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Role of Digital Technologies on Well-being for All among Resolutions Agreed Upon, as Social Development Commission Concludes Session

The Commission for Social Development concluded its fifty-ninth session today, forwarding four draft resolutions, all without a vote, to the Economic and Social Council for consideration, including one that addressed this year’s priority theme for the 46-member subsidiary body — the role of digital technologies on social development and the well-being of all.

Delegates also recommended that the Council authorize the Secretary-General to prepare and promulgate a statute for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), an autonomous research institute within the United Nations system, based in Geneva, that undertakes interdisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.

In closing remarks, Commission Chair María del Carmen Squeff (Argentina) thanked delegates and civil society representatives alike for actively participating in open, frank and interactive discussions.  The resolution on the priority issue — “Socially just transition towards sustainable development:  the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all” — acknowledges that digital technologies have profoundly transformed global societies.  It also recognizes the digital divide within and among countries, and between generations and genders.

“We need young people to play a leading role in our contemporary society,” she asserted, calling for public action to achieve a transformational recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  “We need States to be present at a greater degree,” she said.  “We cannot allow a new digital citizenship to be the privilege of the few.”  Digital technologies must be used as both emergency tools and those that provide opportunities for all the world’s people in efforts to create more inclusive, equitable societies.

The Commission first approved the draft resolution “Future organization and methods of work of the Commission for Social Development” (document E/CN.5/2021/L.4).  Through that text, the Council would decide that the priority theme for the 46-member Commission’s sixtieth session will be “Inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being and dignity for all:  eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions to achieve the 2030 Agenda”.

The representative of Mexico said that in selecting its priority issues, the Commission must consider the work programme of the Council and the high-level political forum on social development, and not simply follow up the World Summit for Social Development and the 2030 Agenda for Social Development.  “It is a question of creating synergies,” she said, expressing regret that the draft resolution decided the priority theme for the sixtieth session, without awaiting news about that of the high-level political forum.  She urged the Commission to find ways that allow its work to be fully aligned with that of the political forum.

Next, the Commission took up the draft resolution “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2021/L.3/Rev.1), introduced by the representative of Guinea on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, who advocated for fulfilling the commitments made at the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995.  He underscored the need for a global response to the pandemic based on renewed solidarity, including support for Agenda 2063 of the African Union, urging all countries that have not yet done so to ratify or accede to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and for African countries, in particular, to prioritize structural transformation.

The representative of the United States said his delegation joined consensus on the draft, but clarified that in paragraph 58, implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be without prejudice to other processes and must not serve as a precedent for actions under way in other forums.  The text does not provide for a commitment to new market access.  Technical transfer should be voluntary and on mutually agreed terms.  On the reaffirmation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, he said much of the trade-related language is immaterial to his country’s position, and thus, its reaffirmation has no standing in ongoing negotiations involving trade.  Further, the phrase “right to development” does not have an agreed understanding and he expressed concern that such a right identified in the text protects States rather than individuals.  The United States would welcome engagement with others on this topic, he added.

In an explanation of position, the representative of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that his delegation joined consensus and that some of its proposals were taken into account.  The final text is overly long and duplicative of other initiatives, notably the Assembly resolution on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and he encouraged the Group of 77 to consider re-tabling the text or making it a biennial document.  Describing the division of labour between the Council and the General Assembly as “far from clear”, he said resolutions on the same topics, challenges and issues should be adopted by one body or the other — and certainly not in the same year.  “The United Nations will only succeed in delivering the 2030 Agenda through stronger collaboration and coordination among its main bodies,” he assured, nonetheless reiterating the bloc’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and 2063 Agenda.

The Commission then approved the draft resolution titled “Socially just transition towards sustainable development:  the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all” (document E/CN.5/2021/L.6).  Through that nine-page text, the Council, recognizing how the pandemic has aggravated inequalities, would urge Member States, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to close the digital divide and promote digital inclusion.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that his delegation joined consensus, said the term “gender responsive” — which appears in several operative paragraphs — lacks a universally accepted definition.  He expressed regret over its use, rather than the term “gender sensitive”, and as such, he disassociated from it.

The representative of the United States welcomed the text’s language on access to information for vulnerable and marginalized communities in the context of the coronavirus, as well as references to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.  He nonetheless expressed regret that the text did not include stronger language on individuals and families in all their diversities.  More broadly, issues related to taxation and the availability of information and communications technologies are better addressed in the World Trade Organization or other United Nations bodies.  On operative paragraph 37, he expressed a preference for the more established language, “for today’s generation” among others, over the phrase, “for the common future of present and future generations.”

Finally, the Commission approved the draft resolution titled “Policies and programmes involving youth” (document E/CN.5/2021/L.5).  Introducing that text, the representative of Portugal said that the impact of COVID-19 on youth could not be ignored and it was therefore necessary to include changes related to the consequences of the pandemic on young peoples’ lives.  The digital divide — especially related to girls — and the roles of youth volunteers, digital inclusion and new technologies in reducing the impact of COVID-19 are among the new themes introduced.  The draft also requests the Secretary-General to submit a report to the sixty-first session on the progress and challenges in delivering on the World Programme of Action on Youth.

Speaking after action, the representative of Hungary said the focus on youth resonates with her country’s commitment to invest in the next generation.  On preambular paragraph 21 and operational paragraph 5, she said migration does not have a positive development impact on all populations.  Irregular migration flows present major challenges to all countries affected.  Hungary would have wanted to include a general reference to all groups in vulnerable situations, instead of a list, in order to avoid “cherry picking”.  “Young people all deserve to start their lives at home in an enabling environment where they can fulfil their potential,” she stressed.

The representative of the United States, while joining consensus, clarified that the 2030 Agenda and other instruments are non-binding documents that do not create new rights or obligations under international law.  As educational matters in the United States are determined at the state and local levels, his delegation understands the resolution on youth as consistent with its decisions taken by its respective federal, state and local authorities.

In other business, the Commission, acting on the recommendation of the Secretary-General, and without a vote, nominated Olivier De Schutter (Belgium) and Graziella Moraes Silva (Brazil) as members of the Board of UNRISD for a four-year term beginning after their confirmation by the Economic and Social Council and on a date no sooner than 1 July 2021 and expiring on 30 June 2025.

It also recommended that the Council adopt a draft decision authorizing the Secretary-General, in consultation with UNRISD’s Board, to prepare and promulgate a statute for the Institute and to request the Secretary-General to keep the Commission informed about steps taken in that regard.

The representative of Argentina said the designation of members to the Institute should be transparent and inclusive, underscoring the need for a real procedure for consultations within the Commission.  UNRISD contributes to the United Nations through its discussions and reports, and she called for common lines of communication.

Finally today, the Commission approved, without a vote, the provisional agenda and documentation for its sixtieth session (document E/CN.5/2021/L.1).  Delegates similarly approved the draft report of its fifty-ninth session (document E/CN.5/2020/L.2), relaying the procedural arrangements of the session, introduced by Kouadjo Michel Kouakou (Côte d’Ivoire), Rapporteur of the Commission.

Immediately following the closure of the fifty‑ninth session, the Commission opened the first meeting of its sixtieth session.  Acting by acclamation, it re-elected Ms. Squeff as its Chair and elected Stefano Guerra (Portugal) as Vice-Chair.  It postponed the election of remaining members of the Bureau to a later date.


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