Opening General Debate, Secretary-General Says 'Great Goals Are Within Reach', Urges Members States to Stand United 'Against Forces that Would Divide Us'
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)
Theme of Debate: Reaffirming Central Role United Nations in Global Governance; Assembly President Says World Body Must Reform, Act with More Efficiency, Unity
Achieving the United Nations ambitious agenda for a more prosperous and sustainable world free of nuclear weapons was among the great challenges of our era, and the Organization had a moral duty to pull together in a principled stand against the divisive forces, be they social, economic or geopolitical, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders as he opened the General Assembly's week-long annual general debate today.
"The great goals are within reach," he said. "We can achieve them by looking forward [and] uniting our strength as a community of nations in the name of the larger good," the Secretary-General said. Following the Assembly's review of the status of the Millennium Development Goals, which had concluded the day before, the challenge now, he said, was to deliver on the pledge for a mutually accountable partnership to better the lives of billions within this generation.
Work would hinge on helping people help themselves, and investing smartly in areas such as education and women's empowerment. He stressed that that the United Nations was working on a host of longer-term issues, with new momentum seen in nuclear disarmament, climate change and women's empowerment.
During the year, the Organization had been on the ground in times of emergency, he said, citing its involvement in Pakistan following epic floods, in Haiti after a devastating earthquake, in Iraq brokering a compromise to keep elections on track, and notably in Africa, where it had adapted its mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to changing circumstances there. Defining the United Nations work, however, were efforts to build a stronger institution. In the weeks ahead, as the Assembly's substantive work got under way in earnest, delegates must remember that the world still looked to the United Nations for moral and political leadership.
Echoing that thought, General Assembly President Joseph Deiss, stressed: "It is up to you, the Member States, to make the United Nations strong and able to play a central part in facing global challenges." The Organization risked being marginalized by the emergence of other actors on the global stage and criticism that it was ineffective, especially in the wake of a global financial crisis that had demanded a fast, coordinated response. To maximize its ability to play a global governance role, "we must work to make it strong, inclusive and open", he said. It would be up to Members to determine the ideal combination of legitimacy and effectiveness.
For the African Union, that meant holding two permanent seats with full veto power, and five non-permanent seats on the Security Council, said Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of Malawi, who spoke as the Union's 2010 Chairman in the lengthy debate that followed. Such reforms would allow Africa to effectively participate in global governance carried out by the United Nations, a point reinforced by Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone, who said no continent should have an exclusive monopoly over the Council's membership. He looked forward to the situation evolving during the Assembly's session.
Throughout the day, world leaders and high-ranking officials from more than 30 countries outlined national objectives and offered other prescriptions for making the United Nations a more representative yet agile body, able to confront complex situations and meet weighty demands. Gatherings like the annual general debate would only be valuable, some said, if they allowed for shaping of a common vision for action towards peace, development and justice.
Citizens participating more directly in solving societal challenges would demand the United Nations to be accountable to them, many said. To meet that expectation, said Swiss President Doris Leuthard, each Member State must first put its own house in order and commit itself clearly within the Organization.
Carrying that thought further, and touching directly on the theme of the debate, Steven Vanackere, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Institutional Reform of Belgium, said that at the heart of any form of governance lay responsibility, whether global or local, national or international. However, responsibility alone was not enough, as governance was not only about behaving responsibly, it was also about being accountable. That applied not only at the level of the single State, but also at the level of the United Nations.