General Assembly: general debate

Note:  A complete summary of today's General Assembly meeting will made be available after its conclusion.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, outlined several grave challenges facing humanity, emphasizing that “our world is in trouble; people are hurting and angry.”  Insecurity was rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and the climate changing.  While the global economy was becoming more integrated, the sense of global community was disintegrating, with societies fragmented and political discourse polarized.  “Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide,” he stressed.  “We are a world in pieces.”

Emphasizing that trust could be restored if people worked together, he cited several threats that stood in the way.  First among them was the present nuclear peril, he said, noting that global anxieties about nuclear weapons were at their highest since the Cold War.  “The fear is not abstract — millions of people live under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he said.  Condemning those tests unequivocally, he called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and all Member States to comply fully with Security Council resolutions, and on the Council itself to maintain unity on the matter.  “The solution must be political,” he said.  “We must not sleepwalk our way into war.”

The threat of terrorism was also taking a toll, he said, destroying societies, destabilizing regions and diverting energy from more productive pursuits.  Calling for intensified international efforts to disrupt terrorism networks, reclaim territory and prevent attacks, he announced his intention to convene the first-ever gathering of heads of counter-terrorism agencies in 2018, aimed at forging a new International Counter-Terrorism Partnership.  More must be done to address the roots of radicalization, including real and perceived injustices and high levels of unemployment and grievance among young people.  Political, religious and community leaders had a duty to stand up against hatred and serve as models of tolerance.

Further, he said unresolved conflicts and systemic violations of international humanitarian law — including the dramatic escalation of sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State which had forced more than 400,000 people to flee — posed additional global threats, he said, calling on the Myanmar authorities to end their military operations and allow unhindered humanitarian access.  They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status had been left unresolved for far too long.  From Syria to Yemen, from South Sudan to the Sahel, Afghanistan and elsewhere, only political solutions could bring peace.  Terrorism would only be eradicated if such conflicts were resolved.

Citing climate change as another threat placing humanity’s hopes in jeopardy, he said millions of people and trillions of assets were at risk from rising seas and other climate disruptions.  The number of natural disasters had quadrupled since 1970.  “It is high time to get off the path of suicidal emissions,” he stressed.  “We know enough to act today; the science is unassailable.”  Urging Governments to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change with even greater ambition, he cited evidence that economies could grow even as emissions were reduced.  At the same time, the gains from expanding trade and technological advances had not been shared equally around the world, and gaping inequalities existed.  Indeed, eight men held the same wealth as half of humanity, he said, emphasizing that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted in 2015 — provided a blueprint to change that course.

Describing additional threats, he said technology and innovation, which was at the heart of shared progress, had a “dark side” that must be confronted.  Cybersecurity threats were escalating, and cyber war was now more able to disrupt relations between States, as well as the structures and systems of modern life.  Meanwhile, human mobility — “which I do not perceive as a threat, even if some do” — could bring the world together if properly managed.  While every country had the right to protect its own borders, such actions must protect the rights of people on the move.  It was important to re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime and the simple decency of human compassion.  With a truly global sharing of responsibility, the numbers could be managed.

Finally, he voiced his commitment to the goal of reforming the United Nations by building a development system to support States in bettering peoples’ lives, reinforcing the ability to safeguard peace, security and human rights, and embracing management practices that advanced those goals, rather than hindering them.  “We are here to serve,” he said.

MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said persistent conflict was an ugly reality of our world.  Civilians — not soldiers — were paying the highest price, while schools and hospitals — not military barracks — were the targets of attacks.  About 65 million people were being forced to leave their homes.  Other challenges included poverty, growing inequalities, indiscriminate terrorist attacks and the worsening effects of climate change.  “These are global challenges — every country is coping with at least one.  But they are also individual in nature, touching on the lives of each person,” he underscored.

Outlining his vision for the session, he said peace and prevention should be at the centre of everything the United Nations did.  Too much time and money were being spent reacting to conflicts, and not enough was being spent preventing them.  Efforts must be recalibrated around peace and prevention.  “That is the only way to ensure that the United Nations is doing the job for which it was created,” he said.  Placing peace and prevention first was not about requesting more capacity from outside — what was missing were the conditions in which those tools could be used properly.  The “sustaining peace” resolutions should be at the top of the tool-box, challenging the international community to strengthen its responses to crises before they resulted in the outbreak or recurrence of conflict.  Prevention must become a larger part of the General Assembly’s work and an important component of both the ongoing review of United Nations peace operations, and the Assembly’s engagement with the first United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism.  Prevention must also be better integrated into the Organization’s development and human rights work.

Next, he said, a stronger focus must be placed on people.  The United Nations was not made for diplomats or dignitaries — it was made for people.  One of the biggest tests for the Assembly would be the adoption of the first global compact for migration.  “Let me be frank here — this will be a difficult process,” he warned.  The issue of migration was highly divisive, yet, “we cannot turn this into an exercise of bureaucracy”.  The world could not be left with an agreement that only worked on paper.  International terrorism, a problem that could not be solved with guns or barriers, was another challenge that demanded a focus on people.  Indeed, the only way to address the challenges posed by migration and terrorism was to focus on people, rather than rigidly sticking to individual positions.  Viable global frameworks were needed, implemented by and for people, in real time.  “We cannot fail,” he stressed.  A focus on people must also be felt in the humanitarian field, particularly amid the violations of international humanitarian law which had become too common.

Through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, a promise was made to improve the lives of all people, while securing the planet’s future.  However, those goals could not be met without adequate financing.  “We cannot sit and wait patiently for trillions of dollars to materialize,” he said.  “We must go out and search for them.”  In such work, human rights were crucial, as neither peace nor development could take hold without them.  Women’s leadership and participation should be a priority in settings of both conflict and peace.  United Nations reform, another priority, required an open, inclusive dialogue among Member States.  He encouraged the Organization should open its doors wider and strengthen its engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders, including regional and subregional organizations, civil society and the private sector.  Changing how the United Nations operated should start in New York to ensure real dialogue rather than a succession of monologues.  “We can look beyond our individual agendas and positions, and see the bigger picture of why the United Nations is here,” he said.

Statements

MICHEL TEMER, President of Brazil, said that while the aspirations of the United Nations founders had not been entirely fulfilled, the Organization had stood for hope and the possibility of a more just world for more than 70 years.  It stood for a world where no one faced discrimination, oppression or extreme poverty; a world where consumption patterns were more in line with present and future generations.  This time in history, marked by so much uncertainty and instability, required more diplomacy, negotiation and multilateralism; not less.  It was imperative to reform the United Nations, and particularly to expand the Security Council, aligning it with twenty-first-century realities.  He rejected exacerbated forms of nationalism and protectionism as a “way out” from economic difficulties.

He said Brazil’s commitment to sustainable development was at the top of its public actions, both on the national and international levels.  The country was dedicated to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and advocating the Paris Agreement.  “We must act now,” he emphasized.  Clean and renewable energy in Brazil accounted for more than 40 per cent of its energy mix, and the country also served as a leader in hydropower and bioenergy.  He expressed pride that Brazil had the largest tropical forest coverage on the planet, stressing that deforestation was also of great concern.  Brazil was committed to an open and rules-based international trade system, ultimately centred on the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its dispute settlement mechanisms.

Recalling that Brazil had taken a lead role in drafting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he emphasized the importance of banning nuclear technology for non-peaceful purposes.  There were lingering issues of real concern on the peace and security agenda, notably the recent nuclear tests on the Korean Peninsula, which constituted a threat to all.  On the Middle East, he expressed concern that talks between Israel and Palestine had come to a halt, while on Syria, he said the recent de-escalation of violence had not prevented the conflict from continuing with dramatic humanitarian consequences.

A clear recognition of the connection between peace and development was required, he said, stressing that repeated episodes of cowardly violence and terrorism should not allow for the weakening of tolerance and inclusion.  Transnational crime, including the trafficking of people, drugs and money, undermined the security and peace of mind of families.  Human rights violations were a recurring fact, including those that compromised civil, political, economic and social rights.  Stressing that people must be allowed to live in dignity according to their own principles and choices, he rejected racism, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance.  Brazil had one of the world’s most advanced laws on refugees and had recently updated its migration law, anchored on the principles of humanitarian assistance.

Indeed, Brazil was experiencing a period of decisive and sweeping changes following its unprecedented economic crisis, he said.  Since then, the Government had worked to restore fiscal balance and economic credibility, having learned the importance of applying the rule that, without fiscal responsibility, social responsibility was nothing but empty rhetoric.  Brazil was more open to the world, an attitude it brought to the United Nations and all other forums in which it participated, working towards a more prosperous and democratic South America, while also seeking greater cooperation and partnership for development in Africa.  In Europe, Brazil was working to boost trade and investment flows, and in Asia, the country had expanded relations with both traditional and new partners.

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