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28 February 2018
President of the UN General Assembly Addresses UNA-USA Global Engagement Summit
By Farah Faroul, Member, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

The UNA-USA Global Engagement Summit held on February 23rd at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City welcomed more than 1,200 members from across the United States. The Honorable Teta Banks, Chair of the UNA-USA National Council introduced His Excellency Miroslav Lajcak, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly and Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic who reminded participants of the major world events that prompted the creation of the UN.

Following two world wars, a major global platform was needed for nations to come together, hold peaceful talks, resolve issues and prevent future wars. He further submitted that the prevention of war is the “noble cause” of the UN. Following the creation of the UN in 1945, several multilateral bodies were created. However, the UN is unique in that it is the only universal multilateral body with open membership for all countries, such as the League of Arab Nations, the Organization of American States and the Council of Europe. He further submitted that 72 years later that the UN is still very much needed and encouraged everyone to stand up in defense of it. On the role of the UN General Assembly (GA), President Lajcak submitted that while it does not deliver binding decisions, it can level the playing field by giving all member states the same voice and same platform to have their issues heard.

Five Most Important Agendas before the UN General Assembly

President Lajcak shared the top five most important agendas of the UNGA: Migration, Sustainable Development, Peace and Prevention, Human Rights and Reform.

Migration is a global phenomenon that has always existed, however there currently is no single multilateral framework to address the issue. The GA has started inter-governmental negotiations to draft a document that addresses migration with the aim of having a framework agreement document by July and adopted by December 2018. While the U.S. is not a part of this process, he expressed hope that it will join the effort.

Sustainable Development is the second priority agenda for the General Assembly. In 2015, it adopted, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a blueprint to help make this world a better place by 2030. As of today, 65 countries have presented their implementation strategies. In addition, 47 countries are expected to present their country strategies soon. He stressed that the UN is short of the necessary funds to implement the SDGs and that an event will take place in June to help secure financing from the private sector.

Clean Water and Sanitation for All, Global Goal 6 of the SDGs will be prominently featured this year in many events around the world with several UN partners. President Lajcak also noted that Global Water Day, which will be observed on March 22, will be marked with several events to help promote clean water for everyone on this planet. Today more than 2.1 billion people still lack access to clean water and one in three people do not have access to basic sanitation.

Peace and Prevention activities, core to the purpose and framework of the UN, will focus more on preventing conflicts, rather than responding to conflicts in 2018.

Human Rights, the fourth agenda item is something that not come from a document, but from humanity. Therefore, we must all stand up in response to violations of human rights, the violation of which are usually a strong indicator that something is wrong within a nation. Ignoring basic human rights violations lead to conflicts.

UN Reform, the fifth and most important agenda item. The first part of the reform process will tackle the composition of the UN Security Council (SC), which does not reflect the current reality of the world. The next step will be revitalization of the GA by making it more visible and prominent. Reform efforts will also involve strengthening the multilateral system because no single country can deal with the global challenges alone. President Lajcak further noted that we cannot have different rules for different parts of the planet while solving these global challenges. In closing, he stated that the UN is at the core of global change.

Q&A with the Audience

Following his address, President Lajcak took several questions from the audience related to the agendas set forth in his address. The crises and continued violence in Ukraine were brought up. Both issues are currently before the GA and the UNSC. He mentioned that the Minsk Group composed of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany currently have a framework to deal with the latter.

The multi-stakeholder approach being used at the UN to address the global migration issue was highlighted. Outside partners such as NGOs are being called on to supply data to fight misconceptions and lies regarding migration. Everyone to be part of this process, and to not leave it only to governments.

President Lajcak further clarified that the SDGs are not entirely legally binding. Current member states can choose which goals are the most important and implement them in their respective countries. Global Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) will be prominently featured in events throughout the world this year by the UN.

President Lajcak closed by mentioning that all SDGs are equally important and serve as inspiration to all countries. His remarks were well received and led to a standing ovation by the audience.