climate change.  “They want to believe they are exceptional,” he said, adding that the United States was only exceptional in its prideful acts and its consistent rejection of, and flagrant disrespect for, international law.  Expressing Bolivia’s firm support for “L.2”, he thanked Cuba for its longstanding assistance to his own country and nations around the globe.

AWAD MUSTAFA (Egypt), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement, OIC and the African Group, described many of the embargo’s negative effects, emphasizing that it ran counter to the efforts undertaken by Member States to leave no one behind.  Calling for the full and complete lifting of those coercive measures, he expressed hope that Cuba and the United States would take advantage of early efforts that had been made in 2016 to normalize relations between the two countries.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), associating himself with the African Group, the Group of 77, OIC and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the consecutive annual adoption of the draft resolution calling for the lifting of the blockade was a message not to be ignored, as it reflected a strong wish of the international community.  Cuba must have the freedom of trade and navigation with any economic partner, he said, highlighting some of the country’s contributions.  Cuba had stood by Algeria in “tough times” and had sent doctors to fight the Ebola crisis in Africa for the sake of the entire international community.  It was crucial to rebuild relations between the United States and Cuba, who must engage in a bilateral dialogue leading to ending the embargo.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said maintaining the embargo was not just a relic of the past, but a glaring interference in the internal affairs of States.  Every State had a right to provide its citizens with a decent life.  The embargo was a discriminatory practice, unfair and pointless, undermining the basis for regional and global stability by making sanctions a way of life.  The Russian Federation had welcomed the decision of the United States to abstain from voting on the draft resolution in 2016.  However, the expected improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States had halted upon the arrival of the new Administration in Washington, D.C.  “What we are hearing today is hostile cold war rhetoric,” he said, emphasizing that his delegation would vote in favour of “L.2”.

MARÍA EMMA MEJÍA VÉLEZ (Colombia), associating herself with the Group of 77, CELAC and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the economic blockade ran contrary to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Colombia had voted in favour of the resolution in the past and would continue to do so.  “This is our position regarding the non‑imposition of unilateral measures violating international law,” she said, noting that Member States must increasingly foster relations based on multilateralism and sovereign equality.  “We should undeniably be able to strengthen confidence so we can together face challenges as States.”

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed his disappointment that the current United States Administration had chosen a path of regression that furthered its isolation while causing more harm to the Cuban people.  South Africa had long supported Cuba, he said, calling on the international community to work together to free that nation from the economic shackles imposed on it by the United States for more than half a century.  The blockade could not continue into the modern era, especially in light of the recent adoption of the 2030 Agenda, he stressed, noting that it not only affected Cuba but also South Africa’s efforts to trade with Cuban entities.  Indeed, the inhumane blockade must be immediately repealed, as it violated the principles of sovereign equality of States and non‑interference in their affairs.  South Africa therefore pledged its unwavering support for the Cuban people and for the text before the Assembly today, and requested other third‑party countries to do the same.

WU HAITAO (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, agreed that the economic blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba must end immediately.  The Assembly had been adopting a resolution calling for its lifting by an overwhelming majority for 25 years, he said, expressing regret that it had not had practical effect on the ground.  Indeed, the blockade continued to violate the principles of the United Nations, impede the Cuban people’s right to survival and development, and impact the rights of other countries seeking to trade with that country.  China had always imposed illegal unilateral coercive sanctions, he stressed, including of a military, economic and political character.  Describing his country’s positive relationship with Cuba, he said the world was currently undergoing major transformations that required cooperation between States “on an equal footing”.  For those reasons, China would vote in favour of the draft resolution.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said international relations should promote peace and harmony between States while also fostering the prosperity of their peoples.  Mutual respect was a critical element of those relationships, he stressed, reiterating his rejection of all unilateral actions imposed against Cuba including the longstanding economic blockade which ran counter to international law and the basic principles of friendship and cooperation between nations.  Issuing a fraternal call on both countries to find common ground ‑ with full respect for the sovereignty of both ‑  he said the blockade’s elimination would help Cuba gain access to the international financial system, rebuild in the wake of hurricane Irma, improve its development opportunities and provide room for reforms.  Noting that social development was at the core of Cuba’s policies, strategies and public programmes, he emphasized that the country had fully committed itself to implementing the 2030 Agenda.

FLORES HERRERA (Panama), associating herself with the Group of 77, CELAC, and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said her country would vote in favour of today’s draft resolution.  The embargo against Cuba must be done away with in order to foster the Cuban people’s development.  For its part, Panama maintained relations with all States in the spirit of multilateralism.  It also supported the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, she said, calling for a renewal of dialogue between the two countries.  There was currently an opportunity to move towards a shared agenda.  That opportunity must be seized, she emphasized.

Introduction of draft resolution

BRUNO EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, introduced the draft resolution titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (document A/72/L.2).  He said the statements delivered by the United States Ambassador against Cuba were disrespectful, also adding: “The United States does not have the slightest moral authority to criticize Cuba.”  He recalled the military interventions carried out by the United States against his country, emphasizing that 60 years of domination, had been ended by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.  “She is lying,” he said of the United States Ambassador.  “This seems to be like one of those tweets that proliferate in this country in these times of division.”

“I speak on behalf of my people and on behalf of those people who cannot call President Trump and Ambassador Hailey by their names,” he continued, adding that “at least she recognized the total isolation of the United States in this room”.  Recalling how Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz and United States President Barack Obama made their hopeful announcement in December 2014, he said that the latter described the blockade against Cuba as an obsolete policy which had failed to meet its goals.  However, the blockade was never recognized as a massive violation of the human rights of Cubans or an act of genocide.  He said that tangible results had been achieved between the United States and Cuba in forming mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation to tackle terrorism, drug trafficking and cybercrime.

However, on 16 June 2017 United States President Trump announced a series of measures intended to tighten the blockade in a hostile speech before an audience made up of staunch followers of the Batista regime, annexationists and terrorists.  “President Trump does not have the least moral authority to question Cuba.  He is heading a Government of millionaires destined to implement savage measures against lower‑income families, poor people, minorities and immigrants,” he said.  United States citizens were being harmed by corruption in politics, he continued, emphasizing that there was an alarming lack of guarantees in education and health.  The assassination of African‑Americans by law enforcement agents, the death of civilians by United States troops, and the brutal measures threatening the children of illegal aliens who grew up and studied in the United States deserved condemnation.

The United States’ new policy on Cuba was intended to take relations back to a past of confrontation to satisfy the spurious interests of extreme right‑wing circles in the United States and a frustrated and aged minority of Cuban origin in Florida, he said.  With two‑thirds of the United States population, including Cuban immigrants living in the United States, in favour of lifting the blockade, the United States Government was acting in an undemocratic way.  Using as a pretext the ailments affecting some diplomats in Havana without any evidence, the United States Government had adopted new political measures against Cuba which further tightened the blockade.  Reiterating the sentiment expressed by President Castro, he said that any strategy intended to destroy the Cuban Revolution was doomed to fail.

Presenting the draft resolution, he said that the text was ever more relevant in the face of actions taken by the new United States Administration against Cuba.  According to Cuban figures, between April 2016 and April 2017, losses caused by the blockade to the Cuban economy had been estimated at over $4 billion.  The blockade was contrary to international law; its aggressive extraterritorial implementation harmed the sovereignty of all States and business interests everywhere.  “There is not a Cuban family or social service that has not suffered the deprivations and consequences resulting from the blockade,” he said.  He recalled how 18 United States companies had refused to sell Cuban medical products.  Citing examples, he said Promega had refused to sell its medical products to a Cuban medical company and Abiomed, a world market leader in circulatory support devices to treat cardiogenic shock and perform interventional cardiology, had refused to respond to Cuba’s call to incorporate its products into the Cuban health system.  The United States Government’s claim that Venezuela was a threat to international peace and security was a lie.  Cuba was embarking on elections “where seats are not bought”, he added, calling on people to vote in favour of the resolution.

The representative of the United States, speaking prior to the Assembly’s action on the draft resolution, said the people of Cuba deserved a stable, prosperous and democratic nation.  The embargo was just one part of the United States’ policy to support the rights of the Cuban people, she said, adding that her delegation would vote against the text.  Year after year, there was an attempt in the Assembly to use the United States as a scapegoat to deflect from the Cuban Government’s own practices.  Indeed, that Government currently had one of the most restrictive economies in the world, she said, adding that irrespective of United States policy the Cuban economy would continue to suffer until its Government began to support free labour markets, fully empower Cuban entrepreneurs, allow unfettered access to the Internet, open State monopolies and put in place sound macroeconomic policies.  The United States was a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people and supported their human rights, but not their dictatorial regime.  The Government of Cuba continued its politically motivated detentions as well as its harassment of those who advocated on behalf of political and social change.  Even if the embargo were lifted today, Cubans would still not be able to realize their potential without significant reforms by their own Government.

The representative of Nicaragua said Fidel Castro’s legacy continued to grow throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as more of its people succeeded in their struggles for freedom and dignity.  After nearly 60 years of strong resistance by the Cuban people under the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against them, Cuba remained a symbol of humanism, self‑determination, science and innovation around the world.  Expressing hope that the United States would ultimately return to the path embraced by former President Obama, she called on that country to “put things right once and for all” and accept Latin American countries’ right to choose their own path and live in peace and mutual friendship with all nations of the world.  For those reasons, Nicaragua would vote in favour of the draft resolution as it had always done.

Action

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution A/72/L.2 by a recorded vote of 191 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with no abstentions.

MINNA-LIINA LIND (Estonia), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said lifting the embargo on Cuba could facilitate the opening of the Cuban economy to the benefit of the Cuban people.  Positive change in Cuba was best brought about by closer government, economic and civil society engagement and people‑to‑people exchanges.  The European Union deeply regretted the United States’ intention to reintroduce restrictions on its relations with Cuba.  Beyond the embargo’s damaging impact on ordinary Cubans, unilateral United States sanctions and other unilateral administrative and judicial measures were negatively affecting European Union economic interests, The European Union’s Council of Ministers had adopted a regulation and joint action plan to protect against undue interference and problems for European Union citizens, businesses and non‑governmental organizations residing, working or operating in Cuba.

It was crucial that the United States continue to fully respect the United States‑European Union agreement that covered waivers to titles III and IV of the Helms‑Burton Act, by which the Unites States Government committed to resist future extraterritorial legislation of that kind.  The European Union‑Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement signed last year would support and accompany Cuba on its path to social and economic reform, sustainable development and modernisation.  “The United States embargo does nothing to promote these aims; but impedes their achievement,” she said.  For that reason, the European Union’s member States unanimously voted in favour of the draft resolution.

KIM IN RYONG (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said his country voted in favour of the resolution, out of the “principled stand” of the Non‑aligned Movement and the Group of 77, which objected to any form of unilateral sanctions.  The United States’ embargo on Cuba was an infringement upon the sovereignty of the United Nations Charter and part of crimes against humanity, human rights and civilization.  The current resolution, adopted by all States except the United States and Israel, demonstrated the international community’s opposition to the economic embargo.  Similarly, the Trump Administration announced “reduction of relations with Cuba” was a continuation of the failed embargo policy which threatened the Cuban Government, its people’s sovereignty and hindered normal development of the region.  All kinds of heinous acts, including the Helms‑Burton Act, inflicted serious economic damages on Cuba and the region.  The passing of the current resolution proved the hypocrisy of the United States, manifested international support to and solidarity with the Government of Cuba and condemned the “America first” policy.  The United States had manipulated the Security Council to denounce the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear tests and the launch of ballistic rockets and satellites.  Those actions, however, had pushed the country to “become a full‑fledged nuclear power of Juche and a rocket power recognized by the whole world”.  Likewise, economic sanctions against Cuba would alert the Cuban people and push them towards the building of a “powerful Cuba”.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, underscored the urgent need to put an end to the illegal embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States, which also ran contrary to the Charter principles.  Argentina was opposed to the use of all coercive unilateral economic measures, he said, voicing concern about the reversal of 2016 efforts to restore relations between Cuba and the United States.  The adoption of today’s resolution by a broad majority of Member States reflected the unity of the international community on the issue, he said, adding that only dialogue between the two nations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect, could lead to its ultimate resolution.

MACHARIA KAMAU (Kenya) said unfortunately unilateral sanctions continued to attract the attention of the powerful and dominant.  Such sanctions were prejudicial and purely politically self‑serving and they undermined multilateral solutions.  The United Nations should hold itself up to an ideal that should never demonstrate that the weak could suffer sanctions without recourse and almost without an end.  In the case of the tragic and seemingly perennial unilateral sanctions levelled against Cuba, history had become the intellectual and diplomatic prisoner of the international community.  “Why must we allow our historical habit to become a determinant of our current action?  How tragic is that?” he said.  Last year, the enforcer of the sanctions against Cuba had acknowledged that they finally needed to be stood down.  “The time to end these sanctions is long past,” he said.  The people of Cuba should be free to join the collective of international citizenry that enjoyed unhindered social, economic and political freedoms.  “Let us not let sanctions become the instrument we, or any one uses, to leave Cuba behind,” he said.  For those reasons, Kenya would vote in favour of the resolution.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the embargo demonstrated the disregard of the United States for international law and its determination to implement barbaric policies based on unilateral economic coercive measures against States that refused to be their satellites or to obey their orders.  The international community had welcomed the policy adopted by the previous United States Administration; however, the new one had demonstrated that its political doctrine was based on military force and economic dominance, aimed at forcing people to their knees.  Such measures were a form of collective punishment against entire peoples, hindering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, while also serving as an obstacle to trade and violating the rights enshrined in human rights instruments.  It was imperative that the United States understood that such unjust policies only led to the rejection of the West and provided extremists and terrorists with new weapons as they recruited among the poor and the weak who were most affected by sanctions.  Sound mechanisms must be established to clearly condemn Member States that used illegal embargoes so they would be held responsible for their policies.  The blockade must be lifted and unilateral measures put in place by the United States and the European Union against various States, including his own, must be withdrawn.

Mr. DEHGHANI (Iran) said the ongoing economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba ran counter to the principles of international law as well as the letter and spirit of the Charter.  Differences between States should be resolved through dialogue based on mutual respect, he stressed, adding that the embargo against Cuba served no purpose but to inflict hardship on its people, especially women and children.  Citing the international community’s overwhelming position against that embargo, and against the use of unilateral coercive measurers in general, he said the United States had also imposed such measures against Iran based on various pretexts and even following the agreement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.  Indeed, such measures had regrettably become a regular part of the United States foreign policy, even in cases where Security Council resolutions had prohibited their use.  Iran remained opposed to the applications of such economic and trade measures, as well as extraterritorial actions that impacted free trade between nations.

JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola), associating himself with the African Group, the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, said his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution as the persistence of the unjust embargo against Cuba, unilaterally imposed by the United States, continued to cause harm to the Cuban people.  Calling for its immediate lifting, he said the United States should also respect the Cuban people’s right to freely choose their own system of governance.  Voicing regret over the imposition by President Trump’s Administration of additional limitations on already tightly restricted trade with Cuba, he encouraged the Secretary‑General to take measures to end the longstanding embargo.  In addition, the international community should redouble its efforts to encourage constructive dialogue between the United States and Cuba.

KHIANE PHANSOURIVONG (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said that the imposition of the unilateral embargo with its extra‑territorial implications had not only hindered the socio‑economic development of Cuba, it had also contradicted the principles and purposes of the Charter and international law.  His country welcomed the progress achieved in the past few years in re‑establishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, although it was regrettable to see that progress was now being compromised.

CASTRO CORDOBA (Costa Rica), associating with the Group of 77 and CELAC, welcomed the previous progress that had been achieved in the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.  Costa Rica stressed the importance of respect for international law and the Charter, and reiterated its rejection of any unilateral measures that one State may impose on another.  Costa Rica and Cuba had continued to strengthen diplomatic relations in recent years, he pointed out, calling attention to the expanded bilateral trade cooperation between the two countries, as well as the exchange of scientific and health knowledge.  The constant dialogue between the countries was aimed at fostering mutual economic development.  Solidarity and respect must be the basis for exchanges, he stressed, adding that the United Nations had clearly shown that it was against the blockade, which should be brought to an end, once and for all.

Mr. RAHMANTO (Indonesia), associating with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement, OIC and ASEAN, said that the Cuban people had been left behind because of the blockade, particularly as the country had been unable to exercise its full rights to reach for broader economic opportunities.  There had been widespread support to end the embargo, he recalled, adding that the United States policy in 2015 and 2016 had been encouraging and injected hope that the two countries could exist in an amicable environment.  It was therefore disheartening to witness new measures being put in place, aimed at strengthening the embargo against Cuba.  Indonesia had voted in favour of the draft resolution and reaffirmed its belief that the continued imposition of the embargo contradicted the main principles of international law, including the Charter.  He went on to emphasize that the application of the embargo ran contrary to objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

NEVILLE GERTZE (Namibia), aligning with statements made on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, the African Union and the Group of 77 and China, said that the blockade against Cuba was contrary to international law.  It deprived Cubans of a range of rights and severely impacted their economy, impeding recovery from the massive devastation of Hurricane Irma, in addition to other negative effects.  After hopeful signs of the embargo’s demise during the Obama Administration, the current tightening of measures by the United States was doubly disappointing.  He urged that country to reconsider the new measures, retaining hope that both Cuba and the United States would soon reap the benefits of normal relations.

HMWAY HMWAY KHYNE (Myanmar), associating herself with the Group of 77, ASEAN and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that as a country that had experienced similar unilateral sanctions, Myanmar fully understood that the imposition of sanctions on developing countries could cause great economic hardships, especially to poor and vulnerable populations.  Myanmar had consistently demonstrated that such a unilateral measure was inconsistent with international law, transgressed fundamental humanitarian principles and contravened the purposes and principles of the Charter.  Myanmar believed that an immediate end to the economic embargo against Cuba was necessary, and that doing so would serve to promote the economic and social development of the people of Cuba.

Ms. FEDOROVICH (Belarus), noting that her delegation had voted in favour of the resolution, said Belarus had consistently stood against the use of unilateral coercive economic measures which imposed pressure on sovereign nations.  Despite recent reversals, the process towards normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba had given the international community hope that the situation could be resolved in a civilized way, she said, adding that such a peaceful resolution was the only way forward.  In addition, she said attempts by any State to change the governance system of another country through the application of military, economic or political pressure were unacceptable.

ERIC MIANGAR (Chad), associating himself with the Group of 77, the African Group and OIC, underscored his country’s support for the Charter principles of sovereignty, non‑interference in the domestic affairs of States as well as the preservation of relations between nations.  Urging the lifting of the United States embargo against Cuba ‑ and recalling that Chad had been in favour of recent efforts to work towards normalizing diplomatic relations between the two nations ‑ he regretted the decision to reverse that progress and said Chad had voted in favour of today’s resolution.  Among other things, the embargo impeded Cuba’s efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the building of international commerce and solidarity between States.

GHISLAINE WILLIAMS (Saint Kitts and Nevis), associating herself with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement and CARICOM, expressed the strong belief that the embargo imposed on Cuba should be brought to an end.  Cuba was a close ally and had helped develop the healthcare system of Saint Kitts and Nevis.  The embargo was a burden on Cuba, negatively impacting the economy of that small island developing State, which was profoundly unfair to the Cuban people.  As the international community focused on the 2030 Agenda, Cuba remained stunned by the embargo, which went against the very principles of partnership that the United Nations stood for.  The fact that the majority of the United Nations membership traditionally voted in favour of the draft resolution signified that the overriding sentiment was that the embargo was wrong on all levels.

MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said that for decades, Brazil had defended the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.  In that context, Brazil regretted the recent measures announced by the current Government of the United States, aimed at strengthening the embargo against Cuba, including the extraterritorial dimensions.  The embargo constituted a flagrant violation of the principles of the Charter and international law, and continued to negatively affect the well‑being of the Cuban people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.  Calls for ending the embargo had the undeniable support of the international community, as evidenced by the vote on today’s draft resolution.  Dialogue and cooperation between the two countries should be resumed as soon as possible, with the aim of overcoming the recent backslide in the normalization of relations.

CRISTINA CARRIÓN (Uruguay), associating herself with CELAC and the Group of 77, said her delegation had voted in favour of the text because the embargo against Cuba ran counter to the principles of the Charter.  Uruguay did not recognize the application of extraterritorial laws against other States, nor any unilateral coercive measures, she said, condemning the longstanding embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States in that regard.  Noting that that policy had resulted in incalculable damage to Cuba’s development and deprived its people of their rights, she said that, in voting for today’s resolution, Uruguay was reaffirming its commitment to multilateralism.

HELENA YÁNEZ LOZA (Ecuador), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and CELAC, agreed that the embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States was contrary to the spirit of the United Nations and the principles enshrined in its Charter.  Regretting the continuation of the embargo, as well as recent backtracking in previous efforts to improve diplomatic relations between the two nations, she called for an immediate cessation of such unilateral measures, adding that lifting the embargo would benefit not only Cuba but the entire international community.

VUSUMUZI NTONGA (Zimbabwe), associating himself with the Group of 77, Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that his country believed that the embargo constituted a violation of the principles of international law as well as the principles enshrined in the Charter.  It also infringed on the rights of other countries to trade freely with Cuba.  Despite the embargo, Cuba continued to play a constructive role in international affairs and was among the first countries to send doctors to West Africa following the outbreak of Ebola.  With today’s vote, the international community had once against spoken in favour of dialogue and cooperation.

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