General Assembly: 34th plenary meeting, 76th session
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Reports of the Fifth Committee.

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Resolution on Follow‑up to Secretary‑General’s Report “Our Common Agenda” Also Adopted

The General Assembly adopted a resolution on follow‑up to the Secretary‑General’s report, Our Common Agenda, and began a debate on Security Council reform, with delegates calling for galvanized action to realize long‑awaited demands to make the body fit for purpose to face twenty‑first century challenges.

By the terms of the resolution, introduced by Rwanda’s representative, the Assembly welcomed Our Common Agenda — the Secretary‑General’s vision on the future of global cooperation and reinvigorating inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism over the next 25 years — as requested by Member States in the declaration on the commemoration of the United Nations seventy‑fifth anniversary.

The Assembly asked the Secretary‑General to inform and engage in consultations with Member States on his proposals in the report for follow‑up action to expedite full implementation of agreed frameworks, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The Assembly also called upon its President to initiate a process of follow-up to enable all Member States to begin inclusive intergovernmental consideration of the various proposals, options, and potential means of implementation, in collaboration with all relevant partners through broad, inclusive consultations.

Opening the debate on Security Council reform, Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said a stronger United Nations is necessary for a sustainable world, and reform will make the 15‑member Council more fit for purpose and will revitalize the Organization as a whole. Reform will be challenging but not impossible, he said, noting that he had appointed the permanent representatives of Qatar and Denmark as Co-Chairs of the current session of intergovernmental negotiations. The success of the process now depends on Member States, he said.

Japan’s representative, speaking for the Group of Four (Brazil, India, Germany and his own country), said the first step should be to bridge the differing positions on how best to advance Council reform by spelling out the positions of all actors in a single document. The framework document produced by the intergovernmental negotiations represents “an encyclopedia” of detailed State and group positions that can guide future discussions, he said, requesting, by the end of the session, a single consolidated paper of attributed positions of all States that can serve as a basis for the related Assembly draft resolution.

Other delegates offered suggestions about how to overcome the current stalemate in discussions. Italy’s representative, speaking for the Uniting for Consensus Group, said the only way forward is a reform for all that meets every Member State’s interests. Offering several options for doing so, he recommended finding an agreement on the issues of veto power and membership categories. Resolving these issues could result in an expanded Council in a short amount of time. For the Council to reflect the changing world, the logic of such past modifiers as powers and “super” powers, should be abandoned, he said, advocating for an expansion of the number of elected members and not of permanent seats.

Other speakers echoed the call for expanding membership beyond the current five permanent seats held by China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States. Many strongly agreed that the Council must be modernized far beyond its original format established in 1945.

Indeed, the historical basis of the Security Council can no longer serve as an excuse to resist change, said the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who spoke on behalf of the L.69 group of developing countries from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, calling for improvements in the negotiations’ working methods.

Sierra Leone’s delegate, delivering a statement on behalf of the African Group, reiterated demands for no less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership, including the right of veto, and five non-permanent seats, for the continent’s nations. The common African position, as articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration, remains unchallenged and widely recognized. However, the African Group is disappointed that the Co-Chairs did not fully reference the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration in the Elements Paper, the fundamental pillar of the common African position, and the decisions adopted by African Heads of State and Government.

Kuwait’s representative, on behalf of the Arab Group, said all regional groups should have proportional representation. In this regard, Arab Group members — representing 400 million people in 22 States — must have permanent representation, as part of the Council’s future expansion, as well as representation in non-permanent seats, he said. Credibility in the veto power is waning on the heels of an excess use of it, related to issues in the Arab region, he said, adding that the Council must have more effective and transparent working methods, with permanent rules instead of transitional ones.

Also calling for expansion to both the permanent and non-permanent categories, Jamaica’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed hope that a sense of common purpose will continue to guide deliberations. Underlining the importance of the continuity of the negotiations to instil new life into reform discussions, bridge the divide and deliver more actionable outcomes, he emphasized that Member States have the responsibility to make sure the United Nations is fit for purpose and must move beyond rigid thinking that undermines consensus.

Finland’s representative, speaking for the Nordic countries, called for a balanced expansion of the Council from all regions. On the issue of veto power, Member States must carefully consider its impact in deliberations on reform. Permanent members’ veto power has restrained the Council’s ability to act on critical issues, he said, urging all States to join the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group’s code of conduct for Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the Political Declaration on Suspension of Veto Powers in Cases of Mass Atrocity, launched by France and Mexico in 2015.

Some permanent Council members shared their perspectives. The United Kingdom’s representative said his delegation — which has not exercised its veto since 1989 — supports the Accountability Coherence and Transparency Group’s code of conduct and remains committed to refrain from voting against a credible draft resolution on action preventing or ending a mass atrocity. Encouraging all Member States — including other permanent members — to do the same, he said disagreement on the veto question should not prevent progress in other areas where reform is possible. The United Kingdom also supports a modest expansion to a total membership of about 25, including new permanent seats for India, Germany, Japan and Brazil, and for permanent African representation.

China’s delegate said reforms should allow representatives of developing, small-island, African, Arab, Latin American and Asian countries, among others, to play a more prominent role in the Council, with a solution based on consensus among all States. However, a hasty preparation of documents and text-based negotiations will aggravate divisions between States, he said, noting China’s opposition to sharing official records and live broadcasts of negotiations’ meetings, which will limit the flexibility of States during talks.

Also delivering statements were representatives of India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Turkey, Maldives, Mexico, Ireland, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brazil, Iran, Argentina, Cuba, Belarus and Sri Lanka.

The General Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 16 November, to conclude its debate on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council, and to take up reports of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).