1) General Assembly: Observance of the annual Nelson Mandela International Day, Informal Meeting, 75th Session 2) General Assembly: 92nd Plenary Meeting, 75th Session

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21-Jul-2021 03:14:32
The General Assembly holds an Informal meeting of the plenary on the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day. General Assembly decides high-level meeting on improving global road safety will be held in New York, 2022.

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Celebrating what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 102nd birthday on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed hailed the man who led the struggle that ended the racist apartheid system in his native South Africa as exemplifying “courage, compassion and an unwavering commitment to social justice and equality”.  

Affectionately known as Madiba, the UN deputy chief told the General Assembly meeting celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day – officially commemorated on Sunday – that he “embodied the highest aspirations of the United Nations and the human family”. 

Hate speech and the denial of facts are becoming “mainstream in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes alike”, Ms. Mohammed said, “blurring the truth, questioning science and undermining democratic institutions”.  

She pointed to an alarming trend that “people with little or no knowledge of historical facts are infected by the virus of disinformation and distortion and embracing violent ideologies”.  

And COVID-19 has intensified this, rolling back years of progress in the global fight against poverty and injustice, leaving the marginalized and disenfranchised suffering the most, and often being blamed for problems they did not cause, she said. 

People of African descent, Indigenous, ethnic or religious minorities - and those who have fled their homes as refugees - bear the brunt of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, according to the UN official.

“These are the ills that Nelson Mandela stood up against to create his lasting legacy”, she said. 

“It is our individual responsibility to follow Madiba’s example of humility, forgiveness and compassion, while advocating for democracy and peace throughout the world”, said the deputy UN chief. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the vital importance of human solidarity and unity, values championed and exemplified by Madiba in his lifelong fight for justice”.  

And with a role for everyone, she urged the gathering to be inspired by Madiba’s message that “each of us can make a difference in promoting peace, human rights, harmony with nature and dignity for all”. 

The Deputy Secretary-General shared that ever since her youth, when she was trying to find her path, Mr. Mandela had been a personal inspiration. 

“As we reflect on Madiba’s life and work, let us each stand up and be counted. Let us borrow a leaf from his stubborn optimism in the human endeavour”, she concluded. “Let us all honour his call to action and be energized by his legacy”. 

General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that in life and legacy, Nelson Mandela advocated for “the inherent dignity and equality of people”; both within and between nations, regardless of race, nationality, or belief – universal values, set out in the UN Charter and human rights treaties.

As the Assembly is tasked with upholding and protecting these values, he said it is only right to “convene here today, to celebrate, promote these ideals, and to honour Nelson Mandela”.

Mr. Bozkir said the Mandela name was “synonymous with the fight for justice and equality”, which must be remembered when considering the plight of 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, women and girls subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, and the intolerance and racial discrimination that threaten to erode the progress he fought so hard to advance.

“As an international community, we must take collective action. For we will not achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda whilst racism and discrimination persist”, said the Assembly President.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great suffering for individuals and nations, putting health systems under immense strain, creating an unparalleled socio-economic crisis and hijacking our development trajectory, said Mr. Bozkir.

In recovering, human rights must be upheld for everyone, everywhere and multilateral efforts galvanized for fair and equitable vaccine access for all, he added.

“Put simply, we must act in the spirit of Madiba, if we are to build back better”, concluded the Assembly President.

Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa told the meeting that “systemic racism has had a pernicious effect” on communities everywhere.

Reminding the Assembly that Mr. Mandela used the Swahili world ubunti to explain that “to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains” but to live in a way that enhances the lives of others, she offered the additional phrase, Mimi ni kwa sababu wewe ni – which translates as “I am because you are.”

“We are all connected, and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others”, she said.

Delegates Also Pass Text on Countering Hate Speech through Intercultural Dialogue

The General Assembly adopted two resolutions today pertaining to an upcoming high-level meeting on global road safety and to countering hate speech through the promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, respectively, as delegates debated a draft amendment to the former resolution and sparred over the appropriate way to determine which non-governmental organizations will be able to participate in the 2022 high-level meeting.

The Assembly first considered the draft resolution titled “Scope, modalities, format and organization of the high-level meeting on improving global road safety” (document A/75/L.109), along with a draft amendment concerning the same (document A/75/L.114).

Introducing that amendment, the representative of the United Kingdom said that language in the tabled draft resolution would allow any Member State to arbitrarily and unilaterally block any non-governmental organization, from anywhere in the world, from participating in the high-level meeting on road safety in 2022. The amendment seeks to return the Assembly to its consensus approach, present in three modalities resolutions adopted earlier in 2021 on HIV/AIDS, cybercrime and human trafficking, to empower the organ — rather than any single Member State — to take a corporate decision on whose voices it can or cannot hear. Recalling one Member State’s attempt to block a non-governmental organization from the high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS for political reasons, and the subsequent vote by the Assembly that overwhelmingly supported that group’s inclusion, he stressed that “we know this amendment works because we have seen it work”.

The representative of Brunei Darussalam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that some 1.3 million people are killed each year in road traffic crashes. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability. More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, she warned, describing road crashes as “a major threat to public health and global development”. Welcoming the initiative in raising awareness to improve global road safety, she expressed the bloc’s commitment to supporting the General Assembly in its effort to halve global traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.

Speaking in explanation of position before the vote, the representative of Slovenia, speaking for the European Union, stressed the importance of civil society participation in the high-level meeting and said that the draft amendment aims to bring the power to make decisions on such participation back to the Assembly. Emphasizing that the Assembly cannot afford to have experiences concerning global road safety unheard and expressing concern over previous abuse of non-objection clauses, she underscored that the final decision on the list of civil society organizations allowed to participate in the meeting must be made by the organ as a whole, not by a single Member State.

Also speaking before the vote, China’s representative urged that the draft resolution as it stands reflects the consensus formulated within the Assembly over the years; namely, that non-governmental organizations possessing consultative status with the Economic and Social Council can register to participate, while others can attend on a non-objection basis. He said his country will vote against the draft amendment, as it weakens Member States’ role in considering this matter on a non-objection basis and deviates from the consensus previously reached by broad membership.

The Assembly then adopted the amendment by a recorded vote of 81 in favour to 36 against, with 30 abstentions, and subsequently adopted the resolution, as amended, without a vote.

Through the text, as amended, the General Assembly decided that its high‑level meeting on improving global road safety will be held in New York in 2022 back to back with the Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum on sustainable development, under the theme of “The 2030 horizon for road safety: securing a decade of action and delivery”. The Assembly also decided that the meeting will adopt a concise, action-oriented political decision to be submitted by the President of the General Assembly for adoption by that organ. Further, the Assembly invited certain entities to participate in the high-level meeting and requested its President to draw up a list of representatives of other relevant non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, academic institutions and the private sector who may participate in the high-level meeting. The President must then submit such list to Member States for their consideration on a non-objection basis and bring the list to the attention of the Assembly for a final decision on participation in the meeting.

After the vote, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire, also speaking for the Russian Federation, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, expressing hope that the 2022 high-level meeting will become a milestone event. A political declaration to be adopted — hopefully by consensus — at the meeting will lay out a robust guideline on road safety towards 2030, adding to the impressive list of existing instruments.

The General Assembly next turned to the draft resolution titled “Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech” (document A/75/L.115).

The representative of Morocco introduced the draft resolution, pointing out that the text outlines three main actions — designating 18 June as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech, convening a high-level meeting in 2022 to commemorate that day and inviting Member States to collect and analyse data to inform effective responses.

The Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote.

By the terms of the text, the General Assembly called on Member States to consider, as appropriate and where applicable, interreligious and intercultural dialogue as an important tool in efforts aimed at achieving peace, social stability and the full realization of internationally agreed development goals. The organ also decided to proclaim 18 June as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech and requested the President of the General Assembly to convene an informal high-level meeting on 18 June 2022 to mark the commemoration of the first such day. The Assembly also invited Member States to support transparent, accessible systems to identify, track, collect data and analyse trends on hate speech to support effective responses. The resolution further called on Member States — who have the primary responsibility to counter discrimination and hate speech — and all relevant actors to promote inclusion and unity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to speak out and take strong action against racism, xenophobia, hate speech, violence, discrimination and stigmatization.

After the vote, the representative of Slovenia, speaking again on behalf of the European Union, voiced concern that the number of initiatives on interreligious dialogues outside of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is growing. Expressing regret that the bloc’s several proposals were not taken onboard, she pointed out that the draft addresses hate speech in the narrow context of religious tolerance. She also reiterated the Union’s position against the proliferation of international days.

An observer for the Holy See, deploring a lack of understanding of the distinction between intercultural and interreligious dialogues, pointed out that the latter is promoted by religious leaders and the United Nations has no mandate in that space.

Also speaking in explanation of position on the draft resolution and draft amendment pertaining to the high-level meeting on global road safety were representatives of India, Australia (also for Canada and New Zealand), the United States, Iran, Syria and Belarus.

Also speaking in explanation of position on the draft resolution on countering hate speech were representatives of the United Kingdom, Australia and the Russian Federation.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 July, to continue its work.
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