Warning ‘World Is in Peril’, Secretary-General Stresses Countries Must ‘Work as One’ to Achieve Global Goals, at Opening of Seventy-Seventh General Assembly Session
World Leaders Urge Transformative Solutions to Myriad Threats as Ukraine Conflict, COVID-19 Pandemic Compound Food, Fuel Crises, Worsen Climate Emergency
Speaking at the largest General Assembly gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person events and devastated global travel some three years ago, world leaders this September called on the international community to unite in the face of the conflict in Ukraine, global climate emergency, and emerging food, fuel and cost-of-living crises.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a grim warning to Member States at the Assembly’s seventy-seventh session, sounding the alarm on the pandemic’s wrath, which he said has left more people poor, hungry and without access to health care or education. “Our world is in peril — and paralyzed,” he stressed, also pointing out that societies are being destroyed by hate speech and misinformation.
Democracy itself is being threatened, he said. Countries must “work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations” in response to the extensive damage in Ukraine and the dire situations in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Syria. He also stressed that achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 requires slashing emissions 45 per cent by 2030. “The Sustainable Development Goals are issuing an SOS,” he cautioned.
Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the Assembly’s seventy-seventh session, said that science provides an objective path to tackle the world’s myriad problems. “Our opportunity is here and now,” he said, adding: “Let us act”. Success of climate diplomacy should be replicated in other areas, such as water, energy, food and biodiversity, he urged. Calling for women’s full participation in decision-making and leadership, the Assembly President further cautioned against compromising on defending human rights and on preserving the rule of law.
In his concluding remarks on the final day of the general debate on 26 September, Mr. Kőrösi observed that 190 Heads of State, Heads of Government, ministers and representatives of Member States had taken the podium since 20 September. The Assembly had heard from 76 Heads of State, 50 Heads of Government, four Vice-Presidents, five Deputy Prime Ministers, 48 ministers, and seven Heads of Delegation — of which 23 were women.
With the seventy-seventh session’s theme “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges” as a backdrop, Heads of State and Government from around the world shared their concerns and tribulations and outlined their priorities in attempting to meet development targets and goals. They further reaffirmed the Secretary-General’s calls for urgent, coordinated action to address the most critical crises facing the globe, which they said have multiplied and compounded since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the war in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, addressing the Assembly via a pre-recorded video statement, said that a crime has been committed against his country and demanded “just punishment” for its stolen territory, its murdered people and the destruction the Russian Federation has inflicted. Outlining a five-element formula for peace, he also called for the setting up of a special tribunal on the Russian Federation. “We must finally recognize that Russia is a State sponsor of terrorism at all levels,” he said, calling security guarantees a right of every nation, not only the wealthiest and most-fortunate.
United States President Joseph R. Biden said that the war in Ukraine is about erasing a sovereign State from the map and extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist. Prior to the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that Ukraine was “created by the Russian Federation” and never had “real statehood”. Moscow is also producing lies and trying to pin the blame for the food crisis on the sanctions imposed by many countries for the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. “Our sanctions explicitly allow Russia the ability to export food,” he said, adding that Moscow has the power to end the current food crisis.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, addressing Assembly delegates several days later on 24 September, said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sees Moscow as “an immediate threat on their way to total domination”. The Russian Federation has repeatedly warned the West that it was unacceptable to bring its military supplies and infrastructure closer to Russian borders. The Russian Federation believed the promises of Western leaders not to expand NATO in the East, he said. But the West watched in silence as members of the 2014 coup started bombing eastern Ukraine. It is the incapacity of Western countries to negotiate and the continued war by the Kyiv regime against its own people that has left Moscow no choice but to recognize the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics and start a special military operation, he affirmed.
Aleksandar Vučić, President of Serbia, rejected the viewpoint of several Member States who asserted that the conflict in Ukraine is the first crisis on European soil since the Second World War. He asked “what is the difference between the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia?” Serbia has not stepped on someone else’s territory — yet that did not prevent NATO from attacking, nor did it prevent Western countries from unilateral recognition of the independence of the so-called “Kosovo”.
Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of Iran, also touched on the situation in Ukraine, stressing that events in Europe offer a “mirror image” of what has been happening in his region for the past several decades. Iran has been faced with coup d’état attempts, oppressive sanctions and hegemonic interventions. Iran has been unfairly treated, he said, pointing out that while only 2 per cent of world nuclear activities are taking place in Iran, it has been subject to 35 per cent of nuclear inspections.
Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said that with the Security Council at a stalemate and unable to implement measures to halt the armed aggression in Ukraine, Mexico stepped in, presenting the Assembly with a proposal to create a caucus of Heads of State and Government to support the Secretary-General’s efforts to move the Russian Federation and Ukraine towards a peaceful resolution. Echoing the sentiments of many speakers, he said that it is unfortunate that just as the world was recovering from COVID-19, the war in Ukraine caused further suffering, shook the global economy and impacted access to food.
Many Heads of State also used high-level week to criticize deepening inequalities and lack of fair representation in multilateral financial and economic institutions. And they underscored how the pandemic continues to heighten disparities among nations.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia, said COVID-19 painfully illustrated how far apart the world was in its ability to respond to crises. Wealthy nations were able to invest in life-saving vaccines more rapidly for their citizens while developing countries waited for whatever was available, what they could afford, or what they were gifted by international partners.
Pointing out further injustice, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of Botswana, stressed that many countries in the Global South, especially in Africa, had not met the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 70 per cent vaccination rate by mid-2022. For its part, his Government did manage to fully vaccinate 60 per cent of Botswana’s people. Botswana has also approved the manufacturing of the patent-free COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax and the construction of a vaccine manufacturing plant has already commenced.
Developing countries and small island developing States also shared the challenges they face on other issues ranging from global trade, exploding debt burdens and climate change. Again, they illustrated exactly how the pandemic and conflict in Ukraine had diverted resources and halted, and, in some dire cases, reversed progress.
Adama Barrow, President of Gambia, said that the cost-of-living crisis, “biting” inflation and food and energy insecurity has devastated economies and frustrated pandemic recovery efforts. Debt burdens have reached crisis levels. “Africa is simply asking for global peace and friendly relations,” he said. “Our survival and progress depend on global peace and security.”
Other Member States sounded the alarm on the threat of climate change, with Siaosi ‘Ofakivahafolau Sovaleni, Prime Minister of Tonga, underscoring that climate change continues to be the single greatest existential threat facing the blue Pacific. The adverse impacts of climate change make his country the third most vulnerable in the world. The consequences — whether sea-level rise, loss of territory, or mass migration — are a threat to peace and security, he stressed, calling for the issue to be a permanent item on the Security Council’s agenda.
Gaston Alphonso Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said that small countries “have talked ourselves hoarse since the 1980s”. Even if industrialized nations remain reluctant to curb emissions for the sake of the most-vulnerable globally, “they should be motivated by the perils for their own people”.
Carlos Faría Tortosa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, urged the Global North to recognize that “the unipolar, colonialist system cannot adequately respond to the problems and needs that they themselves have created”.
Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, also spotlighting the temptation of unilateralism, stressed that global security depends on upholding the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Small States cannot allow the world to regress to one where “might is right”. The only way forward is to uphold the inclusive, rules-based multilateral system.
Yoon Suk Yeol, President of the Republic of Korea, reminded Assembly delegates that the United Nations is responsible for unifying the international community, even more so when it is most challenging, to support and uplift nations that have limited resources and abilities. The Republic of Korea has increased its official development assistance (ODA) budget to help the world move closer to more-inclusive development as promised in the Organization’s landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
During high-level opening week, the Assembly also held several events, including one on 21 September, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.
Spotlighting that the Declaration had underscored that minority rights are human rights, the Secretary-General said that unfortunately 30 years on minorities continue to face forced assimilation, persecution, discrimination, hatred and violence. Also speaking at the event, Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Laureate and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and a member of the Yazidi community from Iraq, urged Member States to take action to make the ideals contained in the Declaration a reality. The minority communities in Iraq “are not going to give up, but we are going to need your help” to avoid the terrible consequences of inaction, she added.
On 26 September, the Assembly convened a plenary meeting to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Addressing more than 70 leaders, ministers and representatives of Member States, the Secretary-General warned: “Nuclear weapons are the most destructive power ever created — they offer no security, just carnage and chaos”.
The Assembly President expressed regret that the war in Ukraine and the critical situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have undermined, in a few short months, the declaration made in January by the five nuclear Powers, which affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and caused the failure of the tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Tension is at its highest point, he warned, adding that the war in Ukraine has raised the credible risk of a global nuclear disaster.
Stressing the risks of Armageddon and apocalypse that would result from a single nuclear detonation, both the Secretary-General and the Assembly President warned that there can be neither peace nor trust without the elimination of such weapons. Several Assembly speakers subsequently called on nuclear-weapon States to assume their nuclear disarmament responsibilities under Article VI of the Treaty.
Representatives of developing countries that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty warned against interpretations that could call into question their inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, also calling for increased cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and civil society actors.
China’s delegate — the only member of the permanent five nuclear-weapon States to speak — denounced the strengthening of rivalries and cooperation on nuclear submarines, affirming that his country’s doctrine is based on no first use of such weapons and rejection of any competitive arms race.
The representative of Pakistan voiced regret that his proposals to guarantee a stable and nuclear-weapon-free South-East Asia had never been adopted. Iran’s delegate denounced the withdrawal of the United States from several treaties and conventions relating to disarmament, saying that that position represented the main obstacle on the road to nuclear disarmament.
Many delegations also requested that the eight States yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty do so as soon as possible so that it can enter into force. The President of the Assembly also warned that tests on the Korean Peninsula represent a threat to both regional and international peace and security.
The General Assembly opened its seventy-seventh session on 13 September with its newly elected President Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary) urging Member States to work together to develop solutions rooted in sustainability and science as he also cautioned of widening geopolitical divides and protracted global uncertainty.
Albeit more manageable, the COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc around the world, while growing food insecurity, soaring energy prices and global supply-chain disruptions mean less food for those who were already struggling, he said. Calling the conflict in Ukraine “a turning point”, he warned delegates that unless they are vigilant, war could become more frequent worldwide. “The only way to achieve better outcomes is to transform,” he said to the Assembly, adding: “What remains to be seen is whether we will deliver.” The official theme of the session was “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges”, while the President’s moto was “Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science”.
Welcoming the new President, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that addressing global challenges such as climate change, conflict, a struggling global financial system, poverty and hunger will require continued solidarity. “The United Nations is the home of cooperation — and the General Assembly is the life within that home,” he stressed. Member States represent the beating heart of global cooperation. “The world is looking to you to use all of the tools at your disposal to negotiate and forge consensus and solutions,” he said, calling for debate, deliberation and diplomacy — the eternal tools representing the best pathway to a more peaceful world.
On 15 September, the Assembly paid tribute to the memory of Queen Elizabeth II, with delegates recognizing her seven decades of reign as Head of State of the United Kingdom and honouring her tenure with a moment of silence. The Assembly President reflected on Queen Elizabeth II’s leadership — a quality always needed, particularly in times of crisis, he said, recognizing her devotion to public service and to improving the lives of people within the Commonwealth.
The Secretary-General said Queen Elizabeth II was an anchor of stability across decades of often turbulent history. “Queen Elizabeth defied geopolitical gravity,” he told Assembly delegates. A consummate diplomat, she often wielded her skills as the only woman in the room. Understanding that formal bonds and agreements are only half the story, she spoke at thousands of public appearances about friendship and strong ties between nations. Her last address to the Assembly was 12 years ago, during which she called for the world to work together “if we are truly to be United Nations”.
The next day, on 16 September, the Assembly adopted its work programme for the session, deciding to include a range of new items on its agenda while also noting that arrangements will continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, contained in its first report, the Assembly decided that its general debate would be held from 20 to 26 September. The Assembly also decided in a recorded vote of 101 in favour to 7 against (Belarus, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Russian Federation and Syria), with 19 abstentions, that Ukraine may submit a pre-recorded statement of its Head of State to be played in the Assembly Hall during the general debate.
The Assembly further decided to include a range of items on its agenda, including “Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte”; “Use of the veto”; “Zone of peace, trust and cooperation of Central Asia”; “Report of the United Nations Youth Office”; “Observer Status for the Digital Cooperation Organization in the General Assembly”; and “Observer status for the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization in the General Assembly”.
The Assembly began its main session on 7 October, extending the Organization’s support to Pakistan with the unanimous adoption of a resolution that emphasizes the need to help the South-East Asian nation rebuild from devastating rains that left a third of the country under water. The Secretary-General called it a “climate injustice” that the country is responsible for less than 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions but is paying a supersized price for human-caused climate change. The Assembly President expressed alarm that 6.4 million people in Pakistan were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. “These are not numbers. They are lives,” he stressed.
By the terms of the text “Solidarity with and support for the Government and people of Pakistan and strengthening of emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the wake of the recent devastating floods”, the Assembly called on the international community to boost humanitarian aid to help Pakistan repair and strengthen the country’s prospects for achieving sustainable development. Introducing the draft text, Pakistan’s delegate said his country is one of the most climate-vulnerable nations. He told the Assembly that this summer alone there were massive flash floods that caused damage of $32 billion, 10 per cent of the country’s gross national product.
In other matters that day, the Assembly adopted without a vote a resolution submitted by its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) titled “Scale of assessments for the apportionment of the expenses on the United Nations”. Through the text, the Assembly agreed that the failure of Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia to pay the full minimum amount of their assessments, necessary to avoid the application of Article 19 of the Charter, was due to conditions beyond their control. It decided that those three Member States shall be permitted to vote in the Assembly until the end of its seventy‑seventh session.
On 10 October, and as part of its ongoing emergency special session on Ukraine, the Assembly considered a draft resolution introduced by that country that, if adopted, would condemn the Russian Federation’s annexation of several territories in eastern Ukraine in late September. During that debate, many delegates deplored the annexation as a violation of the United Nations Charter and international law while criticizing the Security Council’s stalemate on the matter.
Introducing the text “Territorial integrity of Ukraine: defending the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”, Ukraine’s representative cautioned: “We are now at a tipping point where the UN will either restore its credibility or ultimately fall in failure.” The Russian Federation’s representative, however, pushed back, saying that Ukraine and the West are pretending that history only began in February. Those who follow discussions in the Council know that the Russian Federation had been ready to consider a balanced and fair text in that forum. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) wants to escalate the conflict to undermine his country, he said.
The following day, on 11 October, the Assembly elected 14 Member States to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council by secret ballot. The new members included Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Georgia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Morocco, Romania, South Africa, Sudan and Viet Nam for three-year terms beginning on 1 January 2023.
On 19 October, the Assembly heard from the first-ever female President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Graciela Gatti Santana. She said that nearly a dozen years after its creation, the Mechanism is ready to transition from a fully operational court to a residual institution. Apart from one appeal, all International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia cases related to core crimes have been finalized and apart from one trial, the Mechanism has disposed of all International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda proceedings earmarked to be heard. However, not all Mechanism functions will cease with the end of in-court proceedings. “Our residual functions will remain ongoing in areas such as protecting witnesses, monitoring cases referred to national jurisdictions, preserving the archives and assisting national jurisdictions,” she said.
Presenting the report of the Economic and Social Council to the Assembly on 20 October, that body’s President, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), said that the Council used the past year to advance the Organization’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a high-level meeting that aimed to zero in on the world’s growing challenges. The impact of the pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine and climate change have reversed progress on many Sustainable Development Goals, he warned. And yet, with a spotlight on all these issues and crises, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, held in July, was still able to produce a Ministerial Declaration on a path forward, he said.
The Assembly on 27 October adopted a resolution delivering more than $3.5 million to the Secretary-General to ease the global food crisis by facilitating the implementation of two initiatives aimed at bringing agricultural commodities from Ukraine and the Russian Federation to world markets. By the terms of the resolution on “Revised estimates on United Nations activities to mitigate global food insecurity and its humanitarian impact” contained in a report by its Fifth Committee on the 2022 programme budget, the Assembly approved additional resource requirements and authorized the Secretary-General to enter into commitments up to $3.52 million, noting that the use of this commitment authority will be included in the 2022 financial performance report.
Also that day, 50 speakers took the rostrum for the Assembly’s review of the International Court of Justice’s annual report, covering the period 1 August 2021 to 31 July 2022, with several speakers calling on States to respect the body’s jurisdiction and some urging for stronger cooperation between it and the Security Council. Several representatives called for more funding for the Court as others expressed their support for the Trust Fund for its judicial fellowship programme. Joan E. Donoghue, the Court’s President, said its docket remained full, with 16 cases on its list involving States from around the world and touching on a wide range of issues. Five new cases have been instituted since 1 August 2021.
On 31 October, Assembly delegates commended the work of the International Criminal Court as the body marked 20 years since its inception. The Court’s President, Piotr Hofmański, presented the body’s annual report, which covered a year-long period ended 31 July 2022. In the last 12 months alone, the Prosecutor opened three new investigations into the situations in the Philippines, Venezuela and Ukraine, he said. Over the past two decades, the Court had opened probes in 16 countries on four different continents. But despite the Court’s work, the main responsibility of investigating alleged crimes lies with national authorities. “The ICC has no desire to get involved, if justice is achievable by national jurisdictions,” he said.
The representative of the Netherlands, introducing the draft text titled “Report of the International Criminal Court”, said that the Court has “come of age” investigating situations around the world from the Central African Republic to Ukraine. The Court’s capabilities must be strengthened especially at a time when the most fundamental legal norms are being violated. Other delegates also spotlighted the Court’s achievements, hailing it as an important tool in international justice.
Also that day, the Assembly adopted without a vote a draft resolution on “Revised estimates relating to the programme budget for 2022 under section 3, Political affairs, and section 36, Staff assessment: special political missions — United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)”, contained in a report of its Fifth Committee. By its terms, the Assembly appropriated $131.35 million and a related staff assessment portion of $10.9 million from the 2022 programme budget to operate UNAMA.
The following day, on 1 November, delegates considered the annual report of the Human Rights Council, expressing diverging views about the Geneva-based intergovernmental body’s work. Several delegations praised its efforts over the past year to curb human rights violations through the creation of special mechanisms. Other speakers, however, said that the Council applies double standards that have a detrimental impact on developing countries. Delegates also expressed concern about various human rights situations from the Chinese Government’s campaign against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and abuses by the military in Myanmar to the war in Ukraine and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
Presenting the report of the Council’s activities from 1 October 2021 to 7 October 2022, its President, Federico Villegas (Argentina), said the body has aimed to address a multitude of human rights issues. Over the course of its three regular sessions, the Council adopted 100 resolutions, President’s statements and decisions; 67 of these were adopted without a vote. In March 2022, following a debate on the human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian Federation’s aggression, the Council decided to establish the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. It also appointed a new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.
On 2 November, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all States which have not yet signed onto the Rome Statute — the global pact that created the International Criminal Court at a conference in Rome in 1998 — to do so without delay. By the terms of the resolution, the Assembly called on States parties to adopt national legislation that will implement their obligations. The Assembly also called on States under the obligation to do so to cooperate in the future, particularly on arrest and surrender, the provision of evidence, the protection and relocation of victims and witnesses, and the enforcement of sentences.
Also that day, the Assembly began its annual debate on the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba, with many delegations calling for an immediate end to the sanctions. Some representatives raised concerns about the additionally damaging effects of the United States’ inclusion of Cuba on its list of State sponsors of terrorism.
The following day, speakers again reiterated the urgent need to end the embargo, with many expressing deep alarm at the restrictive economic policies’ impacts, considering crippling COVID-19 woes and the mounting global food, fuel, and inflation crises. The draft resolution “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was adopted by a recorded vote of 185 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 2 abstentions (Brazil, Ukraine).
Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, who introduced the text, said that the blockade’s cumulative economic damage has amounted to $154.22 billion. During the pandemic, the blockade was further tightened, causing more delays in the delivery of necessary medical equipment. Despite that, Cuba sent medical brigades to provide aid to other countries. The fraudulent inclusion of Cuba in the United States Department of State’s unilateral list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism has further forced Cuba to pay twice the usual price for commodities on the international market, he said.
On 4 November, meeting concurrently with the Security Council, the Assembly elected a judge to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to serve a term beginning that day, 4 November 2022, and ending 5 February 2027. Elected by secret ballot, Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brant (Brazil) received an absolute majority of votes cast by the 193 Member States of the United Nations. He replaced Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil), who died on 29 May.
Three days later, on 7 November, the Assembly proclaimed 18 November World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence, while also debating ways to revitalize its own work. On the latter topic, delegates underscored that inclusive, effective and efficient multilateralism, specifically in the COVID-19 pandemic era, is a must to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Assembly President, opening the debate, said retaining the relevance of the body will depend on its ability to adapt to twenty-first century challenges. While the goal of revitalizing the Assembly is broad and general, the actual work is often technical. “It is sometimes time-consuming, sometimes frustrating, but the work can, and it does, change this Assembly in a very concrete manner,” he said.
During the Assembly’s annual consideration of the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held on 9 November, delegates spotlighted the technical assistance and capacity-building support their countries received from the IAEA. Several speakers stressed the Agency’s importance as the sole competent authority on safeguards. Other delegates also raised continuing concerns, with some calling on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Syria to cooperate with the IAEA and comply with their obligations.
On 10 November, the Assembly expressed deep concern over the volatility in Afghanistan since the takeover of the Taliban in 2021, and the persistent abuse of human rights, including those of women, girls and minorities. The Assembly President expressed dismay that winter was just weeks away and that Member States still had a $2.3 billion shortfall to reduce. Afghanistan’s delegate said more than 24 million people in his country are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. He further sounded the alarm that terrorist attacks on civilian targets and minority groups have increased, and that both women and girls are being systematically erased from all areas of public life.
As part of its ongoing emergency special session on Ukraine, the Assembly on 14 November recommended Member States create an international registry of damage to serve as a record of evidence and claims information. By the terms of the text “Furtherance of remedy and reparation for aggression against Ukraine” — adopted by a recorded vote of 94 in favour to 14 against, with 73 abstentions — the Assembly recognized that the Russian Federation must be held accountable for any violations of international law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law in or against Ukraine.
Many delegates expressed their support for the establishment of a registry while others voiced concern over the resolution’s divisiveness and the precedent set in allowing the creation of a mechanism that is not accountable to the Assembly. Introducing the text, Ukraine’s delegate said that recovery for his country will never be complete without a sense of justice for the victims of the Russian Federation’s war.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said that the West is attempting to use the Assembly as a smokescreen to conceal an act of open robbery intended to draw out the conflict. Most developing countries probably think it is ludicrous or insulting for Western countries to demand reparations, he said. Elaborating on the text’s flaws, China’s speaker expressed concern that the invoked articles on the responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts have no legally binding status. He also pointed out that the Assembly is not a judicial body.
On 15 November, the Assembly elected judges to the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and United Nations Dispute Tribunal as well as appointed members of eight subsidiary bodies, taking up several reports on its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on the matter.
Two days later, on 17 November, the Assembly kicked off a 2-day debate on Security Council reform, with speakers renewing their appeals for expanding the 15-member organ and updating its working methods to make it more representative and effective. A growing list of Member States supported expanding both the permanent and non-permanent member categories when it came to the Council's membership.
The following day, Ghana’s delegate called the Council’s use of the veto anachronistic and counterproductive to the goal of maintaining international peace and security. Many speakers endorsed adding more seats for Africa, with the representative of Zimbabwe backing the continent’s quest for two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats on the Council. “The fact that Africa, a major geographic region, remains underrepresented and unrepresented in the permanent category of the Security Council is unjustified,” she stressed.
On 21 November, the Assembly adopted 11 resolutions promoting cooperation between the Organization and a host of regional and international organizations as it also appointed a member to its Independent Audit Advisory Committee. A draft on the United Nations cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization — which was adopted by a recorded vote — drew both praise and criticism from Member States.
Ukraine’s representative said he could not support cooperation between the United Nations and the armed forces of the Russian Federation, which are the core of the treaty organization. The delegate from the Russian Federation, however, called the letter from the Ukrainian delegation on the text completely inappropriate and regrettable. The Assembly has on many occasions adopted the draft by consensus; putting a technical draft to a vote will ensure that many similar texts come up for review.
During its annual debate on the question of Palestine and the Middle East held on 30 November, the Assembly adopted five resolutions, four by a recorded vote, calling on Israel to cease actions contrary to international law that are aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and stressing the need to urgently exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues.
With its first text, titled “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine”, the Assembly called for an immediate halt to all settlement activities and land confiscation and for an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions. In another text, “Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat”, the Assembly requested the Division to dedicate its activities in 2023 to the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nakba, including by organizing a high-level event at the General Assembly Hall on 15 May 2023. By a resolution titled “The Syrian Golan”, the Assembly declared that Israel’s decision of 14 December 1981 to impose its laws and jurisdiction on the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and has no validity and called upon Israel to rescind it.
The next day on 1 December, the Assembly recognized the power of sport as a tool to inspire young people around the planet, adopting by consensus the text “Sport as an enabler for sustainable development”. By its terms, Assembly delegates laid out the ways in which sport can be used to help young people improve their lives while generating cooperation among nations. Noting that the World Cup is under way, the Assembly President said nations should compete on the fields of sports rather than on battlefields, adding: “The former is more noble and the latter leaves death and devastation behind”.
On 6 December, the Assembly sought to improve the way the United Nations system coordinates the delivery of humanitarian aid and disaster relief, including special economic assistance, with the adoption of four humanitarian resolutions without a vote. In opening remarks, the Assembly President said a meeting on the matter could not come at a more fitting moment, as the world today is in a permanent state of humanitarian crisis. “We are breaking all the wrong records,” he said.
In adopting the 19-page text “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”, the Assembly reaffirmed the principles of its landmark resolution 46/182 of December 1991, which encourages the international community to support Member States’ efforts to prepare for disasters. By a second text, “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, the Assembly recognized the relationship between emergency response, rehabilitation and development, as well as the need to ensure a smooth transition between the three stages. In a third resolution, “Assistance to the Palestinian people”, the Assembly underlined the importance of emergency and humanitarian aid in Gaza and the need to advance its reconstruction. By a fourth text, “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”, the Assembly strongly condemned all acts of violence, attacks and threats against humanitarian as well as United Nations and associated personnel.
Later in the day, the Assembly also recognized its annual “Culture of Peace” agenda item through the adoption, without a vote, of the resolution “International Year of Dialogue as a Guarantee of Peace, 2023”.
On 7 December, the Assembly acted on the recommendations of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and Sixth Committee (Legal) and adopted a total of 86 resolutions and 17 decisions on items ranging from the threat posed by nuclear weapons in a deteriorating international security environment to the restoration of confidence in the rule of law as a key element of multilateral and transitional justice.
That same day, it also adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution titled “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System”. The document emphasized that the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System is an important partner of the United Nations in implementing the 2015–2030 regional action plan for the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, in the Americas and the Caribbean, which was updated at the seventh Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean, held in Jamaica from 1 to 4 November 2021.
On 8 December, the Assembly began its annual consideration of the oceans and law of the sea. Celebrating the 40 years of marine multilateralism ushered in by the adoption of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, delegates underscored the need to continue the tradition with a binding instrument on sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. In opening remarks, the Assembly President reminded delegates that the Convention has given the international community a common language to manage oceans, from navigational rights to maritime borders, and called on States to elaborate the text of a legally binding instrument.
Noting its near universal acceptance, the Secretary-General said the Convention is more relevant than ever and developing countries, especially small island developing States, must be supported, as they balance the need for thriving coastal economies while preserving the ocean and its seas for future generations.
Delegates also heard from Albert Hoffmann, President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, who said the Convention remains relevant because of its comprehensive definition of pollution and its system for the compulsory settlement of disputes. Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority, expressing concern over how States parties promote visions that radically change the rules of engagement, stressed that such behaviour risks undermining the law of the sea.
Delegates continued their debate on the planet’s oceans on 9 December by commemorating the Convention’s fortieth anniversary and considering two draft resolutions that address a diverse range of challenges, including climate change, loss of marine biodiversity and sustainable fisheries. That day, the Assembly adopted by consensus the text “Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments”. By its terms, the Assembly called upon all States to apply widely the precautionary and ecosystem approaches to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks. It postponed action on the draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea”, introduced by Singapore’s delegate.
On 12 December, the Assembly acted on the recommendation of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and adopted 33 draft resolutions and two draft decisions, including texts concerning the mandate and operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
In other business, Sweden’s representative introduced the resolution “Investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him”. That text — to be acted upon at a later date — would have the Assembly request the Secretary-General to reappoint Mohamed Chande Othman, the retired Chief Justice of the United Republic of Tanzania, as the Eminent Person tasked with reviewing information on the former Secretary-General’s death in a 1961 airplane crash while on a peace mission in Africa.
On 14 December, the Assembly acted on the recommendation of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and adopted 38 resolutions and two decisions meant to eradicate rural poverty, improve conditions in developing countries facing persistent inequality and counter the ravages of climate change. All the texts also aim to help the international community achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The next day, on 15 December, the Assembly moved on the recommendation of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and adopted 51 resolutions and one decision covering a range of issues from the rights of children, women and refugees to combating the glorification of Nazism. Delegates rejected country-specific texts as political tools to interfere in nations’ internal affairs.
On 16 December, the Assembly wrapped up its debate on the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea and adopted three resolutions: one focused on police cooperation; a second zeroed in on the rights of persons with disabilities; and a third text involved its Credentials Committee.
Through the resolution “International Day of Police Cooperation”, the Assembly designated 7 September as the International Day of Police Cooperation, to be observed starting in 2023. Adopted without a vote, the resolution also invited Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other relevant stakeholders to observe the International Day in an appropriate manner.
Also adopted without a vote that day, the resolution titled “Promoting and Mainstreaming Easy to Understand Communication for Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities” reaffirmed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and urged Member States to redouble efforts to address obstacles and barriers to accessibility.
The Assembly also heard from Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (Guyana), Chair of the Credentials Committee, who introduced that Committee’s report. The Assembly noted the Committee’s decision to postpone consideration of credentials for the representatives of Myanmar, Afghanistan and Libya to the Assembly’s seventy-seventh session and consider these credentials at a future time during the same session. The Assembly approved the report by adopting the resolution contained in the document.
On 20 December, the Assembly adopted texts to protect the world’s oceans and combat violent extremism while electing five Member States to the Peacebuilding Commission. Yet the Assembly failed yet again to fill a seat on the Economic and Social Council held by the Group of Eastern European States.
To help achieve progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 14 on life below water, the Assembly adopted without a vote the draft resolution “Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields. By the text, the Assembly decided to convene the high-level 2025 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, in France, in June 2025.
Introducing the draft, the representative of Costa Rica said the ocean faces a continued emergency of escalating challenges and that Sustainable Development Goal 14 remains the most underfunded of all global goals. It is estimated that an additional $175 billion will be needed each year until 2030 for the global goal’s full implementation. The June 2025 Conference in France will be preceded by a high-level themed event in Costa Rica in June 2024.
A second resolution, “International Day for the Prevention of Violent Extremism as and when Conducive to Terrorism”, was adopted by a recorded vote of 154 in favour and none against, with four abstentions (Belarus, Congo, Madagascar and Russian Federation). By its terms, the Assembly decided to declare 12 February the International Day in order to raise awareness of the threats linked to that phenomenon.
In the same session, the Assembly adopted the draft decision “Accreditation and participation of an intergovernmental organization in the United Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Sustainable Development’, 2018–2028”. Adopting without a vote, the Assembly decided to accredit the European Investment Bank and invite the Bank to participate as an intergovernmental organization in the Conference’s work with observer status.
In other business, the Assembly elected five Member States to the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission, representing distinct regional groups, to two-year terms of office beginning on 1 January 2023, and appointed Toshiya Hoshino (Japan) to the 11‑member Joint Inspection Unit — the independent external oversight body of the United Nations system — for a five-year term beginning 1 January 2023.
The main part of the Assembly session ended on 30 December with the adoption of almost 20 texts recommended by its Fifth Committee, among them a nearly $3.4 billion regular budget to fund the Organization’s 2023 programmes, an agreement to shift to an annual budget cycle after the end of a three-year trial period, resources to implement Human Rights Council mandates and $767.1 million to keep more than three dozen special political missions operating. As in past years, several delegates renewed calls for the creation of a separate budget to address the financial requirements of these missions.
Delegates in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) raised the alarm throughout the session that the global security architecture, strained by the war in Europe, is on the verge of collapse. The approval of 74 draft texts requiring 128 separate recorded votes exposed a widening rift in positions. On 3 October, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told Member States that the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the severity of tensions to an unprecedented level. “We are witnessing a multiplication of conflicts with dire civilian impacts alongside nuclear saber-rattling and threats to nuclear safety”. She repeated the Secretary-General’s warning that nuclear weapons use is now “within the realm of possibility”, and she urged all to “step back from the brink”.
The High Representative also urged all nuclear-weapon-possessing States to commit to no-first use of any nuclear weapon as an immediate measure to save humanity from extinction. This danger, she said, is only the most recent manifestation of troubling trends that have been brewing for some time — increased reliance on these weapons, vast amounts of money spent on their qualitative improvement, allegations of expanding arsenals and veiled threats to use them. She spotlighted the “increasingly likely” prospect of active hostilities in domains such as outer space and cyberspace, and said that norms against chemical weapons use, once iron-clad, “have been shaken”. Rapid advances in weaponry, including integration of higher levels of autonomy, are challenging governance structures.
The Assembly President, also addressing the Committee, said that the war in Europe and annexing the land of one’s neighbour may motivate States to invest in defence. In the long run, however, the path to more weapons is one to self-destruction. Too many lives are at stake to allow global tensions to escalate to the point of “no return”. He appealed to the Committee to ensure that the “deadliest creations of humanity” are never used again and that they never land in the hands of rogue users or terrorists. In this critical moment, he urged the disarmament community to “flip the paradigm”.
A deep sense of unease permeated the debates. The representative of Trinidad and Tobago said that the international community is witnessing, with horror, how one country loudly issues nuclear threats to deter other States from intervening in a war of aggression against a sovereign country. Mexico’s representative said nine nuclear-armed countries have claimed the right to determine life and death, while the 184 non-nuclear-weapon States fulfill their non-proliferation and disarmament commitments, day after day, without getting anything in return, except a vision of potential annihilation. The assertion that nuclear weapons guarantee security is intrinsically immoral, the speaker said.
Nuclear-weapon States, for their part, reaffirmed support for nuclear disarmament, while outlining different paths and pace to its achievement. China’s representative said there is no uniform template for nuclear arms control, reduction, and transparency. France’s speaker said the process required a progressive approach, based on the principle of undiminished security for all. The United States’ nuclear policy, said its representative, maintains that the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter attacks against its country and its allies and partners. The Russian Federation’s speaker expressed full commitment to the January joint statement by the nuclear Powers to adhere to the claim of inadmissibility of war between them, while also stating that possession of those weapons remains the only possible response to specific external threats.
Other weapons of mass destruction also drew intense debate. Myanmar’s speaker said that chemical and biological weapons are “the poor man’s atomic bomb” — they’re cheaper and easier to use and have become the best alternative to nuclear weapons for rogue States and non-State actors. Iceland’s speaker said that chemical weapons should be an echo from a distant past, not a weapon of war or political tool, such as in Syria or in the case of Alexei Navalny. Many voiced unwavering support for the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. The Committee again rejected a Russian-backed draft resolution allowing for the possibility of updating the “guidelines and procedures” of the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons.
On outer space (disarmament aspects), several warned that the peaceful domain would become a new theatre of conflict. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Indonesia’s representative said that voluntary transparency and confidence-building measures might reduce mistrust and enhance safety in the short-term, but they were no substitute for a legally binding instrument. Progress was also sought on an open and secure cyberspace for all. Information and communications technology, in particular, artificial intelligence, was the next frontier in arms control, said the Netherlands’ representative. The prevailing view was that without agreed norms and verification to detect attacks and ensure accountability, international efforts would be in vain.
Profit from the sale of conventional weapons is “drenched in blood, often innocent blood”, said the Permanent Observer for the Holy See, echoing the call of many to end the scourge that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Representatives from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and African Group addressed weapons-producing countries directly. The representative of Jamaica said, “we cannot keep mopping up the damage while the pipeline keeps leaking”. Speakers urged accession to and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and inclusion in the Register of Conventional Arms of information on exports and imports of small arms and light weapons. Many were frustrated at the “breakdown” in the disarmament machinery, tasked with advancing non-proliferation and disarmament.
As the session came to a close, its Chairperson, Mohan Pieris (Sri Lanka), said the world is on the brink of a third world war. With crises threatening millions, international security is at a low point in history, heightened tensions are eroding international cooperation, and the global order is at risk of rupture. He reminded diplomats that they are, first and foremost, men and women of peace, and pleaded with them to “reignite the torch of peace”.
The First Committee Bureau also is comprised of Szilvia Balazs (Hungary), Daniel Andreas Roethlin (Austria) and Juan Marcelo Zambrana Torrelio (Bolivia) as Vice-Chairs, and Nazim Khaldi (Algeria) as Rapporteur.
Developing countries are still “caught between a rock and a hard place” as they grapple with multidimensional crises including the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, financing gaps, poverty and climate change, speakers stressed as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) addressed those urgent issues during its seventy-seventh session.
Opening the Committee’s general debate on 3 October, Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said Committee outcomes and decisions must address the “great finance divide”. The world economic outlook has deteriorated markedly throughout 2022 with annual global output expected to rise between 2.5 and 2.8 per cent — sharply down from earlier projections. Many developing countries are still battling the pandemic, while high inflation, skyrocketing energy prices, rising borrowing costs and economic slowdown are stunting their growth. Noting that as many as 95 million more people were living in extreme poverty in 2022, he stressed that “we still need a global vaccination plan”. Developing countries still face multiple interrelated and mutually reinforcing crises, and the need for investments in the Sustainable Development Goals is rising. Citing the lack of inclusiveness in Internet access, he stated: “We must ‘flip the narrative’ towards a positive outcome for 2030, and we must start it now.”
Michael Kremer, Professor at the University of Chicago and co-recipient of the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, stressed that while innovation has the potential to help address current global challenges, fully realizing it will require the international community to create new social institutions to accelerate innovation and shape it to meet human needs. Emphasizing that the global cost of the pandemic has been estimated at $36 trillion, he stressed that this situation requires devoting resources to innovations that can reduce the risk of future pandemics or mitigate cost. The Assembly President urged the international community to reverse the trend of increasing inequalities, citing a massive financing gap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting that $4.3 trillion is needed per year to meet the Goals, he encouraged the Committee to develop strategies that will assist economies recover sustainably.
Echoing those concerns and expanding on others, delegates took up a list of issues ranging from the lingering effects of the pandemic and climate change, both of which have reversed gains against poverty, to the global food and fuel crisis spurred by the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine, with millions of people being driven into extreme poverty. Speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, Malawi’s representative pointed out that growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in many least developed countries is projected to fall below pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, recalling that more than half of the around 690 million people surviving on less than $1.90 a day live in those States. As development partners have failed to provide 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of their gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA) in the past 50 years, she urged the international community to fulfil such commitments’
Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that geopolitical tensions and the debilitating effects of climate change — including recent unprecedented floods — have heightened vulnerabilities of countries and people around the globe. With the 26 richest people owning half the world’s wealth, he called for immediately expanded concessional financing, reduced borrowing costs for developing countries and $500 billion in new special drawing rights. Speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda stressed that her bloc is stuck with economic and financial “long COVID”. Further, escalating climate change is an existential fight for survival. “Our once sailing ship to development is now losing momentum and on the verge of sinking,” she stated, voicing concern over a deeper regression to nationalism and protectionism.
Responding to concerns of poorer nations, developed countries highlighted their efforts to narrow the financial gap, fulfil promises made in international agreements and forge new pacts. They further stressed the importance of human rights in fulfilling development and environment goals. The representative of the United Kingdom noted that his country has worked with Governments and the private sector to mobilize up to £8 billion (about $8.5 billion) annually for economic growth, sustainable infrastructure and energy transition. The United Kingdom will “resist any attempt to roll back” from past agreements such as the Paris Agreement and support a new global biodiversity framework that aims to protect 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.
The United States’ delegate emphasized that economic growth and environmental well-being cannot come at the expense of human rights, also reaffirming support for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She further noted that her country is the largest provider of ODA, contributing $42 billion in 2021 to sustain development progress amid the pandemic.
As in previous years, the Committee also took up Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the Syrian Golan, with delegates affirming that Israel has escalated its use of force against the Palestinians, amounting to arbitrary deprivation of life. They also stressed that Israel has denied Palestinians access to their natural resources, including water, an estimated 1.5 billion barrels of oil reserves in the West Bank and more than $2.5 billion worth of natural gas off the Gaza coast. Addressing such concerns, the Committee approved 41 draft resolutions and 2 draft decisions, which were consequently adopted by the General Assembly. By the terms of one text, “Eradicating rural poverty to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the Assembly stressed the importance of taking targeted measures to eradicate poverty, including extreme poverty, by formulating rural development strategies with clear poverty-eradication goals.
By a further draft, “Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa”, the Assembly urged implementation of the Paris Agreement and took note of the Abidjan Call, which urges giving the highest priority to drought prevention, resilience, and accelerating implementation of existing national commitments towards achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030. The Committee also approved drafts on information and communications technologies; the international financial system; external debt; illicit financial flows; investments for sustainable development; disaster risk reduction; mountain development; least developed countries; industrial development; South-South cooperation; harmony with nature; and affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
The Second Committee Bureau comprised Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria) as Chair, with Ahmed Magdy Mohamed Rashad Abdelaal (Egypt), Abdulrahman Abdulaziz F. A. Al-thani (Qatar) and Vladamir Kurt Sean Budhu (Trinidad and Tobago) serving as Vice-Chairs and Francesca Cassar (Malta) as Rapporteur.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) recommended 51 draft resolutions — most without a vote — and one draft decision to the General Assembly during a busy eight-week session, as delegates grappled with a myriad of challenges facing the post-pandemic world, including global food insecurity and displacement exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. The Committee heard from a record number — 71 — of Special Procedure Mandate Holders and other experts. Progress was made on key issues, such as the rights of Indigenous Peoples, child, early and forced marriage, refugees, safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities and — by a new text — protecting children from sexual exploitation.
Painting a grim picture, David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, noted that pandemics and wars are devastating events, but they are transient distractions compared to the magnitude of extreme poverty, grotesque inequality and environmental catastrophes that threaten our future. “We are living in a climate emergency,” he asserted. Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, warned that by 2030, the unavoidable economic losses due to climate change are projected to reach $290-580 billion, while 3.3 billion people are living in countries with high human vulnerability to the phenomenon. Highlighting the disproportionate harm Indigenous Peoples suffer from toxic pollution, Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, said environmental violence inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples infringes on their rights to land, self-determination, and a healthy environment.
Amid spirited debate, the Committee approved a draft resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism by a recorded vote of 105 in favour to 52 against, with 15 abstentions, following the approval of an amendment to the draft — proposed by Australia, Japan, Liberia and North Macedonia — by a recorded vote of 63 in favour to 23 against, with 65 abstentions. Several delegates expressed concerns over Moscow’s attempt to exploit the pretext of combating neo-Nazism to justify its brutal war against Ukraine, with Ukraine’s delegate asserting that the draft has nothing in common with the genuine fight against Nazism and neo-Nazism. Echoing his concerns, the United Kingdom’s delegate stressed that the resolution is part of Moscow’s attempt to justify its aggression against Ukraine by distorting history. Australia’s delegate condemned Moscow’s weaponization of the Holocaust while the United States’ delegate called the resolution “a cynical attempt” of the Russian Federation to further its geopolitical aims by invoking World War Two. Meanwhile, several delegations — including the Russian Federation — disassociated from the amendment, which notes with alarm that the Russian Federation seeks to justify its territorial aggression against Ukraine on the purported basis of eliminating neo-Nazism. This politicizes the issue of elimination of racism, they said, while introducing a narrow, country-specific approach. Nicaragua’s delegate rejected politicization of the resolution, citing double standards, while the delegate of Belarus criticized the amendment as an attempt to erode memory of the victory over fascism.
On 1 November, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grande said the inability of the international community to prevent or resolve conflict continues to be the biggest driver of displacement. Currently 104 million people in the world are displaced, he cautioned, noting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to one of the fastest refugee crises since World War Two, forcing 14 million people from their homes. Spotlighting other crises, he pointed to 850,000 people displaced from conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, and more than 1 million people displaced in Myanmar since the military takeover. He also addressed climate-induced displacement in Pakistan, the horn of Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia, and the Middle East. The draft resolution on the High Commissioner’s Office — approved by consensus — would have the Assembly express deep concern at the increasing number of people who are forcibly displaced from conflict, persecution and climate, and stress the importance of responsibility sharing among States.
An undercurrent of dissension characterised the Committee’s consideration of drafts on the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi and Eritrea. Myanmar’s delegate endorsed the presentation of Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews and called for coordination to stop the junta’s reign of terror. In the same vein, Afghanistan’s delegate echoed Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett’s concerns about the multifaceted political and humanitarian crises resulting from the Taliban’s failure to meet its obligations. However, numerous delegates — including countries under discussion — rejected accusations raised against their Governments, citing politicization of human rights and double standards. Further, delegates from Iran and Syria stressed that the reports concerning their countries failed to consider the detrimental impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on their respective countries by the United States.
In other notable action, the Committee passed a draft resolution on the world drug problem by a recorded vote of 116 in favour to 9 against (Belarus, Cameroon, Iran, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Syria and Türkiye), with 45 abstentions. The text sparked controversy, as several delegates voiced concern that it bears no resemblance to the annual omnibus resolution, has become unbalanced, non‑comprehensive and limited in scope, with key elements lost and agreed language severely diluted. Moreover, they decried a lack of transparency in the negotiating process, noting that delegations were not provided with information on the draft’s status. Others, speaking in favour of the draft, welcomed the high importance the text places on a balance between criminal justice and international cooperation as well as the perspectives of victims.
This year’s Third Committee Bureau comprised Chair José Alfonso Blanco Conde (Dominican Republic), Vice-Chairs Almaha Mubarak Al-thani (Qatar), Marta Paulina Kaczmarska (Poland) and Stefano Venancio Guerra (Portugal), and Rapporteur Salini Gungaram (Mauritius).
Over the course of 26 formal meetings, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) discussed topics ranging from decolonization and Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to peacekeeping and the peaceful uses of outer space. It also considered the work of the Department of Global Communications and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. By the session’s conclusion on 11 November, the Committee recommended 34 draft resolutions and three draft decisions for adoption by the General Assembly.
The Committee’s consideration of decolonization — with the participation of 134 petitioners — saw a resurgence in the discussion on how best to ensure the right to self-determination. Stressing the need for genuine democratic processes, speakers pointed to new political developments in various Non-Self-Governing Territories, including a final independence referendum in New Caledonia in December 2021. While petitioner Naïa Wateou, speaking on behalf of the non-independentist political parties, said the referendums represented the freely expressed desire of New Caledonians to be part of the French Republic, Louis Mapou, President of the Government of that Territory, pointed to the low levels of participation and said that its credibility was tainted.
As in past years, the Committee heard several petitioners on the question of Western Sahara, with some of them renewing calls for a referendum to be held under the auspices of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Many criticized Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Prime Minister of Spain, for unilaterally recognizing the Moroccan nature of the Territory, saying it gave Morocco a carte blanche to continue human rights violations and to pillage natural resources. Other petitioners maintained that Frente POLISARIO remains a threat to regional security and that it is well-known for criminal activities and ties to terrorist groups. The recruitment of child solders in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria is a danger to North Africa and the entire Sahel region, the Committee heard, as many petitioners — including elected representatives of various Moroccan Saharan provinces — highlighted the need to reach a political solution based on Morocco’s 2006 autonomy initiative.
Calls for realistic mandates and improved regional partnerships dominated the Committee’s consideration of peacekeeping, as delegates hailed the strategic direction put forth by the Secretary-General’s A4P+ (Action for Peacekeeping Plus) initiative. Indonesia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), urged the Organization to make peacekeeping more fit for purpose and to ensure the full and effective participation of women in peacekeeping and peace processes. The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, expressed concern about the growing threat to peacekeepers posed by malicious actors, including mercenaries.
Briefing the Committee during its consideration of special political missions, Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, emphasized the role of special political missions in the Organization’s diplomatic toolbox. Morocco’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, whose member States host the majority of special political missions, acknowledged their vital role in advancing conflict prevention, mediation, good offices and peacebuilding, but also stressed the importance of respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all States. Egypt’s delegate echoed the Secretary-General’s call to diversify their funding sources, including through the creation of a special, extra-budgetary account.
Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), also briefed the Committee, appealing for more funds for the chronically underfunded Agency. As speakers took turns voicing support for UNRWA, they reiterated support for the two-State solution to resolve the question of Palestine. At the end of the session, the Committee approved draft resolutions through which the Assembly would renew UNRWA’s mandate for another three years and decide to consider a gradual increase in the United Nations regular budget allocation to the Agency. Following a debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Palestinian and other Arabs of occupied territories, the Committee also approved a text that would have the Assembly request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The “three Cs” — COVID-19, climate and conflict — have been at the heart of the United Nations’ communications efforts this year, Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, told the Committee during its debate on questions relating to information. The Department has activated its formal response procedures for crisis communications, led by a dedicated strategic planning capacity together with system-wide crisis cells when appropriate, including Ukraine and Haiti, and work will also begin soon on a global code of conduct on integrity in public information, she added. Delegates commended these efforts, while also reiterating long-standing appeals for increased multilingualism across the Organization’s communications and platforms.
The debate on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space saw many delegates from the Global South underscoring the ways in which space technology can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “Space activities are thriving while space actors are becoming more diverse and plural than ever before,” Omran Sharaf (United Arab Emirates), Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, said, calling for efforts to ensure sustainability of that resource. The Committee also held its annual joint ad hoc meeting with the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), during which Niklas Hedman, Acting Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, called on the international community to build sustainability on Earth through sustainability in space.
Alongside Committee Chair Mohamed Al Hassan (Oman), the Fourth Committee Bureau comprised Vice-Chairs Iason Kasselakis (Greece), Klemen Ponikvar (Slovenia) and Ray T. Sithole (South Africa), as well as María Noel Beretta Tassano (Uruguay), Rapporteur.
One day before a year-end deadline, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on 30 December sent the Assembly a 2023 budget of nearly $3.4 billion and sealed its 2019 decision to make the annual budget cycle a part of the United Nations financial framework. Pressured by the Assembly President and Fifth Committee Chair Philippe Kridelka (Belgium) seven days earlier to finish their crucial work before 2022 ended, the Committee approved nearly 20 resolutions and decisions meant to keep the Organization’s day-to-day operations running smoothly and maintain its core mandates of human rights, development and international peace and security. These texts included a 10-part draft decision that provided crucial funding for resolutions and decisions passed by the Assembly and its main committees.
As usual, financial and budgetary issues dominated the main part of the Committee’s seventy-seventh session as delegates used their opening day on 3 October to urge each other to pay their assessments in full to maintain the Organization’s financial stability and avert a liquidity crisis. The Assembly President sustained the theme the next day when he addressed the Committee for the first time and reminded them to transcend politics and put aside their differences to ensure the efficient management of the Organization’s resources. “Please focus on making decisions that will ultimately improve the management of this organization and provide concrete deliverables,” he said, before the Fifth Committee considered reports of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee. At their final meeting, Fifth Committee delegates passed resolutions approving the reports of these oversight bodies.
Presenting his budget proposal of $3.22 billion in mid-October, the Secretary-General said the move to an annual budget exercise improves the accuracy of resource estimates and lets the Organization adapt more quickly to mandate changes. It also gives Member States an opportunity to provide more frequent direction on resource allocations and align decisions with recent or sudden events, such as the global pandemic, he added. The next day Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, outlined a financial picture that was brighter than in recent years. In a semi-annual address that detailed the 2022 financial indicators for the regular budget, peacekeeping operations and the international tribunals, the United Nations top management official said structural changes approved by delegates at their second resumed session this summer had eased the need for spending restrictions. While this means the Organization can now focus on programme delivery instead of liquidity management, Ms. Pollard said senior managers will carefully monitor cash flows and reach out regularly to delegates to ensure cash shortages do not place operations at risk.
The Committee’s efforts to support the Human Rights Council with additional financial resources sparked heated discussion among delegates at their final meeting as well as at a meeting two weeks earlier. On 14 December, several delegates objected strongly to the Secretariat’s proposal to provide $21.44 million in additional funding in 2023 and 2024 for resolutions and decisions adopted by the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth, fiftieth and fifty-first regular sessions, and at its thirty-fourth special session. Labelling some of the Geneva-based Council’s investigations and subsequent resolutions politically motivated, several delegates said the extra spending is a waste of the Organization’s limited time and resources and defies the guiding principles laid out in the Assembly text that established the Council in 2006. On 30 December, the Committee approved the text “Special subjects relating to the proposed programme budget for 2023” that in Section XIV included two different appropriations — $51.23 million and $6.29 million — for the Council in 2023.
Troubled by the ongoing humanitarian cost of global food insecurity, Committee delegates on 8 December threw their support behind two initiatives — meant to keep food and fertilizers flowing to developing countries in 2023 — with a $10.9 million injection of funding. This funding was included in the same special subjects’ resolution under Section I. Earlier in the session, on 10 October, the Committee sent the Assembly a draft that would deliver up to $3.52 million to the Secretary-General in 2022 to ease global food insecurity. That resolution was one of four texts that the Committee approved before their final meeting. One resolution approved on 4 October let Comoros, Sao Tome Principe and Somalia keep voting this session despite their inability to pay minimum amounts of their assessments, while another resolution approved on 25 October helped deliver $131.35 million from the 2022 programme budget to run the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
On 15 November, the Committee sent the Assembly the draft decision “United Nations common system” that, among other issues, requested the Committee Chair to seek input from the Secretariat’s Office of Legal Affairs and organizations of the common system. At that meeting, the Committee also considered other proposals laid out by the Chair of the International Civil Service Commission, Larbi Djacta, as he presented the body’s annual report for 2022. Among his many proposals were a 2.28 per cent increase in the United Nations base/floor salary scale, effective 1 January 2023, based on the comparator’s salary movement. At its final meeting, the Committee sent the Assembly two more resolutions that will help Secretariat officials manage the Organization’s most valuable assets: thousands of employees around the globe.
During the session, the Committee also considered and then sent the Assembly resolutions that provided funds to keep the doors of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals open in 2023. The Committee also reviewed and provided funding for ongoing construction projects at United Nations offices around the world, including the improvement of conference facilities in Nairobi; the historic Africa Hall at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa; the retrofitting of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok; and the Strategic Heritage Plan of the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The Committee approved the Secretary-General’s request for nearly $767.1 million to keep more than three dozen special political missions operating in 2023 in Section V of the giant 23-page special subjects’ resolution. The review of funding arrangements for these missions was deferred until the main part of the Assembly’s seventy-eighth session. These missions, which are approved by the Security Council and/or the Assembly and include good offices and preventive diplomacy and post‑conflict peacebuilding efforts, consume nearly a quarter of the United Nations annual regular budget. As in past years, several delegates in October renewed calls for the creation of a separate budget to address these financial requirements.
The Fifth Committee held 25 sessions at Headquarters during the main part of its session. Among other issues considered, the Committee also sent the Assembly 28 nominations for appointments to six 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 five-member Independent Audit Advisory Committee and the United Nations Staff Pensions Committee, which helps administer the Joint Staff Pension Fund.
Alongside the Chair, Mr. Kridelka (Belgium), the Fifth Committee Bureau this session comprises Abdulla Ali Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed (Bahrain), Carlos Manuel Videche Guevara (Costa Rica) and Masotsha Mongezi Mnguni (South Africa) serving as Vice-Chairs, and Marinko Avramović (Bosnia and Herzegovina) as Rapporteur.
After the Sixth Committee (Legal) concluded its weeks-long consideration of the annual report of the International Law Commission, the Commission’s Chair stressed that only through open, honest communication can the international community arrive at — or at least approach — a determination of what constitutes a “good” Commission product. Noting the diversity of views expressed during the debate, he welcomed that, for the most part, positions were presented in a respectful, collegiate way that was “designed to build, rather than destroy”. Detailing his personal philosophy on international law, he emphasized that he has tried to break down the privileged position of some and raise the underprivileged position of others as much as possible “in pursuit of a more equal and just world order”.
Among several products considered, the Sixth Committee took up the Commission’s draft articles on the law of transboundary aquifers, with delegates underlining the importance of having legal instruments in place to govern such shared resources. Emphasizing that water lies at the heart of all development issues, the representative of Cameroon insisted that cooperation between States sharing an aquifer is critical. On that point, the representative of Brazil, also speaking for Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, said that such States have a responsibility to develop effective cooperation mechanisms for managing and using transboundary aquifers in an equitable, reasonable manner. To that end, the four countries signed the multilateral agreement on the transborder Guarani Aquifer — the first document of its kind and an example of strengthened cooperation and integration for the conservation and sustainable use of water resources.
Delegates also discussed the legal implications of rising sea levels and the phenomenon’s consequences for statehood, underscoring the importance of international cooperation and spotlighting the lack of a corresponding legal framework. While the delegate of Samoa said that the territories of Pacific small island developing States could be entirely submerged or depopulated due to climate change, the representative of Jamaica shared practical efforts her country undertook to fortify its coastline. Many speakers underscored the need to strengthen the framework for protecting persons affected by sea-level rise and to define potential legal effects resulting from the phenomenon.
Another environmental issue addressed by the Sixth Committee focused on the Commission’s set of draft principles on the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts, during and after an armed conflict, including in situations of occupation. During the debate delegates emphasized the relevance of the topic within the context of the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine, with Norway’s representative highlighting the impact on the environment through Russian strikes on chemical plants, refineries and pipelines. The representative of Algeria said that the legal instruments that govern this area are not sufficiently binding and lack harmony at the international level. However, the representative of Croatia noted that the International Law Commission’s draft principles are in line with existing rules of international law and provide an excellent and systemic overview of applicable rules.
In addition, the Sixth Committee grappled with the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction, as delegates discussed the principle’s relationship with national jurisdiction and cautioned against its misuse. The representative of Australia, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, said that, while universal jurisdiction can complement national legislation, a perpetrator’s State of nationality is in a better position to achieve justice. Jordan’s representative noted, however, that should such a State fail to do so due to inability or unwillingness, universal jurisdiction could potentially address this gap. The representative of Cuba, underscoring that the principle cannot be used to weaken respect for national jurisdiction, joined others in expressing concern over the principle being used in a unilateral, selective or politically motivated manner by courts in developed countries against nationals of developing ones. While observing that universal jurisdiction remains dependent on national law, Burkina Faso’s delegate asserted that the principle is the “last defence against barbarity”.
The Committee also took up the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, with many speakers expressing concern that bilateral political considerations have impacted the host country’s discharge of its duties under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. Some delegates spotlighted issues with visas, movement restrictions and other obstacles that only affect States with which the host country’s Government has political differences at the bilateral level. In this regard, the representative of the Russian Federation brought up the issue of systemic discrimination, underlining that the United States is deliberately abusing its position as host country. Against this backdrop, the delegate of the United States reported that the Host Country Section works countless hours to assist missions with an array of issues ranging from routine administrative questions to emergency situations. To ensure timely issuance, she encouraged all Member States to continue to apply for visas well in advance of their intended travel and refrain from applying for diplomatic visas to engage in unauthorized activities that are unrelated to United Nations business.
During its session, the Committee held its annual debate on the Organization’s flagship legal-education initiative, the Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law. Ghana’s representative in his capacity as Chair of the Advisory Committee recalled the challenges encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic that necessitated a remote, online format for regional programmes. He also underlined the importance of language diversity, different legal traditions and gender balance among the Programme’s participants. Highlighting the value of the Regional Courses, the representative of Sudan pointed out that they provide participants the opportunity to promote regional cooperation. Recognizing that those Courses allowed Colombian lawyers to build national capacity, that country’s delegate emphasized the need to increase the number of publications available in Spanish in the Audiovisual Library. The representatives of several African States highlighted the impact of the programme on the continent through the creation of a “cadre of lawyers” with hands-on understanding of international public law.
Another topic considered by the Committee was on criminal accountability for United Nations officials and experts on mission, with delegates highlighting the preventative role played by women peacekeepers and pre-deployment training. The representative of Nepal reported that his country increased the number of its women peacekeepers to help reduce cases of sexual exploitation and abuse on mission. However, the representative of the Netherlands pointed out that, while women peacekeepers play an important role in preventing such exploitation and abuse, by doing so they risk being subjected to the same themselves. To counter this risk, Bangladesh’s delegate highlighted his country’s pre-deployment training, which includes a briefing about possible repercussions for criminal activity — including sexual exploitation and abuse. The trainings also consider the unique cultural settings of different field missions. While the Sixth Committee approved the draft resolution on this topic at the end of its session, some delegations — including that of Canada — took issue with the resolution’s nature as a technical rollover. Speaking for a group of States and the European Union, the representative of that country stressed that consensus in the Committee should serve to promote dialogue and compromise, not be used as a tool to block meaningful progress.
As well, the Sixth Committee took up the annual report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), as the Commission finalized three legislative texts, including a draft convention on the international effects of judicial sales of ships and the Model Law on the Use and Cross-border Recognition of Identity Management and Trust Services. Delegates welcomed the adoption of the Model Law, which is the first legislative text to address the issue of digital identity on a global level to enhance cross-border e-commerce. Delegates also welcomed that the harmonized regime regarding the judicial sales of ships offers adequate legal certainty and protection for purchasers and complements other international instruments. The delegate of Singapore highlighted the importance of the convention in filling lacunae in this area. Against this backdrop, China’s delegate — noting that his country will host the signing ceremony in Beijing in 2023 — underscored that the document takes into full account the legislative and judicial practices of different countries and different legal systems.
Joan E. Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice, in the Court’s annual visit to the Sixth Committee, also underlined the need to take legislative and judicial practices of different countries and different legal systems into account when developing and codifying international law. Detailing the Court’s working methods, she noted that such methods are designed to do so in an effort to persuade States to place their trust in the “world court”. The Court’s institution of judges ad hoc allows each party to a case to be assured that there is someone in the room during the Court’s private deliberations who is especially attentive to that State’s interests and equities. She also spotlighted the Court’s role as one of first instance, noting that its approaches to questions of evidence reflect its desire to welcome approaches from the traditions of both common and civil law, leaving the Court free to develop its practices over time. In response to criticism regarding the speed of the Court’s deliberative process, she pointed out that all members must be given sufficient opportunity to exchange, debate and adjust their views based on those of colleagues for the Court to be a world court “not only in name, but also in fact”.
Chairing the Sixth Committee Bureau was Pedro Comissário Afonso (Mozambique), alongside Vice-Chairs Tzvety Kirilova Romanska (Bulgaria), Edgar Daniel Leal Matta (Guatemala), Anna Pála Sverrisdóttir (Iceland) and Rapporteur Sarah Zahirah Binti Ruhama (Malaysia).