The new President of the General Assembly says that hope is desperately needed for those billions around the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, devastation, and strife.

In his first major interview, he told UN News that the General Assembly, as the UN’s most representative body, is ideally placed to give shape to that hope.  

“The General Assembly is the only body which has the 193 countries represented and this body, when it speaks unanimously when it decides on a matter, that is the international conscience,” Abdulla Shahid said, ahead of the 76th General Assembly session, which started on 15 September.  

He added that on issues such as climate change and equitable access to vaccines, he would “never give up hope that humanity will rise to the occasion.”  

Mr. Shahid also spoke about the importance of these issues and his overall presidency for his home country of the Maldives - which he serves as foreign minister - an island nation of 26 atolls southwest of India and Sri Lanka, with a population of around 530,000 people. 

He will now represent a United Nations body that speaks on behalf of nearly 7.9 billion. 

His priorities for the coming year include leading by example to help the UN reach the “gold standard” on issues such as gender equality. That means participating on panels with equal numbers of women and pushing for a more family-friendly UN, for mothers who are breast-feeding or taking care of small children.  

UN News: Your candidacy for the position of President of General Assembly was built around the theme of hope. Given the continued waves of COVID, unequal access to vaccines, and continued strife around the world – how do you plan to bring hope to the General Assembly?  

Abdulla Shahid: I campaigned on a presidency of hope because I truly believed that given the devastation, the despair, and the heartache that we have over the last 18 months it is time that the United Nations as the world body that encompasses the entire international community, the whole 193 countries, it is time that we stand up and we give hope to our constituents.  The Charter says “We the Peoples” so it is time that we the people, unite in giving the hope that people so desperately need. 

In these terrible times of the pandemic, we have seen humanity at its best.  We have seen that in the grave sacrifices of the frontline workers, we have seen the doctors, the nurses, the many, many ordinary individuals who have put their lives in harm’s way to help others.  That is hope. That gives hope to humanity. 

We have seen a vaccine developed in record time - that gives hope for the United Nations to come together…and begin the recovery which is what is required now.  It is unity that gives strength. 

In the Maldives where I come from, we live day in day out, with the threat of climate change, sea level rise, but we will never give up hope that humanity will rise to the occasion.  That we will survive.  It is in the Maldivian ethos that we strive for the better, we try to do better…To try for a better tomorrow. 

From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale.

Read the full interview with Abdulla Shahid on UN News.