76th UN General Assembly gets underway in New York

The narrative must change, says new president about 'collective anxiety' over Covid-19 pandemic

September 15, 2021
Volkan Bozkir (R), President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, hands the gavel over to Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. -- UN photo
Volkan Bozkir (R), President of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, hands the gavel over to Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. -- UN photo

NEW YORK -‑ The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be the most challenging period the world has seen since the World War Two, said the UN Secretary-General on Tuesday – as the 75th session of the General Assembly gave way to the new deepening inequalities, decimating economies and plunging millions into extreme poverty.

New General Assembly President Abdullah Shahid of the Maldives opened the new 76th session, with the participation of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom to the United Nations Ambassador Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, and a number of deputy and under-secretaries of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, ambassadors and representatives of the member states of the organization.

Shahid 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 in 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 Mr. 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”.

The UN chief reflected on conflict and climate change; deepening poverty, exclusion and inequality; and “a pandemic that continues to threaten lives, livelihoods and futures”.

“These challenges are worsened by the divisions scarring our world...between the rich and poor [and] between those who take basic services for granted...and those for whom these essentials remain a distant dream”, he said.

He underscored the need to speed-up our response to COVID-19, with vaccines, treatment and equipment for all; to invest in human development, health care, nutrition, water and education; and commit, and commit and live up to bold climate targets at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, in November.

“The war on our planet must end”, he said. “These challenges and divisions are not a force of nature. They are man-made”.

Guterres also stressed the need to re-commit to the UN values of human rights, supporting the most vulnerable, 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”.

Guterres saluted his predecessor: “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 prioritizing a sustainable recovery, rooted in the 2030 Agenda, and supporting countries and communities as they rebuild systems shattered by the pandemic. ‑‑ SPA/Agencies

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