|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1662|
|Release Date: 4 July 2000|
|General Assembly Special Session Urged to Spread Wealth of New Economies|
GENEVA, 30 June (UN Information Service) -- Delegates and ministers from around the world said this morning it was imperative that the developing and developed nations improve cooperation and coordination to ensure the riches of the new global economy were spread throughout all regions.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly special session on social development, which was scheduled to conclude its week-long meeting today, speakers maintained that globalization had mainly benefited the richest industrialized countries while less-developed nations suffered through increased poverty, diminished education and poor health care.
The delegates urged the General Assembly to build upon the commitments made by all nations during the 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit, which had endorsed fair economic policies. Among those undertakings that could help, they said, were equitable lending practices by the international financial institutions and debt forgiveness.
Others insisted the most sure way to eradicate poverty -- and to ensure a fully developed social society -- was through the creation of stable employment. Speakers from countries that were attempting to build sustainable democracies said job creation was their top priority and their biggest challenge.
Speaking were the Deputy Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; the Minister for Social Affairs of Togo; the Assistant to the President of Sudan; the Minister for Social Services of Sri Lanka; the Minister of the Presidency of Peru; the Minister for Social Affairs of Estonia; the Minister of the Office of the President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic; the Minister of Planning and Economic Development of Sierra Leone; the Minister of Social Development, Population, Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger; the Minister of Civil Service, Administrative Reform and Advancement of Women of the Republic of Congo; the Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation of Ethiopia; the Vice-Minister for Planning and Economic Affairs of Liberia; the Vice-Minister of Youth, Women, Childhood and the Family of Panama; the Vice-Minister of Public Health and Social Welfare of El Salvador; the Head of the Multilateral Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan; the Chairperson of the Delegation of Georgia; and the Chairperson of the Delegation of Guyana.
Officially titled the "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World", the special session -- the twenty-fourth in the General Assembly's history -- is intended to review the fulfilment of 10 international commitments made at the Copenhagen Summit which are aimed at eradicating poverty, achieving full employment, and strengthening social integration.
The original Copenhagen commitments 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.
The special session will reconvene at 3 p.m.
BEDREDIN IBRAIMI, Deputy Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that as was the case for other transitional States, his country was dealing with a large impoverished population and all the implications of poverty. Such a situation had been created by the decrease of economic activities for several years, insolvency of economic operators current deficits of social funds, and implementation of privatization, structural reforms and a stabilization policy. In order to enable accelerated economic development, as the precondition for social development, the Government, in May this year, had adopted the 2003 programme for economic development and reforms in the country.
Mr. Ibraimi said the crisis in the region and the events in neighbouring States last year had been reflected on his country as well. The social price that his country was paying was an increased unemployment rate, large numbers of laid-off workers, huge numbers of refugees who were accommodated on its territory, and an increase of the number of families beneficiaries of social assistance. In addition, the Kosovo crisis especially had affected the country. There existed an economic, social and political situation that could lead to the destabilization of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, particularly if one took into consideration the insufficient reaction of the international community. The damages that the country's economy had suffered and was still suffering were huge. All of that had resulted in the deterioration of the already difficult economic and social situation.
ASHIRA ASSIH-AISSAH, Minister of Social Affairs of Togo, said the economic difficulties of the 1980s had forced Togo to deal with a major challenge. The situation before the Copenhagen Summit had not been encouraging. The average annual growth had been 4.5 per cent between 1995 and 1999. A study had been carried out to reveal the causes of poverty, and the information taken from it would help battle the scourge of poverty. Thanks to these measures, the situation was improving, especially in the fields of education and health. Work was being done to address the equality of women -- particularly in the workplace.
Segments of the population were benefiting from these activities. The incapacity of the economy to create productive jobs had worsened the unemployment rate, which was estimated to be 30 per cent. Things should be done to reverse this degradation. Political initiatives had been taken with the help of the international community. These initiatives would further help democracy and social development in Togo. The implementation of the Copenhagen recommendations took quite a financial commitment, and there needed to be stronger ties between rich and poor countries to implement the recommendations. The liberalization of multilateral trade rules and debt forgiveness should be seriously considered. Social development for all could only be realized if the international community took this seriously.
SUAD EL FATIH EL BADAWI, Advisor to the President of Sudan on Women and Child Affairs, said the five years after Copenhagen had failed to bring about what the international community had expected concerning fulfilment of the commitments and implementation of the recommendations of the Social Summit. The social conditions in the developing countries, particularly in Africa, continued to be stagnant if not deteriorating, and the gap between the rich and poor countries had widened. The degree of poverty had escalated in the least developed countries. A sharp decline in employment opportunities was clearly manifested and it had crippled the process of social integration. All that was coupled with the negative impact of structural adjustment programmes. The unprecedented heavy burden of external debt and debt servicing represented the major obstacle to the attainment of development in the indebted countries. It had become evident that the process of globalization and liberalization of trade was exacerbating the already precarious economic situation in the developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Ms. El Badawi stressed that it was imperative to put an end to the practice of levying economic sanctions and unilateral economic coercive measures in contravention of international law if one was to create an international environment conducive for social development for all. Notwithstanding the unfavourable international atmosphere, Sudan had scored remarkable progress in the area of social development. In the areas of popular political participation and in order to achieve a balanced development, Sudan had adopted a federal system of government by increasing the level of local administration. An effective strategy had been formulated towards the achievement of poverty eradication and the Government had strived for its implementation and the incorporation of the poor and disadvantaged in the production cycle. In addition, women in Sudan had achieved remarkable progress due to their continued struggle and wisdom. The society had proved its ability to positively manage its cultural, religious, geographical and ethnic diversities. Those abilities were enhanced by being enshrined in the 1998 national Constitution of Sudan, which stipulated the adoption of the democratic multi-party system and the respect of internationally recognized human rights and freedoms. It had also established equality before the law and that citizenship was the basis of constitutional rights and duties.
SUMEDHA JAYASENA, Minister for Social Services of Sri Lanka, said Sri Lanka had been noted in the early 1950s as a social development model for its high emphasis on improving the quality of life of the people and for its complex social protection and integration programmes, at times at the expense of economic growth. The achievements in the areas of health and education had been above the global average. By 1999, Sri Lanka had achieved an infant mortality rate of 15.9 per thousand births, a maternal mortality rate of 2.3 per cent per 10,000 live births, and the life expectancy of 73.1 years, which was short only by 3 per cent of the mean average for the developed world. On the education front, Sri Lanka had achieved a 90.7 per cent literacy rate. Despite a moderate economic growth of 4.3 per cent in 1999, unemployment had dropped from 14.4 per cent from the 1990-1994 period to 8.8 per cent in 1999. Significant advances had been made in the quality of employment. The female participation in the workforce had increased -- female unemployment had dropped to 14.6 per cent in 1998. The male unemployment rate was reduced to 6.6 per cent over the same period.
The programmes and projects pertaining to social development were well focused and targeted. The programmes ranged from pauper allowances, special protection programmes for the disabled, for vulnerable women, for children and the elderly and pension and social security for the self-employed poor. These programmes provided the necessary socio-economic "safety net" to the vulnerable and marginalized groups during the transition to sustainable and equitable economic growth and development. A number of legal enactments related to different aspects of social development such as protection of labour, labour wage security and social welfare measures/schemes had been promulgated since 1994. These laws strengthened the existing legal and administrative framework, and established new rules and enforcement mechanisms, as well as avenues for protecting and upholding the rights of women, children, disabled, aged and other segments of the population.
EDGARDO MOSQUEIRA MEDINA, Minister of the Presidency of Peru, said that his Government had developed a strategy for the implementation of the commitments of the Copenhagen Declaration which comprised tools for the promotion of national development, the reduction of poverty and laying the foundations to generate wealth. Those included the strengthening of economic stability of the country and ensuring a suitable institutional framework for the efficient operation of the market economy; consolidation of the internal and external pacification of the country by the dismantling of terrorist movements, the fight against the drug-trafficking gangs and the settlement of pending boundary problems; generating capacities in the neediest sectors by investing in the social and economic infrastructure; and creating opportunities for the development of the communities and of the citizens. The implementation of those goals had permitted a reduction in poverty, as was evidenced by different surveys and estimates.
The Peruvian Government had been assigning priority to the harmonization and dialogue between the different actors who participated in the development process. The indigenous population of the country was consulted in 1998 so as to find out their vision of the future up to the year 2005. They were also consulted with regard to their proposals as to what they themselves could do to achieve that vision and what they would suggest that the State should do. However, the future could not have the State in the main role. The Government's task within the near future was to emphasize the identification and development of opportunities that would allow the poorest Peruvians to become part of the market economy and to be the managers of their own destiny, a destiny based on economic stability, social peace and development opportunities.
EIKI NESTOR, Minister of Social Affairs of Estonia, said at the time of the Copenhagen Conference, Estonia had already begun its transition to a market economy. Key structural changes that took place in the 1990s were the fall of the agricultural sector and heavy industries, and a rapid growth of the service sector and new technological industries. As a result, the structure of the Estonian economy was now similar to that of developed countries. The rapid development of the information technology, which started with the economic restructuring, had a considerable impact on the labour market -- it meant that the demand for qualified specialists and skilled workers was high. A reform of state vocational education institutions started in 1995 and aimed at providing young people and adults with an opportunity to obtain knowledge and skills that employers required.
In preventing poverty, it was not only important to provide people with jobs, but also to ensure adequate wages. The basic principles of the Estonia national wage policy were provided in labour laws that also provided employees with minimum guarantees. It also permitted the establishment of more favourable wage conditions in collective agreements, employment contracts and by employers' decisions. Since the beginning of 1991, the level of the minimum wage was fixed with a tripartite agreement between the State, employers and trade unions. Tripartite agreements were signed every year. Since 1995, unemployment benefits were paid to the unemployed who were registered. Since the benefits for unemployment were small, unemployment was a considerable poverty risk. Last year, the Government had approved legislation determining insurance benefits by the amount of personal contributions made by the person. It also called for benefits, appropriated in the State budget, for those who were unemployed and had no contributions.
SOUBANH SRITHIRATH, Minister of the Office of the President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, said that in the past five years, despite the Copenhagen Summit, the burden of external debt had grown and liberalized capital flows had left the world vulnerable to sudden financial shocks with severe social and economic consequences. This had seriously hindered social development. The world was a more unequal place. The Lao Government had made many efforts to implement the Copenhagen plan of action; budgets for the social sector had been increased; poverty had fallen; primary school attendance had increased; mortality rates had declined; public health care had been expanded; and programmes had been developed for maternal health and AIDS control and prevention. Rural development was a great concern, and a programme was promoting market-oriented production, diversification of agriculture and better access to markets. Women and minority groups had been targeted for fair treatment and full integration into society.
High inflation and depreciation of the national currency stemming from the Asian financial crisis had affected the country's economic stability and had hindered employment, although matters were stabilizing. The Lao Government was grateful for the international and donor community help it had received, but while primary responsibility for the Copenhagen commitments lay with national Governments, it was clear that further international assistance, particularly financial, was essential for achieving lasting progress.
KADI SESAY, Minister of Development and Economic Planning of Sierra Leone, welcomed the initiative in the Security Council to table a resolution against the illegal and immoral trade in Sierra Leone diamonds by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and their external accomplices which had for many years fuelled their barbaric and inhuman atrocities against the innocent and peaceful citizens of Sierra Leone. The cost in human life, suffering and destruction was unspeakable; the extensive nature and intensity of human-rights violations, especially against innocent women and children, were unparalleled. The continued insecurity had frustrated the efforts of the Sierra Leone Government to stabilize the economy and create a sustainable environment for social development. The safety and security of life and property of Sierra Leoneans therefore remained a high priority as the armed forces of the country strived to consolidate the Government's authority until every inch of the soil was completely liberated. For there could be no socio-economic development if a people were not free and safe.
Ms. Sesay said the widespread damage to the social fabric and economic installations had particularly affected women, children and the aged. It was the Government's intention to provide community-based support services for the benefit of all war victims, particularly the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, the highly traumatized, the amputees and sexually abused women and girls. The Government had now begun instituting a social security scheme as a social safety net that would provide support to the most vulnerable members of the community. Several micro-credit schemes particularly focusing on women were being run by the Government and several non-governmental organizations.
NANA AICHA FOUMAKOYE, Minister of Social Development, Population, Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, said in recent years, the socio-economic conditions of Niger had declined significantly, deteriorating living conditions in all aspects of the society. Recurring droughts and low-level development were factors, as was a growing informal sector of the economy. There were important challenges facing the country, and that was why the Government had undertaken several activities to implement the commitments since the Copenhagen Summit. The Government had developed a national framework programme to fight poverty. A number of projects that were implemented were helped significantly by the international community.
There were programmes adopted that prohibited discrimination against women, and one that established a quota system for women. Concerning resource allocation, 30 per cent of the budget went to the social sector. The results were heartening. At the local level, the human poverty indicator had dropped from 66 to 65. But progress could only be continued if good governance continued, and the economy showed improvement. Local elections would be held soon, and that would complete the establishment of the democratic process. A national human rights commission had been established, and the respect for human rights for all was a priority of the Government. Decentralization should be furthered to more involve residents as the grassroots level. Internationally, there should be a substantial increase in overseas development assistance, and debts should be forgiven. Economic data should be made available as soon as possible so changes to the public finance system could happen soon.
JEANNE DAMBENDZET, Minister of Civil Service, Administrative Reform and Advancement of Women of the Republic of Congo, recalled that in 1995 during the Copenhagen Summit, her country had been going through its democratic experience following the people's option in favour of a pluralistic political system in 1991. That decision had led to the respect of the rule of law and good governance. Earlier, the civil war had destructed the economic and social achievements of the country, including human lives. In order to bring life back to normal, particularly in Brazzaville, the capital city, and to establish minimum social infrastructures, the Government in 1997 had put in place a 100-day emergency programme. The programme included the establishment of security and peace; a rehabilitation network of electricity, water and telephone services; and putting up local administration and public services, among other things. It was to strengthen those actions and to speed up the reforms in combating poverty that the Government had adopted a tool of economic and social strategy.
Ms. Dambendzet further said within the context of the fight against poverty, the Government had established health centres, improved the education system and promoted human rights protection. The judiciary and court systems were also strengthened. The participation of the private sector was also encouraged with more non-governmental organizations taking part in the process. With regard to the policy of employment, a fund had been created to promote training and employment.
GIRMA BIRU, Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation of Ethiopia, said the agenda for social development provided a useful framework to undertake in an integrated fashion international policies, programmes and plans of action on social development which had so far been adopted by the international community. External debt continued to be a serious obstacle to social development. In the case of Africa, the stock of external debt and its debt service had continued to drain the major foreign exchange earnings while eroding Africa's credit worthiness. In the light of the already grim resource flows caused by declines in official development assistance (ODA), the crippling burden of international debt had seriously hampered social development prospects for most countries. The situation of the least developed countries was more precarious. It was obvious that unless there was a swift and substantial effort to relieve the debt burden, countries could never invest adequately to enhance their capacity for social development and their competitiveness in international trade.
Ethiopia believed that each country should take charge of its own comprehensive social development. The call on the international community to do the maximum possible for Africa in the economic area was an appeal to help remove the obstacles hindering the social development of the continent so that Africa could progress through the efforts of its own people. The continued socio-economic decline in the least developed countries generally was a source of grave concern. This was evidenced by the alarming increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty and economic decline or stagnation. This dismal deteriorating situation was compounded further by a lack of resource flows, dwindling direct foreign investment, reduction in export earnings, excruciating debt crisis, rising unemployment, especially among the young, and environmental degradation.
NORWOOD LANGLEY, Vice-Minister for Planning and Economic Affairs of Liberia, said other speakers had already described the highly potent revolution sweeping the world called globalization. Post-conflict least-developed countries were in a particularly vulnerable situation, although most least-developed countries in general were still unable to meet the basic needs of their citizens. There were often declines in trade and increases in external debt, and frequently structural-adjustment programmes had not taken into account the social needs of citizens. Liberia had not had significant success in meeting the Copenhagen goals, primarily as a result of a long conflict. Now that peace had been restored, the Government faced overwhelming problems in rebuilding the country and repairing the national psyche. Great amounts of international aid were needed to jump-start the economy and provide basic social services, but unfortunately, not enough had been forthcoming.
Developing countries could not get ahead without assistance, debt restructuring, and better trade terms. What happened in the future would depend on whether perspectives changed or not -- if the situation continued to be viewed as one involving the North and South instead of one involving one interrelated human family, the basic problems faced by the world would not be resolved.
ESTELABEL PIAD HERBRUGER, Vice-Minister of Youth, Women, Childhood and the Family of Panama, said that her country was a small nation with only 2.8 million inhabitants, 60 per cent of whom lived in urban areas. Approximately 37.3 per cent of the population lived in poverty and 77 per cent of Panamanians were concentrated in rural and indigenous areas. The Government of Panama considered social development as a priority and had made great effort to reduce poverty through the creation of employment and social integration. Panama was among leading Latin American countries, which spent the highest part of their gross national product on social development. The Government had been spending 20 per cent of its GDP on activities designed to ameliorate social conditions. However, the result was far from satisfying and more efforts had to be made to improve the living conditions of the indigenous and other vulnerable groups.
Among Panama's priority programmes were the injection of a policy of rural development in order to allow the expansion of social services to the rural population. With regard to the indigenous population, the State considered it indispensable to respect their identities, values, cultures and their social organizations. In addition, the introduction of modern and basic social services were also found to be essential. In order to strengthen those measures and to integrate indigenous peoples into public activities, the Government had established the national council for indigenous development. The Government had also made additional efforts to improve the quality of education, health, and other basic services of the country. However, the Government's capacity to invest in measures of social development had been restricted by the high level of indebtedness of the country. The country paid 21.8 per cent of its income to satisfy debt servicing.
GERBERT BETANCOURT, Vice-Minister of Public Health and Social Welfare of El Salvador, said the last five years had been marked by violence, natural disasters, and unfair trade practices. But the country had managed to raise the levels of social development. Since the peace agreements were signed in 1992, El Salvador had become an example of a country showing progress in times of peace. The progress achieved by the country was easy to see: there were approximately 5,000 organizations of parents, teachers and students that oversaw schools in the country. That was a product of a 1994 initiative, and that had helped drop the illiteracy rate to 17 per cent, the lowest in the country's history.
Other programmes had helped reduce incidents of truancy. The impact on health and nutrition could also be seen. From 1995 to today, the budget of the Ministry of Health had doubled, thanks in part to international aid. Human resources had been strengthened, and the quality of care had increased. Regarding the fight against poverty, the people living in poverty had fallen from 59 per cent in 1991 to 44 per cent in 1998, while those living in absolute poverty had dropped from 22.2 per cent to 18.9 per cent. The private sector had made a substantial effort to reduce the housing shortfall. To combat domestic violence, a law criminalizing it was passed. Joint efforts between the Government and private enterprises used various media to educate the population about the dangers of discrimination. Social development was a global task that required attention between all countries and societies. Integrated strategies could guarantee the benefits of all peoples.
KUNZANG C. NAMGYEL, Head of the Multilateral Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, said the country was landlocked, mountainous, and had remote and scattered settlements, and the costs of social development had been high. Yet remarkable progress had been achieved over the past four decades. The guiding principle was called Gross National Happiness, and people and their needs were considered central to all development efforts -- economic growth was not seen as an end in itself. Local development bodies had been strengthened; plans had been coordinated through a document called Bhutan 2020; 30 per cent of the budget had been earmarked for the social sector; even the remotest corners of the country were served with health, education, and agricultural extension facilities; infant and maternal mortality rates had declined; life expectancy had increased; child immunization coverage had reached 90 per cent; health coverage was around 90 per cent; and 65 per cent of the rural population had access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Free education was provided through tertiary level.
There were challenges and constraints, including job creation for the younger generation and the problem of illegal economic migrants. Declining levels of assistance over the years did not auger well for developing countries, and donor nations that had not done so were urged to live up to their commitments to provide 0.7 per cent of their GDP for official development assistance. Bhutan expressed its gratitude for the development aid it had received.
NAVIN CHANDARPAL, Chairperson of the Delegation of Guyana, said the experiences of Guyana, as a small developing country seeking to provide a high quality of life for its citizens, demonstrated the importance of political will, both nationally and internationally, for the achievement of social justice and development. The strengthening of democratic structures and institutions since 1992 proved to be a good basis for participatory approaches to resolve poverty, unemployment, unequal access to basic social services and the marginalization of certain social groups within society. Over the years, the budget for the social sector had steadily increased with emphasis given to health and education. Diversification of the economy, efforts to attract foreign investment and incentives for the private sector, including small enterprise development, were actively pursued as part of income and employment generation strategies. Poverty alleviation programmes, housing as well as safe drinking water and sanitation policies, were specially targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
Despite these efforts, challenges remained. Poverty eradication remained a formidable task as policy makers sought to balance limited financial resources with the need to respond to the most basic needs of the Guyanese citizens. The multidimensional character of poverty did not make the task any easier since poverty eradication strategies should target not only income and employment generation, but also education, health, housing and access to opportunities since poverty could contribute to social exclusion. Every country could and should take internal actions to maintain social progress, and this forum should serve to re-inspire and re-invigorate all countries to do so. But this forum would be a sad disappointment and this body would have failed to meaningfully use the five years since Copenhagen if major forces did not take their heads out of the sand in order to recognize that the main impediments to achieving social progress were structural in nature and deeply rooted in the massive inequality and unjust relations between States.
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