– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

3 December 2020



Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to welcome you, to the 31st United Nations General Assembly special session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – the first-ever special session to address a pandemic.  

Today marks an overdue and much needed moment of reckoning. None of us could have imagined, this time last year, what was to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life for everyone around the world. It has challenged our world in ways unlike any other crisis in the 75- year history of the United Nations.  

COVID-19 is first and foremost a global health crisis. But it is at the same time an economic crisis, a development crisis, a humanitarian crisis, and a human rights crisis.  

We face the deepest global recession since the Great Depression and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870. The world economy has shrunk by 4.4 %. Global extreme poverty is expected to rise for the first time in over 20 years. Up to 115 million people are at risk of being pushed into extreme poverty.  

Foreign investments have been evaporating. Trade and travel restrictions; steep declines in export earnings, tourism and remittances, all put at risk the livelihoods of billions all around the world.  

Our global development trajectory has been hijacked. Each country is feeling the pressure, yet, those that were already lagging behind, took the worst hit.  Ongoing humanitarian crises have worsened, as a famine of unprecedented proportion threatens the poorest people in the world.

We are faced with a grave risk where half of the Decade of Action to Implement the SDGs will have been spent simply getting back to where we were at the beginning of the year.   


This pandemic has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable members of our societies – women, children, the elderly, the disabled, refugees, migrants, those living in slums and the homeless. It revealed the structural inequalities and obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights.

Lockdown measures have led to increased gender-based violence and domestic abuse of women. Many women will not be returning to the workforce, as they disproportionately shoulder the burden of unpaid care and home schooling.

Young people feel frustrated, as their education, community engagement and employment opportunities are restrained.

Pandemic-related disruptions in health and nutrition services could result in increased rates of child deaths from preventable causes.  

Digital divide between developing and developed countries as well as between urban and rural settings is exacerbating exclusion and inequality. In communities around the world where internet connectivity is scarce, millions of children have no access to remote learning.  

Already far from their homes due to conflicts, disasters, and persecution, refugees and internally displaced persons are suffering further due to the pandemic. And increases in racist discourse, hatred, stigmatization, stereotyping and misinformation have been accompanying the pandemic.  


This Hall is, where nations come together, where they unite. This august body, the General Assembly, is the voice, will, and conscience of humanity.  

The world is looking to the UN for leadership, to step up and take demonstrable action to address the greatest challenge our world is facing today.

This crisis compels us to shake up how things are done, to be bold, and to restore confidence and trust in the United Nations.

No other institution is as far-reaching, as mandated or as normatively better placed. The United Nations must lead on this.

This General Assembly special session, is a historic moment for Member States, the United Nations, the scientific community, and other stakeholders, including the civil society, to hear from each other, engage in dialogue on the multifaceted consequences of the pandemic as well as on the ways to recover better and stronger.

This is not a time to point fingers. We have convened here to forge a path forward and to end the suffering of the people we serve.

Since the beginning, I have been convinced that holding this special session was a test for multilateralism, defined by our collective action on the most critical issue of our time. And it is in no way the end of our joint response and recovery from the pandemic.

We were not prepared for COVID-19, but we have to be prepared for the next pandemic, climate catastrophe or global recession. Because a crisis of this magnitude will come, and we will have to meet it when it does.  

This is not a time to point fingers. We have convened here to forge a path forward and to end the suffering of the people we serve.

Since the beginning, I have been convinced that holding this special session was a test for multilateralism, defined by our collective action on the most critical issue of our time. And it is in no way the end of our joint response and recovery from the pandemic.

Volkan Bozkir

President of the UN General Assembly

Distinguished Delegates,  

We must be able to rise to the challenge, and our response should not simply target a return to the status quo ante.  

What we need to do is clear:

First, we must start with ensuring fair and equitable access to vaccines.

Providing everyone with access to COVID-19 vaccines is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. From a moral standpoint, we have an obligation to leave no one behind and to protect the most vulnerable. From a practical standpoint, the value of any vaccine is entirely dependent on how many people can get it.

So we must strengthen political and resource mobilisation for multilateral initiatives that aim towards fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine.

Secondly, we must work together to protect the most vulnerable countries that are lagging behind, most notably LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS.  

We must ensure that adequate financial resources are available to achieve an inclusive and resilient recovery. We need to join forces to address the challenges of debt vulnerability and diminished fiscal space.  

I encourage International Financial Institutions and partner countries to do what they can to ease debt burdens, facilitate investment, and leverage development assistance during this crucial period. If necessary, we must pool financial resources to create investment funds.  

The pandemic has also highlighted that we need more investment in social and health services all around the world. We need to develop projects for social inclusion of the most vulnerable groups. We must ensure universal health coverage.

While tackling the immediate consequences of the pandemic, we must also work towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), uphold our pledge to leave no one behind and ensure that our recovery efforts spur on the SDGs.

We do not need to prioritize among these goals. Indeed, the underlying urgency of ending extreme poverty, halting climate change, protecting the oceans, or building inclusive societies is more pressing than ever.   

Investments towards the SDGs can serve as both a means and an end towards a post-COVID recovery.   

The environmental root causes must also be addressed. COVID-19 is a zoonotic infectious disease, originating from animal populations being placed under severe environmental pressure. This is our last warning.  We must get to the bottom of how this happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  We simply have to protect biodiversity and look towards a green recovery.

Finally, we must ensure that the policies we implement to combat the pandemic do not undermine the democratic institutions that underpin the long-term health of our economies and societies.

Our response to this crisis must be shaped by, and uphold respect for, human rights. Our policies should be universal, open, transparent, accountable, and inclusive. Promoting good governance, respecting the rule of law and allocating resources for the most vulnerable people will in fact support our response to the pandemic by making our societies more equitable and resilient.


As a global community, we are at the beginning of the largest socio-economic recovery since the creation of the United Nations. If properly planned and coordinated, our recovery has the potential to jumpstart the SDGs, accelerate action on resilient infrastructure, improve access to education and healthcare, and better protect the natural world around us.  

In 1945 skeptics thought the idea of a multilateral system, with an organization of unparalleled legitimacy at its core, to be impossible. But even at that time of unimaginable tragedy, the world came together – for the sake of humanity.  I am sure, we will be able do that once again.  

Right now, we are all dreaming of the day this pandemic is over. The day we can take a deep breath of fresh air without fear. The day we can shake the hands of our colleagues, embrace our families, and laugh with our friends.  

After months of adjusting to life during this pandemic, it would be easy to feel frustrated. But do not be deterred.  

We are working for you.  

We are working for the refugees, who are taking every precaution to protect their families in camp settings.

Working for the people with underlying conditions who are self-isolating at home.

For the girls and boys who wish, above all else, to return to school.

For the people in line waiting for COVID testing – and for those who do not have access to such diagnostics.

For the healthcare workers, who continue to work tirelessly on the frontline.

For the people battling the effects of the COVID-19 disease.

And for the families around the world, who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.  

The UN is working for you.

We are united, for you.  

Stay strong. There are brighter days ahead.  

I thank you.