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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1659
    Release Date: 30 June 2000
    International Community Needs to Help Developing Countries Foster Social
    Development, Speakers Tell General Assembly Special Session

    Debt Forgiveness Among Issues Considered to Close Rich-Poor Gap

     GENEVA, 28 June (UN Information Service) -- The General Assembly special session this afternoon was told that the developed world -- the nations that had benefited the greatest from globalization -- should further focus on assisting the poorer nations that have not enjoyed the riches of a worldwide economy.

     Completing a third day of debate of the twenty-fourth special session in the General Assembly's history, top government officials from all regions of the world spoke about the need to improve health, education and nutrition in the least developed nations, as well as debt forgiveness for countries which were obliged to repay massive amounts of their budgets on past loans.  Several speakers this afternoon mentioned that the debt service on the loans were hindering poorer nations' abilities to invest in social development.  Other officials maintained that the gap between the richest and poorest nations would only grow as developing countries were being left out of the emerging economies being driven by a technological boom.

     Such issues were the topic of the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, whose results are being assessed at the special session.

     The Copenhagen Declaration listed 10 commitments aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving full employment, and strengthening social integration.  They relate to (1) an enabling environment for social development; (2) poverty eradication; (3) full employment; (4) promotion of social integration; (5) equality and equity between women and men; (6) universal and equitable access to high-quality education and health services; (7) acceleration of development in Africa and in the least-developed countries; (8) inclusion of social development goals in structural-adjustment programmes; (9) resources for social development; and (10) international cooperation for social development.

     Speaking at the session were the Prime Minister of Belarus; the President of Cameroon; the Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam; the Vice-Premier of the State Council of China; the Minister for Employment, Training and Social Integration of Cape Verde; the Minister for Education, Women's Development, Social Welfare and Special Education of Pakistan; the Minister of Planning and National Development of the Maldives; the Minister of Population, Status of Women and Children of Madagascar; the Minister for Social Protection and the Family of Benin; the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs of Ireland; the Minister for Civil Service Affairs and Housing of Qatar; the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua; the Minister of Industry of Angola; the Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea; the Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland; the Vice-Minister for Social Affairs of Yemen; the Chairperson of the delegation of Turkmenistan; the Director-General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Israel; and the Minister for Social Affairs of the Palestinian Authority. Iraq, Azerbaijan, Israel, Kuwait and Palestine exercised their rights of reply.

     Officially titled the "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World", the week-long special session -- the twenty-fourth in the General Assembly's history -- intends to conclude Friday with adoption of a programme of new initiatives for improving social well-being.

     The special session will reconvene on Thursday, 29 June, at 10 a.m. to resume its debate.

    Statements

     VLADIMIR ERMOSHIN, Prime Minster of Belarus, said that the transition from a rigidly centralized economy to a market economy had turned out to be a hard challenge for Belarus.  In addition, the Chernobyl disaster had left the country with a wound that had not healed.  After the accident, about 70 per cent of the total area contaminated with radiation lay within Belarus.  He appreciated the United Nations for its implementation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chernobyl Programme which made it possible to slightly ease the hardships induced by that tragedy.  He expressed sincere gratitude to charitable organizations from Germany, Italy, Japan, Greece and other countries for their assistance to those who had suffered from the Chernobyl disaster.

     Belarus defined its national model of development as a socially oriented market economy which allowed it to combine private initiative, competition with an active involvement of the State, and economic efficiency with a high level of social protection for the citizens.  The period between 1996 and 1999 had played a decisive role in the socio-economic development of Belarus as it had been a crucial stage to overcome the crisis phenomenon that had taken place in the country in the previous period.  During the last four years, gross domestic production had risen by 27.7 per cent; industrial output had increased by 51.6 per cent; consumer goods production had gone up by 74.3 per cent; and retail turnover and paid services had expanded by 12.8 and 42.5 per cent, respectively.

     The task of the Republic for the next five years was to catch up with industrially developed countries, ensure rational employment, and meet the international standards of social protection.  At the same time, there were a lot of acute problems in the sphere of incomes and remuneration. 

     PAUL BIYA, President of Cameroon, said during the Copenhagen Conference a Programme of Action was agreed upon, laying out major guidelines for social progress for the coming years.  Five years later, the goal was still far from being reached.  Social integration, access to education for all, equality between men and women, health care -- these were problems then that were still problems today.  New methods must be found.  The globalization of trade should be taken into account.  One of the commitments of Copenhagen was to accelerate the development of Africa.  Many of the international organizations had provided tireless support, but the support should be commensurate with the problems the continent was facing: a massive debt burden, natural disasters, internal wars, bad governance, corruption and disease.  For the international community, it was a moral obligation for Africa not to get sidelined.  But poverty was the root cause for the waves of immigration to the richer countries.

     Despite the difficulties, Cameroon had made efforts to find the right places for the requirements of Copenhagen.  Amongst these efforts, first was the restoration of peace and democracy.  The adoption of the Declaration to Combat Poverty, and the Declaration on Health which was meant to combat pandemics, which had also taken place in Cameroon in recent years.  A marked growth in the rate of schooling had been seen since the Government had made primary and second education free of charge.  The unemployment rate was still high, but was falling.  There was still a huge task before Cameroon, but there was a commitment on behalf of the Government.

     PHAM GIA KHIEM, Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam, said the success of the international conference on the 20/20 initiative that Viet Nam had had the honour to host in Hanoi in October 1998 had indicated the international community's awareness of the importance of social development.  In recent years many countries had formulated and implemented poverty-reduction, job-creation, and social-integration programmes and had improved the living conditions of their citizens.  However, there were continuing problems: widening gaps between the rich and poor within and among countries, with many developing countries lagging farther behind; wars and ethnic and religious conflicts; children unable to attend school; unemployment; HIV/AIDS; drug addiction; corruption; smuggling; organized crime; and sex discrimination.  In the face of such problems, it was necessary to strengthen international solidarity and cooperation, for all developed countries to provide 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to official development aid, as promised; and for there to be better technology transfer, debt restructuring, reduction, and cancellation.  The final document of the special session should be one of solidarity and cooperation.

     Viet Nam had pursued social progress; 25 per cent of the budget was dedicated to social investment; poverty had been lowered, jobs created, illiteracy reduced, primary education universalized, health care improved, population growth lowered, and environmental conditions improved.  A development strategy for the next 10 years was now being formulated.

     WEN JIABAO, Vice-Premier of the State Council of China, observed that during the last five years, the issue of social development had received more attention from the international community than ever before, and that it had been given increasingly greater priority in the national development strategies of various countries.  National actions and international cooperation aimed at poverty eradication, expansion of employment and greater social integration had been constantly reinforced.  Progress had been made in the social development of various countries in the world, though to varying degrees.  However, the international community had to be soberly aware that global social development still fell short of expectations.  With regional conflicts and local wars breaking out from time to time, people in some countries and regions still suffered from the scourge of war and turmoil. 

     The gap in wealth between the North and the South continued to widen, with developing countries facing grim challenges, Mr. Wen said.  The size of the world's population living in poverty had become bigger instead of smaller, leaving many people with no basic means for survival and development.  Those cold facts told the international community that global social development was a long and uphill battle and called for protracted and unremitting efforts from all governments, peoples and the international community.  The Chinese Government was ready to work vigorously with other countries for the cause of global social progress.

     China had taken concrete action to fulfil its commitments.  In the five years since the Copenhagen Summit, China had overcome the adverse impact of the Asian financial crisis and other difficulties, achieved a sustainable, rapid and sound economic development, and made all-round progress in various social undertakings.  However, China was soberly aware that is was still a developing country and was bound to come across numerous difficulties and challenges on its road ahead towards development.  The population and employment pressure, the poverty problem, the gap between the urban and the rural population and between different regions, and the increasingly acute resources and environmental constraints were among problems in the course of development.  But the Government had confidence, determination and capability to tackle those problems in the course of development. 

     ORLANDA SANTOS-FERREIRA, Minister for Employment, Training, and Social Integration of Cape Verde, said globalization had accelerated and its economic effects had been termed irreversible, and this had created a feeling of danger and insecurity in many countries; Copenhagen had been a remarkable political act in which social development was clearly affirmed as a major goal.  Five years later more needed to be done; many countries had made efforts to improve social well-being, but the results had been insufficient and unequal.  Some societies had advanced, but others had regressed, and in terms of economic growth and employment, the gaps between the haves and have-nots had expanded.  One had an impression of swimming against the current.

     Cape Verde was struggling with numerous problems; it was a small island country that was less developed than many countries and had recently suffered from a long drought.  Despite high rates of poverty and unemployment, the Government had managed to dedicate large amounts of the budget to social matters, and progress had been made in economic indicators.  Ironically, the progress made, which depended to a great degree on official development assistance (ODA), had led donors to the conclusion that much aid could be cut back.  That would have effects contrary to the Copenhagen Declaration.  The concept of globalization should be made more coherent, with more attention paid to consistency of international political will and more emphasis placed on action rather than on politically correct speeches.

     ZOBAIDA JALAL, Minister for Education, Social Welfare and Special Education of Pakistan, said the goals that had inspired nations at Copenhagen remained elusive.  Among the 4.4 billion people who lived in developing countries, three fifths had no access to basic sanitation; almost one third were without safe drinking water, and one quarter lacked adequate housing.  The number of people living in absolute poverty had not declined.  At Copenhagen, the international community had recognized that in order to "sustain social justice", it was necessary to have "broad-based and sustained economic growth".  This was an acknowledgement of the simple fact that enunciating social goals was not enough -- there must also be the ability to pay for these goals.  Broad-based growth could be ensured, and resources could be generated that would have permitted funding of social programmes by all countries.  But that required a number of measures, including a levelling of the playing field in international trade; an addressing of the debt burden for developing countries; and greater equity from the lending practices of the international monetary and financial systems.

     In Pakistan, despite a difficult situation and in the absence of an enabling international environment, the Government had attempted to give priority attention to improving the quality of life for all, with particular emphasis on the poor and vulnerable.  Investment in the social sector in the country had grown at the rate of 15 per cent per year; primary school enrolment of both boys and girls increased from 55 per cent in 1995 to 75 per cent in 2000; and the coverage of health facilities was enlarged to include 100 per cent of the basic administrative units in all provinces.

     IBRAHIM HUSSAIN ZAKI, Minister of Planning and National Development of the Maldives, said the Maldives was a small developing island State that looked on the world community with great expectations, especially in addressing issues of poverty, social integration and employment promotion, all of which had global dimensions.  In an increasingly globalizing world, integration into the world economy was not an option but a necessity.  The Maldivian economy was based on two principal industries, fisheries and tourism, both of which relied almost totally on the international economy for their growth and development.  These sectors were the largest employers and the source of livelihood for the large majority of the population.

     The external orientation of the economy and its narrow base rendered the country excessively vulnerable to the vagaries of the international economy, which could have direct implications for the people's income and employment prospects.  For countries such as the Maldives that relied on the international economy for securing all their basic needs, a free and fair international trading environment without protectionist measures of any kind was essential in order to achieve sustainable economic and social development, today and in the future.

     In addition to external conditions, the Maldives also faced many constraints intrinsic to the country.  A shortage of both skilled and unskilled labour made it necessary to rely on expatriate labour, which currently made up over 27 per cent of the labour force.  Lack of natural resources, skilled labour and technology created serious difficulties in diversifying the economy and reducing external dependence.  In addition, the country's extreme vulnerability to environmental threats created further cause for concern and alarm.

     NOELINE JAOTODY, Minister of Population and the Status of Women and Children of Madagascar, said that five years after the Copenhagen Summit, poverty in many countries of the world remained a huge problem; it was like a running sore.  The preparatory committee had done a great deal of work for the current session, but its ideas had to be put into effect or they would merely be empty words.  Madagascar had made eradication of poverty a major objective.  Macro-economic and sectoral policies had been developed to foster growth and reduce poverty; the efforts had borne fruit, as economic growth and employment growth had resulted.  A framework document for economic policy would be developed into a national strategy to combat poverty; the approach would be long-term, integrated, and multi-sectoral; the emphasis was on economic growth, especially with the participation of the poorer sectors of the population; on the reduction of social inequality; and on improving safety nets for the most vulnerable groups.  Refining of structural-adjustment measures should be concluded soon, and other means of finance would be sought for the social sector.

     Measures were needed to lighten the debt burden of developing countries; in response, beneficiary countries should guarantee the effective exercise of democracy and an effective, transparent government.  Madagascar was trying to bring the private sector and other actors into poverty-reduction programmes.

     RAMATOU BABA-MOUSSA, Minister of Social Protection and the Family of Benin, said it was necessary to carry out an assessment of programmes so any corrections could be made.  The Government had carried out several actions: progress in the creation of employment, progress in the education sector, progress in the field of social protection for indigenous and the most vulnerable groups, and progress in the promotion of good governance.  The country spent 30 per cent of its budget on social services.

     But it was not all successes.  Many of the least advanced African countries had not only been unable to satisfy their Copenhagen commitments, but also could not lay the groundwork for social development.  Benin gave priority to fostering a strong economic environment to the detriment of the social services environment.  Social development in Benin was a challenge.  This conference should help countries locate alternative ways to foster an environment of social development.  The modern world economy and the liberalization of global business had created great disparities between the richest and the poorest countries.  It would be necessary for each country to initiate the Geneva initiatives, with the hope that one day in this beautiful world there would be no more negative marks of poverty. 

     DERMOT AHEARN, Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs of Ireland, said that social development not only improved the living conditions of the less advantaged, but also achieved economic development.  It was imperative to underline the complementarity of economic and social development.  Following Copenhagen, a National Anti-Poverty Strategy was put in place in 1997.  It included a target to significantly reduce consistent poverty over a 10-year time frame.  Ireland was the first European Union member State to adopt such a global poverty target.  In light of significant progress made towards achieving the original poverty target, Ireland set a new target in June 1999 of reducing consistent poverty to below 5 per cent by 2004.

     Internationally, Ireland Aid had one of the most rapidly expanding sources of ODA in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Indeed, since the World Summit, allocations had more than doubled.  The Irish Government was determined to reach the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of GNP for overseas development assistance in the short term.  Flows of ODA would have to increase from their current levels if the target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 was to be achieved.  The international community would also have to work harder together to deal with such threats to development as the debt burden on less developed countries and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.

     FALAH BIN JASSIM BIN JABOR AL-THANI, Minister for Civil Service Affairs and Housing of Qatar, said it was vital to review the objectives and progress of the Social Summit; there had been progress, it was true, and the problems cited in Copenhagen had become permanent fixtures on the agendas of national, regional, and international forums.  Every society had its special features and circumstances; in Qatar the major problem was manpower; the country had given greatest priority to building a modern industrial base and to educating its populace to achieve development.  Particular emphasis had been given to women, who now held many high positions in the State.  Support also had been consolidated for the family, which was the fundamental unit of society, and a Supreme Family Council had been established.  There was a humanitarian commitment on the part of Qatar not only towards its own people, but towards those in difficulty anywhere in the world.

     The main problems of the developing countries remained; in some cases, they were getting worse.  Too many conflicts used up resources and aggravated social problems; the gap between rich and poor countries was growing; the foreign-debt problems of many countries had worsened.  Qatar was convinced, however, that the commitment to progress evidenced by international efforts would carry everyone forward.

     JOSE ADAN GUERRA, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, said the country had been afflicted for centuries with a terrible conflict that had caused social and political turmoil.  But because of the strong spirit of the people, Nicaragua was carrying out reforms and rebuilding its society.  The economy had grown 5.4 per cent since 1995, the unemployment rate had dropped from 16 per cent to 10 per cent, and incomes had increased by 2.3 per cent.  There was also an increase in investment in social development despite increased costs because of, among other things, the external debt, which totalled an average of $1,300 per person -- making Nicaragua one of the most indebted countries in the Americas.

     Between 1993 and 1998, extreme poverty had dropped, as had infant mortality and young child mortality.  The Government had started a broad debate on the causes of and possible solutions to poverty.  It had decided to seek broad-based economic growth, focusing mainly on the rural sector where most of the poor people lived.  Also, the Government decided to invest in education, and to target assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.  These efforts, it was hoped, would eventually bring about economic and social stability.  There were efforts to decentralize the Government, thereby improving its effectiveness in dealing with its citizens.  Internationally, Nicaragua had bore witness to massive technological advances, and it was hoped that the international wealth would be distributed more equally.  Right now it was concentrated in a small handful of countries.  The Copenhagen Summit five years ago was one of the landmarks of human development, and the idea of the globalization of values would be the challenge of tomorrow in the social area.

     ALBINA ASSIS AFRICANO, Minister of Industry of Angola, said that the challenges which were facing social development in Angola were incommensurable for such a country which was struggling to put an end to instability provoked by military conflict in recent years.  This said, the Government had undertaken social measures designed to create a favourable environment to combat the economic crisis the country faced.  The existence of displaced populations did not facilitate the implementation of measures aimed at creating new economic activities and employment opportunities.

     The fight against poverty constituted the greatest challenge the Government currently faced.  National teams had been put together to elaborate strategies to augment productivity, improve the living conditions of the people and increase earnings.  Among the programmes under way was a programme to grant micro credit to rural women, a programme to relaunch the productive sector and provide funds for the private sector and a programme of assistance for small craftsmen.  Priority was given to improving health and education.  The Government had also designed and implemented a national emergency plan to integrate displaced persons and provide them with emergency assistance.  It was hoped that the signing of a protocol of understanding with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), designed to re-establish the macroeconomic equilibrium, would lead to the creation of a stable economic environment and new employment opportunities.  The eradication of poverty could be achieved only through cooperation and official aid to development.  The Government of Angola reiterated its support to the principle that at least 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) should be channelled towards official aid to development.  In spite the constraints it faced, Angola remained committed to guaranteeing everyone access to basic social services and reiterated its commitment to the 20/20 initiative.

     LEE JONG-YOON, Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, said States had made solemn pledges in 1995, but an assessment of the world situation indicated there was progress in some areas and significant remaining gaps in others, including divergent economic growth and inequalities.  Globalization, while generating many benefits, was disruptive for a large category of people in poorer countries.  The special session should tailor strategies to address this.  Korea had been hit hard by the 1997 financial crisis which had left many citizens jobless.  But this had also turned into an opportunity to review structural flaws in Korea's economic and social systems.  A concept of "productive welfare" was created and applied; a National Basic Livelihood Security Act was passed; the national pension scheme was expanded; policies were implemented to create jobs and to assist small businesses; and measures were taken to strengthen protection for the underprivileged.  As a result the Korean economy had recovered rapidly and social safety nets were now stronger.

     Around the world, there were increasing armed conflicts and humanitarian crises, HIV/AIDS, organized crime, drug abuse, and famine; clearly, more active and coordinated measures were required in response, led by the United Nations system.  Developed and developing countries should do their parts, and it should be pointed out that it was of great importance for individual States to make their social and economic systems stable, efficient, and fair.  All countries and groups must reach beyond their own interests and work together.

     IRENA BORUTA, Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland, said many activities had been undertaken in Poland to combat poverty and to promote social integration.  In 1999, there were reforms to the social security system, the health-care system, the education system, and a decentralization of authority.  Alongside success, however, there was always failure.  Unemployment remained a problem, and some social groups, especially those in rural areas, suffered from low education rates and low health-care rates.

     It would be too risky to say that there was a sole model of social development in Poland.  There was private investment, brought about by tax incentives, that had been effective.  In the future, it would be better to determine the model to be followed, instead of letting it evolve gradually.  More importance should be given to the development of civil society, and there should be a decentralization of government concerning social structures. 

     ALI SALEH ABDULLA, Vice-Minister for Social Affairs of Yemen, said that Yemen had put in place financial reforms and had promulgated laws aimed at encouraging foreign investments and promoting civil society institutions.  The country had achieved tangible progress on the path to economic stability.  A deterioration of the national currency had been averted, new job opportunities had been created and women were encouraged to participate in the job market.  The number of households living under the poverty line now stood at 21 per cent.  Different social safety nets had been created with the aim of alleviating poverty and establishing small income-generating enterprises.  The Government was trying to overcome the scourge through cooperation with donor countries and the international financial institutions.  A National Fund of Social Development and public works projects had created new employment opportunities, reduced poverty and promoted social development at regional levels.  Such efforts showed the intent of the Government to continue its struggle to combat poverty. 

     New programmes encompassed new sectors of the population, supporting motherhood and children and increasing the percentage of girls enrolled in school.  Other programmes had been set up to improve health services.  Special importance was given to the participation of all sectors of society in the democratic process.  A national strategy had been designed to combat illiteracy, promote social peace and increase equality of opportunities for all.  Many civil society institutions played an important role in this process and benefited from many privileges.  Yemen was also committed to upholding human rights, eradicating violence and implementing international human rights. 

     AKSOLTAN ATAEVA, Chairperson of the delegation of Turkmenistan, said no political idea was worth anything if it did not find room for the common individual with his everyday thoughts about bread, a roof over his head and a dream of a dignified, peaceful life.  Turkmenistan, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, had from its first days given utmost priority to social development and protection of its population, with the country's modest resources channelled to that end.  The State introduced and continued to maintain fixed prices for 24 staple products, and had a system under which some food products were provided essentially free of charge to low-income families.  Free education and public health services were provided.  Critics often charged that the country lacked a market-economy approach, but thanks to its strategy it had managed to avoid social conflicts and ensure stability, and its people had confidence in the reforms being undertaken.  Infant mortality had decreased, life-spans had increased, and crime rates had fallen.  There were problems, of course, and Turkmenistan intended to further strengthen international cooperation to deal with them.  Construction of transregional and transcontinental pipelines was an imperative need of the country and of the times, and these pipelines would mean not only profit, but social development on a large scale.

     The task of all the international community was to devise a model of interaction that would correspond to the new realities and challenges of international development.

     MORDECHAI MORDECHAI, Director-General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Israel, said the obligations assumed five years ago at the Copenhagen Summit focused on eradicating poverty, finding an appropriate response to disadvantaged populations, expanding employment and searching for a delicate balance between economic and social development.  Every country called on the best of its resources and intellectual capacities to accomplish these tasks and to meet the challenges raised by the Copenhagen Conference.  But at the same time, there was no doubt that in the short time that had transpired since then, Governments had not completely fulfilled the recommendations and goals of social development.  The data present here revealed that there was still a long way to go before completing the objectives that were set.  Tens of millions of children around the world still were suffering from malnutrition, while, at the same time, the wealth accumulated by a small number of individuals was enormous and approximately equivalent to the GNP of dozens of poor countries.  More than a billion people lived on less than $1 a day, in contrast to the three richest people in the world, who were worth more than the GNP of dozens of the poorest countries.

     Israel was proud of its achievements in the area of social development.  In the last decade, Israel had absorbed a million immigrants, most of whom came from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.  Most of these immigrants were now integrated in Israeli society and in its cultural, political and economic life.  In spite of the ongoing burden of security, Israel had turned into a modern welfare state, and the readiness of its citizens to continue to support it had not diminished.  On the contrary, progress in many areas continued.  For almost a decade, Israel had been spending more on social services than on security.  Social legislation continued and expanded its protection of vulnerable populations, such as women, mothers, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  The social security net rescued a large number of poor people from falling below the poverty line.

     INTISAR AL WAZIR, Minister for Social Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, said that the Palestinian people were still struggling for their rights to self-determination in their independent democratic Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution for the problem of Palestinian refugees in accordance with various United Nations resolutions.  The Israeli occupation continued its policies and practices of land confiscation, building and expansion of settlements, building by-pass roads, uprooting trees, house demolitions, violations of human rights, disassociation of Palestinian cities and villages, Judaization and isolation of Jerusalem, imprisonment, and confronting Palestinian protests by live ammunition.  Furthermore, Israel still controlled Palestinian natural resources, as it controlled 80 per cent of Palestinian water resources and deepened the dependence of the Palestinian economy on the Israeli economy in all aspects.  In addition to the Israeli refusal to implement the interim agreement, it continued to manoeuvre and delay negotiations on permanent solutions to the problems of refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, boundaries and sovereignty. 

     The Palestinian people lived under a politically and economically complex situation , which, in turn, created a negative social environment.  More than 25 per cent of the Palestinian people lived under the poverty line and unemployment had reached more than 12 per cent. Growth indicators were weak due to the lack of investments, the absence of security and the stalemate of the peace process.  All of these factors made it difficult to achieve a real social development under occupation and the capability to implement economic and social policies and planning.  In spite of this difficult and negative situation, the Palestinian Authority had passed legislation and laws in the political, economic and social fields. 

    Rights of Reply

     A representative of Iraq, speaking in right of reply, said Kuwait had spoken about missing persons.  Iraq had implemented relevant international resolutions on the matter.  Iraq had delivered all Kuwaiti prisoners of war and other prisoners of war after hostilities stopped; it cooperated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Tripartite Committee on Missing Persons until the United States and British authorities launched a massive attack on Iraq in 1998 -- both countries were members of the Tripartite Committee.  It then became impossible to continue the work of the Committee, as the Committee had become highly politicized by those two countries.  Iraq continued to try to look for its own missing persons -- 1,150 Iraqis -- as well as tracking missing Kuwaitis with the ICRC and with any other parties which had interests in the issue.  This was a humanitarian issue, and Iraq had no interest in putting off a final solution to the problem, as had been charged.  Rather, it wanted to resolve the matter of its own missing persons.

     A representative of Azerbaijan, exercising his right of reply, said the delegation was obliged to take the floor after the biased and distorted statement of the representative of Armenia.  It was well known that Azerbaijan had been suffering from the aggression of neighbouring Armenia for over 10 years.  Twenty per cent of its territory had been occupied as a result of the aggression.  Armenia was responsible for crimes against humanity perpetrated by its armed forces.  Tens of thousands of people, including women, children and the elderly, had been killed, maimed and wounded.  Over 1 million people in Azerbaijan -- or one in every eight residents -- had been forced to live in unbearable conditions in refugee camps, railroad cars and in other temporary shelters.

     Under these circumstances, Azerbaijan was making utmost efforts to mitigate the negative impact of the aggression and to ensure minimum social requirements of this population.  Despite the sufferings and hardships caused by the aggression, the Government was determined to solve the conflict by peaceful means.  Therefore, such a statement demonstrated once again the attempt to avoid the responsibility for perpetrated acts.

     A representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said that he regretted that the Palestinian delegate had used the special session of the General Assembly, which dealt with very important issues, to deliver a misplaced political statement.  Most of the speech was irrelevant to the issues discussed at the special session.  Many of the facts were not true and were taken out of context.  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict could not be solved in Geneva or in New York, but only in direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, who would both have to take substantial and difficult decisions. 

     A representative of Kuwait, speaking in right of reply, said the question of Kuwaiti missing persons and detainees of Iraq went back 10 years, when Iraq had invaded Kuwait.  The attack had been a human tragedy, and it had been a human tragedy for more than 600 missing Kuwaitis to have to stay in Iraq since that conflict.  What the delegate of Iraq had said was just pretence.  What was being talked about were innocent people who were kidnapped during the invasion of Kuwait.  If Iraq really wanted to solve this problem, it would not have boycotted the Tripartite Committee or the Technical Committee.  Denying that there were no missing Kuwaiti persons in Iraq was not believable; in general, the Iraqi regime had shown that it could not be believed or trusted.  Iraq had joined the United Nations, but had not abided by General Assembly resolutions.

     A representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said the statement by Palestine was fully consistent with the daily suffering of the Palestinian people because of the oppressive occupation of Israel.  The negotiations with the international community did not come bilaterally, but under international control.

     A representative of Iraq, speaking in right of reply, said the issue of missing persons was a humanitarian one.  The Kuwaiti regime, however, continued to politicize the subject in order to encourage the perpetuation of the embargo against Iraq.  Iraq wished to deal with the subject of missing persons in the right forum and was ready to enter into negotiations with any relevant committee.  However, it was not ready to negotiate with countries which had no missing persons and which used the issue in order to perpetuate the embargo against Iraq.

     A representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, said the Palestinian delegate clearly knew that by now, well over 90 per cent of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and that their social conditions were the concern of that Authority.  The time had come for the Palestinian Authority to look internally; it was always complaining to the international community about Israel, but it was time to ask itself what about the situation under its own administration.  What about the well-being of its people?  What about human rights?  Israel was ready to help the Palestinian Authority in any reasonable way to improve the social conditions of those living under the Palestinian administration.

     A representative of Kuwait, speaking in second right of reply, said unfortunately once again the Iraqi representative was making false allegations.  Iraq accused Kuwait of being different, and that was true -- Kuwait was not like the Iraqi regime.  Iraq said it cooperated with the ICRC, but that was not true.  Iraq said Kuwait was politicizing the issue, but then said it would not participate in the Tripartite Committee if the United States and the United Kingdom participated.  There were families of the missing who were waiting for their sons, fathers, their loved ones.  Iraq said conflicts led to situations like this, but who started this?  Who invaded Kuwait?  Was not Iraq part of the Geneva Conventions?  Iraq's terrible record on human rights were well known and well documented.  The Iraqi regime, during the occupation of Kuwait for seven months, carried out the worst kinds of treatment against Kuwaitis.  All Kuwait wanted was for Iraq to comply with all Security Council resolutions.

     A representative of Palestine, speaking in second right of reply, said that 99 per cent of the Palestine people lived under Israeli control.  The Israeli army continued to launch attacks against Palestinian houses.  Palestinians needed a permit to move from Gaza to the West Bank and were not allowed to visit Jerusalem.  They also needed a permit from Israel to go abroad.  Thousands of prisoners were still lingering in Israeli prisoners.  Israel had to withdraw from 90 per cent of Palestinian territory, but withdrew only from 20 per cent of the land.

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