Fourth Committee Members Stress Need for Peace Operations to Learn from COVID 19, Enduring Importance of Multilingualism, as General Debate Begins

Speakers Also Highlight Questions of Falklands Islands (Malvinas), Middle East Conflict, Palestine Refugee Agency

Beginning their general debate on a range of topics today, speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) called upon United Nations peace operations to learn from the COVID‑19 pandemic in terms of planning future mandates, as others emphasized the enduring importance of multilingualism in the face of emerging constraints on resources.

Azerbaijan’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said peace operations must take lessons from the pandemic and ensure that preparedness to address such emergencies is embedded in future mandate setting.  Noting that the bloc’s member countries contribute more than 86 per cent of uniformed United Nations peacekeeping personnel, he also highlighted the important role played by special political missions in Africa and Central Asia.  As such, the latter must be financed under the same criteria and mechanisms used to fund peacekeeping missions, he emphasized.

Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), commended United Nations peace missions for remaining steadfast during the COVID‑19 crisis, noting that they respond to and prevent various forms of threats against civilians, which have not diminished despite the pandemic.  Turning to information, he reiterated the importance of ensuring that the ongoing repositioning process that has led to the merger of United Nations information centres with resident coordinator offices does not erode the considerable gains achieved by the centres.  He went on to emphasize the need, while recognizing the resource constraints facing the Organization, to practise multilingualism in all United Nations information centres.

Echoing that stance, Guyana’s representative pointed out, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the sharp increase of Arabic- and Spanish‑speaking visitors to the United Nations website.  Spanish‑speaking visitors constituted 40 per cent of the audience in 2020, surpassing English‑speakers in this regard for the first time, she pointed out.

Similarly, Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, noted that multilingualism allows real dialogue among States, stressing:  “Financial constraints should not hinder the need for equality and parity between the Organization’s official languages.”  He also called for enhancing the role of traditional communications channels — such as United Nations Radio — especially when disseminating information to developing countries.

Several delegates also addressed decolonization matters, calling particular attention to the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)*, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.

In that context, Mexico’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reaffirmed the bloc’s strong support for Argentina’s legitimate rights, urging that country and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations and find a peaceful and definitive solution to their dispute over the Non‑Self‑Governing Territory.  He went on to state that CELAC members have committed themselves to freeing their region of colonialism and colonies.  “In the context of self‑determination, when the will of the majority of the indigenous population colonized is unequivocal, administering Powers should not thwart this will, directly or indirectly,” he stressed.

At the outset, Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, emphasized that “the benefit of face‑to‑face diplomacy cannot be taken for granted”.  Recalling that more than 80 former colonies, comprising 750 million people, have gained independence over the past 75 years, he called for self‑determination for all colonial countries and peoples.  He also called attention to the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, encouraging all Member States to translate shared commitments into action to better support peacekeepers and the people they protect.  Noting the Fourth Committee’s critical role in keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the international agenda, he said the services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) remain vital.  He expressed concern over the recurrent financial gaps afflicting the Agency, emphasizing:  “UNRWA needs predictable and sustained funding to ensure stability and security for Palestine refugees.”

In other business today, the Committee elected Marius‑Ioan Piso (Romania) Chair of the Working Group of the Whole for the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Representatives of the United Kingdom and Argentina spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 15 October, to continue its general debate.

General Debate

The representative of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, expressed support for the ability of the Department of Global Communications to disseminate reliable information about the United Nations to the world.  He noted specifically its efforts to adapt to the virtual modalities currently required in the face of pandemic-related restrictions.  While the COVID‑19 crisis has led to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, the Department remains well positioned to provide sorely needed dependable information, he said, adding that the resident coordinator system plays an important role in that regard.  She went on to highlight new communications campaigns that counter the proliferation of disinformation about COVID‑19, specifically the “Verified” initiative campaign.

The Department’s first global communications strategy is not only a useful framework to highlight the Organizations work but goes a step further in producing communications that inspire action, she said, adding that the strategy must be made available in the six official United Nations languages.  Multilingualism is essential if the Organization is to reach diverse audiences, she said, noting the growing demand for content in languages other than English.  She cited the sharp increase of Arabic-and Spanish-speaking visitors to the United Nations website in 2020.  Spanish‑speakers made up a 40 per cent share of the audience, surpassing English for the first time, she added.

Encouraging the Department to find alternatives to ensure that each United Nations news website receives the resources it needs to produce content in multiple languages, including Portuguese, Kiswahili and Hindi, she highlighted the role of United Nations information centres in creating content targeted at local populations and Governments.  She also encouraged the Department to provide information centres with platforms for engaging on issues that are relevant to their unique audiences.  It must also do more to increase its digital outreach and address digital disparities and communication gaps among and between countries, she said.

The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the funding crisis plaguing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been exacerbated by the punitive and unjustified decision by the Government of the United States to terminate funding.  Expressing concern over Israel’s announced intention to end UNRWA services in occupied East Jerusalem, he pointed out that despite the vast number of United Nations legislation on the question of Palestine, the occupying Power continues its activities with impunity, he said, calling upon Israel to comply with its obligations under international law.

Turning to peace operations, he noted that the Movement’s member countries represent more than 86 per cent of uniformed United Nations peacekeeping personnel.  He cited the recent request to add a new chapter to the Action for Peacekeeping initiative dedicated to Africa‑related peacekeeping issues, saying it reflects the continent’s importance to peacekeeping in terms of the number of major peace operations deployed in Africa, the number of troops and police from the continent and the importance of the strategic partnership between the African Union and the United Nations on peace and Security.  The finalized Peacekeeping Performance and Accountability Framework should take into account the necessity of putting all personnel on an equal footing, whether uniformed or civilian, in the field or at Headquarters, he emphasized.

Peacekeeping operations must take lessons from the pandemic and ensure that preparedness to address such health and other emergencies is embedded in planning future mandates and establishing peace operations, he said.  Highlighting the essential role of special political missions in relation to a wide range of issues and covering many countries, particularly in Africa, he cited the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) as well as the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA).  Special political missions must be financed under the same criteria and mechanisms used to fund peacekeeping missions, he stressed.

The representative of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), called upon administering Powers to adopt the measures necessary for the rapid decolonization of the remining Non‑Self‑Governing Territories.  In that regard, administering Powers should take into account the situation of each Territory, including those defined as “special and particular”.  In that context, he welcomed the holding of the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization in St. George, Grenada, from 2 to 4 May, 2019, by the Special Committee on Decolonization.

On the question of the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, he reaffirmed CELAC’s strongest support for Argentina’s legitimate rights, urging that country and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations and find a peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute.  Argentina’s is fully willing to develop mechanisms for the resumption of dialogue, he added.  As for the colonial question of Puerto Rico, he observed that 37 United Nations resolutions and decisions reaffirming the inalienable right of that Territory’s people to self‑determination have been approved by consensus.

As such, CELAC members have committed themselves to free their region of colonialism and colonies, he continued, affirming:  “In the context of self‑determination, when the will of the majority of the indigenous population colonized is unequivocal, administering Powers should not thwart this will, directly or indirectly.”  He went on to express concern over the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, emphasizing the need to ensure truly inclusive, democratic and representative governance in that Territory.  “The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands must be permitted to meaningfully participate in determining their own future.”

The representative of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, commended United Nations missions for remaining steadfast during the COVID‑19 crisis.  They provide effective support to political peace processes while responding to and preventing various forms of threats against civilians, which have not diminished despite the pandemic.  He welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2476 (2019) which established the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), saying the new entity has worked consistently to strengthen and promote political stability and good governance.  It has played an important advisory role to the Government of Haiti in such key areas as justice reform, human rights protection and accountability, and reduction of community violence.  “We remain committed to assisting and advocating for Haiti as it progresses along its path towards sustainable peace, stability and development,” he said, noting that sustained dialogue and inclusion will continue to augur well for the efforts of all parties.

Turning to information questions, he highlighted efforts by the United Nations information centres to disseminate accurate and science‑based information during the COVID‑19 pandemic.  However, “the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as this technological revolution has been dubbed, is evolving at an exponential pace that presents challenges that have resulted in uncertainty and disorder, such as the spread of misinformation”, he observed.  As such, the Department of Global Communications plays a critical role in promoting reliable information, he emphasized, applauding its sustained efforts and welcoming cross‑cutting reform efforts focused on strategic planning, partnerships, resource mobilization and innovation.  He went on to reiterate the importance of ensuring that the Department’s merger of United Nations information centres with resident coordinator offices does not erode the considerable gains achieved by the centres.  The transition must not eliminate the most effective communications tools in the Caribbean region, he said.  While recognizing the Organization’s resource constraints, multilingualism must be practised in all United Nations information centres, he added.

The representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reaffirmed that peacekeeping is one of the main elements of the bloc’s political and security cooperation, adding that it continues its collaboration on peacekeeping‑related issues with its external partners.  In that context, he underlined the importance of sustainable political solutions, achievable mandates and adequate resourcing for peacekeeping missions.

Enhanced cooperation and partnerships on peacekeeping between the United Nations and regional organizations is also essential, he said, adding that he looks forward to closer collaboration between ASEAN and the United Nations through the adoption and implementation of a new ASEAN‑UN Plan of Action 2021‑2025.  He went on to highlight the importance pf partnerships in enhancing training and capacity‑building, the role of women in peace operations and the need to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers, especially in light of the additional threat of COVID‑19.

Turning to special political missions, he emphasized the primary responsibility of host countries to advance national priorities and nationally owned peacebuilding initiatives while encouraging cooperation between missions and regional entities.  Expressing concern about misinformation, he reiterated ASEAN’s support for the role of the Department of Global Communications in providing clear, timely, factual, accurate, dependable and impartial information about the work of the United Nations.  He went on to highlight the importance of multilingualism, calling upon the Department to work with the Organization’s information centres to use not only the six official languages, but also local ones.

The representative of Uruguay, speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and Associated States, recalled that since the adoption of United Nations resolution 2065 (1965) the Special Committee on Decolonization has recognized the issue of the Malvinas Islands as a sovereign land dispute that must be solved through peaceful negotiations.  Expressing MERCOSUR’s support for Argentina’s legitimate rights, he emphasized that the adoption of unilateral measures is not compatible with United Nations agreements.  He called for a swift solution to the Malvinas question, in conformity with relevant resolutions and regional Declarations, he stressed Argentina’s willingness to negotiate and called upon the United Kingdom to re‑engage in discussions.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, speaking on behalf of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors, underlined the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity, calling for the full integration of linguistic matters into United Nations peacekeeping efforts.  When peace operations are multidimensional, the ability to speak French is a matter of paramount importance because it bolsters acceptance of and trust in mission, he pointed out.  Use of the French language is also important in ensuring the effectiveness of exit strategies and helping to bolster security for all uniformed personnel, he said, pointing out that three of the most important peace and peacebuilding operations are deployed in Francophone countries.  “Hindering multilingualism has a negative impact on operations on the ground,” he stressed, citing a joint letter the Group of Francophone Ambassadors and the Group of Friends of Spanish.

He went on to welcome efforts to make United Nations webpages available in all six official languages, noting that effective communication does not entail simply translation from English.  Multilingualism is a crucial value for the United Nations and allows real dialogue between States, he said, stressing:  “All countries must have the same opportunity to take part in discussion.”  Trust between Member States hinges on transparency and the availability of information in different languages, he said, reiterating calls for the Department of Global Communications to ensure the balanced use of all six official languages on United Nations webpages.  While information and communications technology can help disseminate the Organization’s message, the role of traditional channels — such as United Nations Radio — must also be enhanced, especially when disseminating information to developing countries, he said, stressing:  “Financial constraints should not hinder the need for equality and parity between the Organization’s official languages.”

The delegate of Cabo Verde, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, emphasized that access to timely and correct information in the appropriate language is very important and, in many instances, decisive in improving people’s lives, safety and progress.  Accurate information is an essential tool that can help find solutions to problems during the pandemic, he said, emphasizing that now, more than ever, providing correct, impartial, comprehensive and multilingual information is an imperative service to international audiences.  He applauded the commitment of the Under‑Secretary‑General and the Department of Global Communications to informing and promoting the work of the United Nations, particularly their vigorous response to the communications challenges created by COVID‑19.

Describing the Department as a cornerstone of the United Nations system, he said it disseminates and promotes the Organization’s message across the world, in the six official languages and others. Portuguese is one of those languages in which information about the United Nations is disseminated, he said, noting that it reaches more than 300 million people who call Portuguese their mother tongue, in Member States spread throughout four continents and in a large diaspora. Through United Nations News Portuguese and a worldwide network of stakeholders in media organizations, as well as through the work of United Nations information centres around the world, the Portuguese audience has grown exponentially, he said. As the United Nations and the Community come together again on a biennial basis to extend their cooperation through an Assembly resolution, they share values that structure their relationship, he noted.  The common goals of peace, human rights, and people’s well‑being cannot be fully met without the shared aspiration to reinvigorate multilateralism and multilingualism.

The representative of Nicaragua, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System (SICA), expressed the bloc’s support for Argentina’s legitimate rights in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Islands, South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas.  Urging Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume negotiations towards a peaceful and definitive solution to their dispute.  He also urged both sides to refrain from introducing unilateral modifications in the situation while the Territory undergoes the process recommended by the General Assembly.  He went on to highlight the Central American Parliament’s adoption of June 10 as the Central American Solidarity Day with the Argentine Malvinas Islands.

The representative of Argentina, associating herself with CELAC, MERCOSUR, the Group of Friends of Spanish and the Group of 77 and China, recalled that the United Nations has considered the Malvinas question on many occasions and adopted resolutions that have been renewed and supported by various international, regional, and biregional organizations.  However, the United Kingdom continues to ignore the call for negotiations to find a solution, failing to meet its obligations regarding decolonization, she said.

It should be borne in mind that “self‑determination” and “decolonization” are not synonymous, she emphasized.  In the case of the Malvinas Islands, although it is a colonial situation, its inhabitants could hardly be considered ever to have been subjected to foreign colonial subjugation, domination or exploitation, she said, pointing out that there is no “people” there that can be the holder of the right to self‑determination, but rather a group of inhabitants descended from the British colonists.  Recognizing the right of such a population to self‑determination would be a distortion of a human right, she emphasized.

She went on to recall that after the adoption of resolution 2065, Argentina and the United Kingdom entered into negotiations wherein the parties considered different alternatives to resolve the dispute.  At the same time, Argentina carried out measures that had a positive impact on the lives of the islanders and its Government remains committed to respecting their way of life and interests, she affirmed.  However, that does not mean Argentina accepts the United Kingdom’s pursuit of unilateral actions in the disputed area, including the exploitation of renewable and non‑renewable natural resources and the establishment of a military a military base, she stressed.

The Deputy Head of the European Union delegation affirmed that UNRWA makes a key contribution to the viability of a two‑State solution, which remains the only realistic way to achieve peace in the region.  In particular, its provision of health services and education is important not only in the Gaza Strip and Syria, but also in Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank.  As such, the European Union is collectively the largest contributor to the Agency’s budget and will continue its support in the future, he emphasized.  Calling upon Israel to halt continued settlement expansion — including in occupied East Jerusalem and especially in such sensitive areas as Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and E‑1 — he stressed that the European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre‑1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem.

Welcoming the normalization of relations between Israel on the one hand and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other, he described Israel’s commitment to suspend plans to annex areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a positive step.  Concerning Gaza, he called upon Israel to respect the people’s fundamental right to protest and on Hamas to ensure that protests remain non‑violent.  Taking note of the announcement by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority’s intention to hold elections, he said a date should be set soon and called upon Palestinian factions to commit to democratic principles before the vote.  Regarding peacekeeping, he called upon Member States to pay their contributions in full and in a timely manner, reporting that the United Nations and the European Union signed an agreement in September on mutual support of their respective missions and operations in the field.  Concerning the role of regional initiatives, he said the European Union especially values African peace operations, underlining their need for sustainable international financing.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom emphasized in response to CELAC, MERCURSUR, Argentina and Peru that his country has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) nor their people’s right to self‑determination.  There can be no discussion unless the people of the islands wish to have one, he added.  The referendum in which 98 per cent of the inhabitants voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom sent a clear message that they don’t want a dialogue on sovereignty, he said, stressing that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the people of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is a modern one based on shared values.  Regarding the Chagos Archipelago, he said Mauritius has never held sovereignty over those islands and, as such, the United Kingdom does not accept its claim.

The representative of Argentina reiterated that the Malvinas Islands are an integral part of its territory and are illegally occupied and subject to a sovereignty dispute by both the United Kingdom and Argentina.  Recalling that the Special Committee reiterated earlier in 2020 that the principle of self‑determination is not applicable in this case, he said that, as a result, the 2013 referendum was a unilateral act and does not alter the legitimate rights of Argentina.  On the question of the Chagos Archipelago, he said it is up to the General Assembly to make a statement on the nature of that matter.  He went on to reiterate that the holding of an unapproved referendum has no legal value.

Also speaking today were representatives of Pakistan, Peru, Kenya and Nicaragua.

Source: United Nations

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