General Assembly opens session to review progress since landmark Habitat forum

Known as “Istanbul + 5,” the session will also seek to formulate new initiatives to help implement the Habitat Agenda, the plan of action adopted at the 1996 Second UN Conference on Human Settlements.Opening the meeting this morning, Assembly President Harri Holkeri of Finland said “we live in an urbanizing world – we may say that we are at the beginning of an urban millennium.” He also called attention to the innovative structure of the special session, particularly its first ever Thematic Committee, established to share experiences from different corners of the world. “In the programme of this Committee,” he said, “we will have the opportunity to listen to examples of implementation of many important issues and aspects pertaining to shelter, social development and eradication of poverty, environmental management, governance, effective city development strategies and financing for urban development.” In his address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said rich and poor nations would have to work together to overcome the problems facing cities. “The world is in the midst of a historic and radical transformation, not only in how people live, but in where they live,” he said, noting that most people were now city-dwellers. Since the Istanbul conference, the international community has learned that public-private partnerships are important in tackling urban problems, and that urban governance was a precondition for economic efficiency and effective administration, he said. “A healthy society is one that gives all its members a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives.” Secure tenure is another important issue facing tens of millions of urban families, the Secretary-General said. “In some cases, people have houses but lack titles. Others are engaged in business activities but lack licenses to operate them. We must reduce this insecurity.” The Assembly then opened its general debate, with representatives from over 50 countries taking part in the discussion. Meanwhile in the Thematic Committee, this morning’s case study dealt with the right to adequate housing in South Africa, as well as sustainable urban development and good governance. In five meetings, the Committee will examine 16 case studies on a wide range of themes, including shelter, social development and the eradication of poverty, environmental management, financing of urban government and international cooperation. The three-day session will be accompanied by a number of parallel events, among them seminars on participatory urban governance, volunteerism, the role of women in city administration, and the contribution of the private sector.In a related development, the UN Volunteers programme (UNV) today released a publication drawing attention to the importance of volunteer work in developing cities. Titled “Caring Cities: Volunteerism in Urban Development and the Role of the UNV Programme,” the publication also outlines UNV’s approach to urban development. read more

Kosovo UN envoy puts off presenting final status proposal till after Serb

Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status process Martti Ahtisaari had originally been expected to present his proposal to the parties soon, but he announced the new date today after consulting with the so-called Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Russia – who have been helping to seek a solution for the province where outnumber Serbs and others by 9 to 1.Independence and autonomy are among the options but Serbia rejects independence. “There are many compelling reasons to come to clarity on Kosovo’s status as soon as possible,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Joachim Rücker said of Mr. Ahtisaari’s decision. “Therefore I look forward to the presentation of the status proposal.“I will continue to work closely with the Contact Group, the Special Envoy and the parties on preparing Kosovo for final status and on ensuring a smooth transition to the future authorities as well as to the future international presence,” he added.Since his appointment a year ago, Mr. Ahtisaari has been holding talks with Kosovo and Serbian delegations in Vienna but these have not progressed beyond technical issues such as the decentralization of municipalities, dashing his hopes that the process would be completed by the end of this year. A major issue is providing sufficient security to encourage Serb refugees to return.In his latest report in September Mr. Annan said he was disappointed that little common ground had emerged between the Serbian and Kosovar delegations in the discussions, noting that they remain “committed to ‘substantial autonomy’ and ‘full independence’ respectively, with minimal space for negotiation.” In early 1999, the province was the scene of atrocities and the forceful displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians. After a three-month intervention by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), culminating in the arrival of troops, most of the Albanian population returned to their homes within days.But only some 15,600 returns of ethnic Serbs, Roma have been registered out of the estimated 250,000 who fled after the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999. read more