Oath of Office Address by the Incoming President of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Ambassador Peter Thomson
Mr President, Secretary General, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prior to my assuming the high office of the Presidency, and before taking the solemn Oath of Office, I have a few remarks to make before parting with my status as President-elect.
Firstly, on behalf of you all, it is my duty and privilege this afternoon to thank the President of the 70th Session of the General Assembly for his selfless service to the United Nations throughout the past year.
President Lykketoft brought new levels of transparency and openness to the United Nations and there are few who do not see the many benefits derived.
In this regard one need think only of his clear, firm leadership of the General Assembly’s comprehensive interaction with the candidates aspiring to fill the post of the next Secretary General of the United Nations.
Transparency calls upon the exercise of our most worthy qualities of honesty, equity and ethical behavior. Under its wide purview, we are required to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards expected of us as the selected representatives of humankind congregated here at the United Nations. Thus the Lykketoft legacy is a demanding one, but I”m confident it will be an enduring one, and I for one commit to build on it over the coming session.
So President Lykketoft, I say on behalf of my colleagues here present: it was a job well done, a mantle well worn, and you should leave this great Hall today in the full knowledge of our appreciation. I ask my colleagues to stand with me now and express that thanks by acclamation.
Secondly, I express thanks to our Secretary General for the continuation of his great service to this world. In the 70th Session, the Secretary-General’s commitment to the creation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda achieved glorious fruition, and his relentless pursuit of a breakthrough on Climate Change was rewarded in Paris.
We are blessed with another four months of his leadership, so today is not the time for valedictory praise, but it is a reminder that we must seize the months ahead to garner from him all the broad wisdom and venerable experience he can pass onto us this year. I look forward very much to working closely with our Secretary-General and his team between now and year’s end.
The 71st will be a special year for us all. Not least will be the fact that we will have the experience of working with two Secretaries-General. The search for the best possible candidate to fill the post is approaching its final stages. Once the selection process is complete, it will be important that we undertake an orderly appointment and smooth transition to demonstrate the strength of our institutional stability.
As President of the Assembly I will dedicate myself to facilitation of the transition process, and will be available at all times to assist the incoming Secretary-General settle into her or his responsibilities of office.
Throughout the 71st, I will work to strengthen the relations between the UN’s organs, continuing the practice of holding regular meetings with the Secretary-General, the Presidents of the Security Council, and the President of ECOSOC, and I will inform the membership as to the scope of these meetings. And in addition to upholding the principles of transparency and inclusiveness, during the 71st Session I will seek to give greater prominence to ethics in the work of the United Nations.
As far as the Office of the President is concerned, financial transparency will be maintained by ensuring that all contributions to the running of the Office are entered into the UN Trust Fund where the donors and expenditure will be public knowledge. In this regard, I thank the Governments who have contributed to date for their generosity and support for the work of the OPGA in the 71st Session.
I also thank the Governments and agencies that have seconded staff to the OPGA for the 71st Session. We have a large staff this year because of the appointment of a team specifically dedicated to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals this team has been put in place to fulfill the commitment I have made to achieving meaningful progress in all 17 Goals during the 71st.
That commitment, however, will not be delivered by this Assembly alone and in this regard, I will work to strengthen the engagement of civil society and other actors in our overall work.
I have heard and will respect the membership’s desire for a calendar less crowded with high level events and meetings. I am undertaking to look at creative ways for us to address the many pressing issues before us, without crowding the calendar.
We will strive to find new methods to resolve entrenched conflicts, diminish the atrocities of global terrorism, better manage migrant and refugee flows, and resolve the many humanitarian crises that remind us millions of people in our world are still denied even the most basic conditions for a secure life. I welcome the cessation of hostilities that has come into effect in Syria, and call on all parties to honor the terms of the agreement. I sincerely hope that this understanding may ease the humanitarian suffering, and lead to a lasting peace for the Syrian people.
The link between sustainable development, peace and security, and human rights has never been more explicit. I will therefore encourage a heightening of the human rights work of this Assembly throughout the 71st Session.
Next week, for example, world leaders come together for the High Level Meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants. I regret the evidence of widespread lack of empathy for people on the move, many of whom are fleeing from conflict, persecution, or climate change. I congratulate those who are not shirking from their decent responsibilities. It is time to turn down the rhetoric of intolerance and ratchet up a collective response based on our common humanity.
There is much the 71st Session must undertake in the area of peace and security. Building on the review of the Global Counter-Terrorism strategy, including the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Violent Extremism, we will act on improving the UN architecture to face these threats. In these troubled times, no community is immune from violent extremism and terrorism. We face this scourge together and must find the solutions together.
As the representative of a proud Troop Contributing Country, I”m fully aware we must be diligent in coherent implementation of the outcomes from last year’s UN reviews on Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and on women, peace and security, including through action in the Fifth Committee relating to Special Political Missions.
We must also look to take forward implementation of the ambitious ‘sustaining peace’ agenda, agreed by the General Assembly and Security Council earlier this year. Through the concept of ‘sustaining peace’, we have the opportunity to bring new coherence and coordination to our work – across peace and security, development, and human rights – in pursuit of our shared goal and responsibility for sustaining peace across the globe.
Reform of the UN Security Council, is also work at hand for the 71st. The membership is unanimous in agreeing that reform is necessary to align the Security Council with the realities of the 21st Century, not least of which will be the security consequences of Climate Change. The question is not whether reform is necessary, but how and in what form it will be achieved. And since reform is required in the best interests of the community of nations as a whole, it is therefore logical that the community as a whole must move forward together in resolving reform. I am committed to facilitating this movement in the 71st.
Excellencies, this time last year, we were gearing up for the Summit to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Like a lighthouse in a world dogged by despair and division, the 2030 Agenda came into existence and we had a bright new beacon to light us out of the poverty and unsustainable practices that bedevil our planet. The 2030 Agenda has since had its foundations strengthened by the historic promise of the Paris Climate Agreement.
It has been heartening to observe the sincerity with which Governments and national planning agencies around the world have begun integrating the Agenda into national processes. But make no mistake, the great majority of humankind has yet to learn of the Agenda it has yet to embrace the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that if successfully implemented will bring an end to poverty and secure a sustainable place for humanity on this planet.
It is for this reason that the theme of the 71st Session is The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World.
The 70th Session launched the SDGs, and for integrity’s sake the 71st must be the year we witness the wheels turning on the implementation of all 17 SDGs.
I am committed to taking the 17 Goals to the people, so they can understand them as rights and responsibilities, as humanity’s recipe for a sustainable world for them and their children.
I wish to see us provide clear guidance, through this year’s QCPR process, in support of an efficient and integrated response from the UN system and so that we are confident that the system is up to the massive task of implementing the 2030 Agenda.
I will look to advance action to revitalize and align the Agenda of the General Assembly with that of the 2030 Agenda and I will be working closely with the President of ECOSOC to ensure the work of both organs is mutually reinforcing.
I will also support a successful Habitat III conference in October and work to deliver a truly game changing outcome for the health of our oceans through the conference on Goal 14 in June 2017.
As promised, I have formed an SDG implementation team within the office of the President. I will work to advance a range of initiatives and events in collaboration with you, the membership, with the UN system, civil society, the private sector and others, to get the wheels of implementation turning – finance, education, outreach, partnership, resourcing.
Throughout the 71st, we will hold ourselves accountable to achieving meaningful progress for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Before closing my remarks I would like to invite my granddaughters Grace and Mirabelle to join me on this stage. They have flown all the way from the South Pacific to be with me on this day and there is a reason I”d like them to be with me while I say what I have to say.
Grace is 7 years old and Mirabelle is 5. That means that when the remaining 14 years of the Sustainable Development Agenda have expired and the year 2030 is upon them, they will be young adults ready to fulfill the potential of their lives. What kind of world will we have bequeathed them and all their brothers and sisters around the world, your own grandchildren and children, born and yet to be born?
Will it be a world where the projected loss of biodiversity on land and sea severely limits the possibilities of life, where atmospheric levels of CO2 have gone well beyond the 1.5 to 2 degree thresholds, thereby imperiling humanity’s place on this planet? Will it be a world in which today’s unsustainable patterns of consumption and production have spiraled out of control where poverty, inequality and wretched governance have driven people to desperate acts of violence, migration and human degradation?
Or will it be the world we envisage in the 2030 Agenda: a world of planetary prosperity in which the scourge of extreme poverty has been eradicated food security and healthy lives are enabled water and sanitation provided to all with inequalities reduced in peaceful, inclusive, just, well-governed societies where women and girls are empowered cities and settlements are safe and resilient and quality education is equitable and inclusive?
If humanity’s will-power is strong enough, by 2030 this will be a world in which energy is sustainable and affordable for all, and men and women will have decent work within resilient infrastructure, sustainable industries and the limitless possibilities of innovation. People will live on a planet where we have taken the necessary action to combat Climate Change and restore terrestrial ecosystems, and the cycle of decline in which the Ocean is currently caught has reverted to a maritime world free of pollution and the deleterious effect of acidification and de-oxgenization, once more enjoying healthy fish-stocks and coastal ecosystems.
It goes without saying that it is towards this better world we must make our course, and I swear, on the love of my granddaughters, that I will do all within my power as President of the General Assembly’s 71st Session, to keep to the headings of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the promised shores of a sustainable way of life on this planet.
The communal conscience of our generation will not rest easy until it is clear we are going to achieve the SDGs. And the 71st Session will only be fulfilling, if at its end we can be assured real progress is underway on each of the Goals, that our faith and hope in progress is not misplaced, and that a better world will be at hand when the year 2030 rolls around.
Thank you Grace and Mirabelle for witnessing this promise on behalf of your generation.
In your wisdom and your dedication to the highest standards of governance, in fealty to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the membership of the United Nations has this year created a Code of Ethics for the Presidency of the General Assembly. I applaud the results of your efforts and I embrace the spirit and word of the Code.
In addition, you have decided that for the first time in the history of the United Nations, and for all sessions henceforth, at the time of transition from one session of the General Assembly to the next, the incoming President shall take an Oath of Office.
It is now my high honour to take that Oath, within this historic fulcrum of the community of nations, witnessed by you the anointed representatives of the nations and by the broad citizenry of humanity observing our proceedings today. I now raise in my right hand the Charter of the United Nations and hereby affirm the prescribed Presidential Oath of Office.
“I solemnly declare that I shall truthfully perform my duties and exercise the functions entrusted to me as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations in all loyalty, discretion and conscience, and that I shall discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interest of the United Nations only in view and in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the code of ethics for the President of the General Assembly, without seeking or accepting any instruction in regard to the performance of my duties from any Government or other source external to the Organization.”