76th UN General Assembly opens

By Cecilia Ologunagba/New York

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday said the COVID-19 pandemic had proven to be the most challenging period the world had seen, as the 75th session of the General Assembly closed to usher in the 76th session.

Passing on the gavel to the new Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, Guterres saluted Shahid’s predecessor, Volkan Bozkir at the closing of the 75th session of General Assembly.

“Throughout this difficult and historic moment, we have all been fortunate to rely on the leadership of His Excellency, President Volkan Bozkir”.

The UN chief credited the outgoing Turkish diplomat and politician for prioritising a sustainable recovery, rooted in the 2030 Agenda, and supporting countries and communities as they rebuilt systems shattered by the pandemic.

Guterres said that under Bozkir’s leadership, the Assembly had sought to “strengthen health systems, deliver COVID-19 testing, treatment and equipment, and contribute to the most ambitious vaccination campaign in history”.

Moreover, he drove the General Assembly’s vital work in the areas of peace and security, disarmament, human rights, gender equality and sustainable development.

According to him, the outgoing president had also overseen the adoption of major resolutions on key issues, from peace-building to counterterrorism and preventing crimes against humanity, addressing climate change and ending human trafficking.

“In short, under President Bozkir’s stewardship, this Assembly has proven, time and again, the value of multilateralism and a rules-based international system,’’ the secretary-general said.

In a speech before closing the 75th Assembly’s final meeting, Bozkir noted that his tenure took place amidst a “tumultuous, historic, transformative, unequal, challenging and ground-breaking year.

“From the earliest moments of my Presidency, we knew that COVID-19 would dominate our agenda. However, I can now say that it has reinforced our belief in a more effective and more responsive UN,” he said.

Bozkir made a series of recommendations that ranged from strengthening the Assembly to realigning “a serious mismatch in the way this organisation treats its employees and the world’s highest political office.

He also suggested a shift from focusing on procedures “at the cost of substance” to a “more streamlined, priority driven agenda” and to prioritise the UN as a single entity of respect, integrity and progress.

Before bringing down the gavel for the last time, he called for a moment of silent prayer or meditation.

Newly sworn in General Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, then opened the new 76th session, noting that his country’s flag is “flying at the highest peak today”.

He spoke of near-universal “collective anxiety” and hopelessness, not all of which is pandemic-related, saying: “the narrative must change”, and that the General Assembly “must play a part in this”.

This moment in history calls for hope above all, he said, to demonstrate to the global population that “we are aware of their plight, are listening and are willing to work together to overcome problems.

And that we can find the courage to “push forward”, “vaccinate the world” and spur a greener, more inclusive, pandemic recovery.

This spirit of partnership, of uniting under a common cause, is “the beating heart of our work here at the United Nations”, Guterres told the opening session of the 76th General Assembly.

Congratulating Shahid on his election, the UN chief outlined his longstanding diplomatic experience and noted that “coming from the Maldives, he brings a fresh perspective on the unique experience of small island States”.

“Mr President, I look forward to close collaboration as we work to serve and support countries during this extraordinary moment in time, and live up to the great promise and potential of the multilateral system and the United Nations”, he said, promising the UN family’s “full support and partnership”.

Guterres also stressed the need to re-commit to the UN values of human rights, supporting the most vulnerable, and peace, through dialogue and solidarity.

“Over the next year, every day, let us keep this better world in view. Let us live and breathe our values in this Assembly and across our work”, he said, telling the new president: “The entire Secretariat is at your disposal”

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