NEW YORK: In a normal year, this would be the week where world leaders descend upon Manhattan and, armed with speeches, inspiring or clichéd, take over the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
The event has been called the “World Cup of diplomacy,” and has often offered plenty of star power.
Here, the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi once went on a long, incoherent tirade against the UN Security Council.
And from this arena in the heart of New York, “the belly of the empire,” the late Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara denounced the “imperial aggressor.”
Year in year out, the UNGA has been the territory where diplomatic fights are won and lost, and where hundreds of resolutions are introduced annually.
As it celebrates its birth in 1945 from the ruins of the First World War, the UN is for the first time, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, convening world leaders in a virtual format.
The globe will be watching their pre-recorded videos amid urgent calls for actions and solutions for a world in crisis.
The ideals remain the same as those upon which the UN was built 75 years ago: A better world with a focus on climate, health, poverty, inequality, justice, human rights and gender equality.
But as he looked ahead to convening the 75th UNGA and its highly visible general debate, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that everything the organization stands and works for is in jeopardy.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” he said after a moment of silence and prayer that launched the 75th session.
“Our world is nearing the grimmest of milestones — 1 million lives lost to (COVID-19). The virus is the No. 1 global security threat in our world today.”
But the pandemic is not the only issue the world faces. Racism, intolerance, armed conflict and hunger remain global challenges.
Guterres’s entreaty for a global cease-fire in March has been largely ignored. “Spoilers are active, distrust is deep. We must persevere,” he said.
“Peace is never a given. It’s an aspiration that’s only as strong as our conviction, and only as durable as our hope,” he added.
“It can take decades, even centuries, to build peaceful, stable societies. But peace can be squandered in an instant by reckless, divisive policies and approaches.”
He pressed for a cease-fire, confidence-building measures and the resumption of the political process in Yemen.
Regarding Libya, he urged parties to implement commitments made during the Berlin conference in January 2020.
Guterres reaffirmed international support for Lebanon’s stability and state institutions, and called for the swift formation of a government that meets the aspirations of the people.
He said it is important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East, and confidence building is the only solution to the dispute in the east Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.
As many UN officials emphasized over the past few days, it is not only on questions of cease-fires that the organization is struggling.
The Sustainable Development Goals — 17 UN objectives aimed at eliminating inequities including poverty, gender bias and illiteracy by 2030 — are also imperilled. Even before the pandemic, the goals were “seriously off track,” as one monitoring group put it.
“Recovery must advance gender equality and effective multilateralism,” Guterres said. “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is designed to address the very fragilities and shortcomings that the pandemic has exposed. At its heart is a simple promise: To end poverty and leave no one behind. And it means placing women at the center of decision making.”
The 2030 agenda “also demands a swift and just transition to inclusive, low-carbon, resilient economies,” he added.
“People are thinking big — about transforming the global economy, accelerating the transition to zero carbon, ensuring universal health coverage, ending racial injustice and ensuring that decision making is more open and inclusive. And people are also expressing an intense yearning for international cooperation and global solidarity, and rejecting go-it-alone nationalist approaches and divisive populist appeals. Now is the time to respond to these aspirations and to realize these aims.”