71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly
The United Nations 71st General Assembly opened in New York City on September 13, 2016. The opening of a new session of the UN General Assembly each September is one of the major international events.
The greatest concerns of the world’s peoples at this time include the ongoing destabilization of sovereign states in North Africa and West Asia by NATO-sponsored death squads and “moderate rebels” and the dangers of world war posed by the U.S. imperialist encirclement of Russia and “pivot to Asia.” Nowhere are the devastating effects of these destabilization efforts more brutally felt than in the ongoing sponsorship of state terrorism by the Anglo-American imperialists and former colonial powers and the resultant refugee crisis. The UN Refugee Agency counts nearly 21.3 million refugees in the world today, more than half of whom are under the age of 18.
In this regard, an ongoing problem facing the UN is the manipulation of its own institutions and other international fora by the U.S.-led imperialist system of states and the big powers which block the principled and peaceful resolution of many international issues. Given the major issues of war and peace and other important developments in the world today, it is certain that these contradictions will be as sharp as ever as the UN opens its new session.
As well, the deeply-felt desire of the peoples for peace and social progress is reflected in the ongoing peace processes in Colombia and the Philippines. The world’s peoples also take the opportunity of the UN General Assembly session to reaffirm their support for the heroic Palestinian people who are steeling their resistance in the face of the ever more severe repressions and land theft of the Zionist occupation. Cuba continues to resist the criminal U.S. blockade which the international community continues to condemn while the UN is also used by the U.S. to violate the deep desire of the Korean people for national reunification and a permanent peace treaty. A major concern as well is the ongoing campaign to elect a war president in the U.S. to “make America great again” and save the U.S. from crisis on the backs of the world’s peoples.
Outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (whose term ends on December 31) said at a September 14 press conference that the global challenges pertaining to refugees and migrants, climate change, and the war in Syria are the topics that will likely figure prominently at the opening week of the General Assembly, the UN News Centre reports.
Ban said that the international community must “come together in a spirit of shared responsibility for the world’s refugees and migrants. More countries must resettle more people who have been forced from their homes. More countries must recognize the benefits of migration. And everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants and minority communities face.”
He also said he is pushing for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change before the end of this year. “Now we need just 28 more countries, representing 16 per cent of global emissions, to cross the necessary threshold,” he said, drawing attention to the September 21 special event at which countries can deposit their ratification instruments with the Secretary-General.
Ban said that “while many conflicts are causing enormous pain, none is causing so much death, destruction and widespread instability as the worsening war in Syria.”
Theme of 71st Session – “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World”
John Thomson of Fiji, president of the 71st UN General Assembly, gave the opening remarks in which he highlighted this year’s theme, “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World.”
“The 70th Session launched the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], and for integrity’s sake the 71st must be the year we witness the wheels turning on the implementation of all 17 [Sustainable Development Goals],” said Thomson.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were set by the General Assembly during its 70th session. The UN News Centre explains:
“On 1 January 2016, the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals] of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – adopted by world leaders in September last year – officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with the aim of achieving the [Sustainable Development Goals], countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are as follows:
- No Poverty:End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
- Zero Hunger:End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Good Health and Well-Being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
- Quality Education:Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- Gender Equality:Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Clean Water and Sanitation:Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- Affordable and Clean Energy:Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth:Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure:Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
- Reduced Inequalities:Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities:Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Responsible Consumption and Production:Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
- Climate Action:Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
- Life Below Water:Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
- Life on Land:Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
- Peace and Justice Strong Institutions:Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Partnerships for the Goals:Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Summit for Refugees and Migrants, September 19
The General Assembly will host “a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach,” states the summit website.
“This is the first time the General Assembly has called for a summit at the Heads of State and Government level on large movements of refugees and migrants and it is a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response. It is a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants. […]
“The Summit will be attended by heads of state and government, Ministers, and leaders from the UN System, civil society, private sector, international organizations, academia, and beyond in alignment with the General Assembly resolution establishing the summit’s modalities. […]
“Also on the margins of the General Assembly, on September 20, 2016, the United States’ President Obama is hosting the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, alongside co-hosts Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden, which will appeal to governments to pledge significant new commitments on refugees. While the Leaders’ Summit will focus on refugees, not migrants, the General Assembly High-Level Summit will address large movements of both. The two events will complement one another.”
The situation facing humanity in the wake of the regime change, fomenting of civil war and other foreign interference in North Africa and West Asia remains extremely dire. In its September 13 update on migrant arrivals in the Mediterranean alone, the International Organization for Migration reports that “294,450 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 through September 12, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy [… F]or the region as a whole, through 2015’s first eight months (January 1-August 31) a total of 354,618 arrivals were recorded crossing the Mediterranean, or some 60,000 more than 2016’s total thus far. […]
“Nonetheless, while total arrival numbers are down, fatalities among Mediterranean migrants and refugees now stand through this past weekend at 3,207 – exceeding by 456 the total recorded during the same period last year. According to [the International Organization for Migration]’s Missing Migrants Project, Mediterranean fatalities for last year stood at 2,751 through September 12, 2015.”
General Debate, September 20
A highlight of the opening of a new session of the General Assembly is the General Debate, where each member country of the UN in a speech to the plenary, raises its concerns and preoccupations. It is an important forum where the smaller countries, especially those countries which are taking an independent path in defiance of U.S. imperialism and big power dictate, can raise important matters of principle and concern to their own people and the peoples of the world.
This year, the General Debate begins September 20, the day after the Summit for Refugees and Migrants. Many heads of state of the 193 UN member countries will attend to deliver their country’s speech.
(With files from UN News Centre, IOM)
Source: TML Weekly, September 17, 2016 – No. 36