By Ramesh Jaura
NEW YORK (IDN) – As the new year unfolds, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ appeal for addressing the “trust deficit disorder” plaguing the world, and General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés’ plea for stressing the need to enshrine the General Assembly as the “chief peacebuilding organization in the world” will serve as a clarion call to urgent action by the international community. All the more so because the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2018 was held against the backdrop of burgeoning unilateralism and large-scale migration. (P20) CHINESE | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | KOREAN | SPANISH
Though the heads of governments and states attending the General Assembly united under the theme of making the United Nations relevant to all people, accentuating that only through a multilateral rules-based order can the international community meet evolving challenges, the overwhelming consensus was marred by discordant notes thrown in by the U.S., Hungary and Israel.
In his opening address to the general debate of the 73rd session on September 18, UN Secretary-General Guterres warned that expanding polarization and populism have left the world suffering from a bad case of “trust deficit disorder”. While living standards for millions have improved, that cannot be taken for granted, he said, declaring: “Multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”
He went on to call upon world leaders to renew their commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its centre. “In the face of massive existential threats to people and planet — but, equally, at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity — there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good,” he stressed. “This is how we rebuild trust.”
Despite chaos and confusion in the world, there are winds of hope, he said, citing Eritrea’s peace initiatives with neighbouring States, the signing of a peace agreement between the rival leaders of South Sudan and summit meetings involving the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the United States and the Republic of Korea.
UN General Assembly President Espinosa from Ecuador – fourth woman President in the history of the United Nations – said multilateralism stands alone as the only viable response to the problems facing the international community. “No one can be indifferent to human suffering,” she said. “Wars, conflicts, economic crises and environmental degradation affect us all equally.”
Urging the Organization to heed the call of the millions of disenfranchised, displaced and unemployed, she declared: “People must feel like what is discussed in these halls will impact their daily lives,” emphasizing that her presidency will focus on promoting gender equality, implementing the new Global Compact on Migration, and providing decent-work opportunities for women, young people and persons with disabilities.
She called upon Member States to combat violence against women, reverse policies that are killing the planet and to enshrine the General Assembly as the “chief peacebuilding organization in the world”. The threats of climate change, biodiversity erosion, human trafficking, environmental pollution, large-scale displacement of both migrants and refugees, terrorism and ethnic conflicts are now at the top of the agenda, she emphasized.
As a wrap-up of the 73rd General Assembly Session by the UN reveals, throughout the general debate, world leaders shared their respective visions of the international community’s most pressing challenges, ranging from climate change, through nuclear proliferation and protracted conflict to large-scale migration, economic inequality and the elimination of extreme poverty through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Trump bashes Iran – Rouhani speaks of ‘economic terrorism’
U.S. President Donald Trump apparently despised such lofty ideals. He made the case for State sovereignty, arguing that nations can work better together when they respect their neighbours and defend their people’s interests. “America’s policy of principled realism means we will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again,” he said.
Accusing Iran’s leaders of sowing chaos, death and destruction, disrespecting the borders and sovereignty of neighbouring States and plundering national resources, he declared: “We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons.” He reiterated his decision to pull the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to reimpose nuclear sanctions on Iran.
However, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran countered those accusations, saying Washington, D.C., seems determined to render all international institutions ineffectual. Underlining Iran’s compliance thus far with all its commitments, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he criticized the United States for resorting to a flimsy excuse to justify its withdrawal from the accord and for pressuring other countries to violate it.
“Unlawful unilateral sanctions in themselves constitute a form of ‘economic terrorism’,” he said, expressing objections to bullying on the part of the United States. No State or nation can be brought to the negotiation table by force, he emphasized, adding that dialogue can resume with the ending of “threats and unjust sanctions that negate the principle of ethics and international law”.
There were also announcements of diplomatic breakthroughs and political progress. Ri Yong Ho, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, highlighted efforts being made towards a new peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted energetic diplomatic activities with the goal of transforming the Peninsula into a land of peace, free from nuclear weapons, he said, noting progress both in North-South relations and between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States. “The Korean Peninsula, the hottest spot in the globe, will become the cradle of peace and prosperity,” he added.
Several African leaders highlighted efforts towards greater democracy and sustainable development, and called for expanded multilateral cooperation as well as reform of the Security Council.
President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone said the peaceful transfer of power in his country — from an incumbent political party to the opposition — demonstrated its commitment to democratic governance. Calling for comprehensive Security Council reform, he pointed out that Africa is the only region without permanent representation and which is underrepresented in the non-permanent category.
Ministers from Horn of Africa countries pointed to reconciliation across the region, including the end of the two-decade long dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and Somalia.
“A region which has been one of the most conflict-ridden in Africa, [the] Horn of Africa is indeed becoming [the] hope of Africa,” said Workineh Gebeyehu Negewo, Ethiopia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, calling upon the Security Council to consider seriously lifting the sanctions imposed on Eritrea.
Likewise, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, Djibouti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, recalled that the Presidents of his own country and Eritrea recently agreed to open a new chapter between “these two brother countries”.
Global Compact – dissenting voices
With the stage set for the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, speakers called for a redoubling of efforts to help migrants. President Michel Temer of Brazil said migrants are being threatened by lingering crises and have had to make a risky decision to leave their homelands. “There was a duty to protect them through the Global Compact for Migration,” he said.
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico said his country has worked in the past two years to establish the Compact’s guiding principles: respect for the human rights of all migrants, as well as shared responsibility and full respect for the sovereignty of States. “The adoption of this instrument in Marrakesh will provide Member States with a fundamental document for the international management of migration,” he added.
However, there were discordant notes too. Some Member States challenged those views, with Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Foreign Minister, saying that his Government will not sign the Compact because it promotes a multicultural society over a homogeneous one.
“From Hungary’s perspective, migration is a destabilizing force,” he said, adding that migration is not beneficial for everyone, especially countries hosting large numbers of migrants from different cultures. “Migration is not a fundamental human right,” he noted, emphasizing that violating national borders should not be considered a right.
The UN General Assembly also held a number of topical high-level meetings throughout the session. On September 24 — the day before opening its general debate — it held the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in tribute to the celebrated qualities of the late President of South Africa and his service to humanity.
Unanimously adopting a political declaration (document A/73/L.1), world leaders recognized the period from 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace. Heads of State and Government as well as other representatives of Member States reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the sovereign equality of all States, to ensure respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, and uphold the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force.
On September 26, the General Assembly President convened a high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Throughout the day, Heads of State and Government as well as other senior officials from more than 50 countries, observer delegations States and civil society spotlighted the many ways in which nuclear weapons endanger humanity — from the modernization of existing arsenals by major Powers to the risk of deadly nuclear technology falling into terrorist hands.
The Assembly also endorsed a political declaration titled ‘United to End Tuberculosis: An Urgent Global Response to a Global Epidemic’ at a high-level meeting on the issue. Member States reaffirmed their commitment to end the global tuberculosis epidemic by 2030, committing themselves to accelerate national and collective actions, investments and innovations in fighting the preventable disease.
Heads of State and Government recognized that tuberculosis disproportionately affects developing regions and countries. They pledged to provide leadership, acknowledging that multi-drug-resistant strains can reverse gains made in combating the disease, which remains among the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
Holding a high-level meeting the next day – under the theme ‘Scaling up multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral responses for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ – the Assembly endorsed a declaration by which world leaders vowed to scale up efforts to prevent and control non-communicable diseases, committing to provide greater policy coherence through a whole-of-Government approach.
Importantly, health systems should be strengthened — and reoriented — towards universal health coverage and the improvement of health outcomes, while greater access to affordable, safe, effective and quality medicines and diagnostics should be promoted.
On October 10, the Assembly adopted two draft resolutions containing the declarations on tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases. On December 4, it held another high-level meeting on gaps and impediments faced by middle-income countries in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Throughout the day-long meeting, speakers challenged models of development shaped by wealthy States. Assembly President Espinosa emphasized that middle-income countries will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda unless the obstacles they face are duly addressed.
Prime Minster Gaston Alphonso Browne of Antigua and Barbuda echoed that sentiment: “It is in the best interest of humanity that we work collectively in building a transformational model of cooperation for sustainable global development.”
The Assembly commemorated — on December 18 — the anniversaries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. During a series of high-level plenary meetings, the Assembly honoured the recipients of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for their outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said upholding all people’s human rights is the only possible path to peace. Attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms of the Universal Declaration are not motivated by that document’s failure, but rather stem from its success, she said, urging Member States to work towards peace and justice for all.
During the main part of the session, concerns over selectivity and double standards emerged once again as the Assembly took up the report of the Human Rights Council and considered increased representation in the Security Council.
At its twentieth plenary meeting, the Assembly decided to grant additional rights and privileges of participation to the State of Palestine when it assumes its position as Chair of the Group of 77 developing countries and China for 2019.
Furthermore, the Assembly considered for the first time a draft resolution condemning the activities of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Despite gaining plurality support through a recorded vote, it failed to meet the two thirds required for adoption.
Remembering Kofi Annan
The 73rd session was marked by yet another significant event: On September 21, the Assembly paid tribute to the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who died on August 18, with Member States, colleagues and family members remembering him as a child of Africa and the only United Nations chief to rise through the ranks of the Secretariat.
Assembly President Espinosa said Kofi Annan will be remembered as a great leader who worked for peace, security and human rights. He pushed for boys and girls to have equal access to education and fought HIV/AIDS and malaria, she recalled. “He was family,” said Secretary-General Guterres, while former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Annan as a humble man with an illuminating vision.
Madagascar’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African States, said Annan always demonstrated a passion for serving humanity. Sri Lanka’s representative, on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, recalled Annan’s contributions to the Millennium Development Goals which lifted millions out of poverty.
Kojo Annan said that his father always lived by the creed “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 December 2018]
Photo: María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly, gavels to a close the General Assembly’s annual general debate. UN Photo | Cia Pak
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