Ending Economic and Social Discrimination

Article excerpt

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7

Whenever we reflect upon the work and achievements of the United Nations, most of us tend to automatically focus on the pressing issues of peace and security that are brought before the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly. But if one gives it serious thought, many of the major contributions rendered by the Organization have really gone unheralded without capturing the headlines.

For its is in the area of social and economic development that the United Nations, working through its five regional commissions and specialized agencies and programmes, can rightfully claim much of its success and has truly made its presence felt in the lives of millions of people around the world. Indeed, the goal of peace and security that we seek for ourselves and for our posterity is not simply the absence of war and conflict; it requires all of us to join hands as a community of nations to promote equitable and sustainable economic growth, as well as social progress and justice, in our own respective countries and in the world at large.

Here in the Asia/Pacific region, many of the common aspirations and goals in social and economic development, which have brought us together as members of the United Nations, are being carried forward through the endeavours of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Notwithstanding the current economic crisis, the fact that Asia and the Pacific have made such great strides in economic and social progress is due in no small way to the pioneering activities and the groundwork laid by ESCAP. It can be recalled that when ESCAP began its efforts over 50 years ago, the situation in Asia and the Pacific was very much different from where we find ourselves now. Much of Asia was a backwater of political, economic and social development. Nations were locked in war and conflict, underdevelopment and poverty were rife, and economic and political freedom were suppressed.

Today, the peace, freedom and prosperity that much of Asia and the Pacific enjoy is certainly unprecedented in its history. But as the economic crisis has proven, our success is something that we cannot and must not take for granted.

The rapid pace of progress and the increasing integration of countries of Asia and the Pacific into the global economy have brought on new challenges and problems. At the same time, many of the old issues have remained, as some parts of the region still lagged far behind in their ability to meet even the basic needs of the people.

The continuing process of transformation of Asia and the Pacific has also meant a constant evolution in the role of ESCAP, consistent with the changing circumstances and needs of the region. And in spite of the significant progress that has marked developments in the Asia/Pacific region over the years, the challenges that confront ESCAP itself as we look ahead are indeed no less daunting than those in the past.

How to address the wide-ranging needs and requirements of countries in a region of such vast geography and of such vast diversity in terms of level of political and socio-economic development?

How to channel and maximize the numerous activities but increasingly limited resources of various UN agencies and bodes operating in the region towards common goals and objectives that address the many aspects of social and economic development in a comprehensive and coherent manner?

How to work to encourage the on-going process by which regional countries themselves are trying to take charge of their own destinies, individually and collectively, through various schemes of regional cooperation?

How to move forward with ESCAP's own reforms in order to rationalize and consolidate its work at a time when resources are becoming all the more scarce? …