“As we mark the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, it is clear that the world has high expectations of us, as the main platform for multilateralism and cooperation on a rules-based international system.” –UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Earlier this year, Member States agreed to hold a high-level event on 21 September to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary and to adopt a forward-looking political declaration which will be negotiated through an intergovernmental process on:
“The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism”.
In a high-level meeting to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, world leaders in the General Assembly gathered in a virtual format today to adopt a declaration honouring the multilateral framework put in place by its founders in 1945 and pledging to better live out the promise to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
“Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, lays out 12 succinct commitments to reanimate global resolve: leave no one behind, protect the planet, promote peace, abide by international law, place women and girls at the centre, build trust, improve digital cooperation, upgrade the United Nations, ensure sustainable financing, boost partnerships, work with youth, and, finally, be prepared”.
“We are not here to celebrate, our world is not yet the world our founders envisaged 75 years ago. Our challenges are interconnected and can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism. What we agree today, will affect the sustainability of our planet as well as the welfare of generations for decades.”
In fact, it is plagued by growing poverty, hunger, terrorism, climate change — and now, the epic onset of COVID-19, they recalled. People are forced to make dangerous journeys in search of safety. Least developed countries are falling behind “and we still have not achieved complete decolonization”, they stressed.
Acknowledging that COVID-19 caught them off-guard, they agreed it has served as a wake-up call for improving preparedness.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had a clarion call to preserve the longest period in modern history without a military confrontation among the world’s major Powers. “This is a great achievement of which Member States can be proud,” he said, addressing an Assembly Hall sparsely populated, due to pandemic safety restrictions. “A third world war — which so many had feared — has been avoided.” Yet, there is still so much to be done, he stressed. Gender inequality is the “greatest single challenge to human rights around the world”. The climate calamity looms. Poverty is rising. Hatred is spreading. And nuclear weapons remain on hair‑trigger alert. “We can only address them together,” he said. An interconnected world requires a networked multilateralism, in which the United Nations, international financial institutions, regional organizations, trading blocs and others work together more closely and effectively.
Along similar lines, newly elected Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey) acknowledged that without the continued commitment to multilateralism, “we would not be sitting here today”. He congratulated Governments for their strong efforts to strengthen coordination and good governance towards a common future “Multilateralism is not an option, but a necessity,” he insisted. The world is changing dramatically and an upgraded United Nations must both adapt and stay relevant. He urged Governments to support the Organization as it evolves into a more agile, accountable institution, maintaining its fitness for purpose. “The United Nations is only as strong as its members and the commitment to its ideals,” he stressed.
Addressing that point head-on, four young leaders then took the floor, peppering Heads of State and Government about their political will to uphold the values they profess. “We have a few questions for you,” said Akosua Adubea Agyepong, youth representative from Ghana. “Have you all remained true to the UN Charter?” For centuries, the world has dealt with the silent pandemic of sexual and gender-based violence. Sharifah Norizah, a young social entrepreneur from Malaysia, similarly stressed that “youth shouldn’t be counted just to complete quotas in a tokenistic manner”. She called for concrete actions to support those who are systematically left behind, especially youths with disabilities.
Charles Hamilton, a young climate change advocate from the Bahamas, agreed that young people had inherited crises despite having made a minimal contribution to these problems. “The game feels rigged,” he said. “Are you uncomfortable?” With a similar frankness, Nathan Méténier, a climate youth activist from France, asked: “When Brazil is in flames, when Sudan is underwater, when the largest iceberg has just broken off the Greenland shelf, what world are you leaving us?”
The tone set the stage for a wide-ranging general debate that heard more than world leaders describe their priorities and responsibilities for bequeathing a safer, more resilient planet for future generations. In pre-recorded remarks delivered to the virtual event, almost all affirmed the values of peace, freedom, equal rights and human dignity.
Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the pandemic highlighted the bottlenecks faced by developing countries, ranging from insufficient financing and high debt to restricted access to medical supplies. “We must do everything we can to fulfil our obligations to the peoples of this world,” he said, calling for accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
On that point, Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, said United Nations reforms will be critical to achieving that aim. If the pandemic continues, global poverty will reach 8.8 per cent, the first such rise in many years. Gender gaps and the digital divide must be addressed and financing provided to help those furthest behind.
Moon Jae-In, President of the Republic of Korea, also speaking for Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and Australia, highlighted the bridging role played by the five countries in the face of the COVID‑19 pandemic. He called for equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics.
“No one could have imagined that 2020 would have arranged such a powerful crash test for the world,” said Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine. Regrettably, the twenty-first century is filled with conflict. “Peace and prosperity remain the values people are shedding blood for,” he said. “Do we need more bloody lessons to rethink our being on this planet?”
Ilham Heydar Oglu Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, echoed a call for reform heard throughout the day-long meeting. Such steps are needed to ensure that the United Nations and the Security Council are fit to address twenty-first century challenges and modern geopolitical realities.
Abiy Ahmed Ali, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, said that at a time when the world needs global leadership and collective action to tackle increasingly complex challenges, the ongoing standoff in the Security Council is undermining its credibility, demonstrating the need for reform that, among other things, addresses the historic injustice against Africa through adequate representation. At the same time, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has also been slowed by COVID-19, with an undeniable burden on African countries requiring a stimulus package for recovery efforts.
Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of Samoa, said much must be done to enhance the Organization’s efficiency. However, the United Nations has also achieved much and was vital in supporting Samoa’s journey from its independence until today and in including smaller nations as it shaped a better future. “Our United Nations is a multilateral forum where all contributions count, and Samoa proudly cherishes having a seat at the United Nations table to contribute to our global challenges, being heard and being part of the solution,” he said. “To all our members, let’s capitalize on our ‘unity in diversity’ and work as nations united for the common good of mankind.”
Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of Bhutan, underlined the importance of working together to address this and future pandemics alongside other global challenges. When the world celebrates the United Nations 100th anniversary, there should be 100 per cent literacy and life expectancy should reach three digits, he said, adding that if the world works together, no task is insurmountable.
Also speaking today were Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers and senior officials.
The Presidents of the European Council, United Nations Security Council, United Nations Economic and Social Council and the International Court of Justice also spoke.