UN General Assembly President upholds value of multilateralism in speech closing annual debate

UN Photo/Cia Pak Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly, closes the general debate of the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly. (30 September 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The only way to guarantee peace, security and sustainable development is for countries to work together, the UN General Assembly president said in his speech on Monday concluding the annual high-level debate in the Hall.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande underscored the value of multilateral cooperation in addition to what he described as “the give-and-take spirit” that defines it.

“It is perfectly legitimate to raise questions about the essence of, and the need for, multilateralism,” he said.

“All the same, even when we disagree on how the world should be organized to respond to or anticipate mounting challenges, we shall eventually come to common cause on the need for a rules-based international order.”

Indeed, the broad participation in this year’s General Debate had shown that far from being an out-moded principle, multilateral cooperation remains an accepted and reliable method of managing relations among nations.

The debate began on Tuesday and saw active participation by Heads of State or other senior officials from 192 of the 193 UN Member States.

While the General Assembly is the UN body where these countries have equal representation, Mr. Muhammad-Bande pointed out that only 16 had women deliver their national statements.

“When we speak of a representative United Nations, this is clearly not what we mean,” he said, calling for wider participation of women.

“By a representative UN we mean a body that allows every human being to realize his or her fullest potential, unhindered by his or her gender or by history of advantage. Gender equality in the contemporary world is still a work in progress. We therefore need to double our efforts to speed up the process of including women, not only in decision-making structures but also in the list of speakers billed to address this high-level forum.”

This year’s high-level week was marked by five major summits on global challenges such as climate action and universal access to health care.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande recalled that young people also made their voices heard during this period, with millions worldwide taking to the street for the global climate strike. They also took over the General Assembly for a Youth Climate Action Summit.

“Let me assure you, youth, we hear you,” he said. But that ‘I hear you’ does not mean you should lower the volume. You should continue to make your voice heard at every opportunity you have

Another summit underlined the need for additional financing to realize the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before the deadline of 2030.

World leaders adopted the 17 SDGs four years ago with the aim of eradicating extreme poverty, promoting greater equality and protecting the environment for the benefit of all people, but also the planet.

As another $2.4 trillion is needed to meet these commitments, the General Assembly president suggested countries could work to curb illicit financial flows which siphon $2.6 trillion annually from the global economy.

“We must also accord good governance high priority,” he said. “This is to ensure that corruption does not continue to derail progress and fuel conflict as we approach the year 2030,” he said.                    

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