12 April 2000

Press Release


            Havana, 12 April—The “democratization” and modernization of the United Nations were urged yesterday by some 40 Ministers from developing countries meeting here informally to discuss the role of the UN in the 21st century. “The only way to improve our lot as developing countries is to ask for a fair share in the UN’s decision-making process”, they said.

            The Ministers, most of whom are Ministers of Foreign Affairs and who represent all regions of the developing world, from the Caribbean and Latin America to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, are here to attend the South Summit of the “Group of 77”, the largest third world coalition in the United Nations.  Yesterday’s off-the-record exchange among Ministers preceded meetings of Heads of State and Government, which began today and continue through Friday.  On Friday, the leaders are expected to adopt a declaration and programme of action charting a new course for the third world in the years to come.

            Permanent membership in the Security Council for developing countries, the elimination of the veto, and “transparency” in the Council’s work were called for, along with an “early warning system” to prevent the emergence or development of conflicts, an increasing number of which are erupting in the South.  The UN and its specialized agencies must be committed to international peace and security and at the same time to development and the eradication of poverty, which are “two sides of the same coin”, the officials said. 

           The original vision of the United Nations, as contained in the Charter, does not need to be redefined, the Ministers said.  However, many of them expressed reservations about the principle of “humanitarian intervention” that has been much discussed in recent months as a solution to the dilemma posed by internal conflicts and massive human rights violations. “That principle is now being defined as the power of the international community to intervene against governments on the basis of criteria defined by the few”, deplored one speaker.  He and others called for reaffirming the Charter’s provisions on respect for sovereignty, sovereign equality, non-intervention in internal affairs and self-determination.

No “one-size-fits-all”

            The UN should play a greater role in socioeconomic development and investment in human beings, said a number of Ministers, adding that, while debates on democratization and good governance were appropriate, there was “no one-size-fits-all” model of what constitutes a democratic government; the form of government chosen should address the particularities of each country.  Good governance also required capacity-building, as many developing countries lacked the necessary institutions and machineries.  “Ethics for governance need to be looked at” noted one Minister, “but not in the absence of those institutions”.

            The Ministers called for restoring the primacy of the UN General Assembly and said the Bretton Woods institutions should be reformed as well, to allow developing countries to participate in the decision-making process, given the major impact of their policies on those nations’ economies.  The World Bank should provide support to investment in infrastructure and social capital but without demanding “unachievable” conditions of its beneficiary nations, said one leader, who also proposed a role for the IMF in stabilizing volatile international capital flows and cancelling developing countries’ debt.

            The need for new sources of financing for development as a result of declining ODA was stressed by almost all participants in the ministerial debate.  Decreasing aid, and the growing income and technology gaps between North and South which were due in large part to economic globalization and liberalization, made it urgent for the developing nations to cooperate more closely, both with the industrialized countries and among themselves. While the relationship between the North and South was cooperative in many areas, in others – particularly in such economic areas as trade – was based on fierce competition. Developing countries would have to work together to defend their economic interests and ensure their equitable participation in the international economic system.  “Liberalization, transparency and good governance are being demanded of developing countries”, said one Minister, “and the same standards should be applied to developed countries”.  Another argued that “we are asked to trade on equal terms with the North, when we don’t even have the goods to trade; we must not become a dumping ground for theirs”.

            On knowledge and technology – one of the four main topics on the agenda of the South Summit, along with globalization, North-South relations, and South-South cooperation -- the Ministers noted that 80 per cent of digital knowledge was to be found in the developed world.  That gap would have to be closed, they said, “but not by leaving it up to the private sector; rather, by involving the United Nations”.  They urged increased investment in education and training as well as energy and social infrastructure to enable the South to catch up with the North and develop its full potential in those areas. 

       On the UN’s role in the new century, the Ministers also advocated:           

  • Finding ways to encourage the implementation and enforcement of humanitarian and human rights law;
  • Creating a capacity-building fund to support developing countries’ work in such fields as remote sensing, information technology and biotechnology; and
  • Forging a partnership between North and South that extends not just to economic and social questions but also to cross-border terrorism; illegal trafficking in drugs, arms and people; and money laundering.

            For the international community in general, the Ministers defined a number of key challenges, including improved living standards, reversing the brain drain and the “privatization” of knowledge, and effective realization of the right to development.  The  faith of developing countries in multilateral negotiations should be reinvigorated, and the developed world should make good on the “broken promise” of allocating 0.7% of GDP to aid, they insisted. 

For more information, contact the Executive Secretary of the South Summit, Mr. Mourad Ahmia, Havana International Conference Center, Room 1105, tel: +537/282.786, fax: +537/288.655; or or