NEW YORK: The incoming president of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday said tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, uplifting the lives of women globally and combating climate change will be among the primary objectives of his presidency.
Abdulla Shahid, former foreign minister of the Maldives, outlined his priorities for the year ahead and announced “five rays of hope” in his inaugural speech to hundreds of delegates at the UN’s New York headquarters, attended by Arab News.
“While the pandemic unleashed an unprecedented crisis, we have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion that reaffirmed our common humanity and collective strength. As nations united, let us draw upon that collective humanity now,” he said.
“I have embraced ‘hope’ as the theme for my presidency. This is what this moment in time calls for. Hope is never overrated or cliche.”
Founded in 1945, the General Assembly is the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN.
Delegates from every UN member state have a place and a vote in the assembly. A new leader is elected by the body every year.
Shahid’s “five rays of hope” for his presidency placed COVID-19 as the undisputed priority for the year ahead. “Vaccinating the world is my top focus. We simply must close the gap on vaccine access,” he said of his first hope.
The second is rebuilding sustainably from the pandemic. Shahid said he will preside over a socioeconomic recovery that is “forward-thinking and resilient.”
Third, he promised to address climate change and act on behalf of the planet by pushing for “concrete actions that deliver change” through a series of high-profile global events.
The fourth hope for his presidency is related to gender issues and uplifting the rights and roles of women globally. In this, the new president is leading by example.
Shahid’s staff and Cabinet, he said, are completely gender-balanced, and he pledged to only participate in UN panels that are gender-balanced. He urged delegates in attendance to join him in leading by example on gender issues.
Shahid also made clear that youth participation in decision-making is a key priority for him. He pointed to his decision to launch a youth fellowship program associated with his office as an example of how he will “empower youth” — an initiative that will “strengthen the global multilateral system.”
He concluded by suggesting a series of reforms to the UNGA that would increase civil participation.
Its outgoing President Volkan Bozkir offered a significantly more austere take on the need for institutional change in his final speech.
He reminded delegates that their “primary responsibility is to the world’s most vulnerable people,” but said in some cases they had failed in the prioritization of that goal.
The UNGA, he said, “is the single best platform to mobilize political will and implement collective action to address global crises.
“However, we are not using this platform effectively and efficiently. We are constrained by bureaucratic excuses, and are sidestepping our responsibility out of a misaligned sense of keeping the peace.”
Bozkir received a standing ovation and rapturous applause from the delegates at the end of his speech.
Issuing closing remarks to the first session of the 76th General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, much like the other speakers at the event, made clear that COVID-19, climate, gender and poverty are interrelated issues that require a multilateral response.
“The war on our planet must end. The wars on each other need to end, too. It’s time to focus on fighting humanity’s common enemy: The pandemic,” he said. “The members of this assembly must speak with one voice. We need peace now.”