General Assembly Adopts Work Programme, Agenda for Seventy-Fourth Session, Retaining Items on Responsibility to Protect, Situation in Ukraine

The General Assembly, acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, today adopted the work programme and agenda for its seventy-fourth session, deciding to include the item responsibility to protect � among a range of others � in its discussions over the coming months.

The Assembly, which had before it the General Committee’s first report (document A/74/250), also endorsed the recommendation that its annual debate be held from 24 to 30 September.

While most agenda items were approved by consensus, Member States diverged on the inclusion of the topic known as the responsibility to protect, ultimately deciding by a record vote of 79 in favour to 13 against, with 17 abstentions, to include it on the Assembly’s agenda. Several speakers explained their positions in favour of its retention � citing the agendas of the Assembly’s seventy-second and seventy-third sessions as precedent � while others voiced concern that the topic lacks international consensus and has been exploited for political gains in recent decades.

The representative of Syria, calling for the vote, stressed that those States who favour the item’s inclusion � absent consensus � do so in contravention of the Assembly’s rules. To date, no agreed definitions of the rules and restrictions which would prevent the principle of the responsibility to protect from being exploited as a pretext for military aggression have been identified. Noting that some countries’ sovereignty has been violated under the pretext of the responsibility to protect, he stressed that an informal discussion of the concept would better serve countries to overcome their differences. Citing the important principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States, he said the wording of the agenda item � specifically The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity � strays from language agreed by States at the 2005 World Summit.

Also rejecting the item’s inclusion were the representatives of the Russian Federation and Cuba, with the latter emphasizing that it is neither viable nor timely for the Assembly to debate the responsibility to protect as part of its formal agenda. This issue continues to pose serious concerns for several countries, she stressed, underscoring that no consensus exists on its elements. The item’s inclusion on the agenda of the seventy-second session was meant to be limited to one year, she added, voicing concern that countries’ views on the matter continue to be ignored.

Iran’s representative stated that the responsibility to protect has failed the test for objectivity as well as impartiality. So far, its application has been guided by the politicized interests of some Member States and taken far from its alleged goal. Noting that the lack of consensus over the concept’s definition has increased the risk of violence in its application, he agreed that an informal interactive dialogue is a more appropriate venue for its consideration. A formal discussion in the Assembly will only further deepen divisions between States, he warned.

Other speakers explaining their positions against the item’s inclusion were the representative of China � who cautioned that railroading it onto the Assembly’s agenda will only further erode trust among Member States � and the representative of Egypt � who emphasized that countries bear the primary responsibility of protecting their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Striking a different tone, the representative of Denmark pointed out that most Member States have previously been in favour of including the item on the Assembly’s agenda and that following the body’s discussion on 16 September, the General Committee decided, without a vote, to recommend its inclusion during the seventy-fourth session. It would be unprecedented for the Assembly to challenge an agenda item on which it has already voted in the past, he said.

Echoing those points were the representatives of Ukraine and Australia, with the latter stressing that there is little value in speaking less about the important matter of the responsibility to protect. Finland’s representative, speaking for the European Union, emphasized that there is no valid reason to impede this conversation. The representative of the United States, meanwhile, recalled that those delegations who do not agree with the agenda item’s inclusion disassociated themselves from the consensus on 16 September. Now is not the time for the Assembly to debate the responsibility to protect, he added, as there will be an opportunity to do so later during the course of the seventy-fourth session.

Speaking in explanation of the position after the vote, the representative of Singapore said his delegation abstained, despite having supported the item’s inclusion in previous years. It changed its position because inclusion of the item will not lead to constructive dialogue and the topic clearly continues to divide Member States. Noting that the item was first proposed for one-off inclusion in the agenda of the seventy-second session, he expressed surprise to see it included in the seventy-third session and again in the seventy-fourth. Formal debate is not always the best format to build trust. This topic should be addressed through informal dialogue, he said, expressing regret that it has become an annual ritual.

The Assembly approved the inclusion of the topic situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine on the agenda of its seventy-fourth session, as recommended by the General Committee, by consensus.

Before that decision, the representative of the Russian Federation said that the very name of the agenda item distorts the character of the event that took place in 2014, particularly what the Ukraine’s regime calls anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine. The situation must be settled, not at the General Assembly, but under the Minsk agreements, a framework that was unanimously approved by the Security Council in its resolution 2202 (2015). The documents does not refer to the situation as temporarily occupied. Therefore, his delegation disassociated from the decision to include the item in the agenda of the seventy-fourth session, he said, thanking the 71 delegations that did not support the inclusion in the previous plenary meeting.

The representative of Syria disassociated from the decision to add that item to the agenda of the seventy-fourth session.

Other topics to be considered during the session include, among others: Sport through development and peace; Macroeconomic policy questions; Protection of global climate for present and future generations of humankind; Science, technology and innovation for sustainable development; Women in development; Report of the Peacebuilding Commission; Question of Palestine; Questions relating to information; New Partnership for Africa’s Development; Oceans and the Law of the Sea; and Report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Among those to be considered under organizational, administrative and other matters, are: Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization; Elections to fill vacancies in principal organs; Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit; Implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations; Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly; Sexual exploitation and abuse: implementing a zero-tolerance policy; and proposed programme budget for 2020.

The Assembly endorsed the General Committee’s recommendation that it include an agenda item on Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte, on the understanding that there will be no consideration of it.

It deferred consideration of an agenda item on Question of the Malagasy island of Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europea and Bassas da India.

The Assembly decided that the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine would participate in the seventy-fourth session as observer States, and that the European Union would participate in the work of the session as an observer.

Regarding the work of its Main Committees, the Assembly further endorsed the recommendation that the First Committee (International Security and Disarmament) complete its work by 8 November; Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) by 15 November; Second Committee (Economic and Financial) by 27 November; Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) by 13 December; and the Sixth Committee (Legal) by 20 November.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Zimbabwe and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Monday, 23 September, to open its High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.

Source: United Nations