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Seventy-sixth Session Highlights

Amid Worsening Climate Crisis, Ongoing Pandemic, Solidarity Crucial to Tackle Mounting Challenges, World Leaders Stress at Opening of Seventy-Sixth General Assembly Session

Speakers Call for Real Commitments, Not Lip Service, Warning Rising Sea Levels, Vaccine Inequity Endangering Developing Countries’ Ability to Achieve Global Goals

Along with the escalating climate crisis, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing vaccine inequity captured the attention of world leaders gathered for the General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session this September.  Meeting in person and virtually just weeks before a major United Nations conference on climate change, world leaders said multilateralism was needed more than ever — not only to end conflicts and protect human rights, but to ease the suffering of people and communities overwhelmed by the pandemic, economic woes and rising sea levels.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered stark remarks, saying the world is “moving in the wrong direction” and calling on Heads of State and Government to restore trust and act together to tackle countless challenges.  “We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes,” Mr. Guterres said from the Assembly Hall podium at New York Headquarters.  Solidarity is missing “just when we need it the most”, he added, citing the climate emergency, upheaval in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and other regions, as well as the surge of public mistrust around science.  While most of the wealthier world has been vaccinated, more than 90 per cent of Africans still wait for their first dose.  “This is a moral indictment of the state of our world,” he said.  “We are getting an F in Ethics.”

Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session, highlighted the crucial issues seizing leaders’ attention this year:  vaccine inequity; successful climate talks to alleviate the worsening climate crisis; the development of a strong, equitable and green recovery from the pandemic; attention to human rights, peace and security; and United Nations reform.

In closing remarks made at the general debate’s last day on 27 September, the Assembly President noted that the list of speakers included 100 Heads of State, 52 Heads of Government, 3 Vice-Presidents and 34 ministers, although only 18 were women.  “It is now for us, and that of the United Nations system, to address these demands and to do so in a manner that turns every challenge into an opportunity — an opportunity to strengthen multilateralism and deliver results on the ground,” he said, emphasizing that there is no time for complacency.

With the seventy-sixth session’s theme “Building Resilience through Hope” as a backdrop, world leaders stressed how the pandemic and accompanying vaccine inequity were endangering many developing countries’ capability to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by Member States in 2015 through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the international system like never before.  “We can and must do more to speed up vaccine distribution in Africa; doing so benefits the entire world,” he said.  Nations were already behind schedule for achieving the global goals before the pandemic emerged and there is greater urgency, which must be converted into durable political commitments, with climate change mitigation at the heart of development efforts.

Noting the pandemic’s severe economic crisis, Azali Assoumani, President of Comoros, said the ensuing health‑care crisis had deepened the gap between rich and poor, accelerated inequality and disturbed the equilibrium of national economies, all of which could be tackled with solidarity and multilateralism at heart.  He called for better representation for developing countries in the United Nations system, particularly nations on the African continent, which include areas of dynamic economic growth and of conflict.

Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, President of Bolivia, said the pandemic has revealed the fragility of people and States, risking timely achievement of the 2030 Agenda.  Condemning the “multidimensional crisis of capitalism”, he noted the sustained inequality between the main capitalist countries and those on the periphery.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned the growth in extreme poverty and inequitable distribution of vaccines, he said in September, with only 30 per cent of the global population having received one dose of vaccine and barely 15.5 per cent fully vaccinated.  While the United States and European countries reactivated their economies with billions of dollars, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa lack the organizations to fight for recovery.

Many Heads of State used the plenary week, held fewer than six weeks before the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow in early November, to criticize the lack of sufficient political will to curb the intensifying climate crisis.

Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said the voices of small island developing States must be heard if the world is to build back “greener, bluer and better”.  Leaders unable to summon the courage to unveil commitments at the conference should not bother booking a flight to Glasgow.  “Instead, they should face consequences that match the severity of what they are unleashing on our planet,” he said.

Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, took the major carbon-emitting countries to task for their “pious mouthings and marginal tinkering”.  Science, the real world and the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change have pointed to alternative pathways for humanity, but greater political will and resources are needed to address the grave challenge of climate change, he said.

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said his country is extremely vulnerable to climate change, rising sea levels and natural disasters.  “Will Tuvalu remain a Member State of the United Nations if it is finally submerged?”, he wondered.  “Who can help us, and will they help us?”  The cost of rebuilding after every tropical cyclone and adapting to increasing sea levels leaves the country with little financial capacity to invest in the global goals.  Statelessness is not an option and while Tuvalu is adapting, the international community must develop ways to protect the rights of people affected by climate change “and to avoid chaotic responses to uncontrolled mass climate displacement”.

Many world leaders agreed that turning to multilateralism is essential for meeting the challenges of climate change as well as generating a more peaceful, secure and stable world.

Xi Jinping, President of China, called on States to improve global governance and practise true multilateralism.  Stressing that the United Nations is at the core of the world’s only international system, he urged the Organization to increase the representation and say of developing countries.  He also underscored the need to strengthen solidarity and to promote mutual respect and win-win cooperation in conducting international relations.

Addressing the general debate for the first time in his capacity as United States President, Joseph R. Biden noted his country’s return to international forums, especially at the United Nations, and its re-engagement with WHO and re‑joining of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  The United States intends to work with its partners and allies and devote resources to end the pandemic, tackle the climate crisis, manage shifts in global power dynamics, shape vital issues around trade, cyber- and emerging technologies, and face the threat of terrorism.  On human rights, Mr. Biden condemned the targeting of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, whether in Xinjiang, northern Ethiopia or elsewhere, and called on all to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex communities, including in Chechnya and Cameroon.

Abdel Fattah al Sisi, President of Egypt, said multilateralism is the only refuge from escalating conflicts.  “Let us arm ourselves not with the logic of force, but the force of logic,” he said, calling for a just, lasting and comprehensive Middle East peace solution, with a Palestinian State along the 1967 border and East Jerusalem as its capital.  Environmental degradation poses a threat to the world, and the international community has a common, moral responsibility to future generations.  The international community must avoid reaching “the point of no return”, he said, noting Egypt will host the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2022.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said there are persistent attempts to diminish the role of the United Nations amid the leading Powers.  There is a lack of consensus on the principles of the world order.  Emphasizing the need for unity in the face of global challenges, he called for adapting the Security Council to the reality of a “polycentric world order” and expanding the body with increased representation of Asian, African and Latin American States.

Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, said the role of international and regional organizations, especially the United Nations, is key for far-sighted and coordinated policies to meet ongoing geopolitical and geo-economic challenges, as well as the spread of infectious diseases.  Speaking in September, he said his country shares a nearly 1,400-kilometre border with Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rise to power creates a serious threat to regional security and stability.  The Taliban’s failure to deliver on earlier promises for a comprehensive Government, with broad participation of Afghan political and ethnic forces, is very concerning.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, called on the world to learn the lessons gained from the failure in Afghanistan, including three messages for foreign policy:  be more honest, be smarter and be stronger.  He called on States to extend their diplomatic, military, civilian and humanitarian approaches and find potential solutions and common ground for all.  “We failed on many things in Afghanistan.  But, our failure should not be cause for schadenfreude for others,” he continued, calling on the major Powers — the United States, China and the Russian Federation — to shoulder a particular responsibility.  Recalling the devastating floods in western Germany this summer which killed almost 200 people, he stressed the existential threat of climate change and called on States to make strong decisions at COP26 to close the wide gap between ambitious goals and concrete policies.

John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize, said his country exists today because of the multilateral system and he thanked Member States for supporting its territorial integrity and right to self-determination, which was crucial to achieving independence.  Despite a global inclination to retreat towards nationalist tendencies, the magnitude of crises and crucial action cannot be met by any one country.  Like many other small island developing States, Belize is “on the front line of a climate crisis for which we are not responsible”, incurring annual losses of nearly 4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) because of natural disasters, he said.  “We are doing our part.  We expect the developed countries and major emitters to do their part,” he stressed.

During the opening week, the Assembly also convened a series of high-level meetings to address issues of racial justice, the elimination of nuclear weapons and focus global attention on energy and food.

On the debate’s second day on 22 September, world leaders vowed to accelerate the fight against racism in their respective countries by renewing their commitment to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action — a landmark anti‑discrimination framework adopted 20 years ago in Durban, South Africa.  The Assembly adopted without a vote the Political Declaration titled “United against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.

A day later, on 23 September, the Secretary-General convened the first-ever United Nations Food Systems Summit, which drew nearly 300 commitments from hundreds of thousands of people from around the world and across all constituencies.  The commitments aimed to accelerate action and transform food systems to resolve hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and heal the planet.

On 24 September, more than 130 global leaders from Government, United Nations organizations, business and other multi-stakeholder representatives participated in a United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Energy.  It was the first leader-level meeting on energy held under the Assembly’s auspices in 40 years.  Participants announced ambitious targets, transformational actions and bold investments towards achieving universal energy access and net-zero emissions.

On 28 September, the Assembly convened a high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, at which delegates urged swift, permanent end to existing atomic bombs.  Observed annually since 2013, the International Day gives Member States an opportunity to take stock of global disarmament efforts and turn promises into progress.

Later in the seventy-sixth session, the Assembly held a two-day high-level meeting on the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons on 22 and 23 November.  Acting without a vote, the Assembly on 22 November adopted a 29-paragraph draft resolution, titled “2021 Political Declaration on the Implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”.

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued a trend of divergence, rejecting 1 draft and sending 60 resolutions and decisions to the Assembly, including several new ones on cybersecurity and nuclear safety, after holding more than 100 separate recorded votes on provisions contained therein.  Opening the Committee’s general debate, Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, warned that the continued growth in global military spending — almost $2 trillion in 2020 — has fed into cycles of insecurity and mistrust.  Amid the current heightened tensions and conflict, the First Committee’s role is as pertinent as ever, she said, reminding members that “the solutions sought here are not utopian, but have practical, real-world consequences”.  During the session, however, the increased requests for votes on drafts formerly approved by consensus reflected wide differences on such issues as how to rid the world of nuclear weapons and to keep outer space and cyberspace safe.  Delegates engaged in heated debates throughout, including when rejecting a new draft resolution proposing modifications and input from Member States to update the Secretary-General’s mechanism to address cases of the alleged use of biological and chemical weapons.

As the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and glaring inequities continue to wreak havoc on development, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) called on Member States during this year’s debates to ramp up cooperation, as well as resources in tackling reversals and setting the global community back on track.  Opening the general debate on 5 October, Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College London in Economics of Innovation and Public Value, said the pandemic has shown how ill-equipped the world is to resolve crises, underscoring the need for new strategies to handle poverty, health, climate change, vaccine inequality and the digital divide.  Throughout the session, delegates repeatedly stressed the need to support developing countries in kick-starting pandemic recovery and emerging from severe weather events that are eating up scarce resources.  Developed nations must come to the rescue, they urged, supplying needed vaccines, propping up economies and compensating disadvantaged countries for climate-related destruction they are least responsible for causing.

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) recommended 59 draft resolutions and one draft decision to the General Assembly during a busy eight‑week session, 18 of which were approved by recorded vote.  It held 16 in person meetings, and due to changes in work methods brought on in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, 29 virtual ones.  The Committee heard from 65 Special Procedure Mandate Holders, chairs and experts, as well as 15 United Nations officials.  Some 1,884 interventions were made during the related interactive dialogues with Member States.  Throughout, COVID-19 dominated discussions on social, humanitarian and cultural imperatives, particularly as Governments worked to lay the groundwork for eventual recovery from the pandemic.

Petitioners speaking on decolonization matters returned to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this year following their absence in 2020 due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Speakers took a range of positions on such matters as the long-standing question of Western Sahara, with some decrying the situation as a “rationalization of colonialism”, even as others cited high turnout in a recent Moroccan legislative election as evidence of the population’s willingness to take part in that country’s democratic process.  Delegates also called for collective action to end impunity for Israel’s violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and expressed concern over the continued budgetary shortfall faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  On the topic of peace operations, speakers stressed that ensuring the safety and proper resourcing of United Nations “blue helmets” is key to the successful implementation of peacekeeping mandates, some noting a “paradigm shift” in peace operations over recent years, due in part to the rise of technology now being exploited by armed groups.  Holding 16 formal and 2 informal meetings, the Committee also considered its regular agenda items including atomic radiation, assistance in mine action, questions relating to information and peaceful uses of outer space.  In addition, it held a number of interactive dialogues.  The session concluded with the approval of 34 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) approved regular programme resources of $3.12 billion for 2022, the Organization’s third annual budget in 50 years.  Delegates sent the Assembly for its adoption a total of 16 resolutions and 2 decisions, including the green light for another key financial issue:  the scales of assessments, which are reviewed every three years and help keep the Organization’s doors open by calculating each Member State’s contribution to the United Nations regular budget and then to its peacekeeping budget.  Tasked with helping the Assembly set common standards for how United Nations employees around the globe are paid, the Committee requested that the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) present, at its eighty-first session, a comprehensive review of the current compensation system.  A total of $585.63 million was approved to fund more than 35 special political missions.  Among other things, the Committee requested resources to keep United Nations property from Nairobi to Santiago to Bangkok safe and secure for the Organization’s employees and set aside funding for the enterprise resources planning project, Umoja.

Despite pandemic restrictions still in place, the Sixth Committee (Legal) commenced its seventy-sixth session with a formidable workload of substantive deliberations, sending 17 resolutions and 10 decisions to the General Assembly for adoption without a vote.  While the Committee held to its tradition of consensus, many delegates stressed that meaningful consensus means moving beyond minimum common denominators and technical updates.  Rather, the Committee must build towards a common position aimed at clear-cut results and progress.  Still, even with spirited discussions throughout the session, topics such as the rule of law and crimes against humanity appeared to be trapped in a gridlock of cyclical debates.  Nonetheless, progress was evident in the gender balance within the Sixth Committee, most notably in its leadership, prompting the President of the General Assembly to voice the hope that, in the future, women will also be better represented in international institutions, including commissions, courts and tribunals.


The General Assembly opened its seventy-sixth session on 14 September with its newly elected President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) imploring Member States to embrace hope and begin a new narrative after a challenging year of climate disasters, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Declaring hope as the theme of his tenure, he said:  “While the pandemic unleashed an unprecedented crisis, we have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion, acts that reaffirmed our common humanity and collective strength as ‘nations united’.  This is the narrative we must tell.”  The official theme of the general debate was “Building resilience through hope — to recover from COVID‑19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalize the United Nations”.

Welcoming the new President, Secretary-General António Guterres called on Member States to galvanize the spirit of multilateralism at a time when the world must stop wars and turn towards the bigger enemy:  COVID-19 and the deep, widespread challenges the pandemic brings.  The Secretary-General hailed the spirit of “uniting in common cause” as the beating heart of the Organization’s work and described the session’s opening as a moment of “great challenge and division”, marked by conflict and climate change, deepening poverty, exclusion and inequality, and a pandemic that continues to threaten lives, livelihoods and futures.

Three days later, on 17 September, the Assembly adopted its work programme for the session, including a range of new agenda items and noting that the pandemic would still affect its practical arrangements.  Acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, contained in its first report, the Assembly set the general debate for 21‑28 September and adopted a related decision, deciding that, without setting a precedent for future plenary meetings, a pre-recorded statement can be submitted where quarantine requirements or travel restrictions are in place.

The Assembly then endorsed by consensus a range of items recommended for inclusion in its agenda, except for one:  the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, on which the Russian Federation’s delegate requested a recorded vote.  The Assembly decided to include the topic by a recorded vote of 65 in favour to 37 against, with 11 abstentions.

The Assembly began its main session on 11 October, with delegates using the Secretary-General’s landmark report — Our Common Agenda — to consider the best way to move the United Nations forward over the next 25 years.  The report provides a road map for translating the 1  points of the Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations into action.  It also lays out the Secretary-General’s vision for global cooperation to advance implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and other international agreements.  Delegates aim to revitalize the Organization and better equip its main organs to address pressing global challenges faster and more efficiently.

In other matters that day, the Assembly adopted without a vote a resolution submitted by its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), “Scale of assessments for the apportionment of the expenses on the United Nations”.  By its terms, the Assembly agreed that the failure of Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia to pay the full minimum amount necessary to avoid the application of Article 19 of the United Nations Charter was due to conditions beyond their control.  It permitted these States to vote in the Assembly until the end of its seventy-sixth session.

On 18 October, the Assembly elected 18 Member States to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.  It also paid tribute to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, former President of Algeria and the Assembly President during its twenty-ninth session.  Mr. Bouteflika, who died on 17 September at age 84, was the youngest person to be elected to the Assembly when he assumed the post at age 37 in 1974, while also serving as Algeria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.  The Assembly also took care of several administrative matters that day.

On 20 October, the Assembly heard the President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Carmel Agius, lay out the progress made over the past year, despite the obstacles created by the pandemic.  The Mechanism was set up to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocities committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.  Mr. Agius said that, in September, the Mechanism held its first-ever virtual plenary of judges, a logistical achievement given that the 25 judges were in 21 different countries.

On 25 October, the Assembly adopted a resolution without a vote that offers a blueprint for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by tapping into the data, technology, innovative products and other tools gained through space exploration.  With the resolution “The ‘Space2030’ Agenda:  space as a driver of sustainable development”, the Assembly urged Member States to implement the Space2030 Agenda and work with non-governmental organizations, businesses and other entities to promote the use of space-based solutions.  The resolution also aims to guarantee that benefits derived from outer space exploration are open to all nations, regardless of their development.

In introducing the text, Romania’s representative said:  “Space is becoming a permanent presence in common life and on the political agenda of Government and international organizations.  The dependency of our civilization on space systems is proven and is of critical importance.”

On 28 October, the Assembly adopted a text to bolster the resident coordinator system after a day-long debate on the work of the International Court of Justice, which marked its seventh-fifth anniversary in 2021.  The resolution “Review of the functioning of the reinvigorated resident coordinator system, including its funding arrangement”, emphasized the need for adequate, predictable and sustainable funding of the United Nations resident coordinator system, which coordinates all United Nations organizations dealing with development operational activities at the country level.

More than 40 speakers took the rostrum after the Court’s president, Joan E. Donoghue, laid out the results of the latest report, which covered a year-long period ending 31 July.  She said the Court’s docket was full and there were 15 contentious cases currently on its list, involving States from around the world and a wide range of issues.  Those included territorial and maritime delimitation, reparations for internationally wrongful acts and alleged violations of bilateral and multilateral treaties concerning, among other things, diplomatic relations and eliminating racial discrimination.

A day later, on 29 October, Assembly delegates considered the annual report of the Human Rights Council and adopted without a vote the decision “Participation in the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”.  While many Member States praised the Council for its inclusivity and focus on human rights emergencies in Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere, others accused it of being selective in its monitoring and condemnation.  Presenting the Council’s annual report, its President, Nazhat Shameem Khan (Fiji), said its diverse membership is among its greatest strengths as global crises require a deep commitment by all States.  “We have a collective moral duty to speak out for those who cannot speak, to champion their causes and to work towards the protection and promotion of human rights, everywhere,” she said.  Assembly President Shahid (Maldives), stressing the importance of protecting human rights as the world recovers from the pandemic, hailed the Council’s adoption of a text stating that access to vaccines is a basic human right.

Presenting the report of the Economic and Social Council to the Assembly on 2 November, that body’s President Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana) highlighted the political declaration adopted by the Council and the high-level political forum on sustainable development, which stressed the need for a response to COVID-19 that advances the Sustainable Development Goals.  It also reaffirmed the importance of supporting least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States while ensuring equitable, universal and affordable access to the COVID-19 vaccines.

On 5 November, the Assembly, meeting concurrently with the Security Council, elected by secret ballot Hilary Charlesworth (Australia) as a judge for the International Court of Justice in the Hague to serve a five-year term, replacing James Richard Crawford, also of Australia, who died on 31 May.

Calls for a more streamlined and effective Assembly resonated loudly during the 8 November debate on revitalization, with President Abdullah Shahid (Maldives) stressing that the Assembly is “what Member States make it out to be”.  Delegates noted that the Assembly is in danger of being overwhelmed by procedure and called for renewed efforts to eliminate duplication between the agendas of the Assembly’s six Main Committees.  India’s delegates said the Assembly must take the lead in adopting a multilateral approach to solve global challenges, stressing:  “We need to trust ourselves more to do the right thing.”

Piotr Hofmański, President of the International Criminal Court, updated the Assembly on 10 November on the Court’s caseload and judgements, while also expressing concern that more than 10 arrest warrants remain outstanding.  The next day, the Assembly, acting without a vote, adopted a resolution that called upon all States not yet signed onto the Rome Statute — the international treaty that created the Court in 1998 — to consider joining the 123 States parties that have already ratified the accord.

In a resolution adopted on 15 November, the General Assembly welcomed Our Common Agenda — the Secretary‑General’s vision of global cooperation and reinvigorating inclusive, networked and effective multilateralism over the next 25 years — as requested by Member States in the 2020 Declaration on the Commemoration of the United Nations Seventy-Fifth Anniversary.  It also asked the Secretary-General to engage in consultations with Member States on his proposals in the report to expedite full implementation of agreed frameworks, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On that day, the Assembly also began a multi-day debate on Security Council reform, with delegates calling for galvanized action to make the body fit for purpose to face twenty-first century challenges.  Japan’s representative, speaking for the Group of Four (Brazil, India, Germany and his own country), drew attention to the framework document produced by the intergovernmental negotiations and requested a single consolidated paper of attributed positions of all States that can serve as a basis for the related Assembly draft resolution.

Several speakers echoed the call for expanding membership, with Italy’s representative, speaking for the Uniting for Consensus Group, calling for the abandonment of past modifiers, such as Powers and “super” Powers, and advocating for an expansion of the number of elected members and not of permanent seats. However, Sierra Leone’s delegate, delivering a statement on behalf of the African Group, reiterated demands for no less than two permanent seats, with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership.  Kuwait’s representative, on behalf of the Arab Group, said all regional groups should have proportional representation, and highlighted the waning credibility of veto power, while China’s delegate warned against hasty preparation of documents and aggravating divisions between States through text-based negotiations.

During the Assembly’s annual consideration of the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held on 17 November, delegates called for innovative ways to foster cooperation in overcoming growing divergence in the non-proliferation arena.  They also praised the Agency’s Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action project, known as ZODIAC, which has created a network of countries and laboratories from all continents to prepare for future pandemics.

The two-day high-level debate on the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons began on 22 November, with the Assembly adopting a Political Declaration, by which Member States expressed grave concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated people’s vulnerability to trafficking.  Member States also agreed to take action to address this and other pressing issues, including a commitment to facilitate access to justice and protections for victims.   Malaika Oringo, a survivor and the founder of a victim rights group, told the Assembly:  “Pity is not enough,” pointing out that survivor voices are rarely included in policy negotiations concerning this topic.

On 24 November the Assembly adopted two texts without a vote, the first of which reaffirmed its strong support for the indispensable role of IAEA in encouraging and assisting the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful uses.  The second text — concerning the graduation of Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nepal from the least developed country category — noted with concern the negative impact of the global crisis induced by the pandemic on least developed countries.  It decided to provide these countries with a five-year preparatory period leading to graduation.

In its annual debate on Palestine and the Middle East held on 1 December, the Assembly adopted three resolutions by recorded vote, calling for respect of the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem and stressing the need to urgently exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process.

With its first text, titled “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”, the Assembly reiterated its call for the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.  In its second resolution, “Jerusalem”, the Assembly reiterated that any actions taken by Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem are illegal.  By its third resolution, “The Syrian Golan”, the Assembly declared that Israel’s decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and demanded that Israel withdraw from the territory.

A day later, on 2 December, the Assembly paid tribute to the ancient Greeks’ use of sports competition to foster peace, as delegates adopted its annual consensus resolution “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”.  Member States then spotlighted the role science can play in helping communities forge a more sustainable world with the adoption of a resolution titled “International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, 2022”.  Delegates used the session to recognize the unifying power of sport and science as humanity struggles to emerge peacefully from a devastating global pandemic.

On 6 December, the Assembly approved the work of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) by adopting 55 First Committee resolutions and decisions that highlighted the importance of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction.

In an earlier meeting that same day, the Assembly adopted a resolution “Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin”.  Speakers said antiquity trafficking had become a global industry, especially in the Middle East, and urged the international community to end its use as a tool to finance terrorism.  By the text’s terms, the Assembly deplored the damage to the cultural heritage of countries in situations of crisis, conflict and post-conflict — particularly the recent attacks on world cultural heritage sites — and called for an immediate end to such acts.  The Assembly also adopted a text containing the report of the Credentials Committee and closed its 6 December morning meeting by beginning its annual debate on the culture of peace.

The next day, 7 December, the Assembly engaged in its annual debate on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Calling for global action, delegates laid out the urgency of using the international treaty, which will log 40 years in December 2023, to sustain the oceans, protect marine resources and shield communities facing rising sea levels.

Many delegates at the day-long meeting voiced their support for ongoing efforts to develop an international legally binding instrument, under the auspices of the Law of the Sea Convention, that would govern the conservation of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions.  Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said the meeting was a much-needed opportunity to bolster global action on marine conservation and sustainability, ahead of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon next summer.  The ocean makes up more than 70 per cent of the planet’s surface and produces more than half of the world’s oxygen.  “Yet, despite its necessity for the survival of our planet and peoples, the ocean is increasingly under threat,” he said.

On 9 December, the Assembly approved the work of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and Sixth Committee (Legal), adopting a total of 51 resolutions and 13 decisions on items ranging from decolonization to the power, study and dissemination of international law.  It also used the meeting to adopt five additional plenary resolutions meant to promote a culture of peace, prevent armed conflict in Ukraine and protect the world’s oceans and fish stocks.

On 10 December, the Assembly adopted five consensus resolutions concerning humanitarian assistance, as delegates wrestled with how relief efforts should respond to the compounding crises of COVID-19, conflict and climate change.  By the first text, titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”, it requested the Emergency Relief Coordinator to keep strengthening the coordination and accountability of humanitarian assistance and leadership within the United Nations.

Through the second resolution “White Helmets Commission: participation of volunteers in the activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development”, the Assembly invited the Secretary-General to continue using the “white helmets” initiative as a resource to prevent and mitigate the effects of humanitarian crises.  By the third resolution “Assistance to the Palestinian people”, it urged Member States, international financial institutions and other organizations to extend, as rapidly and as generously as possible, economic and social assistance to the Palestinian people.  In the fourth resolution, titled “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”, the Assembly condemned the threats to humanitarian personnel, including United Nations personnel, along with acts of terrorism and attacks on humanitarian convoys.

Adopting the final fifth text “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, the Assembly called on States to adopt and implement necessary legislative and other measures to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and integrate disaster risk reduction strategies into development planning.

On the 16 December, the Assembly approved the work of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), adopting 59 resolutions and 1 decision, covering a range of issues, from the rights of refugees and people forced to flee their homes, to the provision of universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Earlier in the day, the Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution proclaiming 2022 the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development.  It also elected Finland to fill a vacancy left on the Economic and Social Council.  It then went on to elect Bulgaria and the Dominican Republic as members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission.  It also appointed new members to the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, followed by an election of members of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent.

A day later, on 17 December, the Assembly approved the work of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), adopting 37 resolutions and 2 decisions aimed at protecting the global climate, combating illicit financial flows and tempering the glaring inequities that have hampered development.

The main part of the Assembly session ended on 24 December with the adoption of 26 resolutions and 2 decisions recommended by its Main Committees, including a $3.12 billion regular budget to fund the Organization through 2022.

First Committee

Remaining divided on a range of issues, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) returned to a more traditional format after pandemic-related restrictions curtailed its thematic debate during the seventy-fifth session.  Opening the Committee’s general debate, Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, warned that ballooning global military spending — almost $2 trillion in 2020 — has fed into cycles of insecurity and mistrust amid the current heightened tensions and conflict.  The First Committee’s role is as pertinent as ever, she said, reminding members that “the solutions sought here are not utopian, but have practical, real-world consequences”.  Highlighting pressing concerns, she pointed to the emergence of such new domains of strategic conflict as outer space and cyberspace and increasingly hostile relationships between nuclear-weapon States.  Nuclear risks are being driven to unacceptable heights, she cautioned, stressing:  “We must reverse course.”

Echoing an oft‑heard viewpoint during the session, Indonesia’s representative emphasized, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, that such challenges demand renewed efforts to resolve the current impasse over nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  Increasing global military expenditure could otherwise be spent on development needs, eradicating poverty and eliminating such diseases as COVID-19, he said.  The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said COVID-19 has delivered one clear message at what is perhaps the most critical juncture since the Second World War:  transforming the current circumstances to realize a better world can only be achieved through effective multilateralism.

Divergent views emerged during the general debate, when 137 delegations delivered statements, including 33 women.  Through the action phase, the Committee approved 60 of the 61 draft resolutions and decisions before it for consideration, including several new ones on cybersecurity and nuclear safety, after holding more than 100 separate recorded votes on various provisions.  The increased requests for votes on drafts formerly approved by consensus reflected a continued differences session on such issues as how to rid the world of nuclear weapons and to keep outer space and cyberspace safe.

Heated exchanges throughout the session included perspectives shared when the Committee rejected a new draft resolution — introduced by the Russian Federation — proposing modifications to update the Secretary-General’s mechanism to address cases of the alleged use of biological and chemical weapons, whose guidelines were established in 1990.  The Committee narrowly approved a new draft resolution on promoting international cooperation on peaceful uses of dual-purpose materials involved in producing weapons of mass destruction, which also called for input from Member States.  Differences remained on the issues of how to prevent the weaponization of outer space, with some delegates declaring that the realm must be kept conflict-free and its benefits enjoyed by all nations, especially developing countries.

Calls were made for urgent action on emerging issues and long-standing resolutions — from getting the decades-old Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty entered into force to establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in line with a resolution adopted at the 1995 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  China’s representative said a “cold war mentality” hangs over the world like a “dark cloud” at a time when the United States is upgrading its nuclear arsenal.  He also warned that the new trilateral security pact with Australia, United Kingdom and the United States on nuclear‑powered submarines undermines mutual trust and stimulates the arms race.  Some delegates voiced concerns about nuclear-related activities of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

However, the Committee broadly supported such new drafts as a cybersecurity-related resolution tabled by the Russian Federation and the United States, and another recognizing the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials as a model bilateral monitoring mechanism.  Views and voting patterns also converged on disarmament machinery-related matters, as the Committee approved by consensus all seven related resolutions and decisions.

Many non-nuclear-weapon States decried trends that saw some nations modernize their arsenals and develop new technologies.  Some pointed out that, by doing so, nuclear-weapon States are violating treaty obligations, with many calling on them to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January.

Speaking on behalf of China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States, the representative of France reaffirmed their opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Noting that the instrument fails to address key issues, ignores the international security context and regional challenges, and does not meet the highest standards of verification, he reiterated that the five nuclear-weapon States will not sign or ratify the Treaty.  He also called upon all countries that support the Treaty to reflect seriously on its problems.

The First Committee Bureau comprised Omar Hilale (Morocco) as Chair, with Amir Hamzah Mohd Nasir (Malaysia), Saša Milanović (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Andres Fiallo (Ecuador) serving as Vice-Chairs and Sanna Leena Orava (Finland) as Rapporteur.

Second Committee

As the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and glaring inequities continue to wreak havoc on development, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) called on Member States during this year’s debates to ramp up cooperation, as well as resources in tackling reversals and setting the global community back on track.

Opening the general debate on 5 October, Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at University College London in Economics of Innovation and Public Value, said the pandemic has shown how ill-equipped the world is to resolve crises, underscoring the need for new strategies to handle poverty, health, climate change, vaccine inequality and the digital divide.

Bearing the full brunt of COVID-19 will be poorer nations, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, said at a joint meeting with the Second Committee on productive capacities.  Most will take years to recover 2019 levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, with limited productive capacities hampering them from stimulating economic growth, diversifying economies, boosting resilience and integrating into the global community.

Increased production will boost developing country capacity to produce vaccines, combat poverty and address climate change, Mr. Kelapile said, but will require structural economic transformation and risk-informed investments.  Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned that many developing countries may lose a decade if the international community fails to close the production gap, making the post-pandemic world even more fragile and unilateral.

Throughout the session, delegates repeatedly stressed the need to support developing countries in kick-starting pandemic recovery and emerging from severe weather events that are eating up scarce resources.  Developed nations must come to the rescue, they urged, suppling needed vaccines, propping up economies and compensating disadvantaged countries for climate-related destruction they are least responsible for causing.

The pandemic has already thwarted poverty eradication, delegates noted, emphasizing that almost 1 in 5 Africans experienced hunger in 2020 and 1.3 billion people in 109 developing countries suffered steep inequities in income, wealth and opportunities.  The proportion of people living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day declined from 27.3 per cent in 2015 to 23.9 per cent in 2019, they observed, but the pandemic has reversed this trend.

Particularly hard hit are small island developing States, delegates said, where the pandemic is severely impacting health, as these nations simultaneously fight climate change on the front line.  Speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said nations in his bloc heavily dependent on tourism for survival now face deep economic recession, with several suffering economic declines in 2020 of over 50 per cent.

Antigua and Barbuda’s representative, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said all resources in his region are shifting towards the pandemic to ensure it has a population to recover with, a stark reality many such nations face.  “How much more must we suffer before the international community seriously considers the vulnerabilities of small island States?”, he queried, stressing the need for high emitters to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Also facing stark challenges are landlocked and least developed countries, delegates noted, with the pandemic cutting into already restricted financial and fiscal space, abruptly halting progress in priority areas.  Crippled by limited trade and flow of essential goods, GDP in landlocked nations has plummeted from 4.3 per cent in 2019 to 2.4 per cent in 2020, with foreign direct investment (FDI) contracting by 31 per cent to $15 billion in 2020, the lowest aggregate level since 2007.

In halting setbacks, the global community must immediately supply COVID-19 vaccines, as the pandemic disrupts lives and livelihoods, and relieve debt in freeing up needed funds to confront reversals, delegates stressed.  Calling for vaccine equity, Malawi’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, pointed to severe climate effects exacerbating pandemic reversals in Haiti, stressing that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

Delegates similarly underscored the plight of middle-income countries in striving to reduce poverty, improve environments and achieve development goals.  Economic indicators like GDP and per capita income, which determine these nations’ right to financing, are stripping them from benefits like official development assistance (ODA), hampering recovery efforts, they stressed.

With COVID-19 also upending global trade and supply chains, speakers called for urgent reform to ensure equitable market access and inclusive recovery.  Moreover, the international financial system should be positioned to provide liquidity when and where it is most needed in a crisis, they said, lauding the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) decision to approve $650 billion in special drawing rights.

On recovery finance, delegates expressed concern over lagging ODA commitments, underscoring the importance of increased funding to support national pandemic responses and economic reversals.  Moreover, noting that FDI has recently dropped by $35.2 billion, they highlighted the need to plug this financial gap in directing resources at economic and social recovery.

Also lamenting the widening digital divide, speakers highlighted the importance of Internet connectivity for livelihoods, employment, health and social participation.  Speaking for the Africa Group, Morocco’s delegate noted that technology is at the forefront of pandemic solutions, but his bloc is unable to seize these opportunities, as only 28 per cent of its population has Internet access.  Underscoring these challenges, an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) representative observed:  “Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.”

Also providing development benefits are healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, delegates stressed, noting that nature-based solutions allow the global community to address planetary crises together.  “Putting biodiversity on a path to recovery is the defining challenge of our time,” noted Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  To that end, Kyrgyzstan’s delegate emphasized the need for debt relief in her country to free up funds for maintaining its mountain ecosystem, biodiversity and glaciers, which are rapidly degrading due to climate change.

As in prior years, speakers also stressed that occupation and natural resource exploitation continue to hamper social and economic development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and occupied Syrian Golan.

In tackling COVID-19 and other setbacks, the Committee approved 38 draft resolutions and 2 draft decisions, including texts seeking to combat restricted trade, unsustainable debt, illicit financial flows and to stabilize the global economic environment.  Further drafts focused on the digital divide, climate change adaptation and mitigation, commodity prices, transport links and agriculture.

Chairing the Second Committee bureau was Vanessa Frazier (Malta), with Nadja Micael (Eritrea), Karolina Krywulak (Poland) and Claudia Mansfield LaRue (Dominican Republic) serving as Vice-Chairs, and Prathma Uprety (Nepal) as Rapporteur.

Third Committee

This year, the Committee sent four new texts to the General Assembly for adoption.  Three of them — on homelessness, volunteerism and rare diseases — were approved by consensus, while the fourth, on equitable access for all countries to COVID-19 vaccines, passed by a recorded vote of 179 in favour to none against, with 7 abstentions (Armenia, Australia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, United States).  The ability of COVID-19 to exacerbate global inequalities and quickly upend social development gains was a pernicious theme woven through all four.

Exploring the consequences on children, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, warned that an “alarmingly high” number of grave violations have been committed against children during the pandemic.  Briefing the Committee on 7 October, she said that 8,400 children were killed or maimed in 2020.  “Over 26,400 violations affecting more than 19,300 children were verified in 21 situations or 72 violations per day,” she said, pointing to Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia as the deadliest environments.  Attacks on hospitals and schools, and the use of these facilities for military purposes, had a disproportionate effect on girls, with a “dramatic” uptick in abductions and sexual violence.  “Any child, regardless of gender identity, can become a victim of sexual exploitation,” added Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, who drew noted attention to the invisibility of boys — and those who identify outside the gender binary — as victims.  Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative on Violence against Children, equally said that COVID-19 increases the risks of violence against children at home and online.

As in years past, country-specific draft resolutions — and related expert briefings — sparked lively debate.  In a series of recorded votes, the Committee approved texts on human rights conditions in Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), with many delegates broadly rejecting the perpetual use of these texts to bring about change.  Those from Venezuela, Iran, Syria and Nicaragua, in particular, cited politicization and double standards, warning that demonizing countries for political purposes and disrespecting their territorial integrity only entrenches the divisions.  Events in Myanmar were again a central focus, with the country’s representative on 22 October denouncing the military’s use of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and torture — before and since — its February coup.  By the draft on Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, the Committee condemned efforts by the Russian Federation to legitimize its attempted annexation of that area.  While the Russian Federation’s delegate described the text as part of an anti-Russian campaign, Ukraine’s delegate disagreed, stressing that people in the temporarily occupied territory face repression and systematic abuse, which have turned Crimea into a land of fear.

In other action, the Committee passed a draft resolution on strengthening the role of the United Nations in the holding of genuine elections by consensus — but only after rejecting two oral amendments proposed by Nigeria to excise references to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex community.  The representative of the United States, who introduced the draft, warned that such “late‑breaking hostile amendments” indicated that the rights of certain vulnerable groups could simply be “cherry-picked”.  Delegates who supported the proposed changes, including from Egypt and Algeria, spoke out against the inclusion of the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “women in all their diversity”, and disassociated from paragraphs they deemed contentious.

The broad themes of migration and the global movement of peoples were also broached, including in drafts on violence against women migrant workers; the protection of migrants; assistance to refugees in Africa and the protection of internally displaced persons, as well as in a draft on strengthening coordination in the fight against human trafficking.  On 13 October, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grande extolled delegates to “never forget that nobody wants to live with the anxiety of exile”.  He painted a grim picture of asylum outsourcing by wealthy nations and the building of walls to keep people out.  Borders should be secured without compromising the dignity of refugees, he insisted, emphasizing that, “if we are to face the immense challenges before us — conflicts, poverty, pandemics and the climate emergency — we will need to work together”.  The draft resolution on the High Commissioner’s office was approved by a recorded vote of 173 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions (Eritrea, Hungary, Iran, Libya, Syria).  Several delegates from countries with large numbers of their populations displaced outside their borders commented on the draft, with some disassociating from it entirely or from certain provisions, and Poland’s delegate denouncing the use of refugees at her country’s border as a threat to the European Union.

The Third Committee Bureau comprised Chair Mohamed Siad Doualeh (Djibouti), Vice-Chairs Hanne Carlé (Belgium), Devita Abraham (Trinidad and Tobago), Shin Joongil (Republic of Korea) and Rapporteur Maria-Iuliana Niculae (Romania).

Fourth Committee

In a streamlined session, members of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) held a joint general debate on a range of topics including decolonization, peace operations and Israeli-Palestinian affairs over the course of 16 formal and 2 informal meetings.

The session marked the return of petitioners addressing decolonization matters, a group that had been prevented from contributing to the seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  An overwhelming majority spoke on the question of Western Sahara, some citing court judgments and advisory opinions on Morocco’s relationship to the Territory, while others continued to sound alarms over human rights violations reportedly committed there.  Several speakers cited evidence of such violations as rape, abuse and humiliation of Sahrawi women, with some calling for an expansion of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) — which has been in place in the Territory since 1991 — to include a human rights monitoring component.

The representative of Algeria also addressed the situation in Western Sahara, recalling that the African Union was the co-guarantor of a 1988 settlement plan accepted by both Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), which led to the deployment of MINURSO with a mandate to oversee the ceasefire and organize the referendum.  Inaction on that front has led to instability on the ground, he said.  Meanwhile, Morocco’s representative stated that Algeria was in fact the “root cause” of the dispute, as the main party responsible for the perpetuation of the conflict.  The pursuit of a self-determination referendum on that issue is “dead and buried”, he said.

Many delegates expressed support for Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Malvinas Islands*, South Georgia Islands and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, with Colombia’s representative stating that a negotiated peaceful settlement is the only way to resolve the dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.  However, the United Kingdom’s representative cited a 2013 referendum on the islands, in which 99.8 per cent of votes were cast to maintain the status of Territory of the United Kingdom.  More broadly, delegates weighed the actions and responsibilities of the world’s remaining administering Powers, with some calling for stepped‑up efforts to support Non-Self-Governing Territories on their quest to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Speakers also called for collective action to end Israel’s impunity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and expressed concern over the continued budgetary shortfall faced by UNRWA.  An observer for the State of Palestine reiterated that the Palestinian people must be able to realize their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.  “This right is not up for negotiation,” she stressed, adding that no people would ever willingly accept life under perpetual occupation and forsake their rights.  By contrast, the representative of Israel, referring to the raft of agenda items taken up annually on issues related to the Palestinian people, said it is time for the Committee to revise its practices and rhetoric on the Middle East and join the region’s growing positive momentum.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, stressed that sustaining the Agency’s quality services is becoming an impossible mission.  There is a serious disconnect between the growing reliance of Palestine refugees on UNRWA services and decreased donor funding, he said.  In a similar vein, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said that, while UNRWA’s programmes in the region improve the lives of millions of refugees, the Agency’s funding gap of over $100 million puts at risk the education of over half a million children and threatens to halt the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines at a critical stage.

Many speakers stressed that ensuring the safety and proper resourcing of United Nations blue helmets is key to the successful implementation of peacekeeping mandates.  Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, reported on actions taken to ensure the safety of peacekeepers in the field, highlighting the extensive COVID-19 mitigation measures his department has undertaken in that regard.  Underscoring the increasing challenges faced by United Nations peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, warned that peacekeepers are being directly targeted by physical acts of violence and by disinformation, which threatens to distort the public’s perception of their work and impedes mandate implementation.  India’s representative echoed that point, noting a “paradigm shift” in peace operations over recent years due in part to the rise of technology which has been exploited by armed groups.

Outlining United Nations initiatives to counter disinformation and provide populations around the globe with reliable and evidence-based content, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming reported on the activities of her Department’s “Verified” initiative, which paves a path towards fighting false information.  As for the issue of multilingualism, she underscored that the Department’s content increasingly appears across a range of multilingual platforms.  However, the representative of Spain observed a trend towards monolingualism in general, a phenomenon that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In addition to those agenda items, the Committee considered its other regular topics — the peaceful uses of outer space, special political missions, assistance in mine action, University for Peace and atomic radiation.  By the session’s conclusion on 11 November, it had recommended 34 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly.

Alongside Committee Chair Egriselda Aracely González López (El Salvador), the Fourth Committee Bureau comprised Vice-Chairs Mathew Edbrooke (Liechtenstein), Angelito Nayan (Philippines) and Lukáš Peter Prvý (Slovakia), as well as Rapporteur Youssouf Aden Moussa (Djibouti).

Fifth Committee

Despite holding only nine formal meetings this fall, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) successfully tackled several crucial financial issues and sent the Assembly a $3.12 billion 2022 budget and two resolutions meant to adjust the scales of assessment — complex economic gauges that calculate the annual contributions of Member States.  The timing of these essential payments captured delegates’ attention consistently during the main part of their seventy-sixth session as Member States repeatedly urged each other to make their payments on time and in full.  The United Nations senior management official told Fifth Committee members in mid-October that the late and partial payments were keeping the Organization’s budget process locked in a vicious circle of annual liquidity shortages.  These shortages, in turn, were hampering the delivery of the Organization’s mandates.

At the conclusion of the Committee’s 23 December meeting, Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, thanked delegates for the strenuous efforts, flexibility and collaboration that led to their budget agreement.  During the four-hour meeting that began after 8 p.m., the Committee approved resources of $3.12 billion for 2022, the Organization’s third annual budget in 50 years.  Reaching agreement before Christmas is an immense help to the Secretariat as it plans for 2022, Ms. Pollard said, and ensures its year-end work can be accomplished efficiently in an unimpeded manner.

The approved 2022 budget number was the same as the $3.12 billion budget unveiled by Secretary-General António Guterres in mid-October.  That proposal, he told delegates at their 13 October meeting, was a reduction of 2.8 per cent from the 2021 budget, despite additional activities and mandates.  With the start of the 2020 fiscal year, the United Nations Secretariat shifted from a biennium to an annual budget cycle for the first time since 1973.

While not prompting a vote on the budget as it did last year, the decision to include financing for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria in the regular budget again drew opposition from some Member States, as it did in 2020 and 2019.  The Committee rejected a draft resolution — by a recorded vote of 88 against to 22 in favour, with 45 abstentions — proposed by the Russian Federation to delete all references to the Mechanism from the 2022 programme planning resolution.

At a 28 October meeting to consider the Organization’s financial situation, delegates voiced their alarm over the ongoing cash crunch.  Many felt the cash shortage could threaten the Organization’s effectiveness as a multilateral institution determined to help the developing world rebound from the global pandemic.  While temporarily eased by stringent cash conservation practices, the enduring liquidity crisis has hampered the Secretariat’s delivery of key mandates in development and peacekeeping, Ms. Pollard told delegate a week earlier.

At its last meeting, the Fifth Committee also approved the scale of assessments for the regular budget, deciding that the scale for the upcoming 2022‑2024 period shall be based on specified elements and criteria.  It then approved a draft resolution on the scale of assessments for United Nations peacekeeping operations and decided that, from 1 January 2022, the rates of assessment for peacekeeping should be based on 10 levels of contribution and parameters.  At its 4 October meeting, many Member States said the capacity to pay must remain the core principle that determines how much each Member State must contribute to the budgets, but they differed on how to best readjust the scales.

The Committee also moved on the issues taken up at its 16 November meeting, at which it recognized the thousands of employees around the globe as the Organization’s most valuable asset and considered the 2021 annual report of the International Civil Service Commission, which was delivered by Commission Chair Larbi Djacta.  The Committee this year sent the Assembly a draft resolution on the United Nations common system that, among many topics, reaffirmed the Commission’s authority to establish post-adjustment multipliers for duty stations in the common system.

The funding of special political missions again sparked a contentious debate this year when several delegations on 22 October renewed calls for the creation of a separate budget for these missions, which make up about a quarter of the United Nations annual regular budget.  At its closing session, the Fifth Committee maintained financing for these special missions within the regular budget, approving $585.63 million for the 37 continuing special political missions authorized by the Assembly and/or the Council.  It earmarked $1.82 million for the share of special political missions in the 2022 budget of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda.  It also recommended the Assembly let the Secretary‑General enter into commitments, with corresponding assessments, not exceeding $107.66 million for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for the 10-month period from 1 January to 31 October 2022.

In total, the Fifth Committee concluded the main part of its seventy-sixth session with the approval of 17 resolutions and 2 decisions.  All but one, a text that lets Comoros, Sao Tome Principe and Somalia keep voting this session despite their inability to pay minimum amounts of their assessments, were approved at the closing meeting on 23 December.  Among other issues considered this session, the Committee also sent the Assembly nearly 20 nominations for appointments to 5 bodies, including the International Civil Service Commission; the 16-member Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ); the 18-member Committee on Contributions; the nine-member Investments Committee; and the Board of Auditors.

The Fifth Committee’s Bureau during this session includes Chairman Mher Margaryan (Armenia); Ahmed Mohamed Ismail Elmahs (Egypt), Mohammed Abdulaziz H. Alateek (Saudi Arabia) and Mike Martin Ammann (Switzerland) serving as Vice‑Chairs; and Megayla Ulana Austin (Guyana) as Rapporteur.

Sixth Committee

Against the backdrop of the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, the Sixth Committee (Legal) took up the topic of sea-level rise in relation to international law, with speakers spotlighting the urgent, existential threat posed by rising sea levels.  The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, pointed out that, 50 years ago, negotiations on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea did not contemplate the phenomenon’s effect on Statehood, economies, food security, health, culture and livelihoods.  Many delegates detailed the tangible effects rising sea levels have on their countries, including Costa Rica’s delegate who pointed to the loss of beaches and fisheries, introduction of saline into aquifers, flooding of urban areas and an increase in disease.  Underscoring the urgency of addressing this topic, Latvia’s representative said it was “suboptimal” that the International Law Commission does not plan to return to these issues before 2023.

The Committee also took up the International Law Commission’s work concerning the protection of the atmosphere, as speakers, wrestling with the urgency of the matter, debated how to take action within a realm of international law still in its infancy.  China’s representative recalled that many delegations had highlighted how parts of the Commission’s related draft guidelines may exceed existing law and create ground for misunderstanding, as relevant rules are still developing in this new area of international law.  However, several speakers, including the representatives of New Zealand and the Federated States of Micronesia, welcomed the guidelines’ special consideration of persons and groups particularly vulnerable to atmospheric pollution and degradation, including indigenous people.  Ecuador’s delegate called on the Commission to work aggressively to ensure that international law syncs with progressive knowledge and with dynamic, new realities faced by the international community.

Justice Joan E. Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice, in the Court’s annual visit to the Sixth Committee, spoke to delegates about the differences between her job as a World Court judge and the job of a Government legal adviser.  While both roles must address the full range of international legal issues that arise from unpredictable world events, a legal adviser has the State as a client while “the judge is her own captain”, she pointed out.  Judges are rightly influenced not only by their own life experiences, but also by the historical experiences of their countries, especially on matters such as human rights and self-determination.  Stressing the role of frank, confidential and detailed deliberations, she underscored that, instead of proceeding on the basis of one’s initial impressions, a judge must take time to reflect on the perspectives of others.  It is the genuine airing of a variety of perspectives which makes the International Court of Justice truly a world court, she said.

The importance of diverse legal perspectives also resonated during the Committee’s debate on the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law.  The Secretary of its Advisory Committee highlighted the Programme’s continued response to the pandemic, conducting online workshops to meet the high demand for the Regional Courses, as well as the online offerings of the Audiovisual Library, which nearly two and a half million users around the world have utilized so far.  While delegates commended the Programme’s flexibility in responding to the pandemic, they also called for the return of the in-person trainings that foster deep bonds among the international legal community.  Further, they urged the Programme to incorporate more diversity into its educational offerings, with Lebanon’s delegate calling on it to choose more teachers from developing countries, while Portugal’s representative stressed that the Audiovisual Library must include contents in languages that have demographic and cross-regional significance.

The Sixth Committee also held spirited debates concerning the scope and application of universal jurisdiction, as delegates diverged on the role international and national jurisdictions should play in prosecuting serious international crimes, as well as defining the line between respecting State sovereignty and ensuring accountability.  While the representative of Morocco, speaking for the African Group, pointed out that non-African States are inclined to exercise universal jurisdiction with relation to African officials without their consent or cooperation, others, such as Liechtenstein’s delegate, stressed the principle’s importance against the backdrop of political dynamics in the Security Council that prevent the organ from providing the International Criminal Court with jurisdiction over serious crimes.  Many delegates expressed concern over politicization of the principle and underscored that it must not be used to undermine State sovereignty.

Delegates also sparred over the timing and propriety of codifying the International Law Commission’s draft articles on crimes against humanity into an international convention.  South Africa’s delegate called for the elaboration of a convention, stressing that healing cannot take place without accountability. Others, including Cuba’s delegate, urged cautious consideration and respect for States’ sovereign right to exercise national jurisdiction over such crimes committed in their territory or by their nationals.  To overcome gridlock on this issue, some delegates supported the creation of an ad hoc committee to allow for further discussion.  While the Sixth Committee approved the topic’s draft resolution at the end of the session, Mexico’s representative disassociated from approving a text that, for the third time in a row, went no further than simply taking note of the Commission’s draft articles.  This pattern is unacceptable, he stressed, as it frustrates consideration of the Commission’s products and adds to the list of issues trapped in cyclical debates.

Calls for transparency rang out during the Committee’s consideration of the report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization.  Delegates voiced concerns about the abuse of the Charter and the impact of sanctions, with the representative of Haiti, a country with experience of both sanctions and United Nations missions, condemning the misuse of United Nations mechanisms to benefit powerful countries.  While several speakers highlighted different proposals, including one for a focused space for all States to consider recent interpretations of the Charter’s Article 51, the Russian Federation’s representative drew attention to the initiative requesting an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on a State’s use of force without preliminary authorization from the Security Council.  However, the representative of the Republic of Korea expressed concern about many duplicative proposals, emphasizing that the Committee must not be used as a forum for political propaganda.

Chairing the Sixth Committee Bureau was Alya Ahmed Saif al-Thani (Qatar), alongside Vice-Chairs Ahmed Abdelaziz (Egypt), Justina Krutulytė (Lithuania), Ricardo García López (Spain) and Rapporteur Ana L. Villalobos-Brenes (Costa Rica).


* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.