Through the General Assembly's Window Member State View the World ... and the Human Being at Its Centre

By Acosta, Yvonne | UN Chronicle, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Through the General Assembly's Window Member State View the World ... and the Human Being at Its Centre


Acosta, Yvonne, UN Chronicle


Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

- Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The need to embark on a new era of international cooperation in the face of the unprecedented interdependence of the nations of the world was stressed during the general debate of the General Assembly's fifty third session. In the course of the two-week debate (21 September to 2 October), 179 speakers addressed the Assembly, including 26 Heads of State, eight more than the previous year.

The emphasis on a "vigorous multilateralism," with the human being as the central priority and development as the guiding principle, was a common the me in the debate, emerging out of the realities of the present state of the global economy, particularly the impact of the Asian financial crisis and the continuing challenges of development.

During the debate, Member States acknowledged that, despite the liberalization of trade, the open markets and the globalization of the economy that have characterized international relations, developing countries - the majority of the world's population - were still facing a multitude of problems, including disease, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, debts and the cost of servicing them, and declining humanitarian and development assistance.

There was consensus that numerous benefits were to be derived from globalizations. The Prime Minister of India stressed that "we should not turn back from globalization", and the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia advised "not to challenge globalization, [but] to tame it and shape it to serve the interests of our people".

But Member States noted that the process of opening up economics to the global market had made countries more vulnerable. The Asian financial crisis was one example of the impact of uncontrolled financial markets. Speakers called for action at the international level to address such issues as the need for stability and predictability of the global financial system and underscored the need for comprehensive reform of the existing international monetary and financial system, including of the Bretton Woods institutions.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and current Chairman of the G-8 Group of industrialized countries said his Government would "play its part in ensuring the necessary look at the international financial architecture" to demure "how it can be improved for a new age". Germany's Vice Chancellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs suggested the need for a global financial authority and better early warning systems. Developing countries, including Indonesia, Venezuela and Mongolia, reiterated their calls for the convening of the proposed special meeting/conference on financing for development.

The economic plight of least developed countries (LDCs) was also the focus of attention by Member States. Bangladesh, among others, called for a halt in the decline of official development assistance, as well as enhanced terms of trade and other preferential treatment for the LDCs. Speakers emphasized the urgent need for strategies to eradicate poverty.

On Africa, some speakers, such as the President of South Africa, expressed hope that its "renaissance will strike deep roots and blossom forever"; others, including Ghana's President, called for effective and urgent measures to address the underlying causes of the region's dire economic situation. Special emphasis was placed on the heavy debt burden and the crippling debt service obligations of many developing countries, which diverted resources away from development, particularly social services. The Federated States of Micronesia urged the Assembly to adopt a vulnerability index, which should be included among the criteria for determining least developed country stares and deciding on eligibility for concessional aid and trade. …

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