COVID-19 Presents Immediate Crisis to Small Island Countries but Climate Change Remains Existential Threat, Speakers Warn As General Assembly Debate Continues
Decarbonization, Formation of Green Economies Must Be Central to Pandemic Response, Islet Leaders Stress, While Others Call for ‘New Normal’ Grounded in Multilateralism
Climate change continues to pose an existential threat to many small island developing States, even as the coronavirus pandemic presents an immediate crisis, world leaders said today as they beamed their pre‑recorded messages into a socially distanced seventy‑fifth General Assembly hall.
While some small island developing States have been spared COVID-19 infections, the pandemic has led to other consequences on their fragile economies, speakers from those countries reported, while others stressed the importance of new leadership and partnerships in tackling climate change.
“The sea is our identity and how we define ourselves and how we trace our roots, cultures and traditions,” Kiribati’s President, Te Beretitenti Taneti Maamau told the Assembly. His Government continues to implement critical projects to build resilience, including the Peacebuilding Fund’s climate security project. Kiribati is also committed to securing its maritime boundaries, he said, calling this a matter of sovereignty, for the Pacific Islands. The international community must continue to work on climate change, which presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the Pacific and its peoples, he emphasized.
The unprecedented closure of borders, he noted, has affected maritime transport and commercial activity, leaving many seafarers unable to embark on ships to work and unable to disembark at other ports. While his island’s remoteness put it beyond the virus’s reach, many of its nationals are currently stranded in other countries due to border closures, he noted, adding that the real and true test of the success of multilateralism lies not in the number of treaties concluded or resolutions adopted, but on how the international community supports the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and least developed peoples.
James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, emphasized that the importance and necessity of the United Nations for small nations like his cannot be overstated. Having launched its first-ever national oceans policy two months ago, Papua New Guinea is looking forward to the United Nations second Ocean Conference and the outcome of the International Law Commission’s study group on rising sea levels. Reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he called on the United Nations to help find a balance between cutting trees and forests for revenue and protecting them to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, noting that Papua New Guinea holds 13 per cent of the world’s rain forests and seven per cent of its biodiversity.
Confronted with COVID‑19, he said Papua New Guinea adopted a national plan that has cushioned, to some extent, the loss of life to just six so far. Working closely through the Pacific Islands Forum to tackle the coronavirus has also been relatively successful, he said, emphasizing that any vaccine should be accessible and affordable for everyone.
Kausea Natano, President of Tuvalu, said the pandemic response and the fight against climate change must inform each other, adding that decarbonization must be central to COVID‑19 recovery efforts. While Tuvalu has remained COVID‑19‑free, the effects caused soaring unemployment in its fishery and tourism sectors, also disrupting food security. Preserving the natural environment and building climate smart economies that are resilient to future crises is vital, he said, urging States to adopt a circular economy approach.
Along similar lines, David W. Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, called on the world to transition to sustainable and renewable energy sources. Requesting that the Secretary‑General appoint a Special Envoy for Climate Change within the Security Council, he too stressed that sea‑level rise must not affect Micronesia’s territorial boundaries. “Empathy is courage,” he said, underscoring that through empathy the international community can overcome any challenge.
Many speakers today echoed this note of possibility, calling on the international community to build back a greener world. The pandemic opened new horizons to fight climate change, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, and instead of returning to normal, the international community should reinvent an improved world. Calling the European “Green Deal” more necessary than ever, he looked forward to the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COVID‑19 crisis has made Italy a symbol of collective human effort, he said, noting also a historic opportunity to look to Europe as an indispensable guidepost for global partnership for a new future.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, speaking for the European Union, expressed the bloc’s determination to transform its economies and societies tenfold. “We have come together, united and strong, to better assume our responsibilities,” he said, adding that the Union aims to use its influence to defend the rules‑based international order based on universal values. “We have faith in the virtues of free and open economies, never in protectionism,” he said, adding that while it shares ideals with the United States, this does not prevent it from having divergent approaches or interests at times.
“Europe will have to redefine its role in the world,” Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic said, noting that the political decisions the Union is now making will shape the future of the European project. The European continent must accept more responsibility, he said, also calling for a revision of the multilateral health architecture. The World Health Organization has failed to exercise global health leadership, he said, adding that it did not act resolutely after the pandemic outbreak, failed in the application of its epidemiological expertise and offered confusing recommendations regarding wearing a facemask.
Acknowledging that WHO has attracted criticism for its response to the pandemic, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called for continuous efforts to improve multilateral cooperation. “Stand up for your own interests, but don’t lose sight of the common interest,” he told Member States, adding that the international community must not aim to tackle today’s challenges with yesterday’s structures.
Echoing that message, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, Prime Minister of Eswatini, said “whatever strife we are facing today and whatever incidents may lay in wait for us, we deal with it best when we deal with it together.” Nations must accept the reality that the pandemic has forever changed the way of life. As such, they must resist the temptation of reverting back to what was known as normal and fulfil a common duty to prepare for a “new normal”, with the most successful preparedness and response plans incorporating strategies that strengthen nations beyond recovery and mark the birth of a new society. Every country’s needs must be considered in isolation, but tackled in the multilateral context, he said, adding that: “this will help us collectively commit to bottom-up multilateralism and help us collectively progress to the future we want and the United Nations we need.”
Also speaking were Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers and senior officials of Nepal, Georgia, Greece, Croatia, Armenia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Thailand, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bhutan, Japan, Malta, Tonga and Chad.
Pope Francis of the Holy See and the President of the State of Palestine also spoke.
The representatives of India, Azerbaijan and Pakistan delivered statements in exercise of the right of reply.
DAVID W. PANUELO, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, said empathy is courage and that through empathy the international community can overcome any challenge. In times of peace and calamity, world leaders must stand together, he said, calling on the international community to embrace the spirit of solidarity. Noting that his country holds an enduring partnership with the United States, he said such bilateral partnerships with several States have helped it advance its development causes.
Micronesia is a peace‑loving country, he said, calling for consistent cooperation among all nations and peoples to successfully tackle issues such as illegal fishing, including improved relations between the United States and China to reinforce their cooperation to improve the international landscape. He said illicit practices on regional waters run counter to regional security and stability and called on Pacific island leaders to remain focused and true to the region’s collective interests.
He said Micronesia simultaneously faces the COVID‑19 pandemic and the long‑term implications of climate change. “COVID‑19 is an immediate security threat,” he said, adding that while the country remains virus‑free, it faces challenges in repatriation efforts. Through global cooperation the coronavirus can be defeated and Sustainable Development Goal 17 on “Partnerships for the Goals” is the bedrock on which all other Goals can be met. “Once effective vaccines are developed, they must be shared widely and immediately,” he stressed. Still, climate change is Micronesia’s single largest security threat and all countries are in a global war against the phenomenon. To win that war the world must transition to sustainable and renewable energy sources, he said, calling on the Secretary‑General to appoint a Special Envoy for Climate Change within the Security Council. He stressed that sea‑level rise must not affect Micronesia’s territorial boundaries.
POPE FRANCIS of the Holy See, noting the many ways in which the COVID‑19 crisis is exposing human fragility, called on humanity to choose between what really matters and what doesn’t. The crisis represents a genuine opportunity for transformation of lifestyles and ecosystems, enhancing multilateralism and accepting shared global responsibility. Nationalism, protectionism and individualism exclude the poorest and most vulnerable, he reminded delegates, stressing that the pandemic has thrown light on the urgent need for universal access to basic health care. Political stakeholders and the private sector must guarantee access to the vaccine and the technologies needed to care for the sick. “If anyone is to be given priority, let it be the poorest,” he said.
Solidarity cannot be an empty promise, he said, adding that human freedom must be able to direct its methods to a healthier and kinder progress, including in the complex issue of artificial intelligence. Reflecting on the effects of the current health crisis on the labour market, he said the international community must find new ways of work that satisfy the human potential and reaffirm dignity, discarding the dominant economic paradigm that aims at profit. Also calling on the international community to build the ethical framework needed to go beyond the culture of waste and a reductionist vision of the human being, he lamented that fundamental rights continue to be violated with impunity while humanitarian crises have become the status quo.
Encouraging economic and financial institutions to reduce or write off the debt that weighs so heavy on the budgets of the poorest countries, he stressed that all multilateral lending institutions must bear in mind fiscal justice and responsible public budgeting. Also calling for the closure of tax havens, he highlighted the importance of international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, and said, “we must avoid every temptation to fall into declarative nominalism.” The environmental crisis is intimately linked to a social crisis, he noted, also pointing to the devastating consequences of the COVID‑19 crisis on children. Child abuse and pornography have dramatically increased, and with thousands of children unable to go back to school, child labour and malnutrition are on the rise. Also noting “the unfortunate promotion of abortion as an essential service” in humanitarian responses, he called on authorities to respect the rights to life and education.
MAHMOUD ABBAS, President of the State of Palestine, said his people have been present in their homeland for over 6,000 years and will remain steadfast there until the fulfillment of their rights. The Israeli occupying Power, with the support of Washington, D.C., wants to substitute international law and United Nations resolutions with the United States “Deal of the Century” and the planned annexation of over 33 per cent of the land of the State of Palestine, in addition to the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, including Al‑Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The State of Palestine and the international community rejected that deal, he said.
While the State of Palestine has agreed to all initiatives presented, including the Arab Peace Initiative, Israel violated all the agreements it signed, undermined the two‑State solution and sought to alter the character of occupied Jerusalem, he said. Now Israel has announced normalization agreements with both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in violation of the Arab Peace Initiative, and in violation of the terms of reference of a comprehensive, lasting and just solution in accordance with international law. He stressed that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had not asked anyone to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people. As such, he called on the Secretary‑General, in cooperation with the Quartet and the Security Council, to convene an international conference with the participation of all concerned parties to engage in a genuine peace process leading to an end of the occupation and an independent Palestinian State.
There will be no peace, security, stability or coexistence in the region while the occupation continues and a just, comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine remains denied, he said. Despite their prolonged suffering, the Palestinian people continue to create vibrant life and hope in the spirit of national unity and democracy and will continue to resist attempts to erase their existence, a right in accordance with international law.
CHARLES MICHEL, President of the European Council, European Union, recalling that 142,000 people on his continent have lost their lives to COVID‑19, said the bloc has raised €16 billion to finance the research and deployment of vaccines, tests and treatments, and mobilized to ensure these resources are universally accessible and affordable. Quoting former United Nations Secretary‑General Kofi Annan, who remarked that “to become a good citizen, start in your own community”, he said it is in this vein that the Union aims to become stronger and strategically autonomous, alongside an open market.
The pandemic has increased the bloc’s determination to transform its economies and societies tenfold, he said, noting that €540 billion was mobilized for urgent measures at the outset, and in July, an unprecedented €1.8 trillion for the coming years, including €750 billion raised by issuing European Union bonds. “With this historic decision, we have come together, united and strong, to better assume our responsibilities,” he assured. More than ever, the Union is defending the rules‑based international order based on universal values. “We have faith in the virtues of free and open economies, never in protectionism,” he said, insisting that access to the Union’s large market will no longer be sold off: from now on, it will better enforce the level playing field, in a market open to those who respect its standards. It is also committed to advancing tax fairness, particularly in the digital sector.
More broadly, he said the European Union aims to use its influence to make others more robust as well, noting that it supports the six Western Balkan partners in their integration, and recently opened accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Describing the presidential election in Belarus as falsified and likewise demanding an independent inquiry into the assassination attempt against Russian Federation opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he said the region is also on the side of Venezuela’s people. On its relationship with Africa — the backbone of a stronger world — he advocated settling the debts of the poorest countries, while in the Eastern Mediterranean, he called for an end to unilateral actions. He expressed the Union’s commitment to a two‑State solution between Palestinians and Israelis, clarifying that while it shares ideals, values and mutual affection with the United States, this does not prevent it from having divergent approaches or interests at times. The Union does not share the values on which China’s political and economic system is based, and it will not stop promoting respect for universal human rights — including those of Uighurs or in Hong Kong. While China is a crucial partner — notably in addressing global warming, COVID‑19 and debt relief in Africa — the European Union is determined to rebalance this relationship towards greater reciprocity and fairer competition.
MARK RUTTE, Prime Minster of the Netherlands, said the COVID‑19 pandemic has enormous impact on the health, economies and societies of every country, taking an especially hard toll on poor nations. The United Nations is setting the right example in fostering increased cooperation to address the pandemic, including through the establishment of the COVID‑19 Response and Recovery Fund. The Netherlands is the Fund’s largest donor, he said, calling for enhanced international cooperation and support for the World Health Organization (WHO).
Acknowledging that WHO has attracted criticism for its response to the pandemic, he called for critical evaluation and continuous efforts to improve multilateral cooperation. The spirit of multilateralism is under great pressure, he said, noting that responsibility for the proper functioning of the multilateral systems rests with all countries. “Stand up for your own interests, but don’t lose sight of the common interest,” he told Member States, also calling on them to honour agreements, international law and human rights.
“We can’t tackle today’s challenges with yesterday’s structures,” he stressed, pointing to the relevance of improving, reforming and modernizing the United Nations. The Netherlands supports the Secretary‑General’s reform agenda as part of efforts to make the Organization fit for purpose. Future generations must be able to count on a solid global system of cooperation. The Netherlands will continue to be among the top donors to the multilateral system and will continue to focus on climate adaptation initiatives, he said, noting the country is set to host the 2021 Climate Adaptation Summit. He said the Netherlands proudly hosts the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court and will continue to work to ensure those responsible for atrocities in Syria are held accountable.
K. P. SHARMA OLI, Prime Minister of Nepal, said the most important element of the COVID‑19 response is the easy, smooth and affordable access by all countries to a vaccine. Unfortunately, the pandemic is unfolding against the backdrop of an uncertain international order, he said, and likened geopolitical tensions to an invisible virus. Larger global good, not parochial national interests should underpin multilateralism and the rules‑based order, he assured the Assembly, adding that only collaborative and science‑based partnerships will help the world emerge from the pandemic.
He warned the Assembly that the pandemic is resulting in loss of gains made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Least developed and small nations — which are more susceptible to tourism and supply chain disruptions — are facing obstacles in the provisions of resources, social protections and health services. He said poverty is on the rise among developing countries for the first time in two decades and stressed that the only way to address inequities is by placing the Sustainable Development Goals at the centre of pandemic recovery efforts. Noting that global military expenditures in 2019 amounted to $1.9 trillion, he said a fraction of those resources could bring respite to the millions of people suffering from poverty, hunger and deprivation.
Climate change remains an existential threat, he said, noting that Nepal is focusing on preserving forest and mountain ecosystems. Nepal subscribes to climate‑friendly economic activities and power generation, he said, calling for effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. Democratic consolidation is well under way in Nepal and the Government is now focusing on economic transformation grounded on the 2030 Agenda. Assuring the Assembly that Nepal places its enduring faith in multilateralism with the United Nations at is core, he underlined the need to reform the Security Council to make it more representative, transparent, democratic and accountable.
GIORGI GAKHARIA, Prime Minister of Georgia, said that his country, through the efforts of doctors, epidemiologists and citizens’ high social responsibility, has managed to remain on the COVID‑19 list of green zones. However, beyond the current challenge, Georgia is facing a more difficult threat. The occupation of Georgian territories carried out by the Russian Federation in 2008 with open military aggression became containable as a result of support of the international community. Today, the Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region remain occupied by the Russian Federation which has yet to fulfil the 2008 ceasefire agreement. The difficult reality in the region is taking a toll on the conflict‑affected population and creating a humanitarian crisis.
He went on to call on the international community to assess Moscow’s illegal actions so that it may be forced to comply with international norms and fulfil assumed obligations. His country’s peace initiative, titled “A Step to a Better Future”, clearly demonstrates Georgia’s interest in dialogue with the residents of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, attempting to improve the conditions on the ground and restore ties between communities on either side of the boundary line.
Georgia implemented a historic constitutional reform resulting in its switch‑over to European parliamentary governance in 2020 with elections scheduled for 2024, he said. That switch‑over will further accelerate the country’s democratic development. Additionally, Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the European Union, with visa‑free travel and a Free Trade Agreement also being in force, enabling the country to strengthen its European institutions, develop infrastructure, empower small and medium-sized businesses, foster the adoption of modern technologies and stand by Europe in dealing with challenges. Georgia is presently positioned as a multifunctional regional hub of education, medicine, logistics, tourism and business in general, and is pressing on.
ANDREJ BABIŠ, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, recalling the Czechoslovak diplomat Ján Papánek, who was in the group of 14 experts that finalized the text of the Charter of the United Nations 75 years ago, said, “We should not pretend that everything works perfectly.” Voicing support for reforms towards a more effective, transparent and responsible Organization, he called for an open discussion on a revision of the multilateral health architecture. Expressing concern that WHO has failed to exercise global health leadership, he said it did not act resolutely after the pandemic outbreak in Wuhan, China, and failed even in the fields it is usually praised for, such as the application of its epidemiological expertise. “Confusing recommendations regarding wearing a facemask is only one example of its questionable role during the past months,” he said, calling for increased coordination by the United Nations in vaccine development.
Crises and competition are engines of progress, he said, adding that as a successful businessman, “I understand business opportunities. But sometimes business considerations are not the most important.” Calling on all stakeholders to conduct research and development responsibly, he said the pandemic shows how essential it is to increase investment in scientific research, technology development and innovation to prepare better for future crises. Stressing the need for multilateral cooperation in data‑sharing and in mobility of researchers, he noted that Czech researchers have focused on application of nanotechnology in constructing facemasks. His country has an extremely open, globally highly integrated economy and will make every effort to enforce the existing international trade rules in the shadow of rising global trade tensions and protectionist measures.
In the light of the COVID‑19 pandemic and its socioeconomic implications, he continued, Europe will have to redefine its role in the world. The political decisions the European Union is now making to deal with the crisis will shape the future of the European project, he said, adding, “We have to use vast amounts of money to make Europe more sustainable and innovative.” The European continent as such must accept more responsibility, particularly in its defense policy, to become a more strategically autonomous security player capable of taking a more independent action, especially in its own neighbourhood. A healthy future is also about information, he said noting the Czech Republic’s unfortunate experience with cyberattacks against hospitals. Calling on all countries to work together to protect civilian infrastructure from future cyberattacks, he emphasized that the international community must not tolerate aggressive cyberbehaviour.
KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, Prime Minister of Greece, said COVID‑19 has raised questions about globalization that previously were confined to risk‑management workshops about how people live, work and interact. While the pandemic has led to people no longer hugging or shaking hands, he rejected the idea that these new norms will define a new world, stressing that “as this virtual broadcast demonstrates, we are still very much connected” — in part by a new‑found determination to work together. The world cannot afford to wait for the next crisis before it acts on issues of climate change, biodiversity, global health, migration or development.
While years of austerity had left Greece vulnerable, he said it nonetheless proved that agility, flexibility and new technology can achieve results that once seemed impossible. The Government prioritized competence, using facts and data rather than ideology. More broadly, he said Turkey responded to Greece’s willingness to be a bridge builder in Europe with escalation, provocation, disinformation and aggression. “Turkey's actions undermine international law and threaten the security and stability of the broader region of the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said. Yet, he remains an optimist. “So, let’s meet,” he said, and “give diplomacy a chance.” If divisions persist, he suggested entrusting the issues to the court at The Hague.
On the environmental front, he said Greece is phasing out its use of lignite — brown coal — in its power stations by 2028. And by this time in 2021, many of Greece’s single‑use plastics will have been banned. He pointed to the fire at the Moria camp on Lesbos in September to stress that Greece cannot manage the issue of migration alone. “This is a collective failure of the international community and we must all share the blame,” he assured, calling on States to together tackle the causes of migration: poverty, deprivation, economic uncertainty, exploitation, violence and war. He described a new national self‑confidence taking hold in Greece, no longer viewed through the prism of bailouts and austerity. In another 75 years, when its children’s children speak at the United Nations, he expressed his belief that they will be describing a better world.
ANDREJ PLENKOVIĆ, Prime Minister of Croatia, said responses to the COVID‑19 pandemic must not result in increased mistrust and isolation in the international community because overcoming the crisis requires close cooperation and pooling of resources. Stressing the relevance of mobilizing political will and financial resources, he said Member States must spare no effort in making a vaccine — a global public good — available to as many people as possible.
He said the unprecedent crises facing the world represent a unique opportunity to rethink the global role of multilateralism and strengthen the importance of orderly globalization and a rules‑based international order. The United Nations is the best ‑placed organization to deliver on the principles of international cooperation, he said, while noting that the pandemic has significantly altered the work of Governments around the world. Croatia is working towards the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and is active in European Union efforts to transform the bloc’s economy into a climate‑neutral one by 2050.
Turning to information and communications technology (ICT), he said the pandemic has presented an environment that fosters disinformation and fake news, with health institutions coming under attack from these threats. He welcomed private sector efforts to mitigate the issue but called for greater cooperation to address cyberattacks. The pandemic cannot be an excuse to lose sight of nuclear non‑proliferation efforts, he said, also assuring the Assembly that the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons remains a real threat. He said the pandemic can deepen armed conflict and pledged support for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire. Regionally, Croatia remains fully committed to the well‑being of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
GIUSEPPE CONTE, Prime Minister of Italy, said the COVID‑19 crisis has made his country a symbol of collective human effort, before being a health or political one, one that can serve the entire international community. Italy wishes to share its efforts and successful experiences battling the pandemic in a reinvigorated multilateral system with the United Nations at its core. The creation of an international alliance to fight the pandemic allowed for the mobilization of more than €40 billion towards the European Union’s global response to the crisis and will help guarantee equal and universal access to a vaccine, diagnostics and therapeutics. Italy’s own contribution to vaccine research will be a collective heritage, he said, adding that the future of the planet must not be approached selfishly.
Instead of returning to normal, the international community should want to imagine and reinvent an improved world, he continued. The “Next EU Generation”, together with the measures of the European Central Bank, represents a historic opportunity to look to the continent as an indispensable guidepost for global partnership for a new future. Turning to Italy’s role as the incoming Group of 20 (G20) President, he said it would be an opportunity to solidify that sense of community that every nation nourished during its darkest hours of the pandemic. Italy’s agenda will focus on: people, planet and prosperity, and pay particular attention to the empowerment of women, precarious workers and the digital divide.
The pandemic opened new horizons to fight climate change, he went on, adding that the European “Green Deal” is more necessary than ever. His country’s partnership with the United Kingdom in organizing the twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will reaffirm Italy’s role in that sphere, he said, emphasizing the importance of youth engagement in climate change discussions. Expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire, he stressed that peace and security should be secured through prevention, politics and dialogue. The fragile but encouraging peace process in Libya has opened a space for an intercountry dialogue. Now, oil production should resume to promote the equitable management of resources for the entire population there.
NIKOL PASHINYAN, Prime Minister of Armenia, said that meeting in a virtual format proves the commitment of Member States to the United Nations and multilateral cooperation. Expressing appreciation for the primary role of the United Nations — particularly WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — in the global response to COVID‑19, he agreed that equitable access to essential health technologies and products must be a global priority. “Vaccines against COVID‑19 are a global public good and should be accessible and affordable to all peoples without any discrimination,” he insisted, before more broadly outlining “deplorable” attempts to destabilize security in the region.
In July, Azerbaijan’s armed forces initiated a military offensive in the border Tavush region of Armenia, he explained. Armenia had called for an immediate de‑escalation and agreed to end hostilities, yet Azerbaijan continues to target civilians and infrastructure, employing artillery and heavy weaponry, and has threatened to launch a missile strike at Armenia’s nuclear power plant, which would be tantamount to “nuclear terrorism”. Stressing that there is no military solution to the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict, he reaffirmed Armenia’s commitment to an exclusively peaceful settlement. The right to self‑determination of people in Nagorno‑Karabakh is the basis for the peace process recognized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co‑Chairs.
He said these people should be able to determine their status without limitation, and to this end, their elected authorities should be able to take part in the negotiations. Azerbaijan uses the conflict to legitimize its grip on power, with Armenians serving as “useful enemies” for its leaders to justify low living standards, a lack of democracy and systematic rights violations. He called for renouncing hate speech, expanding OSCE monitors on the contact line and the borders, establishing an investigative mechanism for ceasefire violations and direct communication lines between commanders. Turkey likewise has fuelled tensions in the South Caucasus, providing unilateral support to Azerbaijan and carrying out joint military drills nearby to Armenia and Nagorno‑Karabakh. In addition, he drew attention to Armenia’s peacekeeping contributions, and on the development front, outlined its priority to implement the 2030 Agenda. He also outlined the Government’s reform programme aimed at building a competitive and democratic society that embraces every area of public life: from human rights and the rule of law to combating corruption, maintaining an independent judiciary and improving public administration.
IMRAN KHAN, Prime Minister of Pakistan, noting that international agreements are being flouted even as conflicts proliferated and the arms race renewed, said the pandemic has triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression of the last century. His Government, realizing early on that a strict lockdown like that in affluent countries would result in more people dying of hunger than of the virus, adopted a policy of “smart lockdown”, opening up agricultural and construction sectors strategically, while supporting the poorest households with direct cash payments. “Today, Pakistan’s response is cited among success stories in controlling and responding to the pandemic,” he said, also calling for fiscal space for developing countries as they recover from the COVID‑19 crisis.
Debt relief is one of the best ways to provide that space, he said, acknowledging the G20’s official debt suspension initiative, and calling for it to be extended. Rich countries have generated trillions of dollars to finance their own response and should support the creation of at least $500 billion in the new special drawing rights for the developing world, he proposed. Highlighting the tremendous damage caused by illicit financial flows from developing countries to offshore tax havens, he said that the loss of foreign exchange causes currency depreciation, which in turn leads to inflation and poverty. “Powerful money‑launderers have access to the best lawyers,” he said, adding that rich States must not hold forth on human rights and justice when they provide sanctuary to money‑launderers and their looted wealth. The aid that flows from rich countries to the developing world is miniscule compared to the massive outflows from corrupt elites, he said.
The nationalism and global tensions fanned by the pandemic have also accentuated Islamophobia, he said, noting that “the one country in particular where the State sponsors Islamophobia is India”. Recalling the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and the stripping of nationality from 2 million Muslims in Assam, he said that “cow vigilantes” are killing Muslims in India with impunity. India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir is a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions, he said, drawing attention to a military campaign in Kashmir that the country’s political regime has itself called a “Final Solution”. Noting that Pakistan facilitated the process that culminated in the United States‑Taliban agreement in February 2020, he called on Afghanistan’s leaders to seize the historic opportunity to achieve reconciliation.
SABAH KHALED AL-HAMAD AL‑SABAH, Prime Minister of Kuwait, said the severe impact of the pandemic has plunged the world into the deepest recession since the Second World War, risking 100 million people falling into abject poverty. He commended United Nations efforts to develop a vaccine and diagnostic tools and called for efforts to assist the most vulnerable populations. The pandemic is widening the scope of enduring crisis in the Middle East and Arab world, he said, noting that Kuwait contributed $290 million to international pandemic relief efforts.
Turning to conflict in the region, he said the Palestinian cause remains a central priority for Kuwait and stressed the need to resume talks to establish an independent Palestinian State. Ongoing crisis in Yemen continues to destabilize the region, and a political solution based on already agreed‑upon terms of reference, including Security Council resolution 2216 (2015), is needed. Persistent suffering in Syria lays bare the realities of the loss of consensus and rise of international interference in the crisis, he said, also urging all relevant parties in the Libyan crisis to exercise restraint and work towards a peaceful solution based on dialogue.
He said Kuwait is committed to being a good regional neighbour and called on Iran to work towards easing tensions in the Persian Gulf and preserve the safety of maritime navigation. He went on to say terrorism and violent extremism remain among the greatest global threats and that the Middle East has been hardest hit by such violence. To that end, he called for greater support for Iraq’s Government as it works to combat terrorist organizations within its borders. To counter these threats and improve the lives of all, States must work together to effectively implement the 2030 Agenda, he said, calling for efforts to restore trade and financial imbalances.
KAUSEA NATANO, President of Tuvalu, said the social and economic impacts of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come with recovery being a long and costly process, especially for the most vulnerable. Global solidarity, effective international cooperation and political commitment will be critical to recover and rebuild. The COVID‑19 crisis has exacerbated Tuvalu’s social and economic vulnerabilities and threatens development as a small island developing State and least developed country. While Tuvalu has remained COVID‑free, the effects caused soaring unemployment in its fishery and tourism sectors, with food security disrupted, and has forced the Government to reallocate resources for stimulus assistance.
The “new normal”, he said, requires the international community to work outside the box, to rebuild better countries that are inclusive, protect the health of citizens, preserve the natural environment, and are climate smart and resilient to future crises. The United Nations has in place systems and processes that can face both health and economic crises. Turning to the 2030 Agenda, he said the digital economy is essential to support transformation to sustainable development. Responsible consumption and production will allow people to do more with fewer resources, he said, urging States to adopt a circular economy approach.
Climate change remains the single biggest threat to the people of the Pacific in the long run, he continued. Pacific Islands Forum leaders reaffirmed this commitment in the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now. The response to the pandemic must inform the fight against climate change. Decarbonization must be central to those efforts and synergized with COVID‑19 recovery efforts that can accelerate the transition. In 2019, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders endorsed the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Facility to finance small disaster resilience projects in local communities. The facility invites interested development partners to contribute to the development partnership on resilient building with the Pacific region. Access to grant financing and debt relief initiatives are also crucial to overcoming poverty and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.
PEDRO SÁNCHEZ PÉREZ-CASTEJÓN, President of Spain, said the COVID‑19 crisis has shocked people into realizing that they belong to a single world, stressing that the coronavirus has widened vulnerability gaps. In Eswatini, 1,000 people contracted HIV each day in 2019 and they are struggling under the pandemic — a huge setback for a country that was winning the fight against HIV 10 years ahead of schedule. Describing four challenges, he turned first to climate change, citing the Montreal Protocol and the Antarctic Treaty as evidence that, “where there is a will, there is a way” to forge progress. “We cannot let down our guard,” he insisted, as an island three times the size of France floats in the ocean and drought threatens 1.2 billion people, producing intolerable immigration flows. It makes no sense to disregard the Paris Agreement.
On technology, he said 40 per cent of the European Union gross domestic product (GDP) is soon expected to stem from digital activities. In Africa, meanwhile, barely 4 of every 10 people have Internet access. Efforts also must focus on reducing inequalities. Poverty, a depressive form of inequality, exists within and between countries, with mean per capita income differences accounting for 85 per cent of global inequality. “We must take action within each country, and above all, narrow the gap between country incomes,” he said. To achieve equal rights for women, he decried that practices such as female genital mutilation and misogynistic violence still occur.
He urged countries to defend global public goods, first by bolstering the global health system, equipping WHO with new tools following recommendations from the evaluation committee and signing a global health compact. He advocated stepping up climate commitments and improving the multilateral system to reinforce peace and security. On that point, he said the status of Gibraltar following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union must be addressed. He also called for better defence of democracy and human rights, a commitment to financial multilateralism and a review of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. “We cannot leave the future in the hands of those intent in putting up physical and ideological borders we worked so hard to take down,” he stressed.
TE BERETITENTI TANETI MAAMAU, President, Head of Government and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Kiribati, said these difficult and uncertain times call for stronger cooperation and a United Nations that can step up in difficult and challenging times. From small islands in the Pacific to megacities and metropolises in Europe and America, world leaders must work together to address pressing global challenges. Kiribati’s remoteness and isolated location has allowed it to be among the few fortunate nations, currently free from the reaches of the virus, he reported, “but that has been our only advantage.” Due to the temporary suspension of flights and strict border control measures, many Kiribati nationals are currently stranded in other countries, he said, noting also the absence of adequate infrastructure and capacity in the country to isolate these nationals upon their return. Calling for assistance from partners to enhance and strengthen the public health sector, he said the Government is providing COVID‑19 relief packages for laid off workers.
Imploring the United Nations to also do its part, he said the true test of the success of multilateralism lies not in the number of treaties concluded or resolutions adopted, nor number of countries that graduate from the list of least developed countries, but rather on how the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and least developed peoples can get targeted support during the onset of global pandemics such as COVID‑19. Blessed with a large ocean, Kiribati depends on the sea for livelihood, he said, adding, “the sea is our identity and how we define ourselves and how we trace our roots, cultures and traditions.” It is also the cornerstone of the economy, which depends on fishing as a primary source of income, accounting for more than 70 per cent of total annual revenue. The unprecedented closure of borders has presented a complicated situation for maritime transport and commercial activity, particularly for seafarers, who are effectively stranded both on land and at sea, unable to embark on ships to work and unable to disembark at other ports.
Turning to climate change, he said his Government continues to implement critical projects to build resilience, including the Peacebuilding Fund’s climate security project. “We also remain committed to securing our maritime boundaries, amid the impacts of climate change,” he said, calling this a matter of sovereignty, for Kiribati and others in the Pacific Islands Forum family. Also underscoring the importance of countries managing their own upper airspace, he reaffirmed commitment to strengthen Internet connectivity through fibre‑optic cable technology and welcomed any support from development partners. While COVID‑19 is an immediate crisis, the international community must continue to work on climate change, which presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the Pacific and its peoples, he emphasized.
ANTÓNIO COSTA, Prime Minister of Portugal, said the United Nations is more indispensable than ever to addressing problems and crises which transcend borders. However, the world is witnessing greater limitations to international cooperation on shared threats. The so‑called fourth industrial revolution is both a challenge and opportunity, from robotics to 5G networks, and in that context, the United Nations must provide compromise solutions that defend the interests of all. However, the composition of the Security Council does not reflect the realities of the twentieth century and must be expanded to include Member States from Africa, as well as Brazil and India.
The pandemic has cast a spotlight on problems in health networks and social cohesion, he said. As Portugal prepares to hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2021, he pointed to increased contributions to a number of United Nations agencies including the WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). However, the pandemic crisis must not be used as an excuse to ignore the climate emergency, he said, adding that Portugal will join Kenya in co‑hosting the United Nations Oceans Conference in 2021. Turning to human rights, he said Portugal joins all those working for free, pluralistic and tolerant societies embracing inclusion and gender equality and rejecting intolerance, homophobia and populism, and it reaffirms support for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. A pioneer in the abolition of the death penalty, Portugal calls for and supports a biannual resolution on the United Nations moratorium on the death penalty.
Portugal is an active partner providing troops to peacekeeping missions including the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In the Middle East, he said the two‑State solution to the question of Palestine is a necessity, as is a renewed nuclear agreement with Iran. He noted the vibrancy of the community of Portuguese languages, extending across four continents and celebrating World Portuguese Language Day annually on 5 May, and further expressed solidarity with Mozambique, which has been a victim of terrorist attacks. All such violence must be rejected, as “We know where the law of the jungle has led us in the past.”
BOYKO BORISSOV, Prime Minister of Bulgaria, warned the Assembly of a shrinking space for freedom and of a rise in human rights violations and affirmed the need for the United Nations to act as the world’s moral leader. Yet, the Organization must undergo reform and revitalization efforts, especially as the COVID‑19 pandemic threatens the international rules‑based order. He welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2532 (2020) and the Secretary‑General's call for a global ceasefire to protect the most vulnerable population groups. He pledged Bulgaria’s support for the WHO and World Trade Organization (WTO) as they pursue COVID‑19‑mitigation initiatives and noted Bulgaria’s commitment to bolstering the multilateral health architecture, including through its participation in the Alliance for Multilateralism.
He said Bulgaria joined European Union efforts to support the most vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic worldwide, promptly restructuring its national development and humanitarian aid programme. More than €1 million have been earmarked for emergency humanitarian aid, health care and socioeconomic support for vulnerable groups in the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership countries, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Bulgaria also has provided humanitarian and financial aid to UNICEF's activities in support of the children in Lebanon. Tackling the outbreak in the Western Balkans calls for working through established mechanisms such as the Berlin Process, co‑chaired by Bulgaria and North Macedonia, with particular focus needed to bolster connectivity and security in the region. Globally, Bulgaria supports United Nations peacekeeping operations, including the leading role taken by the Organization in the Middle East and North Africa. He welcomed the United States‑brokered agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
In Europe, the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains a major cause for concern, he said, noting that the humanitarian situation there continues to deteriorate. To help address the crisis, Bulgaria recently redirected €100,000 of development funds towards addressing the pandemic in Ukraine. He also expressed concern about the evolving situation in Belarus and pledged his support for the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. Despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, he said Bulgaria remains committed to the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
ABIY AHMED, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, called for collective action to address global challenges and urged leaders to prioritize pandemic response without losing sight of the need to create systems that will prevent future crises. As the pandemic spreads, African States like Ethiopia are facing the mounting risk of food insecurity, he said, noting the World Food Programme’s (WFP) warning that food insecurity will increase due to the socioeconomic impact of the virus. “This coupled with the multiple crises affecting our region, including the massive outbreak of desert locusts and climate change‑induced extreme weather events, threatens to wipe out the livelihoods of millions of our people,” he said. He fully supported the Secretary‑General’s call for a large‑scale multilateral response, costing at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP), and a series of measures to give developing countries the financial firepower they need to weather the storm. While grateful for the international support for Africa thus far, much more is needed to mitigate the medium- and long‑term implications of the pandemic in the region, he said.
In the face of climate change, the international community must seek to rebuild and recover in a green and resilient way, he stressed. Again, he said Africa has become a clear example of the severe implications of climate‑induced disasters and called for increased efforts to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in line with targets established in the Paris Agreement on climate change. For its part, Ethiopia is implementing its Green Legacy Initiative aimed at creating a green economy. Further, Ethiopia’s largest infrastructure project is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which will help meet the country’s electricity needs.
He said Ethiopia’s peace, stability, and development are closely linked with regional security and that he was encouraged by the formation of a Government of National Unity in South Sudan. Turning to Sudan, he said the transitional government there needs all the support it can get from the international community to ease socioeconomic pressures. On Somalia, he remained deeply concerned by continued attacks perpetrated by Al‑Shabaab, emphasizing the need to continue supporting Somalia’s efforts to improve security. For its part, Ethiopia remains committed to reforms it began two and a half years ago and it will continue pursuing a path of democratization.
METTE FREDERIKSEN, Prime Minister of Denmark, said the myriad of today’s challenges can only be solved if action is taken together. The world needs more multilateralism and more cooperation. So far, Denmark has allocated 1 billion Danish kroner to assist some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people in the fight against COVID‑19. It is committed to ensuring a stronger and more resilient global health system and plans to double its core support to WHO. We insist on using the pandemic as a wake‑up call,” she said, “To build a better, greener and more fair future, to deliver on the Paris Agreement and on the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Denmark is ready to take the lead on fulfilling Sustainable Development Goal 7 because energy transition must be at the heart of global efforts she said. “Green investments not only help the climate. They also create millions of jobs, providing better lives, and stronger societies and a future that we can believe in,” she said. Political leadership and high ambitions in the run up to the Twenty‑Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are urgently needed to achieve neutrality by 2050, she stressed, adding that Denmark plans on reducing emissions by 70 per cent in the years to come.
She called for ending the global inequality that the virus has so brutally exposed, stressing, “The inequality of today — leads to the conflicts of tomorrow.” More must be invested in conflict prevention, she said, expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire and stressing the need to bridge humanitarian, development and peace efforts. On the issue of migration and refugees, she pointed out that the asylum system of the past does not fit the challenges of the future, in which an asylum system that is fairer and more humane is needed. The international community must put an end to the business of human smugglers, countries along migration routes need more assistance to manage the movement and countries of origin need more help to create real alternatives, she said.
XAVIER BETTEL, Prime Minister, Minister of State, Minister for Communications and Media and Minister for Religious Affairs of Luxembourg, said that “we will not forget 2020 in a hurry”. Together, and only together, will it be possible to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. Underscoring the European response to the pandemic, including historic decisions to revive the economy, he said the coming months will be crucial. Extraordinary levels of cooperation will be required, including for the development of a vaccine that must be distributed equitably around the world. He added that on a global level, many countries are facing a healthcare crisis that goes beyond the coronavirus and calls into question their ability to tackle malaria, tuberculosis and HIV‑AIDS.
Echoing the alarm sounded by the WFP and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, he said that there is a real risk that famine will return to many parts of the world, including countries and regions untouched by conflict. Luxembourg fully supports a debt repayment moratorium and a reduced debt burden for developing States. ODA must continue to play a key role, but — even more than before COVID‑19 — such aid must not come with conditions. He welcomed the Secretary‑General’s initiative, together with the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, for a high-level meeting on financing sustainable development. He also noted that a green bond issue on the Luxembourg Green Market last week was 10 times oversubscribed.
He highlighted the General Assembly’s adoption of an omnibus resolution on COVID‑19, adding however that the Security Council’s slow response to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire revealed the difficult it has when dealing with urgent issues. International health governance should be reviewed, and lessons drawn, with the role of the WHO strengthened to better tackle future outbreaks. The COVID‑19 crisis has also exacerbated a trend towards lesser freedom, he added, citing the situation in Belarus and a rise in simplistic populist discourse. While welcoming rapprochement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, he said that engagement between the relevant parties is essential to achieve a two-State solution to the Palestinian question. He went on to say that the Iran nuclear agreement cannot be simultaneously denounced and enforced, and that recent attacks on the International Criminal Court must stop.
PRAYUT CHAN-O-CHA, Prime Minister of Thailand, said that the global health crisis due to the pandemic shall be a litmus test, to show that faith in multilateralism and the unity of Member States can provide sustainable solutions to overcome this threat. “To do so, every country must renew its trust in international cooperation, which must remain steadfast and not be shaken by nationalist sentiments or anti‑globalization tendencies,” he said. Thailand's comprehensive measures to combat COVID‑19 include health screening and risk assessment for all inbound and outbound travellers, a campaign promoting social distancing in public spaces and the provision of comprehensive, timely and transparent information on the pandemic, while strengthening efforts to combat disinformation. The Government has also introduced economic‑response packages to relieve the financial burden on people and business operators, including those with low incomes, women entrepreneurs, farmers and vulnerable groups. Efforts have focused on boosting financial liquidity for entrepreneurs so that they can sustain their businesses.
The international community should commit to further strengthening the multilateral system and cooperation within the United Nations framework in order to respond to new global challenges, he said. Turning to peace and security, he said Thailand is strongly committed to disarmament and more than 27,000 Thai military, police and civilian personnel have proudly served in over 20 United Nations peace missions worldwide since 1958. Thailand’s contribution to peace operations continues amid the current pandemic crisis. Thai peacekeepers have introduced the “Sufficiency Economy Philosophy” as a development approach to address the root causes of conflict and prevent a recurrence, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions. He underscored Thailand’s commitment to strengthening cooperation with friendly countries to enhance the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the maintenance of peace and security in the region.
Turning to the subject of development, he noted that 10 years remain to accelerate action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 target date. However, the COVID‑19 pandemic is a key factor in delaying such achievement. He noted that international agreements and instruments have established principles and obligations on the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and good governance, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups. It is the responsibility of the global community to remain committed to these obligations and continuously ensure progress on implementation. Thailand is currently implementing its fourth national human rights plan and is the first country in Asia to enact a national action plan on business and human rights.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Prime Minister of Canada, said the world is in crisis, not just due to COVID‑19, but because of the last few decades “and because of us.” Calling the present situation a wake‑up call, he noted that our parents and grandparents remember all too well the price to pay for turning away and failing to act. In the 1930s and 1940s, economies collapsed, Governments and systems of government crumbled and millions died. Those generations met the challenge, he said, establishing multilateral institutions like the United Nations, financial bodies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and an international rules order generating an era of unprecedented prosperity.
Today, those institutions no longer defend multilateralism and international law, or protect human rights, the most vulnerable, or open markets, with the pandemic having driven some countries to the brink of the abyss. Noting the world faces a climate reckoning due to a collective inability over the past decades to make tough decisions and sacrifices to save future generations, he pointed to few consequences for countries that ignore international rules or think might makes right, few consequences for places where opposition figures are being poisoned, while cyber tools and disinformation are used to destabilize democracies. “The system is broken,” he said, and things will worsen unless all people seize the slight chance available to shift course and “realize the only way through is together.”
Turning to human rights, he pointed to the Rohyingas in Myanmar, demonstrators in Belarus, citizens detained arbitrarily in China and the indigenous people of Canada and around the world, noting real constructive global cooperation is the only way forward. Canada does not have the power to advance major international issues as, like many other States, it is subject to the whims of superpowers, but the country is not alone. Rather than hunker down separately or hope the big powers will solve things, nations must use their shared power not just to get a vaccine but to provide it to everyone, inspired by the calls of citizens to restore the global economy and tackle climate change. Internationally, he said Canada will maintain its long history in peacekeeping and “move the dial” on lasting peace by empowering women. His Government will increase its international assistance budget every year for organizations including UNICEF, WFP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The world is engaged in a combat against both an invisible virus and the consequences of our own actions, but if people rise to challenge, they will lay the foundations of a better world.
GASTON ALPHONSO BROWNE, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said that over the past 74 General Assembly sessions, there were many pledges to make the international community less inequitable, many commitments to lift up the poor and the vulnerable and many declarations to end the scourge of war. However, the world has experienced only brief efforts to deliver them. Still, those efforts were vital; they made a difference. With each of them, humankind made some progress on the path to human equality, environmental safety and global security. However, the benefits of wider inclusive international cooperation are now being sacrificed by the powerful, on the altar of attaining their narrower exclusive national advantage. What the world is witnessing is a march by the richest nations away from any obligations to global good. “The drums of nationalism are drowning out the cries for global solidarity,” he said.
If ever there was a time for the nations of the world to jointly confront threats, the time is now, he said. The perils of the pandemic loom large across the globe, jumping across the divides of national borders and defying the belief that rich nations can survive, while poorer nations succumb. The pandemic has added to the dangers of climate change. Even though the countries of the Caribbean are among the greatest victims of the profligacy of others, particularly regarding climate change, they are denied a voice in international decision‑making. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecasts that the Caribbean region’s GDP will contract by 6.9 per cent in 2020 due to COVID‑19. This is eroding the gains made by Antigua and Barbuda’s, which, in January, was set to achieve over 6.2 per cent growth. Border closures, the cessation of cruise tourism and limits on aviation have devastated the tourism-dependent economy overnight, causing both serious loss of revenue and jobs.
Antigua and Barbuda has been denied loans by international financial institutions because of the skewed per capita income criterion applied by their policy‑making Boards, he said, and it has received nothing from them apart from a line of credit from the Inter‑American Development Bank that is yet to be finalized. He underscored that the approach of the Paris Club of official debt holders has been particularly callous and insensitive. Rather than agreeing to the suspension of debt payments, debt rescheduling, or debt forgiveness to allow countries like Antigua and Barbuda an opportunity to cope with the extraordinary challenges confronting it, the Paris Club is demanding repayment of decades old delinquent loans that simply cannot be repaid at this time. As the economy weakens, with an insufficient response by the international community for debt rescheduling and access to concessional financing, unemployment and poverty are growing. Despite this, the people of Antigua and Barbuda are moving on with resilience, he said.
SCOTT MORRISON, Prime Minister of Australia, said that the pandemic has claimed the lives of at least 1 million people and plunged the world into economic recession, which Australia is combatting with great determination and a simple aim: to deny the virus the destruction it seeks. Over 800 Australians have lost their lives to COVID‑19. But in comparative terms, Australia has fared better than most. Mindful of its Pacific family — the wantoks, the vuvale, the whanau and particularly the island nations of the southwest Pacific, Australia is the single largest development partner for these nations and has provided personal protective equipment, testing equipment and medical expertise. It is also maintaining an essential services and humanitarian corridor so experts and supplies can get in and out. In Southeast Asia, Australia is providing much‑needed equipment and expertise, as well as supporting collaboration to develop a vaccine. It has also contributed $80 million to the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment and believes that “whoever finds the vaccine must share it”.
The global community should think about what the next 75 years look like for the Organization, as well as for multilateralism more generally, he said, adding that Australia is committed to ensuring the Organization is fit for purpose, effective, transparent and accountable to Member States. As an outward-looking, sovereign, trading nation, Australia also values the rules and institutions that enable international trade. “We won’t retreat into the downward spiral of protectionism in Australia,” he said, noting that the country is leading efforts to reform and helping to design the first‑ever set of global digital trade rules so the world keeps pace with modern realities. Australia has played a major role in negotiating the establishment of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty Organization, he said, noting that it is a critical pillar of international peace and security.
Turning to climate change, he said that as a signatory to the Kyoto and Paris Accords, Australia is reducing its carbon emissions. Most recently Australia beat its Kyoto target commitments by 430 million tonnes of carbon dioxide abatement. Between 2017 and mid‑2020, more than $30 billion was invested in renewables in Australia. As a liberal democracy, his country has also committed to promoting universal values like human rights, gender equality and the rule of law. Australia was one of only eight countries involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is currently serving as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It has raised its voice on important issues like the rights of women and girls, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and the global abolition of the death penalty. Australia will continue to bring its influence to bear to make sure it responds to the interests of its members and the needs of the current time.
LOTAY TSHERING, Prime Minister of Bhutan, said COVID‑19 is being tackled as a single global community, and that in his small Himalayan kingdom, measures have included close monitoring of international entry posts and a mandatory 21‑day quarantine, with no compromise of regular health programmes. He noted a spirit of national unity on safety and hygiene measures has led Bhutan to register only 261 positive cases, 192 of them already recovered, with zero mortality. The Bhutanese Gross National Happiness policy includes a constitutional mandate to maintain 60 per cent forest coverage at all times, keeping the country carbon negative, and free education and healthcare are considered an investment rather than expenditure. As a doctor, he said until there is an effective vaccine, physical distancing and easy, reliable testing are the best approaches, and that Bhutan experienced its first lockdown last month. A relief fund ensures no one is left behind, with interest payments assured on all citizens’ loans for a year.
Referring to previous United Nations anniversary themes of peace, justice and progress and poverty eradication, he said the seventy-fifth anniversary theme of multilateralism could not be more relevant. Given the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has on developing countries, he asked, “Is there a second option to multilateralism?” In a small, intricate world, it would be a big blunder not to help the developing world with all pertinent measures including providing an eventual vaccine. “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said. The Sustainable Development Goals resonate with Gross National Happiness, and before the pandemic, Bhutan was on track to be an early achiever but is now falling short of targets. Likewise, the country was scheduled to graduate from the least developed countries category in 2023 but has requested the United Nations reset that goal.
Turning to United Nations reform, he said the Security Council must be adapted to new realities, expanding to include G4 countries as well as representation from African Member States. Bhutan joined the ranks of troop- and police‑contributing countries in 2014. Looking to the future, he noted that in 2019 Bhutanese teachers became the highest paid civil servants in the country, and if the philosophy of investment rather than expenditure on health and education is embraced, “it will be a different ballgame hereafter.” He expressed hope that the 100th anniversary of the United Nations will witness achievement of a 100 per cent global literacy rate.
SUGA YOSHIHIDE, Prime Minister of Japan, said that his country has been doing its utmost to ensure the health and safety of its own people and those around the world against the coronavirus. It is now at the stage of revitalizing socioeconomic activities, while maintaining measures for preventing the spread of infections. Japan will proactively lead international efforts in collaboration with other countries. Lives need to be safeguarded, and Japan supports the development of therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics. The world must prepare itself for future health crises. Japan is committed to expanding its efforts in developing countries to build hospitals, as well as helping to strengthen health and medical systems. Working with ASEAN, Japan is supporting the establishment of an ASEAN Centre for public health emergencies and emerging diseases. Japan has also been supporting the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The United Nations should be a forum where all stakeholders engage constructively to respond to crises and work together with transparency, he said. Expressing respect for the Organization, he emphasized that it needs neutral and fair governance more than ever. The WHO is crucial for the collective response to infectious diseases. Through its review and reform, it will be able to make even better use of necessary expertise at the right time, in the right manner. Likewise, United Nations reform, including of the Security Council, is an urgent task. The current crisis must not jeopardize international peace and security, he said, underscoring that engagement in peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding remains vital. In addition, challenges against the rule of law must not be permitted in times of increasing uncertainties. In March 2021, using virtual platforms, Japan will host the Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Kyoto, with the aim of advancing the rule of law.
The issue of abductions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is serious international concern, he said, noting that this year, two parents of the victims passed away. “It is heart‑breaking to imagine the pain of the family members who passed, after working so hard to rescue their dearest children and yet not achieving a reunion in the end,” he said. As the victims’ families continue to age, there is no time to lose. Japan seeks to normalize its relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in line with their joint Pyongyang Declaration, through comprehensively resolving outstanding matters of concern such as the abductions and nuclear and missile issues. “As the new Prime Minister of Japan, I am ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong‑un without any conditions”, he said. Establishing a constructive relationship between Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will not only serve the interests of both sides but will also greatly contribute to regional peace and stability. Nuclear weapons were first used 75 years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said, stressing they must never be used again. Japan will spare no effort in realizing a nuclear‑weapons‑free world while firmly upholding the Three Non‑Nuclear Principles. Next year, Japan is determined to host the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic, he said.
ROBERT ABELA, Prime Minister of Malta, said that in a time when multilateralism is threatened, the pandemic brought attention to the need for global cooperation. While it has delivered a blow to the economies of developing countries that will take years to repair, the stage is set to build a healthier, greener and fairer world. Noting the importance of food security and the agricultural sector as the fulcrum to end hunger, he said that earlier this year, Malta sent food to Namibia as an act of solidarity, feeding 500,000 people. The country is co‑chair of the United Nations Steering Committee on Partnerships for small island developing States. Noting that Malta has contributed a significant percentage of its annual humanitarian budget to United Nations appeals, he stressed the need to lift restrictions on aid and humanitarian workers. Turning the conflict in Libya, he welcomed the ceasefire announcement and lifting of the oil blockade as constructive steps forward, stressing the need also for economic reforms and a Libyan-led political solution.
He noted that swift and tailored responses on the pandemic were key in preventing an even larger economic meltdown. They included an economic package worth €1.81 billion, equal to 12.9 per cent of Malta’s GDP in 2019. As the world of work has been devastated, the WFP has warned that the next pandemic may be one of hunger. Malta implemented social security measures to safeguard jobs and assist workers and vulnerable people, with almost €500 million paid out in contributory benefits and almost €100 million in non‑contributory benefits. Prior to the emergence of the COVID‑19 pandemic, Malta enjoyed the highest employment growth rate in the European Union, and other measures saved 25,500 jobs out of a workforce of around 250,000 while protecting many businesses from closing their doors. He said Malta’s employment rate has exceeded both the national and European Union headline targets for Europe 2020.
Calling the pandemic “a lesson in humility” as all are equally susceptible and potential victims, he said it is imperative to guarantee that rights are respected even in difficult times, quoting the Secretary‑General’s comment that “we are only as strong as the weakest health system.” While restarting economies and safeguarding health is the priority worldwide, the world cannot side-line environmental issues and the need to move closer to carbon neutrality. He voiced support for a carbon neutral planet by 2050. He also noted the importance of a humane approach to dealing with the challenge of illegal migration. Unfortunately, recent months have witnessed an exacerbation of the situation with COVID‑19’s major impact on migrants and refugees. As one of the frontline countries at the European Union external border, he said Malta is faced every day with irregular crossings. The United Nations can support States in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact for Refugees.
JAMES MARAPE, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, emphasized that the importance and necessity of the United Nations for small nations like his cannot be overstated. Confronted with COVID‑19, Papua New Guinea adopted the National Pandemic Act 2020 which has cushioned, to some extent, the loss of life to just six so far. Working closely through the Pacific Islands Forum to tackle the coronavirus has also been relatively successful. He emphasized that any vaccine should be accessible and affordable for everyone. Determined not to be overwhelmed by COVID‑19, and to build back better, the Government has adopted a multi‑pronged and nationally owned strategy to make Papua New Guinea a fairer, united and more inclusive country through appropriate development partnerships. With support from the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as Australia, Japan and domestic sources, the Government is investing $1.6 billion to support small- and medium‑sized businesses, including small farmers and women entrepreneurs.
Having launched its first‑ever national oceans policy two months ago, Papua New Guinea is looking forward to the United Nations second Ocean Conference and the outcome of the International Law Commission’s study group on rising sea levels. He reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and invited partners to help Papua New Guinea achieve the future it wants. On deforestation and forest degradation, he called upon the United Nations to help find a balance between cutting trees and forests for revenue and protecting them to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. In that regard, he noted that Papua New Guinea holds 13 per cent of the world’s rain forests and seven percent of its biodiversity.
He reiterated the Government’s commitment to the Bougainville peace process, adding that it looks forward to a cordial working relationship and fruitful consultation process with the Autonomous Bougainville Government before the national parliament decides on the island’s future. Acknowledging that Papua New Guinea has a long way to go on gender equality and women’s empowerment, he said that the Government is taking steps to tackle gender‑based violence and to increase women’s representation in Parliament, which is currently nil. He called for the Security Council to be reformed to make it more transparent and accountable, and welcomed the long-overdue establishment of a United Nations multi‑country office for the North Pacific region to support development efforts.
AMBROSE MANDVULO DLAMINI, Prime Minister of Eswatini, said that this year’s theme is a time for critical self‑examination and a reminder to the United Nations to revisit and adhere to the ideal that recognizes dignity, prioritizes the value of cooperation and the equal worth of all, leaving no one behind. “Whatever strife we are facing today and whatever incidents as may lay in wait for us, we deal with it best when we deal with it together,” he said. However, the inconsistencies in the world’s collective behaviour must be recognized, with many countries living in poverty amid great natural wealth. The United Nations has become more necessary than ever before to foster the kind of collective action to respond to current global challenges. Summarizing Eswatini’s multiple battles, against the COVID‑19 pandemic, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, he welcomed the recent High-level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID‑19 and Beyond and emphasized the importance for multilateralism.
Global challenges and crises tend to either pull nations together or push them apart, he continued, as the pandemic has underscored that individual strength is weak without collective commitment and solidarity. Indeed, without a collective commitment to multilateralism, the world will never accomplish the ideals of the 2030 Agenda. Nations must accept the reality that the crisis has forever changed the way of life, and they must resist the temptation of reverting back to what was known as normal. The common duty is to prepare for a “new normal”, with the most successful preparedness and response plans incorporating strategies that strengthen nations beyond recovery and mark the birth of a new society. There is no easy and isolated way to fix the present and prepare for the future, except through a collective commitment to multilateralism. Every country’s needs must be considered in isolation, but tackled in the multilateral context, he said, adding that: “this will help us collectively commit to bottom-up multilateralism and help us collectively progress to the future we want and the United Nations we need.”
COVID‑19 has generated a strong global viewpoint where all people dread to think backward and inward, but to think forward and outward, with the hope to create “the world we want”, he said. Welcoming mandated events to be held on the margins of the General Assembly this year, he noted that 2020 marks the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. However, it is lamentable that though the global community celebrates, no country has achieved full gender equality, he said, adding that the anniversary can give new momentum for action. For its part, Eswatini has adopted numerous pro-gender policies. Moving forward, the United Nations must accelerate its reform efforts to ensure its continued relevance, including in the Security Council, he said, reiterating Africa’s call for permanent membership in the 15‑member organ in accordance with the Ezulwini Consensus. Among political issues that have continued to fester for too long is the continued denial of the right of the people of Taiwan to participate in the United Nations system. In this globally interdependent world, it is crucial that nations work together where they can and constructively counsel each other where appropriate, he said, adding that the United Nations is home to these interactions and in this role, retains Eswatini’s unmitigated support.
POHIVA TU’I’ONETOA, Prime Minister and Minister for Public Enterprises of Tonga, said that while the coronavirus has not arrived on its shores, Tonga has not been immune from its global impact. According to the Asia Development Bank, economic growth in Tonga will be zero in 2020, while the digital divide has underscored the need for accelerated solutions to educate thousands of students. The Pacific Islands Forum’s activation of the Biketawa and Boe declarations has expedited cooperation between its member States vis-à-vis the coronavirus, including by facilitating the repatriation of Tongan people stranded abroad.
Emphasizing that small island developing States, including Tonga, account for no more than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, he called for a reaffirmation of the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The pandemic has delayed Tonga’s efforts to generate 50 per cent of its energy needs through renewable resources this year, but funding arrangements, including public-private partnerships, are in place. Underscoring the importance of the ocean-climate nexus and expressing alarm that 12 million tonnes of plastic waste leak into the world’s oceans every year, he called for the start of a process to ban single-use plastics.
“We cannot overemphasize the urgency for action to protect and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources,” he said, noting that, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), bacteria used to detect COVID-19 is found in the ocean depths. He welcomed the United Nations proclamation of the 2021-2030 Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, but stressed that baselines for determining maritime territorial boundaries, once established through the Convention on the Law of the Sea, should remain unchanged despite rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. He went on to say that Tonga is greatly invested in the International Seabed Authority’s work on draft regulations to govern the exploitation of seabed minerals, which would contribute to the country’s sustainable development.
AMINE ABBA SIDICK, Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Chadians Abroad of Chad, said the lessons learned from the pandemic provide an opportunity to rethink healthcare systems and WHO must also evolve so it can fight similar pandemics in the future. The new format of the General Debate is an eloquent expression of how the world has been shaken by the pandemic, which has caused great human suffering and greatly impacted all social and economic aspects of life. The topic for the current General Assembly session encapsulates the importance that everyone must attach to cooperation and multilateralism. The COVID‑19 crisis has made it clear that only increased collective efforts will make it possible to overcome global challenges. Global governance must adapt to today’s world, with international cooperation taking the form of solidarity with the most vulnerable so that the Charter of the United Nations can be fulfilled without exception.
The entire world is suffering from the pandemic, but developing countries, particularly African countries, are more exposed to its devastating consequences, he said. Chad already withstands a multitude of shocks and is feeling the full force of the pandemic, he said, pointing to its worrisome socioeconomic situation. Several hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed and the macroeconomic data for 2021 is not promising. The Chadian national development plan received support from donors from the roundtable held in 2017 in Paris, but the resources mobilized fell short of expectations. It is vital that partners uphold their funding pledges, particularly as Chad is drawing up its second national development plan.
Noting that the General Assembly’s seventy‑fourth session in 2019 Member States took stock of the progress made and the tasks remaining to implement the 2030 Agenda, he said that in Africa, the sustainable developing financing gap is huge. Promises set out in the 2030 Agenda and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda have not been kept. Without decisive action from all stakeholders, it is highly likely that the 2030 Agenda will be left unfulfilled. The international community, in particularly the United Nations, must redouble efforts to focus on the development of the African continent. He called for the cancelation of Africa’s external debt, underscoring that it would allow the continent to recover in the post‑COVID‑19 era on a more solid footing. He added that responsibility for tackling terrorism in Lake Chad and the Sahel is a global one.
Right of Reply
The representative of India, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the diatribe on India from Pakistan in this august forum was a new low. The leader of Pakistan called for those who incite hate and violence to be outlawed, but perhaps he was referring to himself. Lies and malice were spread throughout the General Assembly and the words used by the leader of Pakistan demeaned the essence of the United Nations. Pakistan is the country that brought genocide to South Asia when it killed its own people. It provides pensions for terrorists out of State funds, and while professing to be a champion of Islam, Pakistan kills Muslims because they belong to a different region or sect. The crowning glories of this country are terrorism, ethnic cleansing and clandestine nuclear trade. The territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. The only dispute left relates to the part of Kashmir that is still under illegal occupation by Pakistan. What should be on the agenda of the United Nations is Pakistan’s unrelenting support of terrorist organizations that are a threat to global peace and security.
The representative of Azerbaijan, responding to the statement by the Prime Minister of Armenia, said attempts to disguise unlawful claims on Nagorno‑Karabakh are fundamentally flawed. An international mediator specifically stated that all parties must act in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations and international laws relating to the territorial integrity of States. He said Armenia makes use of a puppet regime in Nagorno‑Karabakh, and consistent attempts by the Armenian regime to derail the peace process, along with ethnic cleansing and other crimes committed against Azerbaijanis, reveal clear‑cut annexationist objectives. On the issue of human rights and democracy, he said Armenian authorities should look first at themselves, and called for urgent action by the international community and the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno‑Karabakh.
The representative of Pakistan, reacting to the Indian representative’s right of reply, said it was an attempt to deflect attention from the real issues. The Prime Minister of Pakistan today shed a spotlight on Prime Minister Modi’s India, which is defined by its brutal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. As India’s descent into a fascist State accelerates, the projections made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan last year regarding an imminent disaster fuelled by RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] policies are being confirmed. He highlighted the example of the Muslim majority area of Delhi, where protesters took to the streets in February against discriminatory laws. Countless Muslims were killed, their homes burned and their property looted, all with the complicity of the Indian State. The perpetrators of the crimes will enjoy impunity and will be encouraged to spill more Muslim blood to consolidate their hold on power. In Jammu and Kashmir, India has no other claim than that of a military occupier. India knows a lot about terrorism. It has used terrorism against each of its neighbours and its own people, he said.