73rd Session of UN General Assembly at a glance

The United Nations General Assembly is the main deliberative body of the UN. It is one of six organs of the UN, and makes decisions on important questions concerning peace and security. The UNGA was established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, and comprises all 193 members of the UN. The UNGA is also made up of various boards, commissions, committees, councils, panels and working groups. The subject of these sub-bodies uses to focus on both the running of the General Assembly and discussion of priorities and issues. The general assembly has a range of vital decisions to make within the UN system, including appointing the secretary general, electing the non-permanent members of the Security Council and approving the UN regular budget. Most importantly, it is the main global forum for discussing international political cooperation, threats to peace and economic development, as well as the huge range of social, humanitarian and cultural issues that come under the remit of the United Nations.

The UNGA, the main policy-making body of the UN, was created under Chapter IV of the Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945. The Charter outlines its key functions, including “promoting international co-operation in the economic, social, cultural, educational, and health fields, and assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. The Assembly meets from September to December each year and then again from January to August, if required. Representatives debate and make decisions on issues such as peace and security and the admittance of new members. As outlined, the Assembly may approve the UN budget, elect non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, and appoint the Secretary General, among other things.

The General Assembly is tasked with voting on resolutions brought forward by

member countries, which can be referred to the Security Council to be made binding. Perhaps the biggest win of the UNGA in recent years was in September 2015, when the Assembly agreed on a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. All countries pledged to work together to eradicate poverty and hunger, protect the planet and foster peace. One of the General Assembly’s earliest achievements was to agree on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, outlining global standards for human rights.

The Assembly adopts resolutions which help to establish standards and codify international law, on the basis of representativeness (1 State = 1 vote) and debate (forum for negotiations and discussion).

It also decides on the organization’s internal operations: it admits new members upon recommendation of the Security Council, it examines and approves the budget, and it appoints the UN Secretary-General upon recommendation of the Security Council.

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 73) opened at the UN Headquarters in New York City on September 18. On this occasion, Heads of State and of Government and other high-level national representatives met each other to present their priorities and discuss global issues.

Proceedings of the 73rd session…

The 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 73) has taken place in New York, on 18th September 2018. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly on her opening statement said, “I am honoured to address you for the first time as President of the General Assembly. I speak with a profound sense of responsibility and commitment to the United Nations Charter and its founding principles. I also feel the deepest respect for the world’s peoples, whose well-being is our principal goal.Over the past several weeks I have had the good fortune to meet with many of you as I have prepared myself and my Office for this great challenge. Our consultations have made me appreciate how much has been done over the past decade to revitalize the workings of the General Assembly and enhance its capacity to address the challenges facing Member States and their diverse societies”.

The first day of the high-level General Debate was held on 25th September 2018. From 23rd to 24th September, the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration has taken place at UN Headquarters. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President elect of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), has announced in July 2018 that the theme of the general debate will be, ‘Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies. On 24th September, the UNGA hold a high-level plenary meeting on global peace in honor of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, known as the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit. Nelson Mandela Peace Summit Unanimously Adopts Declaration, Resolving to ‘Move Beyond Words’, Redouble Efforts towards Peaceful, Prosperous, Fair World. In May 2018 the Permanent Representatives of South Africa and Ireland, serving as co-facilitators, began consulting with governments on the content of the declaration. On 26th of September, the UNGA hold a high-level meeting on the fight against tuberculosis, as agreed by Member States in February 2018. World Leaders Reaffirmed Commitment to end Tuberculosis by 2030, as General Assembly Adopted Declaration Outlining Actions for Increased Financing, Treatment Access.

On 27th of September, the UN hold a one-day comprehensive review of the progress achieved in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which was the third high-level meeting of the UNGA on the issue. Non-Communicable Diseases Must Be Embedded in Greater Health, Development Agenda, as Secretary- General told High-Level General Assembly Meeting.

A number of events have taken place in parallel to the opening of the 73rd session of the UNGA under the banners of Global Goals Week 2018 and Climate Week 2018.

The world is suffering from “trust deficit disorder,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in remarks ahead of world leaders’ speeches at the UN headquarters in New York. People are losing faith in political establishments, power relations are unclear and “democratic principles are under siege,” Guterres said. “The world is more connected, yet societies are becoming more fragmented. Challenges are growing outward, while many people are turning inward,” the UN chief added. US President Donald Trump said that in less than two years since his election, his country has never been “stronger, safer and richer”. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, Trump also highlighted his achievement with North Korea, but added that sanctions will continue until denuclearisation is carried out. US President Trump has declared that America’s trade deficit with China is “unacceptable”. In a speech before the UN, Trump said that the world trading system “is in dire need of change”, complaining that over the last two decades the US has suffered $13 trillion in trade deficit with China. He also chaired the UN Security Council meeting on weapons of mass destruction. North Korea’s foreign minister, unexpectedly, joined the meeting along with his Chinese counterpart. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renounced the United Nations Security for “standing idle to the oppression” in Myanmar, Palestine and Bosnia among other nations. In a speech before the UN, Erdogan said that “those who remained silent on the oppression of the Palestinians” are only encouraging the oppressors. French President Emmanuel Macron called for “dialogue and multilateralism” on Iran, in a thinly veiled response to Trump’s push for tough, US-led sanctions. Jordan’s King Abdullah has called on world leaders to work together to put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process “back on track”. Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim called on the UN General Assembly to reject “the rule of force” to resolve political and security disputes in the world and the Middle East. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that world security is under threat by some states’ “recklessness and disregard” of international values and institutions. Germany and Saudi Arabia have agreed to end a prolonged diplomatic row that prompted the kingdom to pull its ambassador from Berlin and punish German firms operating in the country.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the claim of US President Donald Trump that Beijing is trying to influence the outcome of the midterm US elections in November. In his statement before the UN Security Council, Wang said that it is China’s long-standing policy “of non-interference of the domestic affairs of other countries”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced what he said are “baseless accusations” of Russian interference in foreign affairs and lashed out at US policies in Iran, Syria and Venezuela.

Lavrov used Russia’s speech at the annual UN General Assembly to vigorously defend multilateral organisations like the United Nations and warn against unilateral moves by the US or other countries.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in October 2018.

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