The Sixty-First General Assembly: Transcending Rifts on Development and Beyond

Article excerpt

THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY made headlines in the fall of 2006 as it veered into pointed discussions of world power structures and Security Council reform. The general debate, a key component of the annual Assembly session, is a venue for Member States to voice their opinions and concerns about world issues. During the sixty-first session, Member States took a broad view of the debate's theme, "Implementing a Global Partnership for Development", with many representatives citing a lopsided political balance as a main impediment to development across the world. However, they succeeded in rising above ideological divisions to perform their most important function: evaluating UN actions over the past year and laying out the UN objectives of the year ahead.

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The debate took place among growing concerns of many delegates that some powerful countries may be abusing their clout both within and outside the United Nations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his opening address to the Assembly's general debate (see page 9), said that a democratic global alliance was essential to continuing the struggle against what he called "the three great challenges" during his decade of tenure at the Organization's helm: world disorder, including terrorism and the polarization that it causes; violations of basic human rights; and an "unjust world economy". While remaining confident about the strength of the United Nations, he gave a nod to political concerns. "What matters is that the strong, as well as the weak, agree to be bound by the same rules, to treat each other with the same respect", he said.

Early remarks by United States President George W. Bush were targeted at Middle Eastern nations, such as Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, as well as Darfur. He expounded on the meaning of freedom and democracy in these regions: "I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and we work together." But the images of partnership that he conjured were sharply refuted by other delegates, who claimed that the United States is among several world powers acting unilaterally on many international fronts.

Despite these underlying tensions, however, representatives managed to stay focused on the debate's theme. "We shall continue to make development the central goal of the overarching framework of the United Nations, with sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental aspects the key elements of this framework", said General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed al Khalifa in her opening statement. Of the 192 UN Member States, 191 addressed the debate, with many asserting their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to the 2005 World Summit Outcome, which built on earlier meetings with additional commitments to international development.

"The founding fathers of the United Nations envisaged an international organization, whose primary strength would be to act collectively and in the spirit of cooperation in solving international problems", said Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, U. Joy Ogwu, in her address to the General Assembly. She also said that the debate's theme aptly captures such aspiration and indeed reaffirms one of the MDG objectives. Anthony Hylton of Jamaica echoed the satisfaction of many States that the theme was both timely and poignant. The United Nations, "while recognizing that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, reaffirmed that development is a central goal by itself", he said. Many countries also praised the creation by the General Assembly in December 2005 of the UN Peace-building Commission to assist in conflict resolution and post-conflict rebuilding and the establishment in March 2006 of the Human Rights Council to advocate specifically for human rights within the United Nations framework. …