With Planet ‘Under Siege’, Member States Must Safeguard Earth’s Natural Resources, Preserve Biodiversity, Says President, as Assembly Concludes Its General Debate
Climate Change ‘Defining Existential Challenge of Our Time’, Delegate Underlines
While small island developing countries have contributed the least to climate change, they are at the front lines of its repercussions, speakers in the General Assembly said today, as they concluded the annual high-level general debate by calling for a just and equitable multilateral system and a seat at the table for small States.
Since 19 September, Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers, took the rostrum, taking stock of the state of the world as the Assembly launched its seventy-eight session.
Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), Assembly President for the current session, delivered closing remarks, noting that, in the general debate, the organ heard from 136 Heads of State and Government, as well as 40 ministers, of which 20 were women.
Of the topics raised during the High-level Week, few were as frequent or as charged as that of the Ukraine war, he spotlighted, adding: “That this war is being perpetrated by a permanent member of the Security Council is unconscionable; that it has rekindled decades-old fears of the use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable”.
Moreover, he said calls to give undivided attention to other raging conflicts across the globe — including in Africa and the Middle East, as well as the deteriorating situation in Haiti — were also echoed loud and clear.
With the planet being “under siege”, embracing climate action means safeguarding the Earth’s natural resources, preserving biodiversity and ensuring equitable access to clean air and water for all, he asserted, urging Member States to approach the twenty-eighth UN Climate Change Conference in the spirit of unity and solidarity and deliver a transformative plan of action.
Ministers and delegates voiced their concerns about the myriad of crises threatening the planet, including climate change, biodiversity loss, migration and forced displacement, while others pointed out that the intensification of conflicts in many parts of the world — together with natural hazards — are compromising the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
“No individual State, even the most powerful or technologically advanced, has the capacity to face the global challenges on its own,” said San Marino’s delegate, sounding alarm over the increase of dangerous nuclear rhetoric and nuclear threats which “reinforce the image of a dark future instead of a sustainable one”.
Vanuatu’s delegate described climate change as the “defining existential challenge of our time”, which has set back decades of development progress, recalling that earlier in 2023, two cyclones hit his country with the total recovery needs estimated at 77 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). His country’s experience with cascading natural hazards led it to incorporate disaster risk reduction into its development plans, he said, calling for the reform of the international financial architecture.
In the same vein, Ahmed Khaleel, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, citing the climate crisis as “a threat to security, to development and human rights”, detailed his country’s ambitious climate action plan aimed at conserving and protecting parts of its ocean, marine species and corals. As a “large ocean” State, the Maldives has an intrinsic responsibility to protect this vast resource, he said, calling for the development of an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.
Echoing those concerns, Tandi Dorji, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, drew attention to increasingly frequent and ferocious natural hazards facing his country, including glacial lake outburst floods, flash floods, windstorms and landslides. Moreover, the loss of glaciers — one third of which will melt in Bhutan’s region by 2100 — will have numerous repercussions, such as the loss of water for agriculture and hydropower generation, depletion of natural resources and increased risk of disaster events and sea-level rise. Against this backdrop, he called for additional climate financing, including to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, meanwhile said that, in its journey towards peace, her country tackled “the twin-headed monster of crime and violence”, investing heavily in the security forces, technology and infrastructure. The use of forensics and new legislative tools are delivering results, she observed, highlighting the 22 per cent reduction in serious crimes since the start of 2023. However, “we cannot […] win this fight alone”, she stressed, noting that small island States with porous borders rely on global partnerships to combat trafficking in persons, arms and drugs.
SUBRAHMANYAM JAISHANKAR, Minister for External Affairs of India, acknowledged the “exceptional period of turmoil” that the world is currently witnessing and referred to the structural inequities and uneven development, especially in the Global South, which have been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts. “Resources for sustainable development are severely challenged”, he said, stressing that “navigating the future appears even more daunting”. Highlighting India's presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) and its vision of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, he noted that the New Delhi G20 Leaders’ Declaration reflects the intent to “bridge divides, dismantle barriers, and sow seeds of collaboration”, as was emphasized by India Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Regarding the G20 presidency, he underlined India’s initiative to convene the Voice of the Global South Summit, allowing 125 nations to express their concerns and place them on the G20 agenda. He also noted the admission of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20 — at India’s initiative — emphasizing the importance of broad representation. The outcomes of the New Delhi G20 Summit, he continued, will resonate for years, including through the Action Plan on Accelerating Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and the significance of Lifestyles for Sustainable Development (LiFE) and the Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future. Emphasizing India’s willingness to cooperate with diverse partners, such as the Quad in the Indo-Pacific, the expansion of the BRICS (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa) grouping, and the creation of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, he stated that “this willingness to work in an open-minded manner on specific domains is a defining characteristic of the emerging multipolar order”.
Turning to India’s aspiration to be a “leading power”, he said that his country is guided by a desire “to take on greater responsibility and make more contributions”, pointing to its development partnerships with 78 nations and significant support provided to several countries, including in emergency situations. Referencing India’s significant progress in poverty reduction and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he noted its innovative use of digital technology in public service delivery, emphasizing that technology has opened up opportunities and inspired innovation. He further called for a fair, equitable and democratic international order, expressing concern over issues like vaccine apartheid, climate action and the misuse of market power. Looking ahead to next year’s Summit of the Future, he emphasized the need “to champion fairness and reform multilateralism, including Security Council expansion”.
KAMINA JOHNSON SMITH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, said that, in its journey towards peace, her country tackled “the twin-headed monster of crime and violence”, investing heavily in the security forces, technology and infrastructure. Improved working conditions, increased mobility, use of forensics and new legislative tools are delivering results, she observed, highlighting the 22 per cent reduction in serious crimes since the start of 2023. However, “we cannot […] win this fight alone”, she stressed, noting that small island States with porous borders rely on global partnerships to combat trafficking in persons, arms and drugs. Jamaica does not manufacture guns or ammunition; countries that do and which serve as major consumers of drugs must do more in preventing their outflow and in fighting these elements of transnational organized crime, which have a massive impact on developing countries in the region. The war on drugs must be complemented and fought in parallel with the war on guns, she asserted, echoing the words of Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Turning to international peace and security, she called for an end to the war in Ukraine and urged parties to regional and civil wars to choose dialogue and coexistence over conflict. Moreover, all States must heed the call for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and refrain from the testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. Urging for international action to restore order and security in Haiti, she supported the call for a multinational security support mission to bolster the Haitian National Police in their efforts to vanquish ever-strengthening criminal gangs. Jamaica will contribute personnel to participate in such an effort, she said, calling for urgent adoption of a Security Council resolution authorizing a multinational security support mission in that country. Sounding the alarm over the suffering of ordinary Haitians, she said humanitarian support cannot be distributed in insecurity; hospitals cannot deliver care in insecurity; children cannot go to school in insecurity; and people cannot go to work in insecurity. “Rest assured that only chaos will reign if the international community remains distracted,” she said.
Highlighting Jamaica’s significant transformation over the last several years, fostering a vibrant, sustainable economy, she said that, from farm roads to bridges and highways, from wind turbines to solar panels, from fibre optics to satellite connectivity, increased investment in infrastructure is playing a pivotal role. In 2023, Jamaica achieved its lowest unemployment rate on record at 4.5 per cent. Fiscal responsibility and prudent economic management have been central to the country’s achievements: the Government paid down the country’s debt, expanded revenue by including more people in the formal economy and improved tax collection. Furthermore, Jamaica has led global efforts to reform the international financial architecture and improve access to affordable financing for development, including climate finance. She also welcomed the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which will catalyse action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. On the residual impact of the immorality of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, she said “justice and accountability are long overdue”, calling for the international recognition of reparatory justice as a necessary path to complete healing, restoration of dignity and progress for people of African descent.
TANDI DORJI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, declared that his country is ready to work constructively on preparing the Summit of the Future and developing the Global Digital Compact. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s stimulus to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, he spotlighted that his country’s development is based on gross national happiness — a holistic guiding philosophy aligned with the 2030 Agenda. In this manner, Bhutan is on track to meet the stated targets as well as graduate from the list of least developed countries in 2023. This is the result of strong and benevolent leadership, hard work of citizens and, most of all, generous assistance from development partners, he pointed out. To ensure a smooth, sustainable and irreversible graduation, Bhutan adopted the thirteenth five-year national development plan and hopes that the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action will gain universal support.
On climate change, he expressed concern that his country has also been affected by increasingly frequent and ferocious natural hazards, including glacial lake outburst floods, flash floods, windstorms and landslides. Such occurrences will continue to negatively impact people’s livelihoods and hard-earned development gains, he lamented. Further, the loss of glaciers — one third of which will melt in Bhutan’s region by 2100 — will have numerous repercussions. Among them are the loss of water for agriculture and hydropower generation, depletion of natural resources, increased risk of disaster events and sea-level rise, which could trigger coastal erosion, floods and permanent land submersion, he detailed. In light of this, he reiterated Bhutan’s commitment to carbon neutrality and fulfilment of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Welcoming the agreement on a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries, he called for additional climate financing, including to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
On international peace and security, he recalled that since 2014, his country has contributed troops and police towards United Nations peacekeeping operations. In this vein, he announced that Bhutan deployed its first uniformed contingent in November 2022 to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). It has also pledged an integrated formed police unit and is ready to deploy it upon the Organization’s request. Advocating for the reform of the Organization and its Security Council, he emphasized that the latter should give permanent seats to India, Japan and an African Union country as well as expand the number of its non-permanent members. Regarding internal affairs, he informed that his Government has enacted several reforms to enhance public services, accelerate the economy and sustain the development progress. Bhutan thus became the first country in the world to adopt a legal framework for implementing self-sovereign identity.
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cameroon, said that the international community has mobilized itself to reach consensus on several major challenges including climate and sustainable development. Africa is gradually implementing its own 2063 Agenda and other Africa-wide agreements to achieve peace and security, good governance and shared prosperity for all. Despite these efforts, the expected accomplishments are yet to appear. “Why is that,” he asked, underscoring the insufficient means to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. Developed countries have not lived up to their official development assistance (ODA) pledges. The institutions and mechanisms, meant to promote peace, security and development, are not as relevant as they used to be because of the growing complexity of today’s world.
Member States must resolve conflicts through dialogue, promote a renewed global financial architecture and “work endlessly” to seek equitable development, he emphasized. “We need to act together to reform the Security Council to give the countries of the South, and in particular African countries, equitable representation,” he continued. Africa is the only continent that has not had permanent representation on the Council. Meanwhile, two thirds of the Council’s activities take place on the continent. “It is an injustice that needs to be rectified,” he stressed, calling for two permanent posts and three non-permanent posts for Africa on the Council.
As a pioneer in operationalizing the African Continental Free Trade Area, Cameroon has passed all the needed reforms for economic and social development and good governance based on decentralization, he went on to say. In the security area, fighting Boko Haram is something Cameroon continues to prioritize together with regional partners. The outcome of these efforts can already be seen on the ground even as Cameroon recognizes that additional efforts must be made. Peace and prosperity are gradually returning throughout the country despite episodic outbreaks of violence and hostage taking. The effective implementation of the President’s guidelines on development is key. “Certainly these efforts will not be in vain,” he added. The world is changing fast, he continued, calling for solidarity among nations.
STANLEY KAKUBO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Zambia, said that the cost of war, be it in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or in the heart of Sudan, or between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, has at its best led to the displacement of innocent women and children, and at worst led to the demise of many. “Humanity must win the war against war. Neither must we lose the race to save our planet,” he emphasized. Urging to guarantee access to cheaper and fair financing for nations burdened with debt, he said that international financial institutions and multilateral development banks should scale up concessional financing to least developed countries and this financing should be under improved terms of lending. “In fact, Africa bears the heaviest burden of these crippling capital costs,” he stressed, commending France and other partners for successfully hosting the summit for a new global financial pact in Paris in June 2023, as well as the official creditor committee of the G20 for reaching an important agreement to restructure Zambia’s significant debt burden. He also called for the reform of the international financial architecture to develop such critical sectors as renewable energy, social protection, health care, quality education, food security systems, resilient infrastructure, artificial intelligence and information technology.
“There is a need to scale up partnerships and collaboration so that we can have a unified effort in strengthening the inclusiveness and effectiveness of international tax cooperation for the world to combat illicit financial flows,” he said, also reiterating the need to honour the annual $100 billion pledge for climate finance, with greater emphasis on adaptation. He also called for leveraging the transformative capabilities of digital technology, especially artificial intelligence, adding: “Imagine using AI [artificial intelligence] to deliver lifesaving medicines to that seemingly forgotten grandmother in a village in Africa or the grand transformation we can achieve in harnessing the fertile soils of Zambia using the technology of precision irrigation.”
Turning to the empowerment of women and girls, he stressed that his country will continue to enhance collaboration in preventing and wiping out the scourge of early and child marriages. He also reported about the historic abolishment of the death penalty in Zambia and the end of the criminal offence of defamation of its President. “In 2021, our economy achieved a commendable growth rate of 4.7 per cent from a contraction of 2.8 per cent in 2020, and in 2022 the economy demonstrated resilience and maintained a positive growth of 3.7 per cent,” he said, also highlighting the reduction of inflation to 9.9 per cent in 2022.
PAUL RICHARD GALLAGHER, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations for the Holy See, repeated the words of Pope Francis, who said that “the current conflict in Ukraine has made all the more evident the crisis that has long affected the multilateral system, which needs a profound rethinking if it is to respond adequately to the challenges of our time.” He noted a marked tendency by States to impose their own ideas and agenda, calling for dialogue, shared responsibility and cooperation, each in the pursuit of the common good. “Thus, a real reform of the United Nations must favour a reversal of the current priorities, making the UN truly fit for purpose and reviving coordination among States,” he emphasized. Stressing that the conflict in Ukraine has been instrumental to bringing back the elevated threat of nuclear escalation into the discussion, he said that “the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is, today more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings, but against any possible future for our common home”, while the mere possession itself of nuclear weapons is also immoral.
Turning to the expanding digital galaxy and specifically artificial intelligence, he urged to engage in serious ethical reflection on the use and integration of supercomputer systems and processes in peoples’ daily lives. “This is valid in all situations, also in the development of use of lethal autonomous weapons systems,” he noted, adding that the Holy See supports the establishment of an international organization for artificial intelligence. New technologies should be used to mitigate the planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, and the urgency of acting now to safeguard the world, he said.
Recalling the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he highlighted the unborn, who are denied the right to come into the world, and violence against Christians, which is on the rise not only in those countries where they are a minority. “Amid natural disasters, severe food security problems and political instability, causing anguish, hardship and uncertainty about the future, the Russian attack on Ukraine remains one of the most painful and bleeding wounds, which instead of healing is widening and deepening,” he stressed. He commended the admirable, ever-renewed commitment of many countries to help battered Ukraine defend its people and its territory but added that this has not been accompanied by an equal effort to find ways in which the confrontation can be overcome. He also described the situations in Syria and Sudan as greatly worrying, urged for dialogue in Nicaragua and stressed the need for talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia. He expressed serious concern about Jerusalem, appealing to the Israelis and Palestinians to open up to sincere dialogue.
BASSAM SABBAGH, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Syria, underscored the need to a build a new multipolar world order that achieves a balance in international relations, including through reforming international institutions such as the Security Council. “The policies of creative chaos adopted by successive American Administrations in our region to serve their geopolitical and selfish interests have led to destabilization and insecurity,” he added. The United States has spent billions of dollars to demolish and destroy development achievements made over decades and contributed to the emergence of a phenomenon of extremism and terrorism. Any illegal military presence on the territory of a sovereign State is a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations. Israel’s occupation of the Arab lands in Palestine and the Syrian Golan is a heinous and systematic violation of the Charter.
Syria will exercise its legitimate right to defend its land and people “by all necessary means” and to ensure that the Israeli occupation authorities are held accountable for all their crimes, he continued. Syria has spared no effort to stand alongside the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle to regain their legitimate rights, especially the right to establish statehood, he stressed. This year has witnessed a dangerous escalation of Israeli criminal practices. Syria denounces continued support for Israel’s practices. Moreover, the United States and Türkiye continue to violate Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by insisting on their illegal military presence on Syrian lands, and supporting separatist militias and terrorist organizations, he continued. The systematic American plunder of the Syrian people’s national wealth, such as oil and gas, has deprived his country of its resources.
“Our latest statistics show that the total value of direct and indirect losses caused to the oil sector in Syria has exceeded $150 billion,” he said. The United Nations is obligated to hold these States accountable and ask them to return this looted money to Damascus. “Syria was one of the most stable and prosperous countries in the world,” he said. Noting action taken by the Government to address the impact of the recent Syrian earthquake, he also touched on several steps Damascus has taken to welcome back refugees. Furthermore, he reaffirmed Syria’s support for the right of the Russian Federation to protect its national security; commended Iran’s approach to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; expressed support to the “one China” principle; condemned the economic blockade imposed on Cuba; and called for an end to the military action and exercises conducted by the United States on the Korean Peninsula.
AHMED KHALEEL, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, said addressing multifaceted challenges — from ongoing and new conflicts to pandemics, climate change to food insecurities, gender-based inequalities to intolerance — requires recommitting to the values of peace, progress and sustainability. To this end, small States deserve a seat at the table, he said, adding: “We have the most to gain from multilateralism — and indeed, the most to lose.” A fair, just and equitable multilateral system also requires the revitalization of the United Nations as a whole. At the forefront of this revitalization is the much‑needed reform of the Security Council.
He further underscored the need to confront the climate crisis: warming beyond 1.5°C will lead to catastrophic ecological loss, causing severe damage to our lives and livelihoods. Citing the climate crisis as “a threat to security, to development and human rights”, he said domestically, the Maldives will continue to display strong and ambitious climate action. His country is conserving and protecting parts of its ocean, marine species and corals, while taking concrete steps to phase out single-use plastics. “At the upcoming COP28 (twenty-eighth UN Climate Change Conference), we must all raise climate ambition, to secure our future, for the future,” he declared, underlining the need to close the gap between ambition and implementation. A definitive road map to reduce emissions — in line with the Paris Agreement’s main goals — is crucial. Given the intrinsic link between climate and the ocean, it is crucial to protect this vast and important resource. As a “large ocean State”, the Maldives has an intrinsic responsibility to protect the ocean and its marine resources. Accordingly, he called for the development of an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.
Having identified that physical and digital connectivity can accelerate the Maldives’s achievement of the 2030 Agenda, his Government has established an Integrated National Public Ferry Network, which connects the country’s widely dispersed islands to one another. It is also undergoing a digital revolution, with the proliferation of online education, telemedicine and e-payment systems. These efforts are, in turn, supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises — the backbone of his country’s economy. He also called for the necessary liquidity support for small island developing States to facilitate a recovery that addresses the scale of the debt burden exacerbated by the pandemic. “The answer lies with the early adoption and use of the multidimensional vulnerability index,” he asserted. Turning to terrorism and violent extremism which “transcends borders”, he said “it has no single face or faith”. He also condemned the repeated and public acts of the desecration of the holy Qur’an in some European countries, noting that such acts cannot be justified under the guise of freedom of speech and expression.
DENIS RONALDO MONCADA COLINDRES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, recalling times of domination and interference, declared that: “We are living moments of the extinction of the imperialist, colonialist model of looting and genocide whose greed has impacted nature and our world.” Nicaragua thus continues to fight for freedom and truth that cannot be concealed, demanding respectful cooperation, solidarity and human fraternity. Expressing hope that the “new world” can be just, peaceful, secure and prosperous, he lamented that the nature of the United Nations has been distorted. In this context, calling for full compliance with international law, he urged the Organization to enforce the 1986 ruling of the International Court of Justice that awarded Nicaragua reparations from the United States. While this would not restore lost lives, it could help rebuild economic, social and cultural infrastructure of the country, he underscored.
He went on to denounce aggressive, interventionist, arbitrary and unjust policies that use unilateral, illegal, illegitimate, destabilizing and destructive warlike methods to impose changes of Governments, emphasizing that such methods have cost millions of lives and caused unprecedented migration flows. He thus expressed solidarity with those that have suffered thereunder — Palestinians, Syrians, Saharawis and Eritreans, as well as people “in struggle” in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “We are the peoples and countries that resist and fight the blockades, the economic warfare and the systematic and permanent intervention in the social, cultural, economic and political life,” he stated. Further, he named Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Bolivia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Belarus, Russian Federation and Iran as friendly countries deserving solidarity in their undertakings.
The Russian Federation has stood for peace and security, defending the world from the growing threat of empires, he claimed, praising that China has demonstrated how solidarity and respectful cooperation can create a community of “common destiny”. In addition, he urged the United Nations system to return to its founding and fundamental values. Welcoming the agreements reached at the recent Summit of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China in Cuba, he also drew attention to the recent enlargement of BRICS (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China, South Africa) that, in his view, represents new forces in the battle for economic and financial sovereignty. On technological development, Nicaragua advocates for an inclusive, rational and beneficial approach that prevents the abuse of any advancements. In closing, he described a world free of wars, chemical and nuclear weapons, fraud, ignorance, arrogance, apathy, depression and impositions — “to recover the goodness and strength of this planet that we share”.
SONG KIM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) acknowledged the global success in ending the public health emergency of COVID-19 but highlighted the ongoing sociopolitical instability caused by the pandemic. Expressing concern over confrontation and bloc-forming by some UN members, he stressed the importance of defending multilateralism and promoting unity and cooperation based on international law and fundamental principles, all of which are equally crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He further emphasized his country’s commitment to self-reliance and balanced economic growth, while underscoring the Government’s efforts to provide modern housing and dairy products to its citizens, address climate change and enhance disaster resilience. Describing 2023 as “an extremely dangerous year” for the military security situation in and around the Korean Peninsula, he cited the challenges posed by the United States and its allies. He criticized them for their actions, including joint military exercises and the formation of a tripartite military alliance. In response, he announced Pyongyang’s intention to accelerate the build-up of its self-defence capabilities to “firmly defend the national sovereignty, security interests and well-being” of his country. Turning to recent discussion in the Security Council regarding Pyongyang’s satellite launch and human rights issues, he urged that organ to observe the principles of objectivity, impartiality and equity.
MARC HERMANNE GNINADOOU ARABA (Benin) said that over the past seven years his country has been implementing major reforms linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. “The efforts made allowed us to go from a growth rate of 4 per cent in 2016 to 7.6 per cent in 2019,” he stressed, adding that his Government has put in place measures aimed at eliminating poverty and strengthening human capital, including urbanization and urban sanitation, access to energy and potable water, education and health care. Recalling the successful organization in January 2023 of free and transparent legislative elections, he said: “It is no secret that, politically speaking, the West African subregion is grappling with political instabilities and governance problems and the security threat has intensified in several countries, due to the combined action of terrorism, violent extremism and piracy.” Resolving these problems requires subregional and international cooperation, as well as an ongoing commitment to sustainable development and democracy, he noted, highlighting the alarming effects of climate change, the war in Ukraine and the political upheaval in certain countries. “The United Nations must remain for the people of the planet a beacon of hope, solidarity and humanism and we must preserve it at all costs and strengthen it,” he stated, urging for the overhauling of the three pillars: the United Nations, the multilateral trading system and the global financial architecture.
DAMIANO BELEFFI (San Marino) said the crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, migration and forced displacement are threatening the planet, while the intensification of conflicts in many parts of the world, together with natural hazards, are causing human suffering and compromising the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. “No individual State, even the most powerful or technologically advanced, has the capacity to face the global challenges on its own,” he asserted. He voiced deep concern about the number and the scale of armed conflicts across the globe, which cause immense suffering to millions of civilians, and about the alarming increase of dangerous nuclear rhetoric and nuclear threats, which “reinforce the image of a dark future instead of a sustainable one”. The war of aggression against Ukraine brought dramatic consequences for the civilian population, including death, destruction of vital infrastructures and massive displacement, he pointed out, calling for a just peace in that country. Noting the dramatic impact of armed conflicts around the globe on the lives of millions, he sounded the alarm over the unprecedented food and nutrition crisis. The protection of civilian infrastructure is key to ensure food security in times of conflict. He voiced particular concern about the high number of grave violations against children, spotlighting the devastating impact of armed conflicts on their fundamental rights. Accordingly, he firmly condemned attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as their use for military purposes. Also disturbing is the substantial increase in the recruitment and use of child soldiers. He further underscored the need to address the challenges posed by climate change through ambitious mitigation, adaptation and implementation of the loss and damage agenda and an adequate climate finance agenda.
ROBERT RAE (Canada) drew attention to the critical state of “the health of our planet, our people, our institutions and global economy” and urged collective action to “address them in their totality, recognizing their interconnectedness”. Highlighting Canada’s efforts in breaking down gender barriers, he stressed the importance of letting people be themselves and acknowledged that Canada has found “strength in diversity, purpose in equity and unity in inclusion”. He reiterated Canada’s commitment to carbon pricing and green finance and noted its pledge to donate a significant portion of its special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to aid other countries. Regarding the migration crisis at the Darien Gap, he pointed out the inadequacy of funding for humanitarian needs and called for political solutions that respect human dignity, rights and support economic development. He emphasized the intricate relationship between gender equality and democracy, asserting that sustainable economic growth hinges on empowering women and ensuring their full participation. Turning to the deteriorating situation in Haiti, he stressed the need for inclusive political dialogue. He also expressed Canada’s support for more equitable representation of developing countries in the Security Council and endorsed the idea of self-restriction of the veto power by its permanent members. On Ukraine, he welcomed the indictments by the International Criminal Court against Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights and expressed Canada’s commitment to explore every measure to support Kyiv as it continues to defend itself.
ODO TEVI (Vanuatu) said that climate change is the “defining existential challenge of our time” and has set back decades of development progress. “While our countries are the smallest contributors to global climate change, we find ourselves on the front lines of the crisis,” he added. Earlier in 2023, two cyclones hit Vanuatu with the total recovery needs estimated at 77 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Vanuatu’s experience with cascading natural hazards has urged the need to incorporate disaster risk reduction in its development plans. COVID‑19 has also placed considerable pressure on the country’s economy. The tourism industry was hit hard. Strengthening regional and international cooperation and coordination at the highest levels will help prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics and other emergencies. Moreover, all financial sources must contribute towards significant, rapid and exponential scaling up of investments towards the Sustainable Development Goals. “The reform of the international financial architecture to respond to the global challenges is therefore very crucial,” he added.
OMAR HILAL (Morocco), recalling the recent earthquake to strike his country, detailed his nation’s efforts aimed at addressing its consequences. To finance the reconstruction as well as social and economic development of affected areas over the next five years, $12 billion was allocated. Morocco also has a new development model that is in line with the 2030 Agenda. To promote women’s and family rights, the Personal Status Code is currently being reviewed, he informed. Further, he drew attention to the General Assembly resolution — tabled by Morocco and adopted by consensus — on deploring violence against sacred books. Turning to the “Moroccan Sahara”, his country remains committed to a political solution to this “fabricated regional conflict”. There is no alternative to autonomy within Morocco’s territory, he declared. On regional issues, he expressed support for international efforts to reach a permanent political settlement in Libya and for an independent Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
DENNIS FRANCIS (Trinidad and Tobago), President of the General Assembly, noting progress made by Member States in pursuing his call “to act together, in solidarity”, praised a record number of Heads of State and Government, ministers and civil society voices speaking at the United Nations. Referencing organization of the Platform of Women Leaders, he went on to highlight the importance of women’s voices and rights, emphasizing the need for investment in education, particularly for girls, to ensure inclusivity and to leave no one behind. Commending the delivery of several major political declarations, he pointed out as “a remarkable win” the steps made to scale up sustainable development progress. “This speaks to the continued relevance of the General Assembly and the commitment by the United Nations to deliver peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability to the peoples of our world,” he added, stressing the importance of translating declarations into tangible actions, particularly in the context of financing for development and reforming the international financial architecture.
The Ukraine war was a frequent topic during the general debate, he said, noting that “the international community is clear that political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected and violence must end.” He also emphasized the urgency of addressing nuclear proliferation and promoting denuclearization. Voicing concern about other conflicts in various regions, from Africa to the Middle East and the deteriorating situation in Haiti, he pledged to facilitate peace and friendship dialogues between nations or groups in conflict. On climate change, he urged Member States to approach the twenty-eighth UN Climate Change Conference with unity and solidarity and welcomed the recent summit of Pacific island leaders and United States President Joseph Biden, as well as other events on climate mobility and sea-level rise. In conclusion, he emphasized that global challenges require a collective response and a focus on creating a sustainable world, urging Member States to prepare for the Summit of the Future and define international cooperation amid multidimensional risks. “We have it within us today to heal our divisions, find integrated solutions that reflect our universal values and commitments, and usher in a brighter tomorrow,” he said, expressing confidence in the ability of Member States to address these challenges together, “as one United Nations”.
Right of Reply
The representative of Guyana, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responding to statement by Venezuela on 23 September, stated: “The intelligence of the international community should not be insulted by Venezuela’s allegation that Guyana is allowing its territory to be used as a platform for military aggression against any State, including the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” While Venezuela claims two thirds of Guyana’s territory, Georgetown has acted in relation to Venezuela in full accordance with international law and has consistently invited it to do the same, she said. “In particular, Guyana urges Venezuela to confirm its adherence to the judicial processes of the International Court of Justice in the matter of Venezuela’s basic contention regarding the border between our two countries,” she stressed, reminding that the 1996 Geneva Agreement is a binding legal instrument that provides for the settlement.
The representative of Belize said that assertions made by Guatemala’s representative are completely baseless and false. The truth is that Guatemalans, on a daily basis, encroach on Belizean territory, deforesting protected areas, cultivating illegal drugs, poaching endangered species and looting Mayan artifacts. These activities are contrary to international law and good neighbourliness. The Government of Belize restates its long-standing position that the boundaries between the two countries were settled by the 1859 boundary convention between the United Kingdom and Guatemala. Belize renews its commitment to maintaining good relations with Guatemala, to resolving issues along the border in accordance with the agreed confidence-building measures, and to the peaceful, final and just settlement of Guatemala’s claim to Belizean territory at the International Court of Justice.
The representative of Japan, referring to the Government’s decision to release wastewater on 24 August, stated that the discharge was safe and that it will never allow any discharge that would adversely affect human health or the environment. In this respect, Japan is implementing three types of monitoring and has issued a comprehensive report, while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded that the radiological impact on humans is legible and the level of tritium in the discharged water are far below standard.
The representative of Azerbaijan characterized Armenia’s allegations as fundamentally flawed, emphasizing its adherence to international law and the Charter of the United Nations in responding to Yerevan’s unlawful use of force. He noted his country’s proactive approach to peace, including extending the hand of reconciliation and initiating the normalization process with Armenia, underscoring international support for these efforts, and criticized Yerevan’s actions, which allegedly obstructed dialogue and promoted “violent ethnic separatism”. Regarding recent developments, he explained his country’s counter-terrorism measures as a legitimate response to armed provocations and mine terrorism by Armenian forces on Azerbaijan’s soil. He refuted claims of large-scale offensive actions, emphasizing their focus on military targets and minimizing civilian casualties, while highlighting ongoing efforts in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, along with humanitarian initiatives.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that it is deeply regrettable that the General Assembly has to hear Pyongyang repeat groundless, illogical and absurd allegations “again and again and again”. “Do you really believe, as DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] claims, that the Republic of Korea, together with the United States, conspires to provoke nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, without reason?” he asked. As a “responsible Government”, it is “our duty to protect the lives and safety of our people” from Pyongyang’s military threats. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country in the world to have conducted nuclear tests in the twenty-first century. It is openly threatening a preemptive nuclear attack against the Republic of Korea. The Security Council is justified in this case in addressing the human rights situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The representative of Algeria, responding to Morocco’s delegate, expressing solidarity with Rabat following the recent earthquake, advocated for the liberation of the people of Western Sahara who, in his view, still live under colonial domination. Based on its own experience, Algeria has chosen the camp of justice, self-determination and human rights, he stated. Calling for a free and transparent referendum on self-determination of the Saharawi people, he regretted that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been prevented from organizing it. “The autonomy proposal has so far convinced nobody,” he claimed. Further, he emphasized that Algeria is not a party to the conflict — it was Morocco and Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) that negotiated the ceasefire as well as the beginning of the organization of the referendum.
The representative of Morocco stated that Algeria’s delegate should have stayed silent rather than expressing condolences. “We cannot shed crocodile tears and at the same time attack a country that is still going through a tragedy,” he underscored. For 50 years, Algeria has kept saying that is not a party to the conflict in the “Moroccan Sahara”, he observed, wondering why Algeria took the floor if this is the case. He pointed out that the Security Council has not spoken about a referendum for nearly 23 years, stating that there will never be a partition of Western Sahara. Asking why Algeria refuses to participate in the round tables referred to in Council resolutions, he accused the neighbouring country of undermining Moroccan unity by arming “a separatist movement which has connections with international terrorism”. In this manner, Algeria went against good-neighbourly relations and peaceful resolution of disputes, he argued.
The representative of Armenia, responding to Baku’s statement, condemned “a new wave of violence in the region caused by Azerbaijan’s aggression”, referring to a catastrophic humanitarian toll resulting from that country’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh on 19 September. He accused Azerbaijan of premeditating and well-planning the attack, citing a massive build-up of Azerbaijani armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders. He went on to criticize Azerbaijan for a disinformation campaign and alleged that Baku was using the UN General Assembly platform to frame its aggression as a counter-terrorism operation. He further argued that Azerbaijan had consistently violated international law and expressed concerns about the acute risks of crimes against the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, emphasizing the need for the international community, including the United Nations, to hold “the perpetrator accountable”.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, responding to the Republic of Korea, stated: “At present, due to the increasingly disguised hostile policy of the United States and confrontational manner of [Republic of Korea] force, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is coming closer to the possible outbreak of a turmoil nuclear war.” He referred to the frequent joint military exercises by the United States and the Republic of Korea that mobilized all sorts of nuclear assets, such as nuclear aircraft carriers, submarines and bombers. “We will resolutely and decisively respond to any threats to the [our] national security,” he stressed, also describing Japan’s discharge of nuclear contaminated water as a crime against humanity.
The representative of Guatemala, responding to Belize’s statement, underscored that his country’s foreign policy is based on good faith and strict respect of international law. He pointed to the reports of the Organization of American States (OAS) that testify to the promotion of peace by both Governments, highlighting the joint efforts of the countries’ armed forces in combating drug trafficking. Guatemala has been victim of radical groups violating its territorial integrity and sovereignty, he stated, noting that Guatemalan citizens died in Belize uprisings. At the same time, the actions of Guatemalan soldiers have never affected peace. In this vein, he reiterated his country’s commitment to continue cooperating with the Belize Government and subject itself to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to settle disputes between the two States.
The representative of Algeria said that he would have preferred Morocco’s delegate to address the question of Western Sahara instead of speaking about Algeria. It is a duty of his country to support the fight for freedom of numerous peoples, he stated, reiterating that Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa. He also pointed out that the agreement on the delimitation of borders between Morocco and Mauritania partitions Western Sahara. Turning to the terrorism accusations concerning Frente POLISARIO, he noted that liberation movements throughout history, including the National Liberation Front of Algeria, have always been accused of terrorism. Nevertheless, the Secretary-General recently met with the leader of Frente POLISARIO, he emphasized.
The representative of Azerbaijan denied allegations of atrocity crimes and ethnic cleansing and characterized the statement by Armenia’s representative as filled with disinformation and unfounded accusations. He stated that his country is reintegrating ethnic Armenian residents of the Nagorno-Karabakh region as equal citizens, citing constitutional and international support. He claimed to be providing humanitarian assistance to those who choose to stay, denying any violence or intimidation. He went on to accuse Armenia of making groundless allegations to hide its own mistakes and crimes and expressed its determination to promote post-conflict peace, reconciliation and development in the region.
The representative of Japan reiterated her Government’s intentions to transparently communicate its efforts to the international community, underscoring readiness to engage in a discussion grounded in scientific evidence within a suitable forum.
The representative of Morocco recalled that Algeria rejects the resolutions of the Security Council. What will Algeria do when its own resolutions are rejected, he asked. There is no place on the Security Council for countries that reject or are in violation of and do not uphold the 15-member organ’s resolutions. Morocco is looking forward to seeing the “attitude” of the Algerian delegation when it takes its place as a non-permanent member on the Council. Algeria is quite fortunate due to the principle of rotation. Because, if there were not a principle of rotation, Algeria would never have a seat on the Council. “They haven’t even sent a single soldier to peacekeeping forces,” he said.
The representative of Armenia said that a lack of accountability for past crimes against Armenians has helped elevate anti-Armenian sentiment to the level of State policy in Azerbaijan. To this date, Azerbaijan has not taken any measure to bring those responsible for anti-Armenian hate crimes to justice. Already more than 28,000 forcibly displaced persons have entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh in recent days. “And this mass displacement continues right now as we speak,” he added. What is happening now is nothing less than the final stage of a pre-planned ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh of its Armenian population by Azerbaijan. Armenia will continue to appeal to the United Nations and its agencies to protect the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and to hold Azerbaijan accountable of crimes.