The General Assembly concluded its seventy-fourth session on Tuesday, with outgoing President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria) praising delegates for their progressive action, most notably in passing a widely co-sponsored resolution at the outset of COVID-19 epidemic to ensure fair global access to medicines and vaccines.
“We started this session guided by the hopes of the people we serve,” Mr. Muhammad-Bande said. “We didn’t know 2020 would be defined by a pandemic.” He commended the Assembly’s foresight in quickly authorizing a silence procedure under which it could take decisions without having to meet in person. Along with the 70-plus texts adopted in this manner, this action resulted from intense negotiations that highlight the importance of multilateralism.
Nowhere has such cooperation been more urgent than in the health sector, he said, welcoming the commitment expressed by Heads of State to build a healthier world for all. Efforts must be deepened yet again to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and already, the Assembly is in the lead on such issues as financing for development, the unique challenges of small island developing States, children’s rights and ensuring that peacekeeping operations receive needed funding.
“This is a moment of reckoning for our shared planet,” he said. “This is a time for equality.” The Assembly must continue to focus on those suffering, and critically, involve youth in its decisions. It is likewise important to make the case for women and people with disabilities. Seventy-five years ago, the United Nations founders rallied the world to peace. The Assembly must continue to thoughtfully define its actions and uphold the promise to leave no one behind. “We must practice empathy and choose unity over discord,” he emphasized.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described the session as unlike any other in 75 years, marked over the last seven months by extreme difficulty for those served by — and serving — the Organization, as COVID‑19 cut a swathe through lives and communities. The extent of the pandemic — and its interaction with other megatrends — is unknowable. “Our only hope is to respond with unity and solidarity, while supporting the most vulnerable.”
Saying that it was a privilege to have worked with the General Assembly during these difficult days, the Secretary-General thanked the Assembly President for his determined and serene approach to these unforeseen challenges, as well as his excellent judgment under pressure. The session oversaw elections to the Economic and Social Council and successful negotiations on both the Declaration for the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations and on the omnibus resolution outlining a comprehensive and coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indeed, he said the United Nations fully mobilized to support national responses to COVID-19, activating its supply chains, assets, expertise and capacities. It distributed medical supplies, trained health workers and increased testing and tracing capabilities. Humanitarian agencies are currently targeting 250 million people at greatest risk, while peacekeeping missions are protecting vulnerable communities and country teams are providing advice to Governments. The “Verified” campaign meanwhile is promoting facts and science to fight the spread of misinformation online.
In New York, every effort is being made to ensure that work continues without disruption. While virtual participation in the upcoming high-level week will create new challenges, “we will need to learn as we go.” The world looks to the United Nations as the indispensable forum for international cooperation, he said, and the Assembly must unite to beat the pandemic and build a better future.
Adding urgency to that call, Volkan Bozkır (Turkey), newly elected President of the seventy-fifth session, said the critics of multilateralism today are vocal, using the pandemic to weaken the rules-based international system and questioning the need for cooperation. While some critiques are valid, many of the conclusions are misguided. “No State can combat this pandemic alone,” he asserted. “Social distancing will not help at the international level. At a time of crisis, our responsibility is to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral cooperation,” with the United Nations at its centre.
He called for a frank results-oriented dialogue about what went wrong in efforts to contain the virus and about how to prevent a new emergence. The Assembly must ask — and answer — hard questions about distributing vaccines fairly and equitably. “This is not just a question of economics, but of ethics, in a profound way,” he said, stressing that confronting the effects of COVID-19 will be an overarching priority for his presidency.
As well, he said the seventy-fifth session should be a time to revitalize the spirit of cooperation. A deficit in trust has impeded the Assembly’s work. States are failing to compromise, and when they do, it is based on the lowest common denominator. He pledged to help build trust among States and consensus around the important issues — from arms control and human rights, to climate change and sustainable development.
He pressed the Assembly to reflect on its own work, embrace reforms and address overlaps where they exist. To improve mandate delivery, “we need to hear from the people we serve,” he said, describing the United Nations chief deliberative organ as “the parliament of humanity”. He pledged to work with Member States to ensure they have a voice, highlighting the importance of full respect for international humanitarian law, and to promote the use of emerging technologies as well as champion gender equality across the session’s agenda. Efficiency and transparency will be among the guiding principles. “We need to lead by example and inspire the world,” he said. “The General Assembly cannot stand idle while people suffer.”
Following those remarks, incoming President Bozkır took the oath of office. Delegates also observed a minute of silent prayer or meditation, including in tribute to the memory of Javier Perez de Cuellar, fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations, who passed away on 4 March 2020, and Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi, who passed away on 9 June 2020.
Mr. Bozkır then formally opened the seventy-fifth session, pledging to do his utmost in presiding over the Assembly’s high-level week meetings to commemorate: the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, as well as to host the Biodiversity Summit.
In addition, the Assembly will hold two special sessions: one on COVID-19, and the other on combating corruption. More broadly, he pledged to steer the review of the global counter-terrorism strategy, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development, and preparations for the fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries. He also would do his utmost to support the High-Level Meeting on the Water-related Sustainable Development Goals, the Ocean Conference, the revitalization of the General Assembly and reform of the Security Council. “Let’s go to work,” he exclaimed.
The President then took note of the Secretary-General’s 14 September letter (document A/75/344) informing the Assembly that Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Venezuela are behind in paying their financial contributions to the United Nations within the terms of Article 19 of the Organization’s Charter.
[Under Article 19, a United Nations member in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the Member.]
In its final order of business, the Assembly then appointed Cameroon, China, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Trinidad and Tobago, United Republic of Tanzania, United States and Uruguay to its Credentials Committee.
The General Assembly’s seventy-fifth session will reconvene for its second plenary meeting at 11 a.m. on Friday, 18 September, to consider the reports of its General Committee and its organization of work.