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GA/SPD/722
23 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 7th Meeting (PM)

Curb Spread of COVID-Related Misinformation, Discrimination, Delegates Urge Department of Global Communications, as Fourth Committee Continues Debate

Speakers Highlight Peacekeepers’ Service, Effects of Sanctions amid Pandemic

Delegates called upon the United Nations Department of Global Communications to counter the spread of misinformation and discrimination associated with the COVID‑19 pandemic, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its joint general debate today.

Iran’s representative urged the Department to continue raising awareness in that context, emphasizing the need to disseminate information on the negative impact of unilateral measures on the affected countries’ responses the pandemic.

China’s representative, noting the effective United Nations communications strategy around the rhetoric of hatred rampant around COVID‑19, expressed hope that the Department will continue to advocate for unity, use its multilingual platforms to rally everyone, and spread the values of “people first and life first” through concrete actions.  He went on to express support for the right of the peoples of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories to self-determination, stressing:  “It is imperative to stop militarizing these Territories.”

Saint Lucia’s representative emphasized that, while internal constitutional reforms undertaken in some Territories are welcome, they cannot substitute for a legitimate process of self‑determination.  Such a process would lead to actual decolonization through the options of political equality, he added, citing independence, free association and integration with full political rights.

Many speakers also highlighted the important role of regional partnerships in the work of peace operations and special political missions.

Sudan’s representative called upon such missions to foster partnerships while supporting regional conflict‑settlement efforts, citing the African Union’s approach of “finding African solutions to African problems”.  Noting that his country hosts the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), he recalled that the situation in that region has been stabilized and a civilian‑protection plan adopted.  He affirmed that his country looks forward to the Operation’s drawdown by the end of 2020 and the subsequent launch of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in January 2021 as a special political mission focused on peacebuilding.

Uganda’s delegate, commending those serving in the context of the current COVID‑19 pandemic, said they are swift in acting to protect people on the ground, complementing African Union and regional efforts.  Also recognizing regional decolonization efforts, he emphasized the special urgency of finding a lasting and just solution to the long‑standing question of Western Sahara and the importance of the African Union in that process.

Representatives of the United Kingdom, Iran, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 October, to continue its joint general debate.

General Debate

The representative of Saudi Arabia said the kingdom’s outer space strategy aims to promote space safety and security through early warning systems and international cooperation, adding that such efforts culminated in the creation of the Saudi Space Commission, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States.  He went on to state that Saudi Arabia seeks moderation and respect for human rights in the media sphere while preventing terrorist groups from using media to promote their hateful ideologies.  As such, the kingdom has established the Global Centre to Combat Extremism, among other measures.  On peace operations, he said Saudi Arabia has provided technical support and assistance to the G5 Sahel Force.  Noting that Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said “we are proud to defend the Palestinian cause”.  Going on to condemn Iran’s actions regarding the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, he reaffirmed the legitimate right of the United Arab Emirates over those islands and called for direct negotiations in that regard.

The representative of China noted that COVID‑19 has dealt a heavy blow to the socioeconomic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  As such, China commends UNRWA’s efforts in safeguarding the rights and dignity of Palestine refugees, he said adding:  “That deserves a thumbs‑up from the international community.”  China has also sent medical supplies and teams of experts to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and will do everything it can to facilitate a settlement to the Palestinian question, he pledged.  On peace operations, he pointed out that COVID‑19 has created huge uncertainties, emphasizing that ensuring the security of peacekeeping personnel must remain a priority.  He went on to express support for the right of the peoples of Non‑Self‑Governing Territories to self‑determination, stressing:  “It is imperative to stop militarizing these Territories.”  China will push for greater progress on decolonization, he said, expressing support for Argentina’s claim over the Malvinas Islands[1].  On information, he noted that the United Nations has come up with an effective communications strategy to counter the rhetoric of discrimination and hatred rampant around COVID‑19.  China hopes the Department of Global Communications will continue to advocate for unity, use its multilingual platforms to rally everyone and spread the values of “people first and life first” through its concrete actions, he said.

The representative of Sudan, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called for regular reforms of peace operations to close gaps and improve functioning in line with the Secretary‑General’s initiative.  Peace operations must ensure neutrality and respect State sovereignty, consistent with their mandates.  They must build on success stories while guaranteeing accountability for abuses, he said, adding that they must also be shielded from any conflicts of interest.  Noting that his country hosts the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), he said the situation in that region has been stabilized and a civilian protection plan adopted.  Therefore, Sudan looks forward to the Operation’s drawdown by the end of 2020 and the subsequent launch of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in January 2021 as a special political mission focused on peacebuilding.  Commending the continuing efforts of special political missions despite COVID‑19 restrictions, he called upon them to foster partnerships while supporting regional conflict‑settlement efforts, citing the African Union’s approach of “finding African solutions to African problems”.

The representative of Iran, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, noted that his country is among the active members of the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space since its inception in 1958.  However, the United States has imposed illegal sanctions against Iranian space agencies which support peaceful civilian applications of outer space, he said.  Prone to natural disasters, Iran launches its indigenous satellites, he added, while stating that Washington, D.C., is disseminating false accusations to prevent his country from accessing space science, technology and data.  He urged the Department of Global Communications to continue raising awareness and disseminating information on the negative impact of unilateral cohesive measures on the capacity of affected countries to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Concerning multilingualism, he said that, alongside the six official languages of the United Nations, information should be disseminated in others, including the Persian language spoken by tens of millions of people.  Widely regarded as the root of great culture and civilization, it is also seen as a source of understanding and solidarity among several nations, he added.  On the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, he noted that Israel continues to violate the fundamental rights and dignity of the Palestinian people and other Arabs living under its occupation.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates said his country has been establishing regional partnerships to develop space science in a positive framework, and will soon launch an orbit vehicle to explore Mars, having ratified the Artemis Agreement to facilitate space exploration.  It will also launch a moon-exploration project, he added.  Turning to Palestine refugees, he said that his country provides guidance to UNRWA and chairs the Agency’s advisory council.  In 2019, the United Arab Emirates provided more than $100 million to the Agency for health and education services, among others, he noted.  The country has also been making diplomatic efforts, including rejecting Israel’s planned annexation of Palestinian territory, he said, adding that by means of its peace agreement with that country, and with the assistance of the United States, the United Arab Emirates has helped to avert the annexation decision.  As such, he expressed hope that the agreement will allow both parties to resume peace negotiations.  Emphasizing his country’s legal right to Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, he vowed: “We are not going to relinquish our right.”  The United Arab Emirates will pursue peaceful means in that regard through the International Court of Justice.

The representative of Saint Lucia, associating himself with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted that there are still 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories to be decolonized, a process that may be hampered by the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Concerned that the promise of decolonization remains unfulfilled, particularly for small island, Non‑Self‑Governing Territories, he emphasized that, while internal constitutional reforms undertaken in some Territories are welcome, they fail to substitute a legitimate process of self‑determination leading to actual decolonization through the options of political equality — independence, free association and integration with full political rights.  He went on to highlight the ever‑present threat of climate change in the Caribbean and the rippling effects it can have on vulnerable economies, noting that those States are further challenged by the socioeconomic and health impacts of COVID‑19.  Turning to Western Sahara, he expressed his country’s support for a just and mutually acceptable resolution of the long‑standing dispute between the parties through consultations.

The representative of Uganda, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement, stressed that material issued by the Department of Global Communications must be substantive and fact‑based, adding that it should also marshal the resources and knowledge to substantially narrow the digital divide.  On peacekeeping, he commended those serving in operations worldwide, especially in the midst of the COVID‑19 pandemic.  They are swift in acting to protect people on the ground, complementing African Union and regional efforts, he noted.  As for decolonization, he said it is disheartening that the Third International Decade for Decolonization is coming to an end while 17 countries remain on the decolonization list.  He went on to underline the special urgency to find a lasting and just solution to the long‑lasting question of Western Sahara and the importance of the African Union in that process.

The representative of France focused on the decolonization status of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.  Concerning the former, he said France, in full cooperation with the United Nations, is establishing a path to the formation of institutions in a climate of peace.  New Caledonia is currently in an important stage of implementation of the Nouméa Accord, he said, pointing out that two consultations on the Territory’s sovereignty and independence have already been held.  A third could be convened by 2022, he added.  For the fifth year in a row, New Caledonia welcomed a United Nations visiting mission, despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, he noted.  As for French Polynesia, he said France wishes to see it withdrawn from the list of Non‑Governing Territories, explaining that it has its own Assembly and attempts are being made to conserve its culture and unique features.

The representative of New Zealand, expressing his delight that Tokelau remains free of COVID‑19, said that his country continues to work closely with the Territory to construct the building blocks for self‑governance in a manner reflecting the best of its faith, culture and identity.  While the closure of Tokelau’s border since March due to COVID‑19 has significantly impacted certain operational aspects of their relationship, he noted, New Zealand continues to fund Tokelau’s development priorities and has provided additional assistance to health services, including diagnostic equipment to strengthen overall pandemic preparedness and recruitment of a health adviser to support improvements in clinical health services.  New Zealand also provided an additional $4.6 million in supplementary budget support during the last financial year and grant funding to assist Tokelau with the pandemic’s economic impacts.  Pointing out that fisheries are the Territory’s only significant source of independent revenue, he said they play a critical role in Tokelau’s aspirations to greater self‑reliance.  New Zealand continues to work with the government of Tokelau to ensure that fisheries within its economic exclusive zone are managed sustainably, he pledged.

The representative of Venezuela, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, noted that the United Nations has worked to achieve decolonization worldwide, but 17 territories still lack the right to self‑determination, including independence.  Venezuela supports the role of United Nations visiting missions to facilitate decolonization processes as well seminars where colonization continues to exist.  He stressed that colonized nations have the right to their own natural resources as well as control over their economic activities.  He urged the Department of Global Communications to continue to provide coverage of peoples in non‑self‑governing situations, emphasizing that they must be seen on an equal footing with those of independent nations.  As for the question of Puerto Rico, he said the impact of climate change and increased migration are just some of the effects that colonialization has exacerbated, alongside natural hazards like hurricanes.  He went on to express support for self-determination in Western Sahara, where the United Nations has been pursuing a peaceful, just and lasting solution to that Territory’s non‑self‑governing status.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the right of the Falkland Islands to self‑determination is not enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

The representative of Iran reiterated his country’s claim over UN the three islands, saying the United Arab Emirates has laid an unfounded claim in trying to advance its interests in the Persian Gulf region.

The representative of Argentina, responding to the United Kingdom, said the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) are part of his country’s territory and illegally occupied by the United Kingdom, which led to a sovereignty dispute between the two countries.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates said Iran’s claim over Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb is unjustified.  The islands have always been Arab territory, he emphasized, adding that Iran has provided no documented proof of its rights.

The delegate of the United Kingdom, citing references by Argentina’s delegate to resolutions supporting his country’s sovereign right over the islands, stressed that their inhabitants are not Argentines.  The Territory has been populated by Falkland Islanders for generations, he added.

The representative of Iran insisted that Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb remained integral parts of his Iranian territory.

The representative of Argentina expressed regret over the United Kingdom’s erroneous interpretation of the Malvinas Islands question and its illegal occupation of the Territory.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates pointed out that the three islands disputed by Iran have always been controlled by Arab tribes and are an integral part of his country.  Any claim to the contrary is erroneous and contradicts international law, he added.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Central African Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, United Republic of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Dominica, Comoros, Guinea, Burundi and Lesotho.

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[1]     A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.