United Nations: The UN General Assembly has wrapped up its annual debate in which, for the first time in the UN’s history, global leaders were not able to participate in person, but the 193-member body’s President said that the precautions forced by the coronavirus pandemic “did not prevent multilateralism from operating at the highest levels.”
“This meeting has been substantive and exceptional,” said Volkan Bozkir, the president, as he wound up the Assembly’s 75th anniversary high-level segment, held against the backdrop of the global pandemic, setting the stage for the six committees of the Assembly to start their substantive work.
The Assembly’s historic decision in July to allow world leaders to send in pre-recorded video messages, and to ensure physical distancing protocols for in-person interventions, meant fewer delegates crowding the historic halls of the UN’s New York Headquarters building, and far less traffic on Manhattan’s bustling East Side.
But more member states than ever took part in the annual general debate, pressing ahead with a full slate of issues, from cooperation on much-hoped for COVID-19 vaccines and reviving global multilateralism, to promoting gender equality and climate action.
The Assembly President said heads of state and government, as well as ministers, had, over the past six days, laid down a complete agenda, “which not only supports the priorities I laid down, but also provided enhanced guidance, on steps needed to overcome the challenges we face.”
According to a UN spokesman, 102 heads of state, one vice president, 55 heads of government, including Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, one deputy prime minister and 26 ministers spoke in the debate.
“In all, 190 member states spoke – plus the Holy See, Palestine and the European Union,” Brenden Varma, spokesman for the UNGA president, said at a daily news briefing.
“The longest speech was 48 minutes. It was given by the president of France. The shortest speeches were six minutes. Those were given by the presidents of Hungary and Mongolia,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wide-ranging address to the Assembly is rated as the “top most-watched” video among the world leaders on the UN’s YouTube page with more than 177,986 views since it was uploaded on September 25, according to UN Times, a publication devoted to coverage of world body’s activities.
US President Donald Trump’s UNGA address was next with close to 136,000 views since it was uploaded on September 22, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s speech placed third as he has 94,000 views since it was uploaded on September 23.
But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s UNGA speech was viewed by a little more than 60,000 times since it was uploaded on September 26.
In his speech, PM Imran Khan forcefully advocated the just cause of the Kashmiri people and called on the international community to halt India’s massive violations of human rights, rescind the unilateral measures imposed in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019 and promote a solution in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and the will of the Kashmiri people.
He also spoke about Islamophobia, including the BJP-RSS campaign against Indian Muslims; as well as on illicit financial flows and the reform and revival of the United Nations.
Bozkir, the Assembly president, told delegates at the conclusion of the debate, “I thank you for this full and comprehensive endorsement of the rules-based international order and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.”
In doing so, he took note of the participants’ strong calls for a reformed and increasingly effective UN, that is aligned to the realities of the 21st Century.
“The call for solidarity is impossible to ignore in the context of the current pandemic,” Bozkir continued, noting that every member state referred to the catastrophic consequences of this disease in their remarks.
“Unilateral actions have failed to halt its spread. Significant efforts are needed to combat the current pandemic and prepare for future health shocks,” he said.
The member states had asked him to focus on three relevant issues during his presidency: early warning systems: creating conditions to prevent emergence of another disease; inclusivity in approaches to dealing with the crisis; and equity in access to future vaccines.
In that regard, he said at the Assembly’s special session on the pandemic later this year, member states were encouraged to present policy solutions on the three issues, to strengthen cooperation and put the world back on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“COVID-19 is a practice test that has revealed our weaknesses and the areas that we must strengthen together,” said the Assembly President, noting that he was pleased so many speakers had recognized the opportunity ‘to build back better’ so the world would be better prepared for future crises.
“We all know that we must build resilience now to prepare for whatever comes tomorrow. And we know that we have a road map to achieve this: the 2030 Agenda,” he declared.
“The pandemic has diverted resources and attention. But climate change, is still the greatest long-term threat to humanity,” he said, noting “as fires rage, sea-levels rise, and biodiversity is lost, there is even greater urgency in pursuing our climate goals and integrating them in our plans “to build back better from the pandemic”.
As such, he pledged to work closely with the member states to make COP26, the UN climate conference set to be held next year in Glasgow, a landmark in the mutual quest to combat the climate challenge.
“We can find practical solutions, if we work together to prevent instability and achieve lasting peace,” Assembly President Bozkir said. “Everyone agrees on the need for a call for a global ceasefire. The time has come to implement it.”
Sharing the speakers’ concerns about threats to international peace and security and deeming them to be well founded, he lamented that this situation had been made worse by the pandemic.
Seventy-five years after the creation of the Organization, conflicts still rage in the world and many protracted crises remain unresolved, he said and stressed the devastating consequences of conflicts on the most vulnerable groups.
He also endorsed the concern of states regarding nuclear proliferation, saying: “Peace is more than the absence of war, but I was encouraged to hear, a firm commitment to disarmament, a crucial tool in conflict prevention, alongside preventive diplomacy.”
“While sovereign countries can take whatever actions they see fit, leaders have made it clear that in an interdependent and interconnected world, solutions can only come from multilateral actions, with the UN at its center,” he stated.
“One thing is clear: ‘We are stronger together,” he recalled. “Our global consultation around UN 75 revealed that this is precisely what people around the world want.”