United Nations: For the first time in United Nations’ 75-year history, world leaders will not come to New York this September for the annual session of UN General Assembly due to the coronavirus pandemic, the president of the 193-member assembly has said.
In the first 10 days of the session, the leaders traditionally come face-to-face to debate key international issues on the assembly’s agenda. Last year, 146 heads of state/government, including Prime Minister Imran khan, participated.
“World leaders cannot come to New York because they cannot come as single individuals. A president doesn’t travel alone. We don’t expect, therefore, to have presidents here,” Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the president, told a virtual news conference Monday.
But Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said that he hopes to announce in the next two weeks how the 193 heads of state and government will give their speeches on pressing local and world issues during the assembly’s High-level General Debate.
“We cannot have them in person as we used to — what happened in the last 74 years — but it will happen,” Muhammad-Bande said of the annual event.
The landmark 75th session of the UN General Assembly is set to begin on September 15 and the General Debate will open on September 22.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended last month that the gathering of world leaders, which was supposed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, be dramatically scaled back because of the pandemic.
Guterres suggested in a letter to the General Assembly president that heads of state and government deliver prerecorded messages instead, with only one New York-based diplomat from each of the 193 U.N. member nations present in the assembly hall.
Muhammad-Bande said Monday that by late September, “maybe a hundred or so” people might be allowed in the General Assembly chamber.
The meeting of world leaders usually brings thousands of government officials, diplomats and civil society representatives to New York for over a week of speeches, dinners, receptions, one-on-one meetings and hundreds of side events. More than a thousand journalists also come to cover the session.
This year was expected to bring an especially large number of leaders to U.N. headquarters to celebrate the founding of the United Nations in 1945 on the ashes of World War II.
Muhammad-Bande said the 75th anniversary celebration “is not conceived as one moment” but will continue throughout the year starting on June 26, the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco.
He said a political declaration on the United Nations at 75 is also being negotiated, and world leaders will have the opportunity to mark the occasion — only not in person.
“In terms of the broad direction, we are not going to have Heads of State and Government come into New York because it is impossible at this stage to think that it is possible in September,” he said.
Muhammad-Bande said the General Debate will be not be shifted to a future date and will be held as scheduled “but we cannot have it in-person as has happened in the last 74 years.”
He said the UN Secretariat, Member States, his office as well as other stakeholders were discussing possibilities of conducting the General Debate and a clear direction will emerge in the next two weeks.
“We have had many conversations around the subject. And I’m confident in the next two weeks the mechanics and the broad direction will become more clear,” he said.
The president said several logistical and security arrangements have to be made for a visiting world leader and there is still uncertainty over what COVID-19-related medical guidance will be in place in the US and New York in September.