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UN: General Assembly President Discusses Challenges Ahead

a Haya Rashed Al Khalifa (file photo) (Courtesy Photo) UNITED NATIONS, October 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain was elected president of the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly. She is the first Muslim woman elected to this position and the third woman overall. She spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev at the UN headquarters in New York on about the current session.

RFE/RL: What will be the main priorities of your work?

Sheikha Haya: We will work according to three principles. The first one is we will build on what has been done before us. That means we will build on the procedure which has been taken and on the reform issues related to the Security Council reform, to the revitalization of the General Assembly, and all the issues related to the reform. The second thing -- we will reinforce the establishment of the Human Rights Council, Peace Building Commission, and also we will continue to work according to the counterterrorism strategy. So we will continue and we will build on what has already been established. Also we will focus on development. We put the thematic debate for the 61st session toward the implementation of the development goals.

RFE/RL: How will you use your experience as a diplomat and lawyer to balance so many different interests at the General Assembly?

Haya: With the member states I have started the new negotiations about all the issues which are on the agenda. Each member state wants to see their ideas reflected in the decisions or the resolutions of the United Nations. And in fact I have to discuss, and to convince, and to bring them together to reach the minimum-order consensus on the issues. We have also to be realistic. The target for us and for all the member states is to reinforce this organization and to make it a strong and efficient institution through the decisions and resolutions which will be taken.

RFE/RL: Which issue do you see as the most difficult to achieve consensus on?

Haya: I cannot tell you that there is some item that is easy. There are member states who are for and there are member states who are against. The challenge for me as a president is to bring [them together], to make them compromise, to convince them, and to reach an agreement. For instance, we have now the terrorism convention. It is very important. I have noticed that many of the member states have mentioned before the General Assembly that we need to work toward this issue -- the terrorism convention. But how can we approach this? There are very important [significant] obstacles, very big obstacles. So we have to convince both of the parties -- those who are supportive and those who are against -- to reach a mutual agreement because it is for the benefit to everybody.

RFE/RL: So far, have you gotten frustrated in your new job?

Haya: I have a legal background so I see the things according to the rules and through the charter. Sometimes it is not like that [and] I have to be realistic with the facts and the politics.

RFE/RL: Which aspects of your legal background you see as beneficial in your current position?

Haya: Being a member of an arbitration center in Paris gave me the opportunity to have different points of view on the same legal aspect or legal question [issue]. This helped me to understand different positions and to see it from different areas. That means, what is good for somebody, may not be good for another party. The challenge is how can we reach a compromise as I worked as a mediator, sometimes, and as an arbitrator. This gave me the opportunity to see from where you can approach the matter, and if there are difficult areas -- how can you approach it.

RFE/RL: In your new job so far, which experience you have you had to draw upon more often -- that of an arbitrator or a mediator?

Haya: Mediator means that all the member states, as I told you, according to the UN charter they are equal. And I have to take care of the interests of every member state and to try to bring them together and to make their point of view understandable to the other parties in order to reach a solution. We will face very big issues, such as terrorism, I know it is a very sensitive issue. Also maybe the [UN] reform. These are very sensitive issues. It’s better to see how do you approach the matter with different member states and they definitely have a different mentality or different approach to the matter.

RFE/RL: What do you see as problematic issues for the creation of a common UN policy against terrorism?

Haya: I think the problematic areas of this [antiterrorism] convention is maybe 10 percent of the agenda. Member states have agreement over approximately 90 percent of the agenda. The definition [of terrorism] is a matter [that] if you consider it a matter of the local policy of each country, [then] you can understand that there may be differences among member states on this issue, on the definition. So each member state wants to put their own prospect and their own interpretation of terrorism. On this we are facing maybe 192 interpretations. If we say that maybe half of the member states they may have similar definition. But also there will be member states who will say no. I think that it is a technical matter.”

RFE/RL: In your acceptance speech you said that there is a need to enhance the relation between the General Assembly and the Security Council. How exactly do you see it?

Haya: The existing relation between the General Assembly and the Security Council is transparent and we have direct and regular meetings and consultations with the president of the Security Council. I circulate to the member states all the information which I have from the president of the Security Council. I have [been] approached by many member states; they have their own ideas how they see the reform of the Security Council. We are dealing with the matter how we develop this relation. Especially, when you see the charter it only provides that we have to have consultations. It’s not specifically [outlined] in the [UN] Charter how far the relationship [between the General Assembly and the Security Council should go], and the transparency. But, in fact, I meet the president of the Security Council and have regular discussions with him.

The Next UN Secretary-General?

The Next UN Secretary-General?

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid (courtesy photo)

The women's rights group Equality Now has noted that no woman has held the position of secretary-general of the United Nations in its 60-year history. While geographic regions take "turns" in nominating candidates, women have never had their "turn," despite many qualified candidates. Below -- in no particular order -- is a selection of some of the women that Equality Now has put forth as possible candidates for secretary-general.

SADAKO OGATA served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 1991 to 2000. Before her career as UNHCR, she was the independent expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar in 1990. In 1982-85, she was also representative of Japan on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Ogata has also been a prominent academic figure, serving as dean of the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1989 until 1991. Prior to that she was director of the Institute of International Relations at the same university.

TARJA KAARINA HALONEN is the current and first female president of Finland. She is currently running for a second term. Halonen has a master of law degree from the University of Helsinki. She is a very popular politician and she was Finland's foreign minister from 1995 until 2000.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI is the 1991 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As a pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD), she has spent most of the past 16 years in some form of detention under Burma's military regime. Born on 19 June 1945 to Burma's independence hero, Aung San, Suu Kyi was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. Her father was assassinated when she was 2 years old.

THORAYA AHMED OBAID is the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Obaid was appointed head of UNFPA on 1 January 2001 with the rank of undersecretary-general of the United Nations. She is the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations agency. Before joining UNFPA, Obaid was deputy executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) from 1993-98. In 1975, Obaid established the first women's development program in Western Asia.

GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND served three terms as prime minister of Norway in the 1980s and 1990s and was director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998–2003. In the 1980s, she gained international recognition by championing the principle of sustainable development as the chairwoman of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission).

(Compiled by RFE/RL; to see the complete list, click here.)