108th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session

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16-Sep-2019 00:29:43
General Assembly advocates labour rights, ending illicit wildlife trade, adopting 6 resolutions as it concludes Seventy-Third Session at 107th and 108th meetings.

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The General Assembly adopted six resolutions and thus concluded its seventy-third session today, with its outgoing President reflecting her tenure as a period of learning from the world’s most vulnerable people, for which the United Nations exists, and expressing hope that the forthcoming session will lead to tangible benefits in their lives.

Acting without a vote, the Assembly first adopted a resolution titled “International Labour Organization Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work” (document A/73/L.117), by which it welcomed the adoption of the Declaration at the 108th session of the International Labour Conference and encouraged its implementation.

By other terms, the Assembly, stressing that full, productive employment and decent work are key elements of sustainable development, resolved to create conditions for sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all. It also encouraged Member States to consider applying the principles set forth in the Declaration at the national level to promote policy coherence and asked United Nations funds, programmes, specialized agencies and financial institutions to consider integrating the Declaration’s policy contents, as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, to inform the work of United Nations country teams and in accordance with national priorities. The draft was tabled by Jamaica’s representative.

Speaking after the adoption, the representative of the United States said that his delegation joined the consensus but disassociated itself from certain elements of the text regarding sustainable development, financing for development and inclusive economic growth. His country’s positions on the matter were already explained in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), he added.

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, the resolution titled “Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife” (document A/73/L.120), by which it urged Member States to take decisive steps nationally to prevent, combat and eradicate the illegal trade in wildlife, on the supply, transit and demand sides, including by strengthening the requisite legislation and regulations for prevention, prosecution and enforcement, as well as to increase efforts to raise awareness about the problem. The draft was introduced by Gabon’s delegate.

The representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the adoption but expressed concern that preambular paragraph 13 includes politically driven language of one Member State.

The representative of the United States said his delegation was pleased by the reference to illicit pangolin trafficking in the text and is committed to fighting the illegal trade but was disappointed that not all delegations approached negotiations in a spirit of compromise, resulting in the retention of outdated language.

The speaker for China stressed the importance of tackling the root causes of the illegal trade by addressing poverty reduction and economic development, meeting the needs of developing countries and improving people’s livelihoods. Developed countries should provide financial and technical support in the fight against the illicit wildlife trade, he said, rejecting politicization of a United Nations topic.

The Assembly went on to adopt a resolution titled “Academy for Human Encounters and Dialogue” (document A/73/L.107), by a recorded vote of 165 in favour, to 2 against (United States, Israel) with no abstentions.

By its terms, the Assembly welcomed the initiative by the President of Lebanon to establish the Academy for Human Encounters and Dialogue in Beirut, and encouraged the Secretary-General, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other relevant specialized agencies to support, within existing resources and in accordance with their respective mandates, the efforts to establish the Academy. The draft was tabled by Lebanon’s representative.

Explaining his delegation’s position on that item, the speaker for the United States described the text as problematic in several ways. Noting that the United States cannot support resolutions which seek to highlight the initiatives of specific Member States or leaders, he said the draft proposes the establishment of an institute endorsed by the United Nations, but which would lie outside its scope. The text also lacks clarity on practical details, he said, voicing concern that the proposed initiative would draw away important resources without an appropriate budget prioritization process.

The representative of Israel, also explaining her delegation’s negative vote, said it is not enough to fill a resolution with such words as “peace, tolerance and diversity”. “These are values that have to be lived,” she stressed, noting that Lebanon includes a recognized terrorist organization within its Government, which attacks Israel. In addition, Lebanon prosecutes individuals for expressing themselves and permits other abuses against its people. Israel will not vote for a resolution she described as the “height of hypocrisy”.

The representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, underlined the importance of cultural dialogue and diversity, which are at the core of the multilateral system. Welcoming any initiatives aimed at supporting those principles, he welcomed Lebanon’s longstanding efforts in that arena.

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, a resolution titled “Permanent memorial to and remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade” (document A/73/L.119), as orally revised. By its terms, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to continue to organize an annual series of activities to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, including a commemorative meeting of the General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters and, as appropriate, activities through the network of United Nations information centres. The draft was tabled by Jamaica’s representative.

Moving on, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, a resolution titled “Multilingualism” (document A/73/L.114), by which it emphasized the paramount importance of the equality of the six official languages of the United Nations, underlined the need for the full implementation of all resolutions establishing language arrangements for the official languages of the United Nations and the working languages of the Secretariat. It also underscored the Secretariat’s responsibility in integrating multilingualism into its activities, from within existing resources, on an equitable basis. The draft was introduced by Romania’s representative.

Before the adoption, Bolivia’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, said that the economic and financial reality has led the Organization towards monolingualism and hegemonic use of English, stressing the importance of equity among the six United Nations official languages. The Group consists of 20 Spanish-speaking countries from three different continents. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, but only 32 per cent of United Nations information is available in Spanish, he said, calling for an increase in Spanish content.

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, a resolution titled “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Caribbean Community” (document A/73/L.118), by which it noted the recent engagements between the two organizations and called upon the United Nations Secretary-General, in association with the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, as well as the relevant regional organizations, to continue to assist in furthering the development and maintenance of peace and security within the Caribbean region. The draft was tabled by Jamaica’s representative.

In other business, the Assembly decided that Muzoon Almellhan, the youngest Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), will address a high-level meeting on 25 September 2019 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as Malala Yousafzai, United Nations Messenger of Peace, is unable to attend the event.

The Assembly also decided to include the following items in the draft agenda of its seventy-fourth session: Strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution; Zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic; Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte; Request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the consequences of legal obligations of States under different sources of international law with respect to immunities of Heads of State and Government and other senior officials; Appointment of members of the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns; Implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations; Financing of the United Nations Mission in East Timor.

The Assembly also decided to include the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan in the draft agenda of the General Assembly’s seventy-fourth session while Armenia’s delegation disassociated itself from the decision.

The Assembly further decided, by a recorded vote of 65 in favour, to 17 against, with 54 abstentions, to include the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in the draft agenda of its seventy-fourth session.

The representative of the Russian Federation rejected the proposal to include that item in the Assembly’s agenda as a politicization of the latter’s work. Stressing that the item reflects a biased and falsified interpretation of the events in Ukraine since 2014, he recalled that a coup d’état that year led to an internal armed conflict in Ukraine’s eastern region. The Russian Federation is completely uninvolved in the matter, aside from taking part in mediation efforts. Describing Ukraine’s actions as violations of the 2015 Minsk agreements, he said that package includes no reference to “temporarily occupied territories”. If the General Assembly succumbs to the Ukraine’s proposal to include the item on the agenda of its seventy-fourth session, it will be contributing to violations of those agreements. He, therefore, requested a vote on the item’s inclusion and urged all Member States to vote against it.

The representatives of Nicaragua, Namibia, Iran and Syria all echoed those sentiments, with the latter describing the proposal to include the agenda item as a “clearly politicized step” which will damage the Assembly’s work. Spotlighting a growing trend by some Member States to attempt to exploit the organ by bringing such politicized items before it, he said the situation in Ukraine is currently under consideration by the Security Council. As such, the Assembly has no jurisdiction over it.

The representative of Ukraine characterized the requested vote as an attempt to divert the Assembly’s attention from a matter brought to it by a Member State and approved by the Assembly’s General Committee. After the start of the Russian Federation’s military aggression in Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastapol, the Assembly repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including in three subsequent resolutions in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Stressing that the item is not new to the Assembly, he said its retention is largely procedural and that the organ’s discussion of the matter contributes to the pursuit of peace. He urged all delegations to vote in favour of its inclusion in the Assembly’s agenda.

The representatives of the United States and Georgia, as well as Finland on behalf of the European Union, all expressed support for the item’s retention. The latter reiterated that the bloc does not recognize – and continues to condemn – the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation, which are violations of international law. He reaffirmed the bloc’s support for the work of the Normandy format, the Trilateral Contact Group and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, underlining the importance of negotiations aimed at a sustainable and peaceful resolution of the conflict, in line with the Minsk agreements.

Speaking after the vote, Armenia’s representative said that the conflict should be settled between the parties concerned.

Namibia’s delegate withdrew his statement made earlier.

The Assembly also decided, by a recorded vote of 92 in favour, to 15 against, with 27 abstentions, to include in the draft agenda of its next session the item “the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

The speaker for Syria said that his delegation is not convinced of the need to include this item. Two years ago, certain delegations forced the placement of the item in the agenda, insisting that it is a one-time move. However, the same game was played the following year, and now in 2019. This harms the practice of seeking consensus, he said, seeking clarification from the Secretariat.

Cuba’s delegate supported the statement made by Syria and expressed objection to the inclusion of the item as that will not help forge consensus.

Iran’s delegate disagreed with inclusion of the item, saying that formal discussion is not an appropriate forum to reach agreement on the application and definition of responsibility to protect, as it will deepen discrepancies. Informal interactive dialogue is more appropriate. The speaker for Bolivia opposed the inclusion of the item until there is an agreement on the concept.

The representative of China said his delegation would vote against the inclusion of the item. Certain countries are attempting to force inclusion, but it would poison the atmosphere of the Assembly, calling for the return to informal dialogue.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that the concept of responsibility to protect originated in the World Summit in 2005, and there is no agreed common interpretation. This was used to overthrow Government in Libya. Informal dialogue will be more productive.

Egypt’s delegate said he was dismayed that some delegations hastily push for the inclusion. Conceptual gaps needed to be addressed before mainstreaming it into the work of the United Nations. The speaker for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said his delegation is against the inclusion because there is no global consensus on the definition of responsibility to protect.

However, the representative of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, supported the inclusion, saying that the Assembly is the most representative and the best place to discuss such matters and forge consensus. The representative of Denmark, associating herself with the European Union, said that the Assembly is an appropriate forum to debate the issue and outputs from the debate over the past two sessions are encouraging.

The representative of Australia expressed support for the inclusion of the item as debates in the General Assembly were extremely helpful. The United States’ delegate expressed support for the inclusion, arguing that debate is healthy and if there is a lack of consensus, the Assembly can discuss it. Regarding the procedure, this will not bypass the General Committee.

During the debate, many Member States requested continuation of deliberations. The speaker for India requested clarification from the Department of Legal Affairs regarding rules of procedure on placing an item on the agenda of the Assembly.

The speaker for Venezuela said that the notion of “responsibility to protect” is a concern for many States, as interventionists use that concept as an excuse for overthrowing government.

The representative of Zimbabwe stressed the need for more dialogue to bridge the conceptual gap regarding the responsibility to protect.

The representative of the Secretariat explained that the Assembly decided to include several items in a similar manner today. They are for inclusion in the draft agenda. The General Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss the draft agenda and will make a recommendation to the Assembly, which will hold a plenary on Friday to adopt the agenda.

The representative of Syria called for a recorded vote, after which the representative of Indonesia said his delegation voted in favour of the inclusion two years ago but abstained this time.

The speaker for Myanmar said his delegation voted against it as it is premature to place it on the formal agenda.

Delivering remarks at the formal closure of the seventy-third session, outgoing Assembly President María Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), said that over the course of her tenure she learned much from the world’s most vulnerable people - including through her visits with refugees, displaced women, victims of war, indigenous peoples and those facing discrimination and exclusion. “We cannot forget why we are here,” she stressed, noting that the United Nations was established to confront the major challenges facing humanity. Today, those include the climate crisis, inequality and terrorism, as well as such long-standing ones as poverty, hunger and war. Describing the Assembly as the ideal forum to reach agreements and make progress towards global solutions, she stressed that words “create reality” and “translate dreams” – including in the Assembly’s work.

Recalling the priorities of her Presidency, she said the session saw new strides in strengthening the work of women in the Assembly’s activities. Member States rallied significant support for the Global Compact on Migration, spotlighted the need for decent work for all on the centennial of the International Labour Organization (ILO), achieved greater synergies across the Organization and eradicated single-use plastic at United Nations Headquarters. In addition, she sought to include young people in all of the Assembly’s work. Emphasizing that “we are global citizens whether we like it or not,” she said the question of multilateralism is not one of left and right or nationalism versus globalism. Indeed, multilateralism - which benefits all - is being questioned and actively undermined precisely when it is needed most. “My sincere hope for the [Assembly’s] seventy-fourth session is that we will not only hear a robust defence of multilateralism, but see it deliver tangible results to people’s lives,” she said.

Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that the challenges facing humanity are increasingly interlinked in today’s fast-changing world. “From the climate crisis to migration flows and rising inequality, from waves of intolerance to harnessing technology for good, one thing is certain – global issues require global solutions,” he said. Describing the General Assembly as a universal platform to build consensus for the common good, he thanked Ms. Garcés for her work as a champion of multilateralism and cited a range of achievements under her tenure - including the adoption of two Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees and continued progress on reforming the United Nations.

Following those remarks, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President-elect of the Assembly’s seventy-fourth session, took the oath of office. Delegates also observed a minute of silent prayer or meditation.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 September, to formally open its seventy-fourth session.

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