It is a privilege to address you today as we close the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
In the past six months, our plans for the 75th year of the United Nations have changed.
Today, we have other urgent priorities. Our masks remind us of the very serious threat we face.
They remind us of the lives we have lost and the challenges we need to overcome.
They remind us we are in this together.
Since the start of the crisis, the critics of multilateralism have been more vocal. The pandemic has been used to justify unilateral steps and weaken the rules-based international system. International organizations have been reproached and the need for international cooperation has been questioned. These criticisms are not baseless. But their conclusions are misguided.
Make no mistake: No state can combat this pandemic alone. Social distancing will not help at the international level. Unilateralism will only strengthen the pandemic. It will move us further away from our shared goal. At this time of crisis, it is our responsibility to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral cooperation and international institutions, with the UN at their center.
We need to continue a frank, transparent and results-oriented dialogue about:
what went wrong in our efforts to contain the virus;
and what we have to do to avoid a similar situation in the future.
We will also need to ask and answer questions about how COVID-19 vaccines can be distributed fairly and equitably. This is not just a question of health and economics, but of ethics in the most profound way.
Considering these recent developments, I have been carefully reflecting on my priorities. Confronting the effects of the coronavirus in all their dimensions will be an overarching priority for my Presidency. At the same time, we must not forget our existing challenges.
Firstly, the 75th year of the United Nations should be a time to revitalize the spirit of cooperation that laid the foundation of this organization. In recent years, the trust deficit between nations has impeded the work of the United Nations. Member states fail to compromise. And when there is compromise, it is based on the lowest common denominator. At times, this has been the case for the General Assembly, and it has been the case for the Security Council. As President of the General Assembly, the most representative and most democratic organ of the United Nations, I will endeavor to build trust between Member States. I will do my best to build consensus around the important and timely issues on our agenda from arms control, to human rights, to climate and sustainable development.
Second, during the 75th session, the General Assembly should reflect on its own work, and embrace reforms in order to be effective and relevant. We need to enhance coherence by addressing gaps, overlaps and duplication where they exist. The pandemic-related restrictions could be an opportunity to streamline our agenda without compromising on substance. I am aware that this is a delicate task, but I will put my best efforts towards an outcome that realizes success from this dreadful pandemic, that sees this house come out stronger and more united with results to show for our efforts.
Third, in order to improve the delivery of our mandate, we need to hear from the people we serve. I see this hall as the parliament of humanity. And I intend to use this platform to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable people in the world. Here in the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, we must consider the concerns of all people in need or under oppression. I will work with Member States to ensure they have a voice. And I also intend to use these good offices to highlight the importance of impartial and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid and full respect for international humanitarian law in conflicts and crises.
Fourth, as we enter the ‘Decade of Action’ to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that we are not on track. Throughout the term I will promote the use of emerging technologies, strengthened data, and results-oriented action to ensure that no one is left behind.
Finally, in this seminal year for women’s empowerment, I will also champion gender equality across the agenda of the 75th session, which evidence shows supports greater levels of peace and prosperity.
Mr. Secretary-General, with these thoughts in mind, I look forward to reinforcing our partnership, which I believe is essential to the effective stewardship of this organization. I will ensure my efforts complement yours, including through supporting implementation of the UN reform agenda to make the UN more responsive and effective. I will also work in close cooperation with the Presidents of the Security Council and ECOSOC to coordinate our activities for maximum effect.
Efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and non-discrimination will be the guiding principles of my Presidency. I will represent the membership as a whole. I will listen to the views of all Member States equally. I believe that we need to lead by example and inspire the world. And I will work towards this end. The General Assembly cannot stand idle while human beings suffer. This is against the principle of collective responsibility that underpins the UN Charter.
As the 74th Session draws to a close, I want to thank His Excellency, Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, for his considered and steady leadership as President of the 74th Session of the General Assembly. Excellency, you once described yourself as a “perpetual student”. Your efforts to navigate the GA in these difficult times proved that you are also a “fast learner.” Since the start of the pandemic, the Office of the President of the General Assembly, under your direction, has guided the work of the General Assembly transparently and effectively. You have shown a strong leadership. I look forward to continuing to champion the priorities of your term, including poverty eradication and inclusive and equitable education for all. These Sustainable Development Goals are crucial to the future prosperity and peace of our planet. On behalf of all Member States, I would like to thank you, and your team, once again and look forward to continuing to work with you as the Nigerian Permanent Representative. Can I please ask a big round of applause for President Muhammad-Bande.
Thank you, and I shall now take the oath of this hallowed Office.