Cooperation and Respect despite Political Differences: Adapting the United Nations to a Changing World
An atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect prevailed during the fifty fourth session of the General Assembly--the last before the new millennium--despite divergence of views on a wide variety of issues. Consensus on Security Council reform, implementation of the outcome of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, and the causes of conflict and the promotion of a durable peace and sustainable development in Africa remained elusive. Chaired by its President, Theo-Ben Gurirab of Namibia, the Assembly adopted 250 resolutions, 19 of which were on strengthening the coordination of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Assembly held 10 days of general debate (20 September-2 October), during which speakers voiced their views on such crucial issues as globalization, poverty eradication, the international monetary system, conflict, disarmament, the United Nations financial situation, the debt burden, the effect of sanctions, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic (see UN Chronicle issue 4, 1999). The debate was punctuated by a special session on 27 and 28 September, reviewing the implementation of the results of the 1994 Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (see issue 3,1999). Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the opening of the debate, stressed that efforts to combat war and poverty would succeed only if the United Nations adapted to a world of new actors, new responsibilities and new possibilities for peace and progress. That theme--adapting the United Nations to a changing world--was reflected in many of the issues the Assembly dealt with, in particular humanitarian intervention.
Repeated references to "unauthorized" humanitarian intervention helped fuel the long-standing call for reform of the Security Council. During a two-day debate on reform, a number of speakers highlighted the Council's "paralysis" in times of crisis and charged it with "secretive, rigid and exclusionary working methods". Most delegations continued to insist on an expanded and more representative Security Council to enhance its credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness and to reflect fundamental global changes. Mr. Gurirab stressed that although all agreed on the need for substantial changes in the Council's composition and working procedures, there was still no consensus on its reform, nor on the important issues of humanitarian intervention and sanctions.
On Africa, the Assembly noted the Secretary-General's commitment to ensure, as an "urgent priority", sustained peace, stability and development in Africa. The Assembly President supported Mr. Annan's suggestion that the Assembly establish a working group to review the progress made in implementing the proposals in his report on the causes of conflict in Africa. The Assembly decided to convene a conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects in June/July 2001. Also, criticizing the regional imbalance in international assistance, speakers drew attention to the international community's lack of support for African problems. Mr. Gurirab further highlighted the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, which threatened the very
existence of many African countries. …