Secretary-General Urges Statesmanship to End Geopolitical Deadlock, Warning Humanity ‘Ever Closer to a Great Fracture’, at Opening of Annual General Assembly Session
Concerned by Climate Crisis, Overstretched Humanitarian System, Heightened Arms Race, World Leaders Appeal for Bold Action Focused on Reaching Development Targets
The international community “seems incapable of coming together” to respond to intensifying crises, pushing the multilateral system into dysfunction and deadlock in a more fragmented world, the United Nations Secretary-General warned this September at the annual high-level General Assembly debate.
António Guterres told Heads of State and Government that the only way out of the current global state of spiralling geopolitical tensions is through multilateralism. He emphasized that leaders must return to the principles upon which the UN was established, saying that humanity is creeping “ever closer to a great fracture”. The world needs more “statesmanship, not gamesmanship and gridlock”, he declared.
He highlighted the misery that the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine has unleashed and expressed deep concern that nuclear disarmament is currently at a standstill. Across the Sahel, a series of coups is destabilizing the region while terrorism gains ground. Meanwhile, the global humanitarian system is on the verge of collapse. The world has much to do. For one, it must phase out coal, oil, and gas, with developed countries and emerging economies reaching net zero in the next several decades. “We cannot effectively address problems as they are if institutions don’t reflect the world as it is,” the Secretary-General stressed.
Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), President of the General Assembly’s seventy-eighth session, similarly called on Heads of State and Government to come together to address war, climate change, debt, poverty, and famine. “These crises are directly impacting the lives and well-being of billions of people around the world,” he stressed. On Ukraine, he expressed concern over the continued violation of that country’s territorial integrity, stressing: “We all want this war to end”. Further, speaking as a citizen of a climate-vulnerable region, he emphasized that Member States must deliver concrete results. “We do not lack capacity,” he said, adding: “What we lack is the will to act.”
In concluding remarks on the final day of the high-level debate on 26 September, Mr. Francis observed that the Assembly had heard from 136 Heads of State and Government, as well as 40 ministers, of which 20 were women. Noting progress made by Member States in pursuing his call “to act together, in solidarity”, he praised a record number of voices speaking at the UN. “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 added.
With the seventy-eighth session’s theme “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all” as a backdrop, Heads of State and Government expressed their worries and delineated their key areas of focus in striving to achieve development targets. Many reiterated the Secretary-General’s appeals for collaborative measures to tackle the most pressing global crises, as they underscored that many challenges they face have intensified and grown more complex in recent years.
Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States, said that there is hope; the world’s overwhelming challenges can be resolved. Deep wounds can heal if the international community stands together and recognizes the commonality of humanity. He pledged that his country would continue to work to ensure that everyone has access to health care, the environment is protected, and conflicts are resolved peacefully. “We know that our future is bound to yours,” he told the 193-member body as he recalled decades of remarkable progress. “We avoided the renewal of a global conflict while lifting more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty,” he said. Expressing support for Ukraine, he said that the Russian Federation alone stands in the way of peace, and urged those present to “stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow”.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, speaking in the General Assembly Hall for the first time since the war in Ukraine began, said that hatred, when weaponized against one nation, never stops there. Each decade the Russian Federation has started a new war. Pointing out that parts of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova remain occupied, he said that Moscow “has almost swallowed Belarus” and is threatening Kazakhstan and the Baltic States. Many seats in the Hall “may become empty if Russia succeeds with its treachery”, he warned.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, speaking several days later on 26 September, recalled how the West had committed to providing developing countries with $100 billion annually to finance climate-mitigation programmes. These broken promises should be compared with the amounts that the United States and its allies have sent to Kyiv — “an estimated $170 billion since February 2022”. Noting the assurances given to Moscow regarding the non-expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he called the West an “empire of lies”. A new world order is emerging and organizations like BRICS (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa) are gaining relevance while the United States continues to instigate conflicts to divide humanity.
Several Heads of State and Government during the week-long debate expressed profound concern that powerful countries are pushing closer to the brink of nuclear conflict. They worried that mounting distrust and divisions are corroding the bedrock of international cooperation. The world is on a concerning trajectory as it emerges from the most significant health emergency in a century amid deepening conflicts. A fractured global economy, skyrocketing food and fuel costs, a looming climate crisis and heightened arms races are leading to widespread feelings of disillusionment and cynicism among their citizenry, they warned.
Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, said that for the first time in several generations, the world faces the very real possibility of conflict between major Powers. “The stakes for all of us are simply too high,” she said. International rule of law and the United Nations Charter must mean something. “Playing politics with innocent lives is cruel and immoral,” she stressed.
Han Zheng, Vice-President of China, said that nuclear war must be avoided. He called on the international community to make global governance more just and equitable. China opposes hegemony, power politics, unilateralism, and a cold war mentality. China “will never practice hegemony” and is firm in supporting the international system with the UN at its core, he further pledged.
Speakers used the high-level gathering as an opportunity to critique the current stagnant state of multilateralism, pointing the finger at the fumbling inaction of the UN, and particularly the Security Council, which, they said, had failed to act to preserve international peace and security.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Türkiye, said that the Council has ceased to be the guarantor of global security — instead, it has become a battleground for five countries. “The world is bigger than five and a fairer world is possible,” he said. The war in Ukraine must end through diplomacy. “We have been endeavouring to keep both our Russian and Ukrainian friends around the table with a thesis that war has no winners and peace will have no losers,” he emphasized.
Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of Iran, said that Western hegemony “no longer resonates with the realities of today’s world” and that the former liberal order has been “relegated to obsolescence”. East-West divides should not be permitted. Making trade corridors unsafe, stifling economic progress and fomenting proxy wars are actions that are ironically conducted in the name of Western democracy but are “nothing more than a velvet glove hiding a cast-iron hand”, he added.
Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, echoing concerns regarding the Security Council, said that the African people do not understand the double standards of the 15-member body. This is particularly true in the forgotten Western Sahara, or Mozambique, the victim of deadly terrorist attacks. For its part, his Government has called for moving up the withdrawal deadline of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) from December 2024 to December 2023. It is time for Kinshasa to take full control of its destiny, he said.
Numerous other Heads of State and Government emphasized the need to address out-of-control economic disparities plaguing countless people around the globe. Specifically, leaders of African nations took to the podium to underscore that Africa continues to suffer from mass inequality. The world, especially wealthy and powerful countries, must acknowledge that the continent’s present-day economic and social woes relate to historical injustices, they said.
Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, stressed that ongoing threats to Africa’s constitutional stability are signs of deeper problems, ranging from past and present injustices to the burdens of poverty, widespread unemployment, and discrimination. “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development isn’t merely an outline; it is a solemn pact we've entered,” he said. “We must lift our people from poverty.”
Hage G. Geingob, President of Namibia, underscored what he called the “terrifying” gap between the wealthy and the marginalized. Stressing the need to “end vaccine apartheid”, he urged world leader to remove intellectual property barriers and called for stronger commitments from wealthy nations on investments in manufacturing to enable vaccine production in the Global South.
Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil, echoing a similar sentiment, underscored the importance of reducing inequality by including the poor in Government budgets and making the rich pay taxes proportional to their wealth. It is alarming that global military spending totalled $2 trillion in 2022, with nuclear spending reaching $83 billion — 20 times that of the regular UN budget, he also pointed out.
There was no shortage of Heads of State and Government who spoke out on the urgent need to tackle climate change, as small island developing States and other countries in danger of climate change risk stressed that the scourge is the most pressing of all emergencies. No meaningful climate action can take place in conditions of financial distress, they also said, calling for improvements to be made in technical and financial partnerships between the have and have-nots.
Russ Kun, President of Nauru, said that the adverse impacts of climate change are no longer a “future” problem. The global community must expedite measures to keep a 1.5ºC limit to temperature rise within reach. He went on to say that Nauru, as the smallest UN Member State, wonders: “Will only the strong survive, or will we work to ensure that no one is left behind?”
Wesley Simina, President of the Federated States of Micronesia, implored all parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change — particularly major emitters — to commit to emissions reductions of at least half by 2030 and peg their net-zero goals no later than 2050. Eliminating methane and hydrofluorocarbon emissions, as well as other short-lived climate pollutants from industrial products and activities, could reduce global warming by at least 0.5°C, he said.
Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of Malawi, like several other speakers vocalizing ways to make the global economy even keeled, called for debt cancellation. “That’s a decision you can make today so that the money being drained by servicing debts can go towards rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals, businesses and livelihoods,” he emphasized. The world also needs to come together to begin pondering what a development paradigm beyond 2030 looks like.
As the General Assembly high-level debate continued, additional speakers seized the opportunity to bring attention to the difficult circumstances faced by people enduring prolonged periods of conflict, displacement, and a lack of access to human rights.
Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, King of Jordan, said that refugees make up over one third of his country’s 11 million people. Cuts to aid programmes have already thrown the lives of hundreds of thousands of those refugees into uncertainty. But Jordan’s case is a microcosm of the entire Middle East region, which, he warned, will continue to suffer until the world “helps lift the shadow” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “Without clarity on where Palestinians’ future lies, it will be impossible to converge on a political solution to this conflict,” he emphasized.
Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister for International Development of Norway, speaking on the dire situation of so many in Afghanistan, said that Oslo has engaged the de facto authorities in Kabul to help address the dire human rights situation for women and girls, “who are being deprived of education and a future”. She went on to stress that “societies prosper when women and girls participate on an equal footing”. The global community should “be concerned that standards are slipping in many places”, she said, urging: “This has to stop.”
During high-level opening week, the Assembly also held several side events, including on 18 September a two-day Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit, where Heads of State and Government and high representatives adopted a Political Declaration, reaffirming their commitment to end poverty and hunger, combat inequalities within and among countries, and build peaceful societies.
The Secretary-General, addressing the opening segment, said that the “SDGs need a global rescue plan”. Welcoming the endorsement by the Political Declaration of the need to reform the outdated, dysfunctional, and unfair international financial architecture, he stressed that “this can be a game-changer in accelerating SDG progress”. Assembly President Francis said that “with concerted, ambitious action, it is still possible that, by 2030, we could lift 124 million additional people out of poverty and ensure that some 113 million fewer people are malnourished”.
Justin Pierre James Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and Co-Chair of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocates group, giving keynote remarks, said that nearly 50 per cent of SDG targets are moderately or severely off track. But “it’s just halftime — we can do this,” he told those present, adding: “The future is expecting us all to meet this moment”.
The General Assembly also held an event on universal health coverage on 21 September, with Member States endorsing a Political Declaration proclaiming that every human being has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Member States recognized that universal health coverage is fundamental to achieving the SDGs, not only those related to health and well-being, but also those related to poverty eradication, access to education, gender equality and building inclusive societies.
Speaking at that event, the Assembly President stated that every year millions of people fall into poverty because of the cost of their health care. “Health and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin,” he stressed. Also at the event, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that 4.5 billion people are not covered by essential health services. This forces many of them to choose between buying medicine or food.
On 20 September, in a first-ever General Assembly high-level meeting on pandemic preparedness, Heads of State and Government adopted a Political Declaration calling for stronger international coordination to better prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics. The Assembly committed to working to make access to pandemic-related products — such as vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics — timely and equitable, while calling on the WHO to coordinate this with relevant partners.
Opening the day-long debate — convened under the theme “Making the world safer: Creating and maintaining political momentum and solidarity for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response” — the Assembly President said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies and health systems would last for years to come. “The reality is that we simply lacked preparation and responsiveness,” he added. COVID-19 had revealed that many developing countries were not able to care for their sick and organize work and education remotely.
In the Political Declaration, Member States expressed concern about “glaring inequalities” in access to vaccines against COVID-19, noting that in December 2022, 22 per cent of people in low-income countries were fully vaccinated compared with 75 per cent in high-income countries. Concerned by the hoarding of vaccines in rich countries while the populations of poor ones are left behind, United Nations Under-Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed called for preventing such a situation by implementing the recommendations spelled out in the Political Declaration.
The General Assembly opened its seventy-eighth session on 5 September, with its newly elected President, Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), calling on Member States to commit to advancing the causes of peace, prosperity and sustainability in the face of a world beset by a series of cascading challenges.
In his opening address, he warned of the sharp geopolitical divides that have led “to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty” and encouraged the Assembly to ensure its efforts are anchored in a robust multilateral system. Amid questions about whether the Security Council can fulfil its mandate, the Assembly’s veto initiative is a welcome innovation towards greater transparency and accountability, he observed.
The Sustainable Development Goals Summit will set the tone for the rest of the session, with States having to come together on the three major health-related goals: tuberculosis eradication; pandemic prevention, preparedness and response; and universal health coverage, he said. With a global population set to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, it is imperative to transition to a mode of producing, consuming and living in equilibrium with all people, species and ecosystems, he added. “The ‘future we want’ requires a pre-emptive nurturing of nature,” he stressed, calling for a high-level week and sessions agenda ensuring “that each of these gatherings culminates in meaningful, transformative outcomes. That must be our modus operandi.”
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, welcoming the incoming Assembly President on behalf of the Secretary-General, said Mr. Francis’s skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom will be essential amidst the deep challenge and division that is testing the United Nations. “Despite profound global challenges, this is not a moment for pessimism. This is a moment for action,” she stressed, urging action for peace and human rights, as well as rescuing the Global Goals, tackling climate change and expanding economic opportunity, especially for women and young people.
On 8 September, the Assembly adopted its work programme for the session, deciding to include a range of new items on its agenda, among them the “Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction” — a historic maritime biodiversity treaty adopted on 19 June by the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction.
The Assembly further decided to include the “Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte”, “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, “Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction”, “Report on the activities of the Ethics Office”, “Observer status for the International Parliamentarians’ Congress in the General Assembly” and “Observer status for the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture in the General Assembly”.
Following the Assembly’s decision to include the item “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” on its agenda, the representative of the Russian Federation said her country distances itself from the consensus on the report of the General Committee with respect to the recommendation to include that item on the organ’s agenda, which was adopted by the Committee by a vote by a minority of its members.
The Assembly decided to defer consideration of the agenda item “Question of the Malagasy islands of Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europa and Bassas da India” to its seventy-ninth session and to include it in the provisional agenda of that session.
After the Russian Federations veto to renew certain Security Council measures in Mali, the Assembly met on 11 September to consider the consequences for stability in that country. The Assembly President said that, against the backdrop of rising insecurity and political and humanitarian crises in Mali, the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation “remains the only framework for achieving peace and stability” and urged Member States to recommit to negotiations.
In the ensuing debate, held under the Assembly’s standing mandate to convene within 10 working days of a veto being cast in the Council, many Member States expressed concern over its use, particularly in the context of the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Others, however, underlined the need to respect Bamako’s wishes.
The representative of the Russian Federation, explaining his delegation’s use of the veto, advocated against endless automatic extensions of sanctions regimes and noted that such measures should be reviewed regularly to see if they reflect the situation on the ground.
The Assembly began its main session on 29 September, endorsing a political declaration adopted by world leaders on 18 September during high-level week, reaffirming a commitment to lift millions out of poverty and fight extreme hunger as pledged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the Assembly, speakers were divided over language in the wide-ranging 10-page document which acknowledges that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in peril. Cuba’s delegate called the absence of a reference to unilateral coercive measures a “major shortcoming”. However, several speakers welcomed the Declaration’s endorsement by consensus, with the representative of the United Kingdom noting that there are just seven years to go before the 2030 target year.
Adopting three declarations on 5 October, the Assembly committed to tackling several major global health challenges. By the terms of the text, the Assembly pledged to scale up efforts to strengthen regional and international cooperation on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, and making access to pandemic-related products such as vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics more timely, sustainable and equitable. Through a declaration on universal health coverage, the Assembly vouched to bolster efforts to achieve the health-related Goals and universal health coverage by 2030. A third declaration, on tuberculosis, laid out commitments to increase international cooperation to advance research and innovation.
On 10 October, the Assembly elected 15 Member States to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council by secret ballot. The new members included Albania, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malawi and the Netherlands. All 15 members will serve three-year terms beginning on 1 January 2024.
Stressing the importance of finding a path to peace through sustainable development, the Assembly on 16 October debated the causes of conflict on the world’s second-largest continent. More than a dozen delegates spoke of the importance of helping African countries realize the SDGs while combating violence and lawlessness, with several speakers expressing a need for reform of the international financial system to alleviate Africa’s crushing debt burden. “If given the opportunity and with support from the international community, the continent would be indeed unstoppable,” said the Assembly President in his opening remarks, noting the severe debt crisis translates into the loss of $500 to $600 billion annually, more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of 35 African countries combined.
On 18 October, the Assembly heard from the first-ever female President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Graciela Gatti Santana, who told delegates that while the Mechanism has reached a critical juncture, the conclusion of its in-court activity “does not mean we are closing down”. The entity will keep fulfilling its many mandated functions, including supervising the enforcement of sentences, tracking remaining fugitives, and responding to national requests for assistance, she said. In the ensuing discussion, many speakers underscored the crucial role played by the Mechanism and the tribunals in holding perpetrators of the most serious crimes accountable and bringing justice to victims.
During the Tenth Emergency Special Session on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” on 26 October, the Assembly President condemned the killing of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians and urged all parties to abide by international law and immediately allow for aid to access the Gaza Strip. Denouncing Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October and rejecting the taking of hostages, he said the brutality of the assault is shocking and unacceptable and has no place in our world. However, “the right of self-defence does not — and cannot — lawfully give license to undertake indiscriminate and disproportionate reprisal,” he added and expressed regret over the killing of UN personnel in Gaza.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine called for a cessation of the bombing of Gaza, questioning how some Member States could defend the war. “This is barbarism,” he said. “Stop it for all those whose lives we can still save.” Hospitals have turned into morgues, and doctors and patients wonder if help is on the way, he said, describing the confusion and fear of those ordered to evacuate. “What choices do you make as a parent when there are only impossible choices, when death is everywhere?” he asked.
The representative of Israel said the 7 October massacre and what ensued has nothing to do with the Palestinians or the Arab-Israeli conflict. “It is the law-abiding Israel against modern-day Nazis,” he said, adding that his country is at war with Hamas, which has one goal: to annihilate Israel and murder all Jews. Barbaric Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from “the sea, the land and the air” with one purpose: to savagely murder every person they encountered, he said.
Also on that day, the Assembly heard from Joan E. Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, who said that the growing docket reflects a wide variety of legal disputes involving countries from every region of the world and questions concerning all of humanity. She detailed several cases, including one involving the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in which Canada and the Netherlands filed a joint application against Syria, and one instituted by Ukraine regarding the Russian Federation on allegations of genocide and violations of the related Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The following day, in a continuation of the Emergency Special Session, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate, sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities and demanding the unhindered provision of essential aid to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip.
By a recorded vote of 120 in favour to 14 against, with 45 abstentions, the Assembly adopted the resolution titled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations”, demanding that all parties immediately and fully comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law. The Assembly failed to unequivocally reject and condemn the terrorist attacks by Hamas on 7 October by a recorded vote of 88 in favour to 55 against, with 23 abstentions.
The representative of Israel said the United Nations, founded in the wake of the Holocaust, “no longer holds even one ounce of legitimacy or relevance”. Israel just endured the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust but has no right to defend itself, according to a majority of the so-called “Family of Nations”, he said. “Why are you defending terrorists that deliberately beheaded children and abducted babies?” he added. “Why are you not holding Hamas accountable?”
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine expressed gratitude to all the countries that voted for the draft resolution tabled by Jordan and co-sponsored by 46 countries, saying it proved that the international community has not abandoned the Palestinian people in their darkest hours. The adoption of the resolution was a message that most of the world stands with the people in Gaza, which is becoming a graveyard. “Do not let this happen,” he said. “Listen to your conscience.”
Presenting the Assembly with the annual report from the International Criminal Court on 30 October, its President, Piotr Hofmański, described unacceptable and unprecedented threats and attacks by the Russian Federation. That country placed the Court’s Prosecutor, six judges and Mr. Hofmański on a wanted list for criminal prosecution in reaction to the Court’s two arrest warrants related to the situation in Ukraine for the alleged unlawful deportation of the population and the unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. Threatening behaviour and recent cyberattacks against the Court’s information systems will not stop the Court from carrying out its mandate, independently and impartially, he said. He also announced a major milestone: the first completion of court-ordered reparations in the Katanga case, concerning crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2003, with reparations delivered through the Trust Fund for Victims to several hundred people.
As the Assembly continued the emergency session on the situation in the Middle East the following day, many Member States made urgent calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and the provision of adequate aid to civilians in Gaza. The delegate of Yemen said the failure of the international community to stop the war is a “moral” one. “What happened on 7 October 2023 is the result of continued Israeli occupation over the course of 75 years,” he said. A just and comprehensive peace is the only way to end this conflict and establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian State based on the borders of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. “Without this solution, the region will know no stability,” he warned.
Also on that day, Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council, told delegates that the Council’s growing workload reflects the importance and relevance of its work. Presenting the Organ’s annual report, he detailed some of the work done this past year, including the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate alleged human rights violations in Iran related to the protests that began in September 2022. Regarding the human rights situation in Haiti, Mr. Bálek said that, following a request from the authorities there, the Council adopted a resolution to provide aid and capacity-building.
Turning to country-specific resolutions, he reaffirmed the Council’s recommendation that the Assembly submit reports from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to the Security Council for appropriate action and that, similarly, regarding human rights in Myanmar, the Assembly submit the reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur to relevant United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, for consideration and appropriate action. He also noted the alarming rise in public acts of religious hatred such as desecration of the Qur’an in Europe and elsewhere.
As the Assembly’s emergency session on the situation in the Middle East entered its fourth day on 1 November, Member States mourned the thousands of children killed in Gaza and repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and for more humanitarian aid to reach civilians. “Does the world still believe that what has been unfolding is in self-defence?”, asked Kuwait’s delegate, noting that, on the day delegates voted to challenge the atrocities committed by the Israeli occupation forces, the ground invasion of Gaza began.
“We recall with heavy hearts that boys and girls are half the population of Gaza and have lived their entire lives in a zone under constant conflict and siege,” said the representative of El Salvador. “Many ask themselves: ‘Where is the United Nations?’”, she said, calling for immediate action by the Security Council. Echoing that point, Lesotho’s delegate said the Council’s repeated failure to pass a definitive resolution on the conflict erodes the confidence of citizens around the world in the United Nations.
Also on that day, the Assembly began its annual debate on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”, with an overwhelming number of Member States underscoring the embargo’s detrimental and long-lasting consequences for Cuba. Many cited the Secretary-General’s report saying the blockade has impacted Cuba’s overall human development and recalling that for 30 years, the Assembly has urged the United States to lift the embargo and allow Cuba to join the international community on equal economic and financial footing.
In the afternoon, the Assembly resumed its discussion on the International Criminal Court, adopting by a recorded vote of 115 in favour to 6 against (Belarus, Mali, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria, Togo), with 31 abstentions, the resolution titled “Report of the International Criminal Court”, which calls on States parties to the Rome Statute — the global pact that created the International Criminal Court at a conference in Rome in 1998 — that haven’t yet adopted national legislation to implement obligations emanating from the Statute to do so and to cooperate with the Court. By other terms, the Assembly called upon States not yet party to the Rome Statute to consider ratifying, accepting or acceding to it without delay.
The following day, the Assembly concluded its debate of the Cuba embargo and adopted its annual resolution calling for an end to the United States-led sanctions, with speakers stressing the urgency of that action considering the global economic fallout from the COVID‑19 pandemic, and the need to meet the Global Goals. Some representatives raised concerns about the additionally damaging effects of the United States’ inclusion of Cuba on its list of State sponsors of terrorism. By a recorded vote of 187 in favour to 2 against (United States, Israel), with 1 abstention (Ukraine), the Assembly adopted the resolution titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. It was the thirty-first time the United Nations voted to end the embargo.
The Assembly also concluded its emergency session on the situation in the Middle East, with many States condemning Israel’s bombardments of Gaza and demanding a humanitarian ceasefire and others continuing to call for the release of hostages and expressing regret that the 193-member body was unable to condemn Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel.
Continuing its annual debate of the International Court of Justice on 3 November, Member States reiterated their profound trust in the Court’s integrity, independence and expertise with speakers pointing out that the Court’s expanding caseload demonstrates its growing significance. Many Member States commended the so-called “World Court” for the key role it plays in ensuring the peaceful settlement of disputes and in clarifying the rules of international law, praising the Court for keeping up with its growing workload.
On 7 November, as debate concluded for the session on the reports of the International Court of Justice and the Human Rights Council, several speakers pointed out that the work of the two bodies has never been more important, given the worsening conflicts and alleged human rights and international law violations. Several States expressed hope the Court would look at Israel’s possible violations of international law. The Indonesian representative said it is disheartening to see some of the UN’s founders not upholding international law, warning that the world is heading towards an “international law abyss” with more rampant violations.
The following day, during the Assembly’s annual consideration of the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Assembly heard from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Agency’s Director General, who presented the annual report, containing a resolution titled “Report of the International Atomic Energy Agency”, later adopted by the Assembly. Concerning Ukraine, he detailed IAEA’s presence at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, saying IAEA conducted nine in-person missions to Ukraine in 2022 and facilitated the delivery of safety equipment to help prevent a nuclear disaster. These efforts culminated in an agreement that led to a continuous IAEA presence at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. “The bottom line is that nuclear power plants should not become part of the theatre of war,” he said.
On Iran, he said IAEA verification and monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have been seriously affected by that country’s decision in February 2021 to stop implementing them, including the Additional Protocol. This was exacerbated in June 2022 by Iran’s decision to remove all the IAEA’s monitoring equipment previously installed in the country. Iran must resolve the IAEA’s questions concerning traces of man-made uranium identified at three undeclared locations, he said. On the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he noted that the IAEA monitors that country’s nuclear programme from outside its borders. The continuation of its nuclear programme is a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable, he said.
On 9 November, meeting concurrently with the Security Council, the Assembly elected five new judges for the International Court of Justice in The Hague to begin their term 6 February 2024. Bogdan-Lucian Aurescu (Romania), Hilary Charlesworth (Australia), Sarah Hull Cleveland (United States), Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo Verduzco (Mexico) and Dire Tladi (South Africa) were elected by secret ballot, receiving an absolute majority of votes by the 193-member Assembly. To ensure a degree of continuity, 5 of the Court’s 15 judges are elected every three years with judges eligible for re-election.
During a debate about revitalizing the work of the Assembly, its President said that many people feel “intense frustration and disillusionment” amid growing conflict and economic uncertainty and that revitalization of the UN’s most democratic body is a political undertaking that requires commitment and courage to find solutions that transcend “business as usual” and address the world’s complex challenges.
On 14 November, the Assembly took up the Economic and Social Council’s report and heard from the Council’s President, Lachezara Stoeva, who said that during the 2023 high-level political forum, countries expressed deep concern that the Goals are “severely off-track”, with progress slow, stalled or reversed. “As we look for transformative pathways to achieve the SDGs, humanitarian emergencies keep pulling us back,” she warned. During that meeting, the Assembly also concluded its consideration of the resolutions regarding revitalization of its work.
Two days later, the Assembly considered reform of the Security Council and during the annual debate on how to reform the 15-nation organ, speakers reiterated calls to make the Council more representative, transparent and accountable to address the most serious threats to international peace and security. Noting that the issue of its reform has been on the Assembly’s agenda for 44 years, speakers differed on the best approach, with some delegates highlighting the need for more inclusive and representative membership and others arguing for limiting the use of the veto.
During this meeting, Assembly also appointed or reappointed members to five of its subsidiary bodies, on the recommendation of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary): the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), the Committee on Contributions, the Investments Committee, the Independent Audit Advisory Committee and the Board of Auditors.
Concluding the debate on Council reform the following day, the Assembly heard from several who stressed that unfair and outdated rules and processes are not relevant in today’s world and paralyse the Council from taking meaningful action. Ukraine’s delegate said that it is inappropriate that permanent members have the privilege of the veto in situations in which that country is directly involved as a party to conflict. The veto “should not serve as a weapon of hatred and war”. The representative of the Russian Federation countered that the veto has on more than one occasion saved the UN from being “drawn into dubious adventures”.
On 20 November, the Assembly filled vacancies in the Committee for Programme and Coordination and in the Committee on Conferences. The Assembly also adopted the draft resolution titled “Commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia”, calling for the consistent involvement of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in further strengthening activities of the Special Programme.
The following day, in an unusual move, the Assembly voted on a draft resolution, normally adopted by consensus, on sport as an enabler for sustainable development. Having called for the recorded vote on the resolution titled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”, the Russian Federation’s delegate expressed grave disappointment at the International Olympic Committee’s decision to bar Russian athletes from participating. By a recorded vote of 118 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (Russian Federation, Syria), the Assembly adopted the text.
During a day-long meeting on the question of Palestine on 28 November, the Assembly President said the only viable solution to break the cycle of conflict and suffering is through a two-State solution in line with the relevant resolutions. “We are struck by the horror of what is happening now,” said Senegal’s speaker, referring to the bloodshed in Gaza.
Introducing the annual report of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Malaysia’s representative, the Committee’s Vice-Chair, said the text calls on Israel to reverse its ongoing annexations, demolitions, settlement expansions and forced displacement of Palestinians. It also urges Israel to halt its punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority and to protect Palestinian civilians, including from Israeli settler violence, and the General Assembly and Security Council to ensure implementation of long-standing parameters for peace.
The Israeli delegate said the systematic bias weaponized against her country at the United Nations is based on a false narrative, which enables and encourages hatred and violence, calling the Committee’s work a “textbook definition of antisemitism”. The Assembly also adopted a draft resolution titled “The Syrian Golan” demanding that Israel withdraws from the occupied Syrian Golan and resume talks on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, and respect commitments reached during previous talks.
The following day, during its annual debate on global health, the Assembly designated 7 September as World Duchenne Awareness Day, to be observed as a United Nations day every year, beginning in 2024. Over a dozen speakers also debated best practices to fight tuberculosis, noting its increase during the COVID‑19 pandemic, when resources were diverted to fighting the coronavirus.
On 4 December, the Assembly acted on the recommendations of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and adopted 62 resolutions and decisions, 41 by recorded vote — including many which required several rounds of voting — as delegates contested with a strained nuclear non-proliferation regime, unpredictable geopolitical context and complex challenges to peace, compliance and prohibited weapons’ use. All sought to bolster a deteriorating global security situation amid growing threats posed by, among others, the use of nuclear and other mass destruction weapons and misuse of information and communications technologies.
The same day, the Assembly, highlighting the cumulative pressures on the world’s waters, adopted the draft resolution “Oceans and the law of the sea”, reaffirming the vital importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea and recognizing the crucial role of international cooperation in combating threats to maritime security. By other terms of the text, the Assembly noted with concern the impacts of climate change on the ocean and cryosphere to which low-lying islands are especially exposed. The 193-member Assembly also adopted by consensus a resolution titled “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”.
On 7 December, acting on the recommendations of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and Sixth Committee (Legal), the Assembly today adopted a total of 50 resolutions and 13 decisions on items ranging from decolonization and the question of Palestine to the work of the International Legal Commission and restrictions on United Nations staff members from certain missions.
The following day, the Assembly adopted three resolutions to strengthen its beleaguered relief system which struggles to aid millions of people in need, with many speakers voicing grave concern about the effects of ongoing conflicts, political instability and the effects of climate change. Spain’s delegate, introducing the resolution “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel” on behalf of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the UN’s humanitarian staff operate in an increasingly volatile environment at enormous personal risk. “We have a moral duty to mitigate the risk that they are facing,” she said.
By the terms of the text, the Assembly reaffirmed the principles of its landmark resolution 46/182 of December 1991 and strongly urged all States to ensure the safety of humanitarian and United Nations personnel, to respect the inviolability of UN premises, and to take stronger action to ensure crimes against humanitarian and UN personnel are investigated fully and effectively. The delegate of the Russian Federation introduced two amendments to that resolution, arguing for the removal of paragraphs concerning the International Criminal Court, an instrument of political pressure and a “slave for Western donors”, he said. The amendments did not pass.
In adopting the 20-page resolution titled “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”, the Assembly asked the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator to strengthen coordination and accountability within the humanitarian response system, and the Secretary-General to strengthen support provided to coordinators and country teams. Adopting the draft resolution titled “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, the Assembly stressed the need to ensure that international responses to natural disasters are tailored to the local context.
The Assembly also adopted a resolution titled “Assistance to the Palestinian People”, with many delegates noting the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza. By the terms of the resolution “Assistance to the Palestinian People”, the Assembly stressed that a durable ceasefire agreement must lead to a fundamental improvement in the living conditions of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the safety and well-being of civilians on both sides. It also stressed the urgency of reaching a durable solution to the crisis in Gaza through the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).
During a resumption of its tenth Emergency Special Session on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory on 12 December, the Assembly adopted a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and reiterating its insistence that parties to the conflict in Gaza comply with international law, that all hostages be released immediately and without conditions, and that humanitarian access be ensured.
The resolution titled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” passed by a recorded vote of 153 in favour to 10 against (Austria, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Liberia, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, United States), with 23 abstentions. Prior to adopting the text, the Assembly failed, by a recorded vote of 89 in favour to 61 against, with 20 abstentions, to adopt an amendment introduced by Austria, which inserted “held by Hamas and other groups” after “hostages” and “immediate” after “ensuring”. The Assembly also failed, by a recorded vote of 84 in favour to 62 against, with 25 abstentions, to adopt an amendment introduced by the United States, which added an unequivocal condemnation of heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas that took place in Israel starting 7 October and the taking of hostages.
“Right now, what we are seeing is an onslaught on civilians, the breakdown of humanitarian systems and profound disrespect for both international law and international humanitarian law,” the Assembly’s President said in his opening remarks. “The carnage must stop.” Israel’s delegate, speaking after the vote, said the adopted resolution will prolong death and destruction. “What will happen the day after the ceasefire?”, he asked. By voting in favour of the disgraceful resolution, Member States supported terrorists and the exploitation of Palestinians, he said. Tunisia’s delegate expressed concern about Security Council inaction on the issue. “The Council is clearly unable to shoulder its responsibilities, both moral and legal,” he said, noting his delegation voted for the draft resolution, as it calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and end to the barbaric aggression against Palestinian civilians. “These attacks have led to unprecedented humanitarian tragedies,” he said.
On 15 December, the Assembly continued its tenth Emergency Special Session on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with speakers explaining their vote on the resolution passed three days earlier or taking part in the general debate.
The representative of Israel, recalling the 7 October atrocities in his country of rape and mutilation, burning of entire families alive and beheading of babies, said that a ceasefire will only allow Hamas to regroup, rearm and continue its reign of terror. “You don't give a damn about Israel and our future,” he said.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine described the Israeli assault as a war against Palestinian history and existence, saying that Israel deliberately targets homes, hospitals, mosques and churches to kill doctors, poets and academics, as well as those who would document the crime and inform the world — the journalists.
Malta’s delegate highlighted the disproportionate suffering of children in Gaza, “their future seemingly buried under the rubble,” she said. “We recognize Israel’s right to protect her people, but all actions must be in line with international humanitarian law.” Spain’s delegate struck another note, underscoring that the resolution’s text should have included a clear condemnation of Hamas.
To complete the main part of its current session by year’s end, the Assembly on 18 December adopted eight resolutions, covering issues that included promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, safe water and sanitation in health-care facilities, sustainable use of oceans and security challenges posed by synthetic drugs.
Mexico’s delegate introduced two amendments to A/78/L.24, the draft resolution on enhancing action at the national, regional and international levels to address the global public health and security challenges posed by synthetic drugs, emphasizing that the text failed to reference the only resolution on the subject passed by the Assembly, namely “Addressing and countering the world drug problem through a comprehensive, integrated and balanced approach” (77/238). Amendment A/78/L.31 added the reference to preambular paragraph 8 of the draft. The second amendment, A/78/L.32, proposed to incorporate a reference to distribution in illicit consumer markets.
The Assembly took on board the first amendment to A/78/L.24 by a recorded vote of 75 in favour to 27 against, with 36 abstentions, and rejected the second amendment by a recorded vote of 19 in favour to 36 against, with 82 abstentions. The resolution, as amended, was adopted without a vote.
On 19 December, acting on the recommendations of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the General Assembly adopted a total of 99 resolutions and 3 decisions on items ranging from permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people and eradicating poverty to combating glorification of Nazism and the plight of refugees.
On 20 December, the Assembly met to commemorate the late Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who passed away on 16 December. Thanking the speakers for their sincere words and condolences, Kuwait’s representative said that history books will “faithfully pay tribute to the memory of a just leader whose name and reign have been testimony to everything that is noble”.
Later that day, the Assembly once more resumed its tenth Emergency Special Session on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with several delegates underscoring Israel’s right to self-defence within the parameters of international law and others arguing that the continued Israeli occupation is a threat to Middle East stability and security.
The main part of the Assembly session ended on 22 December with the adoption of almost 20 texts recommended by its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), among them a $3.3 billion regular budget to fund the Organization’s 2024 programmes, creation of a financial mechanism for the Peacebuilding Fund, resources to implement Human Rights Council mandates and $717.73 million to keep 37 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.
It was a session of opposing draft resolutions and a retrenchment of narrow positions in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). The language of the debates was sobering amid challenges to compliance, prohibited weapons’ use, and even the durability of the non-proliferation regime. Softening the ground diplomatically for future concrete actions in disarmament is at the heart of the Committee’s work, yet of the 62 draft texts approved, only 21 were adopted without a vote. It took 148 recorded votes to approve the rest. A record-breaking 151 delegations spoke during the general debate and there was an all-time high of 375 interventions during thematic discussions across nuclear and other mass destruction weapons, outer space, conventional weapons, other disarmament measures, regional disarmament and the UN disarmament machinery. There were nearly 150 statements in right of reply, not counting additional interventions.
Growing geopolitical tensions, including the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, scuttled consensus and strained the peace and security architecture on which disarmament treaties are built. Addressing the Committee at the start of its general debate was the UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, who said, “There has not been a time since the depths of the cold war that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used has been so high and, at the same time, the regime intended to prevent such use so fragile.” Trust is lacking and dialogue is scarce, she said. Multilateralism was indeed put to the test, and, it was noted, few tangible gains have been made. It was generally agreed, as Brazil’s speaker said, that “multilateralism is not living its finest hour”. Lebanon’s speaker said that if the world drops its commitment to multilateralism for unilateralism, “we risk sliding back on a terrible trail that has been tread before, and its end is well known”.
“The doomsday clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been,” said Liechtenstein’s representative, condemning the Russian Federation’s nuclear sabre-rattling in the context of its aggression against Ukraine and denouncing its decision to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus. The Russian Federation’s delegate defended his country’s position, claiming that Western countries failed to address Moscow’s security concerns. Speakers questioned the logic of nuclear deterrence. Austria’s delegate said that a security paradigm based on that theory is “neither sustainable nor morally acceptable or legitimate” and puts the security of nuclear-weapon States above the security of everyone else. “We simply never know if nuclear deterrence works in any particular crisis, but we do know for sure that it can fail,” he said.
“The dream of disarmament, a world free from the looming spectre of nuclear annihilation and unchecked violence, seems to be slipping further from our grasp,” said Ghana’s delegate, describing the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a significant milestone. While the nuclear Powers, among others, have chosen not to join it, its existence serves as a ray of hope for disarmament advocates worldwide, she said. Some States insisted on a gradual approach to disarmament. “There is no shortcut to nuclear disarmament,” Hungary’s delegate said, advocating for an incremental approach involving steps that yield solid results. She urged the active exploration of avenues to achieve progress in strategic nuclear risk reduction, transparency, confidence-building and robust verification mechanisms. Several delegations, meanwhile, traded allegations over non-compliance with treaties banning other weapons of mass destruction, such as biological and chemical weapons, weapons which many deemed “morally repugnant” and a “breeding ground” for terrorists.
Emerging challenges to security, including the risk of outer space being militarized, also informed the debates. Positions hardened over divergent approaches to preventing an outer space arms race. One approach, led by the United Kingdom, promoted responsible behaviours through voluntary commitments and the other, led by the Russian Federation, called for an early start of negotiations on a legally binding instrument. Among those expressing concerns about parallel processes was Mexico’s delegate, who urged the authors of the conflicting texts to cooperate in achieving a unified proposal, in order to avoid duplication that leads to inefficient resource use and aggravates polarization and fragmentation.
There were warnings that the window of opportunity to enact guardrails against the perils of autonomous weapons and the military applications of artificial intelligence are rapidly closing, as the world prepares for a “technological breakout”. Cyber issues have become strategic foreign policy matters of urgent concern to all countries, said Australia’s representative. Sri Lanka’s delegate said that while humankind’s creativity is well known, its ability to self-destruct through that creativity and the pursuit of short-term self-interest is also known. “We can ill afford misadventures that peril our very existence,” he said.
The proliferation of small arms and light weapons deserves no less attention than the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction, said Türkiye’s representative. Bangladesh’s speaker expressed concern about the more than 200,000 civilian deaths every year due to the use of small arms in conflict situations, while Mauritania’s delegate likewise said that the proliferation of 1 billion small arms around the world is the greatest threat to peace and sustainable development.
On regional security and disarmament, many speakers commended the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South-East Asia and the South Pacific, and called for one in the Middle East. Iran’s representative said that the Israeli regime’s nuclear weapons remain a grave threat and obstruct the establishment of such a zone in the region. Israel’s delegate said that his country continues to support the global non-proliferation regime, but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty itself does not provide a remedy for the security challenges of the region or the repeated Treaty violations by Syria and Iran.
Frustration mounted regarding the persistent deadlock in the UN disarmament machinery, and the need to push through it was a common refrain. Speakers urged concrete solutions to ensure that the disarmament machinery is “fit for purpose” to manage the threats in traditional and new domains. Many deplored the decades-long failure of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament — the sole body mandated to negotiate legally binding disarmament agreements — to even agree on a programme of work. The delegate from the Netherlands said that there is not much wrong with the disarmament machinery itself. “Of course, every machine needs a drop of oil and some regular maintenance, or it risks breaking down,” he said, adding, however, that the main issue is “not the state of the machine, but the way the different operators behave”.
Rytis Paulaukas (Lithuania) chaired the First Committee. Serving as Vice-Chairs were Yaseen Lagardien (South Africa), Matías Andrés Eustathiou de los Santos (Uruguay) and Christine Nam (New Zealand). Heidar Ali Balouji (Iran) was the Rapporteur.
Amid a complex and volatile geopolitical landscape, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) heard during its seventy-eighth session that developing States face compounding crises of onerous debt, extreme poverty and the costs of climate change — and “business as usual is not viable” in steering the dangerously off-track SDGs back towards progress.
Opening the session with that note of warning, Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that the international community is on track to achieve only around 15 per cent of SDG targets. “There is a broad agreement that the status quo is not sustainable,” he underscored, encouraging the Committee to forge new commitments to catalyse much-needed SDG-aligned investments. He recalled that world leaders at the SDG Summit (18-19 September) laid out a rescue plan for the Goals, having also recognized that the 1.5°C climate target is still within reach if action is taken now. He further noted that truly inclusive and more effective international tax cooperation can significantly support efforts to fight illicit financial flows, increase domestic resource globalization and support climate action. He further called for support to public-private partnerships, as well as South-South and triangle partnerships, paying special attention to the most vulnerable States.
Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, highlighted alarming levels of debt distress, with 75 countries already in default or near-default condition. Low-income countries allocate a staggering 171 per cent of their budgets to debt servicing, compared to spending on vital sectors like health, education and social protection — while middle-income nations are also devoting 104 per cent of their budgets to debt servicing, she added. She proposed immediate actions including issuing special drawing rights (SDRs) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and establishing an effective sovereign debt resolution mechanism.
With speakers voicing at times divided opinions on a comprehensive range of issues, delegates from developing States echoed an urgent call for drastic structural reform of international financial architecture, lest hard won progress on the SDGs continue to backslide. The representative of Senegal stressed that around 10 per cent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, and almost half the world’s people lack access to the Internet, while 600 million Africans live without electricity. With 60 per cent of the poorest countries currently at high risk of debt distress, he called for urgent action to ensure access for developing countries to capital markets at sustainable costs, as developing States — especially those in Africa — pay eight times more in borrowing costs than developed countries.
Cuba’s representative, speaking for the Group of 77 and China, cited the so-called “development fatigue” of donor countries and the subsequent lack of political will. Amid the downward development pressures of growing inflation, food insecurity, high borrowing costs and unilateral coercive measures, he echoed calls for reform of international financial architecture and reducing costs for borrowing countries. Morocco’s delegate, speaking for the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, noted that 62 per cent of the world’s poor live in middle-income States. He called for measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement or go beyond gross domestic product (GDP). Nepal’s representative, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, cited manifold crises that have reversed the years of progress on the SDGs in his bloc. He called for at least $100 billion in SDRs for least developed countries to meet the urgent liquidity needs.
Acknowledging those calls, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, affirmed that financing for development is at the top of the bloc’s agenda, expressing support for a reform of the international financial architecture. The bloc is investing €300 billion in sustainable development over the next five years through its Global Gateway initiative. Delegates further addressed issues including climate change, measures to alleviate debt burdens, innovative methods of international tax cooperation and reforming the international financial architecture, and the inextricable link between extreme poverty in developing countries and global food insecurity.
On the digital divide, Angel Gonzalez Sanz, Head of Science, Technology and Innovation in the Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the topic, warning that severely lagging Internet use in developing countries threatens to leave those States in the technological wake. Although 63 per cent of the world’s population is connected, he warned that least developed countries still only count 27 per cent of their populations as Internet users.
Other debates grew contentious, including on “Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources”, with speakers disagreeing over the context of the current situation in Gaza. The League of Arab States’ speaker, said the situation is worsening, with the occupying Power still confiscating land and unlawfully continuing to build settlements. The observer for the State of Palestine said the Israeli delegate on 16 October failed once again to recognize the root cause of the conflict — denying the reality of the brutal occupation and crimes on a daily basis against the entire Palestinian population for over 56 years. However, Israel’s representative said that for the observer to criticize Israel without condemning Hamas means that they support armed terrorists breaking into innocent people’s homes, massacring them in their beds and abducting children and mothers into Gaza.
The Committee also held its annual joint meeting with the Economic and Social Council and an annual meeting with United Nations regional commissions. During its action phase, the Committee approved 43 draft resolutions and two draft decisions, voting on eight of them, including a text titled “Promotion of inclusive and effective international tax cooperation at the United Nations” and one titled “Oil slick on Lebanese shores”.
The Second Committee Bureau comprised Carlos Amorín (Uruguay) as Chair, with Jeswuni Abudu-Birresborn (Ghana), Diego Antonino Cimino (Italy) and Nichamon May Hsieh (Thailand) serving as Vice-Chairs and Ivaylo Gatev (Bulgaria) as Rapporteur.
An undercurrent of dissention ran through the eight-week session of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), as delegates discussed topics ranging from the rights of children and advancement of women to setbacks caused by armed conflicts and climate change, before recommending 62 draft resolutions — most without a vote — to the General Assembly. Sounding alarm over the staggering number of civilian casualties in conflicts worldwide, Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said one quarter of humanity lives in places affected by conflict, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Sudan, Ukraine, and, now again, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Worldwide, 114 million people have now been forced from their homes, reported Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees, warning that the conflict in Gaza can destabilize the Middle East, where millions of refugees are anxiously watching its evolution.
The Committee also heard from the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Junhua Li; the President of the Human Rights Council, Václav Bálek; and more than 90 Special Procedure mandate holders and other United Nations experts. Against the backdrop of the resurgence of violence in the Middle East, the Committee approved a draft on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination by a recorded vote of 168 in favour to 5 against, with 9 abstentions. It asked the Assembly to stress the urgency of ending the Israeli occupation and achieving a lasting peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. The observer for the State of Palestine, citing the never-ending Nakba in Gaza and the West Bank, said: “This draft resolution is to confirm our existence and our homeland — our right to remain.” Meanwhile, Israel’s delegate insisted that the 7 October attack was not an act of resistance or self-determination but “an act of savagery by a genocidal terrorist organization which openly calls for the destruction of Israeli people”.
In an echo of last year’s fiery debate, the Committee approved a text on combating the glorification of Nazism by a recorded vote of 112 in favour to 50 against, with 14 abstentions, following the approval of an amendment to the draft by a recorded vote of 66 in favour to 26 against, with 67 abstentions. Introducing the amendment, which notes with alarm that the Russian Federation has sought to justify its territorial aggression against Ukraine on the purported basis of eliminating neo-Nazism, Albania’s delegate highlighted its purpose to counter the draft’s manipulation of the historical truth.
Ukraine’s delegate stressed that the draft has nothing in common with a genuine fight against Nazism and neo-Nazism and, instead, serves Moscow to justify its brutal war against her country. However, numerous delegates — including from Cuba, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and China — criticized the amendment, as it politicizes the issue of elimination of racism, while introducing a country-specific approach. The stark double standard where “aggression is selectively condemned based on the perpetrator rather than the act must be addressed”, insisted Indonesia’s delegate, who juxtaposed the conflict in Ukraine with Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Discussions centred around equitable international order exposed a widening divide between the Global South and Global North, as reflected in the draft on human rights and unilateral coercive measures — approved by a recorded vote of 128 in favour, 54 against, with no abstentions — which would have the Assembly urge States to cease implementing unilateral measures and the Human Rights Council to consider their negative impact. Venezuela’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, detailed ways in which such inhumane and illegal measures hamper attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals of over 30 countries worldwide. Offering a contrasting perspective, the representative of the United States described sanctions as a useful tool that can promote accountability in human rights violations and counter terrorism, as well as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Committee also approved a resolution placing for the first time mine action activities within the broader humanitarian context.
In other notable action, the Committee approved by consensus three new texts, including on enhancing the contributions of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to the accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; equal access to justice for all; and the protection of human rights in the context of digital technologies, by which the Assembly would call on States to consider implementing legislation that protects individuals against human rights violations in the digital context. Numerous delegates described the draft as an important step towards a rights-based approach to new technologies, welcoming its emphasis on combating sexual and gender-based violence. However, its focus on responsibilities of the private sector and social media platforms remained a charged issue, with several delegates highlighting that the primary responsibility to protect human rights lies with States.
Relatedly, the Committee approved by consensus a draft resolution on the rights of the child, by which it would have the Assembly address different types of abuses against children in digital space, including sexual exploitation and recruitment in criminal or terrorist activities, and urge States to prohibit the unlawful digital surveillance of children. While some identified the draft’s increased emphasis on family-oriented policies as a distraction from its focus on the child and underscored children’s equal status as rights holders, others disassociated from references to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, children’s capacity to consent and universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.
This year’s Third Committee Bureau comprised Chair Alexander Marschik (Austria); Vice-Chairs Nelly Banaken Elel (Cameroon), Mosammat Shahanara Monica (Bangladesh) and Tomáš Grünwald (Slovakia); and Rapporteur Robert Alexander Poveda Brito (Venezuela).
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), which adopted 33 draft resolutions and three draft decisions over the course of 26 formal meetings, began its work with a debate on decolonization that featured the participation of 158 petitioners. Speakers urged the Committee for a more dynamic approach in fulfilling the promise of self-determination to the 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories. Pointing to the persistent challenges related to the colonial legacy and vulnerability of small island Territories, the speakers appealed for an end to “the scourge” of colonization. The Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar — addressing the Committee post-elections in the Territory – emphasized that Gibraltarians are a “separate and distinct people from the administering Power”. The United Kingdom’s representative, meanwhile, said that there would be no sovereignty negotiations “with which Gibraltar is not content”. Spain’s delegate countered that Gibraltar’s colonial status is a threat to his country’s territorial integrity. He called for bilateral negotiations with the United Kingdom.
The Committee also heard petitioners and delegates on the question of Western Sahara — with some speakers advocating a political solution based on Morocco’s 2006 autonomy initiative and others emphasizing the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people for self-determination. Many criticised what they called the illegal nature of Morocco’s occupation and extortion of natural resources, stating that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) remains the only representative of the Sahrawi people. Algeria’s delegate characterized Western Sahara as an “open and festering wound”, and criticized Morocco for its shift away from accepting a referendum on self-determination. Morocco’s representative in turn accused Algeria of co-opting self-determination for its own aims and declaring the self-determination referendum as “dead and buried”.
The Committee’s consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as Israeli practices impacting the human rights of Palestinians and other Arabs in occupied territories, took place against the backdrop of the Gaza conflict. Gréta Gunnarsdóttir, Director of the UNRWA Representative Office in New York, described the situation in Gaza as a “collective punishment” and highlighted the growing number of fatalities among UNRWA staff. While Gaza started running out of fuel, medicine, food and water, several UNRWA buildings and assets were bombarded by Israel. Yet at least 5,000 UNRWA staff in Gaza continued to report for work every day, she said. Several delegates commended their courage and reiterated the call for sustainable financial support to the Agency.
The observer for the State of Palestine drew attention to the vast numbers of dead children, as well as those who will be orphaned, some rendered “WCNSF” — meaning “wounded child, no surviving family”. However, Israel’s delegate asked if the Agency has considered how the glorification of terrorists in UNRWA textbooks contributed to the massacre of 1,400 people by Hamas on 7 October. “Just as Israel’s occupation does not justify the attacks of Hamas on 7 October, Hamas’s actions on 7 October does not justify Israel’s war,” Sri Lanka’s representative said, as he introduced the fifty-fifth report from the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. Speakers also cautioned that the growing influence of Israeli settlers in the West Bank on government policy, as well as the increasing settler violence against Palestinians, represent major setbacks to the two-State solution.
The unfolding crisis in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has made accurate information paramount, Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, briefed the Committee during its consideration of information. New organizations around the world are relying on the Organization’s platforms for accurate content, she said, also noting the dramatic increase in traffic, with over 1.3 million visitors. The Department has activated the most crisis communications cells ever at one given time to deal with the multiple emergencies around the world, from wars to natural disasters. She also updated delegates on the Department’s work on developing a global code of conduct for information integrity on digital platforms, which is currently at the consultations stage. Delegates welcomed work on the code while pointing out that the primary responsibility to regulate digital platforms must remain with Member States. They also called for increased efforts to enhance multilingualism.
Briefing the Committee during its consideration of special political missions this year, which is the seventy-fifth since they were first used, Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Department of Peace Operations, noted that funding for peacemaking and peacebuilding is shrinking amid growing expenses for military build-ups. Highlighting the contributions of various current special political missions, he noted that Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is working with all sides to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The Non-Aligned Movement, whose member States host most special political missions, called for greater coherence between mandates and resources, as well as greater women’s representation, especially in senior leadership positions. Egypt’s delegate said that the special political missions should be appropriately financed through an autonomous budget.
Keeping peace in a polarized world requires clear mandates, adequate resources and stronger cooperation with host countries and regional organizations, the Committee heard during its general debate on United Nations peacekeeping operations. Many speakers also urged for better protection for blue helmets, expressing concern about the multifaceted challenges faced by the peacekeepers, including improvised explosive devices, attacks by armed groups and disinformation. Indonesia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) highlighted the role of women peacekeepers, who have increased the effectiveness of many missions by playing key roles in community engagement and the protection of civilians.
Debating international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, delegates said that outer space must remain an arena for international cooperation for sustainable development, and not a theatre for an arms race. The international community set a remarkable record in space exploration this year, with 17 people simultaneously orbiting the planet this May, Omran Sharaf (United Arab Emirates), Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, told the Committee.
Alongside Committee Chair Mathu Joyini (South Africa), the Fourth Committee Bureau comprised Vice-Chairs Patryk Jakub Woszczek (Poland), Joaquín Alberto Pérez Ayestarán (Venezuela) and Sara Rendtorff-Smith (Denmark). Mariska Dwianti Dhanutirto (Indonesia) served as Rapporteur.
Ten days before its year-end deadline, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on 22 December sent the General Assembly a $3.59 billion budget for 2024, along with nearly two dozen other resolutions and decisions that will keep the Organization’s day-to-day operations running smoothly while maintaining its core mandates of human rights, development and international peace and security. Pressured repeatedly by its Chair, Osama Mahmoud Abdelkhalek Mahmoud (Egypt), to finish their crucial work before the Christmas holiday, the Committee moved to establish a stable financing mechanism for the Peacebuilding Fund, strengthened a Secretariat office meant to curb the presence of racism in the Organization and deepened its global communications work in the four official languages of Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
Delegates’ growing inclination to politicize the work of a Committee dedicated to handle the Organization’s manpower and budget issues emerged repeatedly during the main part of the seventy-eighth session. In addition to divisions over efforts to ensure the Human Rights Council has extra funding to carry out its mandates, the conflict in Gaza and the plight of Palestinian refugees sparked discussion and a recorded vote. Acting on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, Cuba’s delegate introduced a resolution condemning the killing of UNRWA staff and the destruction of buildings under the United Nations flags. The resolution was approved by a recorded vote of 101 in favour to 1 against (Israel), with 56 abstentions.
While expressing support for UNRWA’s work and deploring the humanitarian situation in Gaza, many delegates said the Fifth Committee is not the appropriate venue for larger issues that go beyond its purview of human resource and financial matters. For example, the representative of Spain, speaking for the European Union, considered it inappropriate to include paragraphs with a political nature in a Fifth Committee resolution dealing with UN budget issues. She abstained from the vote. The representative of Israel, who voted against that text, said the language and text deliberately ignore that the situation in Gaza resulted from Hamas’s decision to declare a war upon Israel on 7 October. Israel also opposed a subsequent Committee decision to reallocate possible 2025 funding for UNRWA into the 2024 budget. That decision was part of an overview resolution addressing questions relating to the 2024 programme budget.
As in previous years, many delegates disassociated themselves from language in a resolution to provide nearly $50 million in additional funding to support Human Rights Council mandates. A resolution proposed by the Russian Federation to reject all funding for revised estimates during the Council’s fifty-second, fifty-third and fifty-fourth regular sessions, and at its thirty-sixth special session, was rejected. The Russian Federation delegation regretted that a compromise could not be reached even as many delegations do not want to see the politicization of the Committee. A move by the Sudanese delegation to remove resources from an 11 October Council decision was rejected by a recorded vote of 72 against to 34 in favour, with 38 abstentions. The representative of Syria expressed similar sentiments as he rejected the use of regular budget resources over the past dozen years to finance the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic.
A representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, used her closing comments at the 22 December meeting to criticize the Committee’s lack of results on numerous crucial issues, whether by deferring them or adopting so-called “skeletal resolutions”. “In a world of increased conflict, safeguarding budgetary constraint for some yet again hampered our ability to provide political guidance to the Secretariat on the implementation of special political missions,” she said, also reproaching the increased voting called to defund entire mandates of the Human Rights Council. “Our role is to comply with the resolutions defining mandates and fund them, not renegotiate them,” she said, adding these items are “a reflection of multilateralism at its core”.
Delegates opened their main session on 2 October by tackling a diverse set of financial issues, including a sustainable financing mechanism for the Peacebuilding Fund; exploring possible changes in the complex methodology used to assess Member States’ contribution for the 2025-2027 period; and UN’s liquidity woes. Delegates once again urged each other to make timely payments so the Organization can fulfil the core mandates laid down by Member States. While they finally agreed on a financing mechanism for the Peacebuilding Fund, many delegates’ request, during their 4 October meeting, for a special mechanism to sustain financing of more than three dozen special political missions went unheeded. The issue will be taken up again at their seventy-ninth session. As part of its 26-part giant “Special subjects relating to the proposed programme budget for 2024” resolution, the Committee advised the Assembly to authorize $717.73 million to finance 37 special political missions.
As usual, the Organization’s 2024 budget dominated the fall session as delegates began their line-by-line consideration of the regular budget on 10 October when Secretary-General António Guterres introduced nearly three dozen reports detailing his $3.3 billion financing proposal. The proposal, which made up the Organization’s fifth annual budget, included 10,334 posts. He stressed the Secretariat’s commitment to strengthening multilingualism, as mandated by the Assembly, by enabling simultaneous press releases in all six United Nations official languages. “This will allow us to amplify our voice, reach broader audiences and complement our social media and web presences,” he said. With input from the ACABQ, the Committee on 22 December sent the Assembly a resolution that included provisions to expand its coverage of the Organization’s official intergovernmental meetings by establishing 20 general temporary assistance positions. These include editors, press officers and assistants working in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
A day before the Secretary-General’s address, the United Nations senior management official told delegates that the deteriorating liquidity situation of the Organization’s regular budget could persist into 2024 if the collection rates of unpaid assessments from Member States does not pick up. In the second of her semi-annual financial presentations, Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, said the lagging collection rate prompted the Secretary-General to impose temporary hiring restrictions this year as Secretariat officials borrowed from the Working Capital Fund in August and the Special Account in October. She reiterated that predictability in the timing and amount of collections is critical to manage the Organization’s cash outflows and plan its spending properly and safely without risk of payment default. Presenting the Organization’s key financial indicators for 2023, she provided details on three main categories — the regular budget, peacekeeping operations and the international tribunals.
In his first address to the Fifth Committee that same day on 9 October, Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), General Assembly President, echoed the need for predictable financing and added that the timely conclusion of the Fifth Committee’s main session by mid-December is essential to stabilize the UN’s liquidity situation, and give the Secretariat enough time to better plan for the new year. “This is precisely what allows predictable financing, business continuity and it enables us to live up to our commitments and uphold the credibility of the Organization,” he added. He urged Member States to pay their assessed contributions on time and in full. “Delays in the receipt of payments make it difficult to implement the mandates given by the Member States themselves and — as has been the case before — invariably result in a liquidity crisis, which could even deepen in the next year,” he warned.
The Committee this year also moved to fund crucial construction projects at UN properties from Nairobi to Geneva to Santiago. This special subjects resolution also included funding for multiple construction projects, including $1.24 million for renovation work to make the ESCAP premises in Bangkok more resistant to earthquakes; nearly $10.1 million to renovate the North Building at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago; $24.78 million for the Strategic Heritage Plan at the United Nations Office at Geneva; and $11.93 million to address the deteriorating conditions and limited capacity of conference service facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi.
Among other issues, the Committee also sent the Assembly 10 nominations for the ACABQ and delivered the names of 15 additional candidates for three other bodies — the Committee on Contributions, the Investments Committee and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee — plus the Board of Auditors.
Alongside the Chair, Mr. Mahmoud (Egypt), the Fifth Committee Bureau this session compromises Mohammed Khalifa H Alnasr (Qatar), Amalia Irina Pufulescu (Romania) and Kimberly K. Louis (Saint Lucia) serving as Vice-Chairs and Laurens Thomas Den Hartog (Netherlands) as Rapporteur.
Among the many topics that defined the Sixth Committee’s work during its seventy-eighth session, the body devoted the most time to its annual weeks-long debate on the report of the International Law Commission. Addressing the Committee at the outset was Patrícia Galvão Teles (Portugal), Commission Co-Chair, who noted that she — along with Co-Chair Nilüfer Oral (Türkiye) — were the first women to address the Committee as Commission Chairs. “It is our hope that the symbolism this carries will bring us closer to a shared goal of making international law the bastion not only for peace, but also one whose structures and methods are informed by the diversity of the people it represents,” she said. For her part, Ms. Oral stressed: “While we find ourselves in a bleak moment in history — without question — we must look to international law as a beacon of light.” Noting that the General Assembly and the Commission play a pivotal role in the codification and progressive development of international law, Suriya Chindawongse (Thailand), Sixth Committee Chair, emphasized that “this is the most important forum and time for both bodies to interact to fulfil our common responsibility”.
During this debate — broken into three clusters based on subjects substantively considered during the Commission’s seventy-third/fourth session — the Committee took up the body’s work on prevention and repression of piracy and armed robbery at sea. Estonia’s delegate, welcoming the definition of “piracy” according to existing law, also noted that the Commission contemplated new developments in modern piracy. Canada’s representative, on that, said that pirates’ changing practices — along with their use of new technology — “require us to adjust our understanding of what constitutes a ship for the purposes of piracy”.
In addition to addressing such definitional issues to account for an emerging reality of attacks conducted through digital means, delegates also discussed issues relating to those falling victim to piracy, as well as the root causes of this phenomenon. In this vein, Thailand’s representative encouraged the Commission to explore international humanitarian law and international cooperation regarding rescue, repatriation and compensation for victims. The representatives of South Africa and Djibouti, meanwhile, recommended consideration of the sociocultural causes and local geographical specificities that have contributed to the emergence and persistence of piracy. The Committee also considered many draft texts adopted by the Commission. One such product was its draft articles on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity, as delegates considered an international convention to govern such crimes amidst ongoing violence in Gaza and Ukraine.
Jordan’s delegate, stressing that the international community must address the lack of a legal regime to combat such crimes, underlined that — without a framework for inter-State cooperation — the fight against impunity will not be successful. Hungary’s representative, meanwhile, detailed an example of recent progress, spotlighting the 26 May adoption of a convention relating to international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting certain crimes. Many delegates also recalled the Committee’s first resumed session — held in April — and welcomed this forum for in-depth discussion. Some observed that the second resumed session — to be held in April 2024 — will potentially pave the way for future consensus. Noting that such deliberations promise to illuminate the path forward, Indonesia’s delegate pointed out that crimes against humanity — by their very nature — are not crimes against individuals, but against all humans. The international community, therefore, must hold perpetrators accountable and ensure that victims receive justice.
Another Commission product addressed by the Committee was the draft articles on the expulsion of aliens. This debate, like many others this session, typified the balancing act often required when considering new legal regimes. Iran’s representative illustrated this, underscoring the topic’s simultaneous implications for States’ sovereign prerogative and their obligation to uphold the human rights of non-nationals in their territories. He was among several speakers who said it was premature, however, to convene a diplomatic conference to elaborate a convention on this subject — a stance echoed by the representative of the Netherlands, who said that the draft articles go beyond currently applicable international law and do not comport with State practice. Taking a different stance, Belarus’ speaker said that the draft articles can provide a solid basis for finding the important equilibrium between respect for the rights and legitimate interests of persons under threat of expulsion and expelling States’ right to implement measures to protect sovereignty and national security. El Salvador’s delegate called on the Committee to establish the necessary format to debate this issue and ensure that the project is based on guaranteeing human dignity.
On its own practice, the Committee discussed revitalizing the General Assembly’s work as several delegates suggested alternative working methods with which to rejuvenate stagnated discussions. The representative of Egypt expressed appreciation for the role of the “parliament of the international community” during the current crisis in the Middle East, noting that, when the Security Council was paralysed, the Assembly adopted a resolution to protect civilians. On the Sixth Committee specifically, Portugal’s representative, speaking for a group of like-minded countries, said that consensus was never intended to undermine the Committee’s substantive engagement.
However, speakers noted its misuse as a veto that stalls discussions and blocks progress may undermine the Committee’s efficacy and integrity. “There is no veto power in the General Assembly or its Main Committees,” Australia’s representative observed, suggesting that the Committee should be ready to biennialize, triennialize and even sunset stagnant resolutions. On that, Costa Rica’s delegate urged the Committee’s Bureau to convene an extraordinary meeting to analyse working methods, noting that improving them could help the Committee to set aside its nickname — “the cemetery of topics”.
In other business, the Committee also received its annual visit from the International Court of Justice. Joan E. Donoghue, outgoing President of the Court, reflected on the future of the judicial body in which she has served for over 13 years and reported that the Court’s docket currently comprises 20 cases from all regions of the world involving a wide range of legal issues. Recalling that, in 2011, the Court had issued two judgments and 11 orders, she said that it practically doubled its output in 2022 by rendering four judgments and 28 orders. She observed, however, that the resources available to the Court have only marginally increased, expressing hope that a briefing for Sixth Committee experts focused on budgetary matters will be organized in 2024. Turning to the question of how — if at all — the Court’s Statute should be revised, she said, among other things, that “it is time to redraft the Statute, and indeed the entire Charter, in a gender-inclusive manner”.
Additionally, the Committee held its annual discussion on the UN’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 Programme’s Advisory Committee, noted overwhelming support for the Programme and detailed the importance of in-person training. In that context, Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, reported that remaining limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted and that all programming is being conducted in-person.
Highlighting the importance of the Programme’s regional courses on international law to developing countries, Chile’s representative noted that training tools are being disseminated in Spanish. Ethiopia’s representative, meanwhile, noted that her country has hosted the Regional Course on International Law for Africa since 2011, reporting that it has benefited 234 participants from more than 48 African States — including diplomats, prosecutors and teachers. “To make peace, it is necessary to form individuals who are convinced that this is possible,” Mexico’s delegate underscored, stressing that promoting the teaching of international law is a key factor in advancing peace, protecting human rights and achieving sustainable development.
Chairing the Sixth Committee Bureau was Suriya Chindawongse (Thailand), alongside Vice-Chairs Alis Lungu (Romania), Jhon Guerra Sansonetti (Venezuela) and Enrico Milano (Italy) and Rapporteur Moussa Mohamed Moussa (Djibouti).