Briefing on the Follow-Up to the World Summit, with Jan Eliasson, President of the Sixtieth Session of the United Nations General Assembly

    VIENNA, 24 January 2006 -- The President of the Sixtieth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Eliasson (Sweden), who is currently on a three-day visit to Austria,  addressed media representatives at a press briefing held at the Radisson SAS hotel in Vienna today. The briefing was organized by UNIS Vienna, and was chaired by Christian Holger Strohmann, Officer-in-Charge, UNIS Vienna.

    Mr. Eliasson, who has been an active and dynamic proponent of institutional reform within the United Nations system, spoke on the follow-up to the commitments made at the World Summit held in New York in September 2005. World leaders are looking at the General Assembly to give new momentum to global developmental goals, peace and security, human rights and strengthening the United Nations.

    The President opened the briefing by elaborating on how far the implementation process of the Outcome Document had reached. He referred to the new Peacebuilding Commission, which aims at preventing countries emerging from conflict from falling back into chaos. "It is sad that over the past 20 years, conflict has erupted again in almost half the countries in post-conflict situations. Many countries in Africa and Latin America are waiting for positive actions from the Peacebuilding Commission," said Mr. Eliasson.

    Mr. Eliasson also elaborated on the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), a new relief fund that will respond with instant financial aid in the case of humanitarian disasters which was established in December last year, and should be operational by March 2006. The new Fund aims at a total volume of US$500 million in grants and loans, which will be made available within three to four days of a disaster situation. "Most people in natural disaster situations die in the first four days. We cannot hesitate. This new fund makes it possible for us to be in the field rapidly and immediately, and then we will fill up the fund from behind. This is a very practical and qualitative step forward," said Mr. Eliasson.

    The President of the General Assembly mentioned that the most pressing negotiation was on the Human Rights Council; he hoped to finalize the work in the next month. Mr. Eliasson also pointed to the importance of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. Showing a glass of water as an example, he said that this was a luxury for 1.2 billion people in the world.

    In response to a question on how far he thought the revitalization of the General Assembly and the reform of the United Nations had proceeded under his presidency, Mr. Eliasson said that the General Assembly was going through the process of revitalization right now. The activities of the General Assembly over the past few months were an unprecedented opportunity for revitalization. Regarding the United Nations in general, Mr. Eliasson identified three problems that had taken a toll on the United Nations over previous years: the negative public attention resulting from the oil-for-food programme problems, the divisions over the Iraq war, and the difficulties in taking a stronger position against genocide. "I am a friend of the United Nations but not an uncritical one. We need to reform the United Nations," he said. With reference to the genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Darfur, he felt that personally, it was sad that the world kept on repeating "never again". "To say never again is a moral problem for the world community. I am very glad that the outcome document reflected the need to protect civilians," he added.

    However, Mr. Eliasson emphasized that there was another United Nations that must not be forgotten: this included operations that had achieved substantial successes in places like Afghanistan and in Liberia, and organizations like UNICEF, UNHCR and OCHA, that were making a positive difference to people's lives every day. Mr. Eliasson said that the world was currently facing a test of multilateralism. "Although there is such a wide range of truly global problems, there is also a lot of inward-looking and suspicion, which must be overcome," he emphasized.

    In response to a question on how far the UN has come on defining terrorism, Mr. Eliasson said that the UN was working on two parallel tracks. One was to finalize negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism, where he said there were some major difficulties, not so much related to the definition but related to the scope of the Convention. The other track was preparing a strategy on fighting terrorism in more concrete terms: capacity building, cooperation among law enforcement agencies. "I will have consultations on that with the Member States and I hope the General Assembly Session will adopt such a strategy on counter terrorism," he added.

    On a question related to Security Council reform, Mr. Eliasson said that though Security Council reform was an important issue, it was also the most difficult and complicated of reform issues, as it touches the national interests of the countries concerned. "It is generally accepted that the council needs to become more representative, but at the same time, it has to be effective. How to strike that balance is being discussed. There is no move at this time to bring the matter to a vote," he said.

    In response to a question on the diluted role of the UN in the Middle East peace process, Mr. Eliasson said that the UN was a member of the Quartet, with the Secretary-General. He referred to the improvement in the relationship between Israel and the General Assembly; especially with regard to the Assembly's decision to commemorate 27 January as an annual International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust; an act that was received very warmly in Israel.

    While here, Mr. Eliasson has meetings scheduled with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Ursula Plassnik, President of the Austrian National Assembly Andreas Khol and Heads of Vienna-based organizations.

    The press briefing was attended by 17 representatives of leading Austrian media (Der Standard, Die Presse, Kurier), news agencies (AFP), radio (ORF), Permanent Missions and NGOs.