Following a year of devastating economic, social and development setbacks, Secretary-General António Guterres briefed the General Assembly today on his urgent priorities for 2021, calling upon nations to embrace bold, green and equitable shifts “or risk locking the world into harmful practices for decades to come”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed havoc in every country and every economy,” he said, presenting his annual report on the work of the Organization (document A/75/1) to the 193-member Assembly. Reflecting on the challenges wrought by 2020, he noted that the novel coronavirus — now known as COVID-19 – has claimed 2 million lives so far, including members of the United Nations family.
Its economic costs continue to mount, with some 500 million jobs lost, he continued. Hunger is rising again, inequalities are widening, and extreme poverty has reached levels not seen in a generation — all against the backdrop of a global climate crisis. “Vaccines are the first great moral test before us,” he said, emphasizing that the first priority for the international community must be to ensure equitable and universal access to COVID-19 immunizations as a global public good.
Warning against vaccine hoarding, he called upon Member States to prioritize the most vulnerable, stressing that failing to do so could allow mutations to spread and even become more deadly. Universal health coverage, mental health, decent work and social protection schemes all need massive investment, he said, calling for a quantum leap in financial support to support low- and middle-income countries.
Meanwhile, countries must declare national climate emergencies, submit nationally determined contributions to cut emissions, phase out fossil fuels and build a coalition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, he said. Calling upon developed countries to fulfil their pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually for climate action in developing nations, he also spotlighted the critical challenges of poverty, inequality, systemic discrimination and the massive digital divide.
Increasingly common attacks on human rights seen around the world must be urgently reversed, he continued, pointing out that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the spread of hate speech and allowed some States to curb fundamental freedoms. Among other priorities, he highlighted gender equality, pointing out that women were severely impacted by pandemic-related job losses and many have been plunged into poverty. There is also an urgent need to heal geopolitical rifts, address roiling threats to peace and security and “avoid a great fracture that would divide the world into two”.
Any dysfunction in relations among major Powers creates space for spoilers, he warned, welcoming recent ceasefires in some — but not all — the most serious conflicts. More action is needed to bring peace to Yemen, Central African Republic, Mali and Afghanistan, as well as the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin regions, among others. In addition, he called for a “ceasefire in cyberspace”, underlining the need to ensure the safe use of data and to outlaw lethal autonomous weapons.
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, noted at the meeting’s outset that the annual review of the Secretary-General’s priorities allows Member States to reflect on the wider work of the United Nations — including helping refugees, keeping peace, protecting civilians, providing electoral assistance and promoting and protecting human rights. Recalling that 2020 marked 75 years since the Organization’s founding, he said that, in the wake of the many new challenges arising in that year, it is even clearer that “the world requires more — not less — international cooperation”. In that context, he suspended the meeting and invited Member States to engage in an informal question-and-answer session with the Secretary-General before resuming plenary proceedings.
Delegates applauded the Secretary-General’s candid assessment of a uniquely challenging 2020 and his bold vision for 2021. Many echoed his description of the imminent COVID-19 vaccine rollout as a moral test, emphasizing that no country will be safe until people everywhere have equitable access to vaccines. Others sounded the alarm about economic losses suffered due to the pandemic, harmful unilateral sanctions, the rolling back of human rights and a Security Council whose membership structure some speakers described as “frozen in the past”.
India’s representative pledged her country’s support for the global COVID-19 recovery — including as a leading contributor of peacekeeping troops — recalling that it immediately deployed medical teams through its peacekeepers in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. She also emphasized the world’s failure in relation to the crucial challenge of terrorism by continuing to procrastinate in drafting a global counter-terrorism convention.
The representative of the European Union delegation joined other speakers in underscoring the primacy of multilateralism in resolving the current global crises, with the United Nations at its heart. Whereas the European Union was among the most affected by COVID-19, he noted, international solidarity was embedded in its vaccine strategy “from day one”, he said, pointing to the COVAX Facility as the best route out of the pandemic.
Djibouti’s representative, speaking for the African Group, called for renewed global investment in the continent’s COVID-19 response and overall sustainability. Warning that the world has become more polarized with the rise of unilateral actions, he expressed concern that negotiations on issues critical to Africa’s development are growing more complex, from strengthening national health systems to properly tackling today’s health crisis. “It is about seizing shared opportunities,” he emphasized, calling for vital global cooperation in all its forms and at all levels. In particular, he called for accelerated progress on food security, agricultural development, the “blue economy”, trade, digital connectivity and the structural transformation of poor economies.
Sweden’s representative, speaking for the Nordic countries, said the Political Declaration on the seventy-fifth anniversary United Nations, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change “now serve as our common agenda towards building back better and greener” after COVID-19. The equitable global distribution of vaccines also offers an immediate opportunity to showcase a renewed spirit of multilateralism. She joined other speakers in voicing concern over the organization’s own financial challenges and called upon all Member States to pay their dues in full, on time and without conditions.
The representative of Maldives, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called the Assembly’s attention to the urgent challenges of climate change, ocean warming and sea-level rise, alongside COVID-19, global economic decline and enormous pressure on multilateralism. The shared vision of the United Nations must be to help recoup lost development gains, she said, emphasizing that the upcoming high-level meetings on oceans, energy, biodiversity, trade and food systems must be practical and impactful for small States.
Also speaking were representatives of Brunei Darussalam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), Liechtenstein, Singapore, Oman, Argentina, Pakistan, South Africa, Japan, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Peru and Iran.
Representatives of India and Pakistan spoke in exercise of the write of reply.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 29 January, to conclude the session.
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, welcomed the early holding of the annual meeting on the Secretary-General’s priorities, which provides Member States with more time for consideration and interaction. The meeting will help the Assembly reflect on the broader work of the United Nations, which includes assisting refugees, keeping peace, protecting civilians, providing electoral assistance and promoting and protecting human rights. Recalling that 2020 marked 75 years since the Organization’s founding, he said that, in the wake of that year’s many new challenges, it is even clearer that “the world requires more — not less — international cooperation”. He went on to spotlight the many deep inequalities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, which now require timely action by the United Nations. Against that backdrop, the Assembly continues to hold regular meetings with the Secretary-General, the Economic and Social Council, the Security Council and the wider United Nations in order to advance efforts to revitalize multilateralism, implement much-needed reforms and address the Organization’s financial difficulties, he said.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared: “The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed havoc in every country and every economy.” Reflecting on the challenges wrought by 2020 and laying out his priorities for 2021, he noted that the coronavirus has claimed 2 million lives — including members of the United Nations family — and its economic costs continue to mount, with some 500 million jobs lost. Hunger is rising once again, inequalities widening, and humanitarian needs escalating, he said, adding that extreme poverty has reached levels not seen in a generation. All the while, nature is striking back in the war that humanity declared upon it, with a climate crisis now raging, he pointed out.
While 2020 brought tragedy and peril, 2021 must be the year to shift back on track, he continued, emphasizing: “We need to move from death to health, from disaster to reconstruction, from despair to hope and from business as usual to transformation.” Urging Member States to view the Sustainable Development Goals as a guide forward, he said the first priority must be to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. “Vaccines are the first great moral test before us,” he added, stressing that they must be seen as a global public good or “people’s vaccines”, available and affordable to all. To that end, the COVAX Facility of the Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator urgently needs more resources to procure and deliver vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries, and to continue vital research and development.
Indeed, “science is succeeding — but solidarity is failing”, he cautioned, underlining that COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time. Should it be allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will inevitably mutate, becoming more deadly, more transmissible and, eventually, more resistant to vaccines, he warned. Recent studies have found that vaccine hoarding could cost the global economy up to $9.2 trillion, with almost half of that impact in the wealthiest countries, he said. In that context, he called upon States to prioritize health-care workers and those most at risk; protect health systems from collapse in the poorest countries; ensure enough supply and fair distribution; share excess doses with the COVAX facility; make licences widely available to scale up manufacturing; and boost confidence in vaccines by fighting the global “infodemic” against immunization.
Secondly, the world cannot heal from the coronavirus if economies are on life support, he emphasized. An inclusive and sustainable recovery is needed and must begin with massive investments in health systems as well as universal health coverage, mental health care, decent work and social protection schemes. The recovery must be inclusive, and no country should be forced to choose between providing basic services and servicing their debts, he cautioned. Calling for a “quantum leap” in financial support for low- and middle-income countries, he went on to stress that the recovery must also be sustainable, and should embrace renewable energy as well as green and resilient infrastructure, or risk locking the world into harmful practices for decades to come.
Emphasizing that 2021 is a critical year for climate and biodiversity, he reiterated his call for Member States to declare national climate emergencies and to reach several critical benchmarks — including building a coalition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Key sectors such as shipping, aviation, industry and agriculture must do the same. Governments must also submit nationally determined contributions to cut global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, while both donors and multilateral development banks should increase the share of adaptation finance from 20 to at least 50 per cent by 2024, he said.
Calling upon developed countries to fulfil their pledge to mobilize $100 billion annually for climate action in developing countries, he also called for such transformational policies as phasing out fossil fuels, putting a price on carbon and ending all new coal-fired power plants. Particular solidarity is owed to the small island developing States — some of which face an existential threat — and solutions must be proposed to shift towards renewables and expand access to energy, he stressed. “We must never allow any Member State to be forced to fold its flag because of a problem that is within our power to fix.” He went on to point out the opportunities provided in 2021 by the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Oceans Conference, the Food Systems Summit and the Global Conference on Sustainable Transport.
Turning to the critical challenges of poverty and inequality, he pointed out that more than 70 per cent of the world’s people are living with rising wealth inequality, with their chances in life still largely dependent on their gender, race, family and ethnic background, or whether they have a disability and other factors. “These injustices feed each other, cause people to lose trust in Governments and institutions and resound down the generations,” he said, adding that they were exacerbated by COVID-19. Calling for a “new social contract” within countries to ensure that all people have prospects and protection, he described education and digital technology as the “two great enablers and equalizers”.
Similarly, he continued, the increasingly common attacks on human rights seen around the world must be urgently reversed. Noting that the “rule of law is hanging by a thread”, with injustice rampant even before the pandemic, he spotlighted his plan of action on hate speech as well as important United Nations initiatives to protect religious sites and combat discrimination — all of which predated COVID-19 — as important tools. The pandemic has spread hate speech even further and some States have taken advantage of lockdown measures to curb human rights and fundamental freedoms, he noted. “We must join hands and rally to tackle the rising tide of neo-Nazism and white supremacy,” he stressed, pledging continuing United Nations efforts to “stamp them out”.
Outlining other priorities, he highlighted gender equality, pointing out that women were severely impacted by pandemic-related job losses and that many have been plunged into poverty. Gender-based violence, early and forced marriage and other abuses have risen sharply, he noted. Calling for greater investment in social protection, sustainable peace processes and equal representation of women, he emphasized the urgent need to heal geopolitical rifts, address roiling threats to peace and security, unite the Security Council and “avoid a great fracture that would divide the world into two”. Any dysfunction in relations among major Powers creates space for spoilers, he warned, welcoming recent ceasefires in some — but not all — of the most serious conflicts. More action is needed to bring peace to Yemen, Central African Republic, Mali, Afghanistan as well as the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin regions, among others.
He went on to express regret over the deterioration of the global non-proliferation regime in recent decades, while welcoming the entry into force, on 22 January, of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while calling upon nuclear-weapon States to work harder to find common ground. In the digital space, he welcomed the impact of new technologies while spotlighting serious gaps in access and calling for a “ceasefire in cyberspace”. Urgent efforts are needed to address the challenges of online hate speech and misinformation, he said. Meanwhile, the rapid rise of artificial intelligence is rendering questions of data and power all the more urgent, he noted. Reiterating his call for a ban on lethal automatic weapons, he called for a more “networked multilateralism” and a fairer system of power-sharing that includes developing countries and young people.
ANNA KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, noted that commitments to the core values of the United Nations become even more important in times of crisis. Expressing support for the rules-based international order, she said the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary Political Declaration, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change “now serve as our common agenda towards building back better and greener” after the COVID-19 pandemic. The most immediate opportunity to showcase that renewed spirit of multilateralism lies in the global distribution of vaccines, she emphasized. “Our priority must be to ensure universal, equitable and affordable global access to safe and effective vaccines,” she added, noting that the Nordic countries have joined and invested in the COVAX Facility to that end. Meanwhile, protecting human rights and addressing the urgent climate catastrophe remain top priorities, she said. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call to build a global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050, she also advocated for continued emphasis on conflict prevention, mediation and peacebuilding, coupled with adequate, long-term and sustainable financing. The Nordic countries remain concerned over the financial situation of the United Nations itself — with recurrent liquidity crises seriously impacting the Organization’s ability to deliver on its mandate — and call upon all Member States to pay their dues in full, on time and without conditions, she stressed.
NOOR QAMAR SULAIMAN (Brunei Darussalam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated support for the Secretary-General’s vision to “promote reform and innovation, focused on delivery and results”. Recalling that her country chose the theme “We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper” to mark its chairmanship of ASEAN, she said that in 2021, the bloc will strive to harness the caring nature of its members to build a harmonious community, placing people at its centre. As such, she added, priority will be placed on ensuring the regional organization remains relevant and resilient, notably by implementing its Comprehensive Recovery Framework to address the impact of COVID-19. ASEAN’s support for the United Nations in promoting sustainable development is seen in the “Community Vision 2025” and in related efforts to engage youth, women, persons with disabilities and older persons, she said, adding that, more broadly, it aims to foster understanding, tolerance and a sense of shared fate among its peoples. Peace and security efforts will focus on instilling a culture of prevention, engaging partners across the globe in promoting a culture of peace, and in its regional undertakings, enhancing ASEAN’s partnership with the United Nations through an action plan to implement the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership, covering the 2021-2025 period. She went on to affirm that ASEAN will continue to emphasize the importance of multilateral approaches to emerging challenges and actively to shape a more effective, rules-based multilateral architecture.
THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), cited climate change, ocean warming and sea-level rise, alongside the threat of COVID-19, global economic decline and enormous pressure on multilateralism, and declared: “All these global crises make it extremely difficult for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” Reiterating that the United Nations must do more to help recoup lost development gains, she pressed the Organization to accelerate efforts for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The outcomes of upcoming high-level meetings on oceans, energy, biodiversity, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and food systems must be “practical and impactful” for small States, she emphasized. The Secretary-General’s vision for a better, stronger Organization must include small island developing States, she said, pressing the United Nations development system to offer tailored support, and multilateral development banks to prioritize a “small island developing State response” to the COVID-19 crisis. On climate change, she pointed out that the world is “a very long way off” from keeping global temperature rise compatible with the goal of 1.5°C and stressed the expectation of AOSIS that the Secretary-General will use his platform to advance the alignment of global economic policies and finance with the Paris Agreement on climate change. She went on to underline the Alliance’s unique moral authority to call upon the main emitters to fulfil their responsibilities, saying AOSIS looks forward to collaborating with the Secretary-General on these efforts.
SILVIO GONZATO (European Union) delegation hailed the Secretary-General’s leadership in keeping the Organization focused on challenges outlined in the Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations, which, alongside the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, should form a road map for progress. At its heart is the notion that global challenges can be resolved only through inclusive multilateralism, with the United Nations at its centre, he added. A comprehensive response to COVID-19 is the main priority, he said, emphasizing the need to ensure safe and equitable access to vaccines, while prioritizing the most vulnerable. Whereas the European Union was among the most affected by the coronavirus, international solidarity was embedded in its vaccine strategy “from day one”, he stressed, pointing to the COVAX Facility as the best route out of the pandemic. The Secretary-General’s development initiative for the COVID-19 era, co-led with Canada and Jamaica, is very welcome, he continued, noting that the European Union is ready follow up on recommendations for addressing rising global debt. On the existential crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, he called upon all to join a new race to the top by implementing the Paris Agreement and agreeing to a post-2020 biodiversity framework. The European Union counts on the Secretary-General to implement a United Nations-wide strategy to protect human rights defenders, he said, adding that it will remain committed to the rules-based system, ensuring adherence to the rule of law and justice, including through the International Criminal Court. Bridging the digital divide is another high priority, he noted, underscoring the importance of upholding the open, decentralized model of Internet governance. Echoing concerns over the erosion of the arms control and disarmament architecture, he urged respect for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “The pandemic must not be used to bring disarmament to a standstill” but, rather, to move forward, he emphasized.
YOUSSOUF ADEN MOUSSA (Djibouti), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the benefits of reforming the United Nations development system must be accruing, concrete and tangible. In that context, he called for more investment in Africa’s sustainability, noting that the pandemic has highlighted its lack of preparedness, including for natural disasters and the climate crisis. African countries require additional resources to respond effectively to COVID-19, recover and build back better, as social and cultural fabrics have borne the brunt of the crisis, he said, adding that bridging the digital gap is another priority. African countries are in dire need of adequate long-term financing, both for tackling the coronavirus and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Global coordinated efforts are required to fight COVID-19, he noted, underscoring the importance of accessible and affordable vaccines and of removing bottlenecks in their distribution. Noting that the world has become more polarized with the rise of unilateral actions, he expressed concern that negotiations on issues critical to Africa’s development are growing more complex, from strengthening national health systems to properly tackling today’s health crisis. Multilateralism is the most effective mechanism for ensuring collective action, he reiterated. “It is about seizing shared opportunities.” Global cooperation, in all its forms and at all levels, is vital for ensuring progress on food security, agricultural development and the “blue economy”, he said, also citing structural transformation of poor economies, trade, digital connectivity, development of quality data and statistical capacity, as well as health care, particularly for women, to name a few areas. Much can be achieved by leveraging Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area, he said, underlining the need to fast-track joint African Union-United Nations actions in efforts to fulfil Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda.
VIDISHA MAITRA (India) noted the sobering account of the complex global landscape and the unfinished United Nations reform process, as reflected in the Secretary-General’s report. While welcoming efforts to render the Organization more “fit for purpose”, she pointed out that the catastrophic COVID-19 crisis continues to threaten gains made throughout recent decades. Pledging India’s support for the recovery, including as a leading contributor of peacekeeping troops, she said her country “has not let [the pandemic] scale down our engagement with the rest of the world”. India immediately deployed medical teams through its peacekeepers in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, she recalled, noting that it also contributed significantly to the ASEAN COVID-19 Fund. Calling attention to the crucial challenge posed by terrorism, she said the world has failed by continuing to procrastinate in drafting a global convention in that arena. Countries must urgently address terrorism, commit concrete funds to tackle climate change and reform a Security Council “that remains frozen in the past”, she emphasized.
GEORG HELMUT ERNST SPARBER (Liechtenstein) said global solidarity has been “put to the test” by COVID-19, as has the capacity of the United Nations to respond. Generally, the system has been a beacon of pragmatic and science-based action, and a voice of reason in times of mis- and disinformation, populism and nationalist tendencies. Going forward, its efforts must be underpinned by a human rights perspective, he noted. Describing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as the blueprint for addressing the health crisis and supporting the poorest first, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s call for countries to change course in their relationship with the planet, as promoted by the “One Health” approach. “This is as much a sustainable development and human rights matter as it is a security need,” he asserted, emphasizing that, whereas the Security Council has made tentative efforts to broaden its security paradigm through regular debates on climate, it must adapt to current realities. Liechtenstein and like-minded States will seek to mandate a debate in the General Assembly every time a veto blocks the Security Council action, he said. Pointing to the lack of trust in institutions as the primary challenge to the rule of law, he pressed the United Nations leadership and Member States alike to express vocal and unequivocal support for the work of international justice mechanisms.
JO-PHIE TANG (Singapore) praised the Secretary-General’s decisive steps in leading the early global COVID-19 response, including his call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic. Whereas the United Nations responded swiftly on the ground, it will ultimately be judged on the success of its longer-term pandemic strategy, she noted, calling for accelerated reforms and even the possible adjustment of resource deployment. Urging the Secretary-General to conduct an internal review of lessons learned from the crisis, she echoed other speakers in calling upon the global community to take the opportunity to “reset the dynamics in this house” and reaffirm their strong support for multilateralism.
MOHAMED AL HASSAN (Oman) noted that the world is facing the deepest recession since the Second World War and the biggest loss of income since 1780. Oman therefore welcomes the call for debt cancellation, debt restructuring and greater support by international financial institutions to help developing and least developed countries access financing to confront COVID-19, he said. Emphasizing that Oman’s foreign policy is focused on peace, he said his country was among the first to support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. He went on to welcome his call for a new social contract as a way to rebalance financial and commercial systems on the basis of fair market rules that respect State sovereignty, expressing hope that such efforts will be carried out through international contractual obligations.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina) emphasized that, in the fight against COVID-19, it will be important to facilitate universal, fair access to medicines, vaccines and technologies, which Argentina considers global public goods. “All the world’s economies have been affected by the pandemic,” she noted, calling for a better balance, based on countries’ scarce resources, while cautioning: “It is about insolvency”, in some cases. As such, Argentina urges moving beyond debt relief to multilateral alternatives that involve restructuring debt and ensuring better availability of resources, both to tackle the pandemic and to pursue sustainable development, she emphasized. Pointing out that per capita income does not capture national development levels, she recommended the use of multidimensional indicators to ensure eligibility for financing and international cooperation. She went on to stress that ending poverty will remain elusive without ensuring an end to modern slavery and the provision of decent work for all. Furthermore, energy and food systems processes must be transparent and consider the central role of States, she said, stressing that there is no place for protectionism or subsidies. “We do not wish to see a re-hash of known policies,” which harm the majority and benefit the few, she said, underlining Argentina’s preference for open, transparent efforts in which all States can help to end hunger.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that, amid the worst health crisis in a century, the rich have mobilized most of the funds needed to recover, while the poor struggle to find the resources they need to stave off economic collapse and human suffering. He called for the equitable and universal deployment of both money and vaccines, calling attention to an action plan outlined by his country’s Prime Minister, covering debt relief, concessional finance, the generation of climate finance and the reversal of illicit financial flows. Beyond recovery, he said, the world must build an equitable international financial architecture as well as fair trade and tax regimes, while fostering investment in sustainable infrastructure and the optimal use of science and technology to create a fair, resilient and sustainable global order. However, such efforts will not succeed without engaging in diplomacy for peace, the central purpose of the United Nations, he cautioned. A surge in diplomacy must encompass adherence to the Charter of the United Nations and binding Security Council resolutions, as well as efforts to halt the arms race, oppose the rise of fascist and totalitarian regimes and, above all, activate multilateral United Nations-led measures to resolve both old and new conflicts. Jammu and Kashmir cannot be neglected in such efforts, he said, emphasizing that the decolonization process will remain incomplete unless its people are allowed to exercise their right to self-determination through a United Nations-supervised plebiscite, as called for in various Council resolutions. He went on to denounce India’s campaign to impose a “final solution” in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, stressing that fulfilling the Secretary-General’s agenda requires an action plan on each issue, a coalition of committed leaders to champion its implementation and the personal involvement of the Secretary-General himself.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa) noted that 2021 brings hope, with several new COVID-19 vaccines recently approved thanks to unprecedented scientific cooperation. However, solidarity is also needed in their equitable distribution to ensure that people in developing countries, in particular, have access to vaccines, regardless of income level. “Unilateral action only leads to further global inequality,” she warned, urging resistance to the temptation of nationalism. At the United Nations, the need for more representative bodies — including the Security Council — is clearer than ever, she emphasized, recalling that the prolonged negotiations on that organ’s COVID-19 resolution was an example of the many challenges it faces in its current form. Spotlighting the importance of the recent entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, she stressed that the international community must not lose sight of non-proliferation and climate change as it focuses on recovery from the global pandemic. Noting that Africa has made significant strides towards “silencing the guns”, she said it is now crucial to consolidate peace and stability, while underlining the importance of timely reimbursement to police- and troop-contributing countries.
OSUGA TAKESHI (Japan) echoed other calls to “build back better” after the pandemic. “We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we can get there only by acting in solidarity,” he said, calling for social protection systems the world over to include universal health coverage. Japan supports the COVAX Facility, as well as important reforms of the World Health Organization (WHO), he added, noting that his country has also provided support to the ASEAN vaccine facility and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Warning against working in silos, he called for a “human security approach” with people at its centre. He went on to spotlight the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), to be held in Tunisia in 2022. In addition, Japan has committed to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 and has laid out plans for green growth, he said, pledging contributions to global efforts in adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), noting that COVID-19 has laid bare the challenges for developing countries, said it has also brutally highlighted the unjust nature of the international order, whereby the most vulnerable have limited access to financing and lack lasting solutions to issues of external debt. Despite the shared view of vaccines as global public goods, the world is witnessing a frenetic and irresponsible race by developed countries to ensure vaccines for themselves alone, she said. The price of that moral failure will be paid in the lives of the poorest, she warned, emphasizing that the world is a long way from an order marked by solidarity and multilateralism. Noting that all countries struggle with human rights challenges, she said that such questions must be tackled on a non-politicized basis, adding that the double standards of United Nations bodies only cause confrontation. On the peace and security front, she said the deployment of peace operations must respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and non-interference in internal affairs, as well as those of consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force except in legitimate self-defence. She went on to share the Secretary-General’s concern about the lack of liquidity at the United Nations and called upon States to honour their commitments on time, in full and without conditions. She also expressed regret that the Secretary-General’s call for the lifting of sanctions during the pandemic is not reflected in his report, while denouncing the blockade imposed on her country by the United States and categorically condemning Cuba’s inclusion in that country’s list of State sponsors of terrorism.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador) recognized the Secretary-General’s leadership in coordinating the global health response to COVID-19 and in formulating a broad policy agenda to help the most vulnerable regions. He called upon donors that have not yet done so to meet their official development assistance (ODA) commitments, to landlocked developing countries and small island developing States in particular. Ecuador supports multidimensional indicators and the establishment of solid alliances, he said, underscoring the importance of the multi-partner trust fund to help middle-income countries recover from COVID-19. He also called for continued efforts to conserve the oceans by cultivating inter-generational responsibility. Reiterating his country’s support for the Secretary-General’s priorities for transforming the United Nations into a modern and effective organization, based on a framework of integrity and accountability and the implementation of reforms, he urged the main contributors to proceed accordingly to alleviate the liquidity crisis.
OBAIDA ABDULLAH ABOU ELABASS ELDANDARAWY (Egypt) praised medical and other frontline workers tackling the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe, especially in vulnerable developing countries. Joining the calls for equitable access to vaccines without conditions, he said efforts are also needed to preserve development gains made by developing countries in recent decades. Underlining Egypt’s support for the 2030 Agenda, he said it will present its third voluntary national report at the 2021 high-level political forum on sustainable development. Egypt also strongly supports United Nations efforts to combat climate change, he said, adding that it has developed a coordinated approach to implementation of the three core international agreements, on climate, biodiversity and desertification. Egypt remains one of the main troop contributors to United Nations peace operations and supports fellow African nations in resolving their own conflicts, he noted. In light of the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever that countries fully respect the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, protect human rights and act in good faith in their relations with others, he said.
HUMBERTO VELÁSQUEZ (Peru) called upon Member States to launch a large-scale integral health response to COVID-19, continue to provide vital services and build more equitable societies. However, such an effort will require strong international support and a firm commitment to equitable vaccine distribution, he cautioned. “The pandemic has set us back years and deepened inequalities,” he said, calling for a broad social consensus in favour of peace, gender empowerment, human rights, respect for international law and a sustainable economic model. There is also need for stronger technological cooperation with developing countries, including in the areas of research and development, he emphasized. Outlining some of Peru’s robust and transformational climate adaptation and biodiversity preservation strategies, he called for greater support to the Green Climate Fund, one of the main financing sources for developing countries. Noting that many armed groups are exploiting the pandemic to expand their activities, he echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, while joining delegates in calling for a reformed Security Council that would be better able to address today’s challenges.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran), noting that the report indicates sluggish progress in various areas, said that 2020 presented a political opportunity to get on track towards practical multilateralism, by bridging gaps in particular. Iran agrees there is a need for new global governance actions, a rebalanced trade system, delivery of global public goods and decision-making guided by standards of sustainability, he added. Highlighting the destructive impact of unilateral coercive measures, especially as States struggle to procure vital equipment and supplies to fight COVID-19, he pointed out that the measures directly impact the human rights to life, health and food. Iran shares the Secretary-General’s assessment that there are overriding concerns about the threat from new violent extremist groups that resort to terrorist tactics, he said, stressing that the issue requires greater global attention, a point that the United Nations has a major responsibility to highlight. On section G of the report, concerning disarmament, he recalled the first session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, held in 2019, highlighting the importance of two existing processes: the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, launched in 1995; and the Assembly’s 2017 resolution 73/546, regarding a conference to elaborate a legally binding treaty establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
Right of Reply
The representative of India, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, to comments by Pakistan’s delegate, said her delegation expects nothing new from a nation that encourages sectarian violence and orchestrated hatred of India. However, it is time to hold Pakistan accountable and ensure that it does not misuse United Nations platforms to spread hate. Emphasizing that India abides by its international treaty obligations, she described Pakistan’s baseless claims as unworthy of a response. The people of Jammu and Kashmir now enjoy rights enjoyed by all citizens of India, she said, rejecting any references to the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, an inalienable part of India. What is portrayed as self-determination is, in fact, Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism against India, she stressed, noting that Pakistan’s role as a sponsor of terrorist groups has been well-documented by the Security Council, the Financial Action Task Force, and in writings by its own leaders.
The representative of Pakistan, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said today’s India has become a nightmare for its minorities, with the ruling party violating the rights of millions of people. From destroying Muslim shrines to outlawing interfaith marriages to blaming the country’s Muslim population for the spread of COVID-19, India is a quintessential majoritarian State with a complicit media, he emphasized. New Delhi has no claim to Jammu and Kashmir other than that of occupier and colonizer, he continued, stating that India actively attempts to crush the indigenous population and has mastered the art of disinformation in order to malign Pakistan. New Delhi can try but ultimately will never be able to prevent the people of Jammu and Kashmir from realizing their right to self-determination, he stressed.
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