Revitalized General Assembly Should Focus Less on Procedure, More on Tangible Improvements to People’s Lives, Delegates Stress in Annual Debate
Speakers Welcome Biennialization of Formerly Annual Resolution, Praise Efforts to Modernize, Streamline United Nations’ Most Representative Organ
Delegates addressing the General Assembly today lauded concrete steps taken by the organ’s ad hoc working group on revitalization, stressing that a more streamlined Assembly is crucial to ensure the United Nations can help people grappling with the real-life impact of complex global challenges, from the COVID‑19 pandemic to the climate crisis and beyond.
General Assembly President Abdullah Shahid (Maldives), opening the debate, said it is incumbent on the 193-member organ to examine itself, as a stronger Assembly will lead to a stronger United Nations. Indeed, the Assembly is “what Member States make it out to be”, he said, adding that countries must explore innovations to revitalize the United Nations most representative organ and identify areas where progress can be achieved to strengthen multilateralism.
Speakers throughout the debate echoed those sentiments, with many welcoming recent streamlining decisions taken by the Assembly’s ad hoc working group on revitalization. Those included the decision to examine the formerly annual resolution on revitalization biennially, thereby providing Member States with more time to focus on substantive issues. Delegates also called for renewed efforts to eliminate overlap and duplication between the agendas of the Assembly’s six Main Committees and those of other principal organs of the United Nations, and for all those bodies to adopt agendas that are better aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The representative of India said some Member States have come to feel that the Assembly has lost touch with its core mission, instead becoming overwhelmed by procedure. Some of the blame lies with the Assembly and Member States themselves, as they have allowed their message to be diluted. Against that backdrop, he emphasized that the Assembly’s mission must be respected in letter and spirit as it takes the lead in adopting a multilateral approach to solve global challenges. “We need to trust ourselves more to do the right thing,” he stressed.
Speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia’s delegate underscored the Assembly’s fundamental role as the United Nations most representative organ. Turning to the nuts-and-bolts working methods that allow the Assembly to carry out its functions, he said gaps, overlaps and duplications of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be corrected. In that context, he called for regular and closer consultation among the Chairs of the Assembly’s six Main Committees as well as innovative measures to make Committee debates more focused and interactive.
The representative of Slovakia said revitalization, as one of the Assembly’s toughest mandated processes, requires a constructive approach from every Member State. Stressing the importance of abandoning long-used stereotypes and patterns, he welcomed the ad hoc working group’s decision regarding the biennialization of the Assembly’s longstanding revitalization resolution, noting that the necessity of reaching a consensual text on the issue takes up a significant amount of the Assembly’s time. He further urged Member States to seize lessons learned from the COVID‑19 pandemic to modernize the Assembly’s work.
Turning to another important issue, Mexico’s representative disagreed with some parties who disdain or minimize decisions of the General Assembly as non-binding or having no impact on ground. Noting that its resolutions guide public policy decisions and are a thermometer for global opinion, she said that while some Member States do not consider Assembly resolutions legitimate if they are adopted by a vote, voting remains a fundamental part of any democratic process.
The representative of the United States said the revitalization process should focus on improving the Assembly’s transparency, efficiency and accessibility and give all stakeholders a seat at the table. Physical barriers to United Nations Headquarters should be eliminated to ensure access for all delegates, including those with disabilities, and a universal design should be used for all documents produced by the United Nations. He also advocated for the use of common technologies to improve e-registration and working methods, adding that “we must remain nimble” to respond to the world’s evolving realities.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation said it is essential to depoliticize the two topics on the ad hoc working group’s 2021 agenda ‑ namely, the role and powers of the General Assembly and the improvement of its working methods. Noting that the Assembly suffers less from a lack of political will than from a lack of attention to the degree of feasibility of its resolutions, she said the organ’s politicization and divisiveness is illustrated by its unrealistic resolutions and called for more consensus building and diplomatic skill.
Also speaking today were the representatives of New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and Canada), Mongolia, Algeria (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Maldives, Ukraine, Singapore, Morocco, Bangladesh, Ecuador, China, Belarus, Indonesia, South Africa, Philippines, El Salvador, Pakistan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Syria.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also participated.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 10 November, to consider the report of the International Criminal Court.
ABDULLAH SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, said it is incumbent on the General Assembly to examine itself, adding that a stronger Assembly will lead to a stronger United Nations. Noting that the ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly will concentrate on issues related to the organ’s role and authority, as well as its working methods, he emphasized that the Assembly is “what Member States make it out to be”. Innovations must be explored to revitalize the United Nations most representative organ. Pointing out that few substantive updates have been made in recent years, he said it is essential to continue to identify areas where progress can be achieved. He welcomed Member States’ discussions on the topic at the present meeting, further highlighting the Assembly’s normative impact on the goal of strengthening multilateralism.
SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), underscored the fundamental role of the General Assembly as the most representative organ of the United Nations. All Member States must preserve its character, primacy and credibility, he said, calling for greater synergy, coherence and coordination between the Assembly’s work and other United Nations organs. On its working methods, he emphasized the importance of addressing gaps, overlaps and duplication with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially through more regular and closer consultation among Chairs of Main Committees, as well as innovative measures to make Committee debates more focused and interactive.
Lauding the successful conclusion of the first transition workshop for the Assembly President’s Office in September, he said the initiative was aimed at strengthening institutional memory, preserving best practices and supporting the smooth transition between presidencies. Also commending the dedicated briefing by previous co-chairs on the revitalisation process for members of the President’s Office during the workshop, he noted that the universal and inclusive features of the Assembly revitalisation process provide a genuine scope for innovation, as evidenced by good progress made in the past session.
JUSTIN PETER FEPULEAI (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Australia and Canada, welcomed the practical and concrete progress made by the ad hoc working group in the last session. That includes a decision to biennialize the resolution on the current topic, so the Assembly can focus on implementation the following year. He also welcomed the decision to start the next Assembly session earlier, in order to give the incoming President more time to prepare for the session’s busiest events. New Zealand, Canada and Australia further welcome new commitments to increase women’s representation in the Assembly’s high-level meetings, including achieving gender parity among invited speakers and panellists. While there has been significant progress in the revitalization agenda during the past session, all delegations must now implement those measures effectively and without delay, he said.
Mr. PIEPER (European Union) in the bloc’s capacity as observer, said the constructive spirit and flexibility, demonstrated by the ad hoc working group, illustrated what can be achieved when representatives work together. He expressed hope that the decision to biennialize the resolution on the current topic will free up resources and inspire other General Assembly processes. He also cited further efforts to streamline the Assembly’s work and to synergize efforts with the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies, all of which must efficiently support an accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Highlighting an upcoming briefing by the Secretariat on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Assembly’s work, he also called for increased efforts to ensure that women are represented at high-level meetings and called for more space for civil society engagement in the Assembly’s work.
Mr. TSEND (Mongolia) noted that his country fully supports the Assembly’s resolution on the current topic, including its call on Member States to consider electing a female Secretary-General. Stressing that addressing overlaps and duplication in the agendas of the General Assembly and its main committees — as well as the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies — should be the priority at the moment, he called for more space in those bodies’ agendas to address pressing issues, including the Sustainable Development Goals. He further pointed out that effective and universal programmes to feed children at schools have direct and beneficial impact on achieving the Goals regarding zero hunger, eradicating poverty, good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality, with an indirect influence on all the other Goals.
ZAKIA IGHIL (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said it is necessary to sustain momentum on the important issue of revitalization of the General Assembly, noting that its consideration is also an occasion to uphold the principles of the broader United Nations. Revitalization is critical and will strengthen the Organization’s overall system and improve global governance. The Non‑Aligned Movement believes it is necessary to build on previous achievements to enhance the effectiveness of existing resolutions, she said, emphasizing that the political will of all Member States is necessary.
In that vein, she underlined the need for a full and clear identification of the reasons why past resolutions on the issue have not been implemented. Regarding the Assembly’s working methods, it is crucial to strengthen the Office of the President and the process for the selection of the Secretary‑General. The Assembly’s working methods must be inclusive and democratic, she stressed, calling for improved relations and interaction between the Assembly and the Security Council. She added that, during the Assembly’s annual high‑level general debate, side events should be kept to a minimum in order to preserve the effectiveness of the main session.
MOHAMED MIMRAH ABDUL GHAFOOR (Maldives) emphasized the importance of strengthening the Assembly President’s Office through stable funding and staffing, making it more efficient, relevant and approachable. Confronting challenges requires robust multilateral institutions, he said, noting that the international community has the technology and wealth needed to shift life for the better. It can generate clean power as well as feed, house and educate all. Yet, peace, prosperity and decent living standards remain elusive for billions of people, exacerbated by mounting transboundary challenges such as pandemics, pollution and climate change. As the only United Nations organ with universal representation, the Assembly must be at the centre of efforts to tackle those challenges, he stressed, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that the international community is “only as strong as its weakest link”. The Assembly must not allow today’s vaccine inequality — where billions have yet to receive a single dose while others have started to receive third booster shots — to persist, he added.
Ms. MARTINA (Ukraine), aligning herself with the European Union, welcomed that Member States’ joint efforts allowed the General Assembly’s work to continue amid the COVID‑19 pandemic. The organ should use the opportunity before it to revise the way in which it conducts business, including by making greater use of information technology to mitigate the potential spread of the virus. On the matter of strengthening the Assembly’s authority, she recalled three votes initiated by the Russian Federation on Ukraine’s initiative to maintain the item titled “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” on the Assembly’s agenda. These votes were an attempt to undermine the Assembly’s authority to consider issues of particular importance for Member States. She also emphasized that the implementation of adopted resolutions remains limited by countries’ readiness to comply therewith, and that such selective implementation undermines the ability of the United Nations to make a real difference on the ground.
RICHARD M. MILLS JR. (United States) said the goal of the Assembly’s revitalization process should be to increase transparency, efficiency and accessibility. The international community must focus on tangible efforts and all stakeholders must have a seat at the table. Therefore, physical barriers need to be eliminated and universal access to the building for all delegates must be ensured. He went on to advocate for a universal design for all United Nations documents, and called more broadly on the international community to allocate resources to strengthen the United Nations, tackle global crises and end fraud. Underlining the importance of using common technologies to improve e-registration and working methods, he emphasized that “we must remain nimble” to respond to the world’s evolving realities.
BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) stressed the need to redouble efforts to reinforce the role of the United Nations and the General Assembly amid such ongoing global challenges as the COVID‑19 pandemic and climate change. Highlighting some concrete results in the Assembly’s revitalization process, he said it is necessary to preserve the primacy of the annual high‑level general debate by rationalizing the number of parallel high‑level meetings and side events, as it is particularly taxing for small countries with limited resources and personnel to attend them all. Calling on States to continue to advocate for the rationalization and streamlining of the Assembly’s agenda — including through the biennialization or triennialization of resolutions, the clustering of items and resolutions and the introduction of sunset clauses where possible — he noted that unfettered proliferation of agenda items and resolutions will lead to an unsustainable volume of work that would dilute the focus of the Assembly.
DEEPAK MISRA (India), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, noted that over time, some Member States have come to feel that the General Assembly has lost touch with its mission, becoming overwhelmed by procedure. Some of the blame lies with the Assembly and Member States themselves, as they have allowed their message to be diluted. The Assembly can only be revitalized if its mission is respected in letter and spirit, he said, adding that it must take the lead in setting the global agenda, adopting a multilateral approach to solving global challenges. Citing several moments when the Assembly took the lead — including efforts to galvanize the global community ahead of the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference — he emphasized that revitalization must also be seen in the wider context of overall United Nations reform. “We need to trust ourselves more to do the right thing,” he stressed.
IMANE BENZIANE (Morocco) said the resolution before the Assembly on the current topic includes many practical and concrete measures to improve the organ’s effectiveness. For example, the decision to examine the revitalization process on a biennial basis will let Member States focus on critical issues. Beginning the session one week earlier, starting with the seventy‑eighth session, will let the Assembly President prepare more effectively for the general debate. Noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic helped the Assembly reflect on its work, she said a revitalized organ can bolster multilateralism and help overcome the challenges facing a more interconnected world. She commended the Secretary‑General for his efforts to manage the United Nations in the face of a financial and liquidity crisis, noting that the Organization needs all its financial and administrative means to function properly. Among other things, she called for greater synergy of agenda items between the Assembly and its Main Committees, as well as an agenda that is better aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
RABAB FATIMA (Bangladesh) said the revitalization of the General Assembly assumes renewed urgency as Member States meet in the midst of the COVID‑19 pandemic. In that regard, her country, together with Slovenia, co‑facilitated efforts to better align the agendas of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and their subsidiary bodies with the 2030 Agenda. The agreed outcome of the process led to some common principles and concrete recommendations, she said, urging the Assembly to follow up on them. Noting the need to strengthen the institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly, she also cited the importance of raising public awareness of the organ’s activities and increasing its interactions with civil society, youth, non‑governmental organizations and the private sector.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador) highlighted his country’s support for the resolution on the current topic and spotlighted the common responsibility of Member States to implement all aspects of the Assembly’s resolutions and recommendations. He also expressed support for the contents of the Secretary‑General’s report on Our Common Agenda, which stresses the need for States to take decisions on the work of the United Nations main intergovernmental bodies to overcome the world’s current challenges. In that vein, he went on to call upon the international community to improve the Assembly’s working methods, noting that the revitalization process continues to be a primary example of such modernization efforts.
YANG HUA (China), noting that the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly has yielded positive results, said the process should embody true multilateralism and freedom as well as full respect for the international order and international law. Emphasizing the need for solidarity in the fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic, she also cited the importance of common but differentiated responsibility in dealing with climate change. Member States are all in favour of streamlining the Assembly’s agenda, she pointed out, adding that consideration must be given to biennializing or triennializing resolutions. The General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council have a clear division of labour and must do their own jobs, she stressed.
PAVEL EVSEENKO (Belarus), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the time has come to revise the agenda of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to remove topics that are duplicated. Noting that his country continues to support the proposal to democratize the selection and appointment processes for the position of Secretary‑General, he called for the reestablishment of geographic balance in this post, in accordance with the principle of multilateralism. Stressing that the same goal should guide the optimization of the General Assembly's working methods and its relationship with other United Nations organs, he said the key to any transformation of the Organization is not contained in the text of resolutions, but in cooperation based on the ability to listen and to seek compromise.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said the Assembly plays an important role in forging an inclusive and representative United Nations. All nations, large and small, can interact in the Assembly to create a more peaceful and secure world. Welcoming efforts to strengthen interactive dialogue between the Assembly’s Main Committees, he also praised efforts to improve the process of selecting the Secretary‑General and of strengthening the Office of the Assembly President. Indonesia will continue to play its role in the ad hoc working group on revitalization and other forums to achieve progress on the topic in 2021, he said.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, highlighted the centrality of the General Assembly as one of the principal organs of the United Nations. The coordination of the Organization’s three interrelated pillars — human rights, peace and security and development — is essential for effective action. South Africa supports the rationalization of agenda items as well as the possibility of biennalization or triennialization. On efforts to maintain institutional memory, he proposed that incoming committee chairs be briefed by previous chairs on lessons learned. Each of the Assembly’s Main Committees must find ways to streamline its work in order to establish a more efficient use of time, he said, adding that revitalizing the work of the General Assembly will strengthen multilateralism more broadly.
MARÍA ANTONIETA SOCORRO JÁQUEZ HUACUJA (Mexico) questioned the voices of those who disdain or minimize decisions of the General Assembly as non-binding, or having no impact on ground, noting its resolutions guide public policy decisions and are a thermometer for global opinion. Member States must comply with decisions rising from Assembly resolutions, as those can only be effective if parties give weight to them. Addressing an important procedural issue, she noted resolutions adopted by a vote are often not considered legitimate by some Member States, who only see consensus adoptions as valid. However, votes are fundamental to any democratic process. Multilateralism must be more interconnected and the Assembly must respond effectively to global challenges, making continued improvements to incentivize and not inhibit decisions. Citing the primacy of the annual high-level general debate amid proliferating side events, she also noted the Security Council has been encouraged to deliver its report to the Assembly punctually. She went on to call for more women to be appointed to all posts, including as Secretary‑General.
ANGELITO AYONG NAYAN (Philippines), associating himself with ASEAN and the Non‑Aligned Movement, called on States to step up efforts to reinforce the role and authority of the General Assembly, enhance its effectiveness and efficiency and bolster its transparency and inclusiveness. Regarding the Assembly’s role and authority, he echoed calls for greater coherence in the work of the United Nations principal organs. Meanwhile, reviews of the General Assembly’s working methods should strengthen policy coherence, institutional leadership and enhance results. He recalled that the Philippines has advocated for the rationalization of side events and high‑level meetings on the margins of the Assembly’s annual high‑level week in an effort to ensure the integrity of the general debate. “We hope to reaffirm our collective commitment to this principle for this session,” he said.
MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the European Union, said revitalization, as one of the Assembly’s toughest mandated processes, requires a constructive approach from every Member State. Stressing the importance of abandoning long‑used stereotypes and patterns, he welcomed the biennialization of the revitalization resolution, noting that the necessity of reaching a consensual text on the issue takes up a significant amount of the Assembly’s time. Also stressing the importance of learning lessons from the COVID‑19 pandemic, he said the international community must seize this unique chance to modernize the work of the Assembly. Despite spreading the thematic clusters over two years, it is crucial to have an interactive dialogue with the Secretariat every year, he added.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador) said today’s discussion is being held at a time when the Assembly’s collective commitment to multilateralism is more important than ever. The COVID‑19 pandemic has shown that multilateralism is necessary to build back a more resilient and equitable world. Noting that the ad hoc working group made several concrete steps to revitalize the Assembly, she said a change in direction cannot not be achieved without the commitment from all. It is necessary to strengthen the relationships between the principal organs of the United Nations and maintain the primacy of the Assembly’s general debate, she said, adding that the appointment of the Secretary‑General should be based on the principles of transparency and inclusivity. Also citing a need to examine the working methods of the Office of the Assembly President, she asked Member States whether they are happy with how the Assembly works and urged them to explore whether it can meet the world’s current challenges.
BILAL MAHMOOD CHAUDHARY (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said revitalizing the work of the General Assembly is a difficult and indispensable task that contributes to the strengthening of multilateralism and international legality. Welcoming past resolutions on the topic, he called for more coordination and synergies among all the main organs of the United Nations. He also emphasized that all Member States now have the option of submitting resolutions and that streamlining should not result in a diminution of the prerogatives of States. Noting the complementary role of the Assembly and the Security Council and the importance of reports submitted between them, he welcomed strides made in the process of selecting the Secretary‑General and recalled that — in accordance with the principle of equitable geographical distribution of responsibilities — no post should be the preserve of one Member State.
MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia), associating himself with the statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, noted his delegation’s appointment as co-chair of the ad hoc working group on revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, which has a clear mandate. The decision to biennialize the resolution on that topic means this session will look different, bringing special focus to the two thematic issues ‑ namely, the role and authority of the Assembly, and its working methods. Describing those issues as critical ones, he called on Member States to direct their focus to implementing a range of measures delivering a more representative, inclusive and effective Assembly. He expressed hope that the collaborative efforts of the seventy-fifth session will continue into the seventy-sixth.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) said the need to turn Assembly commitments into action is the biggest takeaway of today’s discussion. Revitalization is the key to making the Assembly and its Committees more effective and efficient. That, in turn, makes the United Nations more effective. During its seventy-fifth session, the Assembly made a move towards greater effectiveness by adopting “Our Common Agenda”, allowing Member States to go outside the Organization and ask real people which real issues matter to them. Stressing that the Assembly’s resolutions need to make a real difference in people’s lives and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he expressed support for such concrete steps as protecting the primacy of the high-level general debate and using stronger language on gender party. Warning that the Assembly should not try to do too much, he urged it to stop considering annual resolutions that are no longer at the core of its agenda and make the United Nations more relevant to people’s lives.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) congratulated the ad hoc working group for its latest resolution, which was effective and focused on implementation. Turning to the two topics on the agenda in 2021 ‑ namely, the role and powers of the Assembly and the improvement of its working methods ‑ she called for the depoliticization of these topics so that Member States can focus their attention on strengthening the Assembly. It is essential to spread the consideration of those issues over a period of two to three years and lighten the high-level week. She also stressed the need to strictly interpret provisions on the division of powers between the different United Nations organs. Noting that the General Assembly suffers less from a lack of political will than from a lack of attention to the degree of feasibility of its resolutions, she said that the organ’s politicization and divisiveness is illustrated by its unrealistic resolutions, and called for more consensus-building and diplomatic skill.
WAEL AL KHALIL (Syria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasized the importance of preserving the credibility of the General Assembly and promoting the principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly Articles 10 through 14. He expressed regret that, in previous sessions, certain influential States encouraged discussion in the Assembly of conflicts being taken up in the Security Council ‑ and that those discussions remain on the agenda, in contradiction of Article 2 of the Charter. That double-edged approach ‑ as well as the invocation of controversial concepts such as universal jurisdiction and responsibility to protect ‑ is used as an excuse to interfere in States’ domestic affairs, he stressed, adding that the organ is being abused by some Member States to serve their interventionist agendas.