Reaching the three-quarter century mark this year, the General Assembly of the United Nations under unprecedented circumstances brought forward by the novel coronavirus, for the first time in its 75 years of existence is taking place virtually. Starting from 15th September, the major international event is to be stretched in a week-long session of general debates incorporating 193 member states, with the respective ministers and the head of the states addressing the platform through pre-recorded videos. Overshadowing all other issues, the general focus is directed towards the COVID-19 linking it with the global health crisis—the debates calling for an effective multilateral action needed to confront the Pandemic collectively. With the primary goal insight, the outline for this year coordinates all the preceding discussions with the theme: “The future we want, the UN we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism – addressing COVID-19 through real multilateral action”.
Addressing the near-empty hall of General Assembly in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for solidarity in this time of uncertainty, stating, “The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed our annual meeting beyond recognition. But it has made it more important than ever.” Pandemic’s relentless force that has brought the world on its hinges has also revealed the grievances globally. The virus may be the most urgent crisis the world is facing, but it is the only issue. The global challenges are far and wide with racism, inequality, climate change, poverty and armed conflict. Other afflictions remain. Therefore the 17 internationally recognized Sustainable Development Goals remain the top UN agenda for 2020. Taking this into consideration, The Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire and a move towards peace and reconciliation. An essential part of the session is the stress on gender as the Pandemic marked a rising surge of violence against women. The focus is also directed towards generating renewable energy and reaching zero-emission levels by the year 2050, highlighting the dire need for global climate action. Establishing a new social contract, Mr. Guterres called for 21st-century Multilateralism.
With the world leaders taking turns to address the general assembly on 22nd September, the President of the host country Donald Trump took center stage in a pre-recorded session with a campaign-style speech. Trump used the platform to address the economic conditions and the political scenario amid the Pandemic. Delivering out harsh remarks condemning China for spreading the coronavirus, he said, “We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy: the China virus, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world.” He further criticized China over dumping millions of tons of trash into the ocean and declared the Paris Climate Accord one-sided, stating that the US is being maltreated. Shedding light on his tenure with the incoming elections in November, Trump decalred the last three years as the greatest in American economic history. Mentioning the US as the facilitator of Peace deals between Serbia and Kosovo and the role it played in normalizing the relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Trump also addressed the criticism he has faced in the handling of the virus, calling it “the most aggressive mobilization since the second world war.” In the concluding remarks, Trump declared his intention to prioritize US interest over Multilateralism, a consistent theme in all his addresses with the international organizations.
Standing in direct juxtaposition, Chinese President Xi Jinping continued his stance as of supporting free trade and promoting Multilateralism, offering a different approach to international order as opposed to that of the US. With the US-China tension looming in the background, Chinese President Xi Jinping called out against the stigmatization China faces over the Pandemic, stating, “Any attempt of politicizing the issue of stigmatization must be rejected.” On another front, China faced pushback from French President Emmanuel Macron, who used the platform to urge the UN to proceed with its international mission in the western Chinese region over human rights abuse.
Among the preliminary list of speakers, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the General Assembly through a video link. Imran Khan, who made his debut in the UN as the head of the state last year, is expected to once again root for the Kashmiri cause against India’s brutal injustice and violation of human rights. The growing Islamophobia and the spread of hate campaigns by the BJP against Muslims in India is also a cause for concern which the Prime Minister is likely to address. The day after Pakistan’s address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to speak. Back to back sessions of the two countries will bring forward the Kashmiri issue in the international community to promote a solution under the guidelines of the Security Council. The Turkish President, in his speech in the ongoing session of the General assembly, also highlighted the Kashmir issue and extended support to the people of Kashmiri, insisting that it is impossible to establish peace in South Asia until the Kashmir dispute is settled in accordance with the UN resolutions.
This year’s annual session of the United States Generally Assembly may be the most important one since its inception. The state nations have never been more collected towards a global cause as they are now due to the Pandemic. The international events that unfolded after the outbreak of the virus put the entire global order in perspective. The crumbling global economy and health crisis have forced nations to work on multilateral ties to defeat the virus and then focus on other international issues with humanitarian injustice as the main priority.
Dua Sohail is a student of Social Sciences at IoBM. Her interests are Social Change, Modern Philosophy and Politics.