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Annual UN General Assembly session unfolds to debate critical issues

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: United Nations Headquarters building is during rainy day in New York City, United States on September 19, 2022. (Tayfun Coşkun - Anadolu Agency)
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Sep 20, 2022 - 02:56 AM

ANKARA (AA) – Against the backdrop of complex issues ranging from climate change, pandemics, and food security coupled with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war threatening the world peace, all eyes are on the fortnight-long 77th UN General Assembly (UNGA) session which kickstarted on Sept. 13.

The pinnacle of the mega diplomatic event, however, will start on Tuesday, when leaders will take the podium one after another to debate the world’s most vexing issues.

According to Vice President for Global Health Strategy Kate Dodson, the session will also mark the return of in-person diplomacy because, since 2019, the meetings were largely held virtually.

He believes that as the UNGA provides an opportunity for leaders to conduct various meetings on the sidelines, this 2022 session may lead to some unexpected alliances and, hopefully, diplomatic progress that might not have happened in a virtual setting.

Even as this annual sitting of the UNGA is known for leaders issuing lofty declarations, rhetoric and engaging in rigorous debates with moments of allegations and counter allegations, the UN officials are right now trying hard to renew attention on the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty by 2030.

President of UNGA Csaba Korosi said they are aiming to use the 77th sitting to prepare a Pact for the Future, to be unveiled next year to ensure the UN system effectively confronts future challenges.

“With multiple crises looming, nothing less than the credibility of the UN is at stake,” he said ahead of the event. Korosi, also the director of environmental sustainability in Hungary’s presidential office, has served nearly 40 years as a diplomat.

The UNGA is expected to hold a summit next year to adopt the final draft of the Pact for the Future, which will provide a road map for reinvigorating the multilateral system and make it fit to confront challenges.

Failure to provide a unanimous global answer to global diseases like COVID-19 and with more than 300 intergovernmental organizations, from G7 and G20 to NATO, and others around the world taking critical decisions outside the UN format, the credibility of the global body has taken a severe beating.

Future of UN

With its highest body, the Security Council paralyzed by the veto powers on critical issues, the experts debate whether the UN will repeat the history of its ill-fated predecessor, the League of Nations, which abjectly failed to stop World War II. The league, which emerged from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, marked the first serious effort to create a universal system of collective security.

But many experts believe that the UNGA is still the only global universally representative body with 193 members having a right to vote with equal weight.

As delineated in the Charter of the UN, the function of the General Assembly is to discuss, debate, and make recommendations on subjects about international peace and security, including development, disarmament, human rights, international law, and the peaceful arbitration of disputes between nations.

It elects the non-permanent members of the Security Council and other UN bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, and appoints the secretary-general based on the Security Council’s recommendation. It considers reports from the other four organs of the UN, assesses the financial situations of member states, and approves the UN budget, its most concrete role.

The assembly works with the Security Council to elect the judges of the International Court of Justice and has the power to censure states for violating UN Charter principles. Palestine and Vatican City are the two nonmember observer states, which have the right to speak at assembly meetings but cannot vote on resolutions.

Guterres’ plans

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who presented the Our Common Agenda report last year has repeatedly called for sweeping actions to improve global cooperation, including by upgrading the UN.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Guterres said there is a moment for countries to understand the world is in danger and there is a need to find a way to come together. He said the General Assembly has assumed, with clarity, several positions where the Security Council has failed.

Further, it has now been determined that whenever a veto is issued within the Security Council, the country that uses the veto must go to the General Assembly to explain its position, and then a general discussion in the UNGA is to take place.

“This means that there is a growing recognition of the effects of the paralysis of the Security Council and an attempt knowing that the reform of the Security Council requires to serve the votes in the General Assembly, including of the five permanent members,” he said.

He also said some things are changing in the right direction.

The budget for the UN has remained a thorny issue. For 2022, the regular budget totals $3.12 billion, approximately 20% of which is for special political missions alone, according to UN documents. The US remains the largest contributor, sharing 22% of the regular budget.

As China’s economy has grown rapidly to become the world’s second-largest, the country’s share of UN expenses has also risen rapidly. In the early 2000s, China’s assessed share of the UN regular budget was around 2%. Since then, in line with China’s phenomenal economic growth, it has skyrocketed to 15.25% in 2022. Other powers like Japan shouldering 8%, India 1%, and Russia 1.8% lag far behind in contributions.

Andrew Hyde, a senior fellow at the US-based think tank Stimson Center, said the US by its actions of not fulfilling financial obligations to the UN, has left the door open to others, notably China, to take a more assertive role as opposed.

“Since 2013, China’s contributions to peacekeeping operations have increased almost threefold, and the country provides more personnel than any other UN Security Council permanent member,” he said.

Currently, China holds elected leadership positions at three specialized agencies — Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, and the UN Industrial Development Organization.

Longest speeches

Since the annual UNGA session is the biggest diplomatic gathering, it has its convulsions and interesting aspects. So far, the longest speech at any UN forum was delivered by Indian representative V.K. Krishna Menon in January 1957, which lasted for eight hours. He was addressing the UN Security Council, making a point on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

He collapsed from exhaustion partway and had to be hospitalized. He returned later and continued for another hour while a doctor monitored his blood pressure.

But at the UNGA, the longest listed speech according to the UN documents has been delivered by Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1960 which lasted for 269 minutes, followed by Guinea’s President Sekou Toure, for 144 minutes in the same session.

The latest such feat was achieved by Libyan leader Muammar Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 when he stretched his address to 100 minutes, which was also his first visit to the US and maiden address to the UNGA.

The feat, however, did not save him from being dislodged from power and being killed two years later in 2011.

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