Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly
19 January 2022
We commence the resumed part of the General Assembly’s 76th Session in the wake of a resurgent COVID-19.
While many of us had begun to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, the omicron variant made clear that we still have a long way to go. This more transmittable variant has seen cases skyrocket and risks overwhelming healthcare systems and endangering lives.
We cannot let this continue; we cannot risk more variants with our delays. We must act quickly and decisively to achieve vaccine equity.
The promise of an end to the pandemic, which seemed so near in the Fall, as we began to open up the UN and expand attendance, now seems much further away.
But we cannot let this deter us; we must push forward and build on our success.
My friends, I would like to thank each one of you for your kind words and well wishes in recent weeks as I was recovering from COVID-19.
I also extend my sincere appreciation to those of you who joined my ‘New Year’s Resolution’ campaign and encourage others to follow. Together we can not only recover progress but work towards vaccine equity and move into a post-COVID era.
My dear colleagues,
I applaud the General Assembly on all that it achieved during the main session. I especially applaud each of the delegations for their hard work in returning to the practice of completing the work of the main part of the session before Christmas.
I urge Member States to maintain this momentum going forward, and to focus their energies towards implementing the 250 resolutions and many decisions already adopted.
While our holiday spirits were dampened by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, we were reminded of the urgency of ending this pandemic once and for all. Of laying the foundation to recover better.
The same priorities – the same ‘rays of hope’ – that I outlined when I began my ‘Presidency of Hope’ should guide our path towards these goals: recovering from Covid-19; rebuilding sustainably; responding to the needs of the planet; respecting the rights of all; and revitalizing the United Nations.
The surest way to end the pandemic is through ensuring vaccines for all. Continued global disparities in vaccine access will needlessly prolong the pandemic.
New variants will emerge, some perhaps more lethal, or more likely to evade our vaccines. This threatens to undo all the progress we have made over the past two years. Timely access to vaccines, for everyone, everywhere, is how we break this cycle.
That is why the first High-Level event that I will convene this year will be on “Galvanizing Momentum for Universal Vaccination”, which I am pleased to announce will now take place on 25th of February.
The global community must do their due diligence to speed up the production and distribution of vaccines, remove barriers to rollout, and commit to vaccine equity.
I take this opportunity to thank the many permanent representatives – as I said before – who have joined my “new year’s resolution”, calling for vaccine equity. With your continued support, we can reach our target of ensuring vaccines for all.
The COVID-19 pandemic may dominate global headlines now. But we can take solace in the comfort, that all pandemics eventually end. As we endeavor to recover from Covid, we must also focus on rebuilding better.
As we do so we must prioritize those communities who were the most adversely impacted by the pandemic. They often reside in LDCs, LLDCs and the SIDS. I urge the global community to undertake targeted vaccine interventions to accelerate their recovery and revive their devastated economies.
Because we can only achieve our goals as one united international community. United in purpose. United in resolve. And united in peace.
The pandemic is not now, nor has it ever been, our only challenge. All over the world we see signs of hostility and conflict. Long standing issues of peace and security remain, from nuclear proliferation, to terrorism, to international strife, human rights violations, and civil unrest.
We must never forget that the current multilateral order was founded on the wreckage of two devastating wars.
If we are to finally enjoy the dividends of a lasting peace, we must cherish our common humanity and guard against the drivers of conflict. We simply will not survive the alternative.
I urge the global community to recommit to the principles of peace outlined in the United Nations Charter, to work together in the spirit of amity to address the challenges ahead.
Even prior to COVID, we were on an unsustainable path. Even prior to COVID, we had realized that if humanity cannot meet our Sustainable Development Goals, the consequences will be dire.
These consequences include the destruction of the earth’s natural heritage, the depletion of our world’s resources, and the loss of global biodiversity.
Going forward we must advocate economic strategies that align with global environmental priorities and the preservation of our natural resources, including the transition to blue and green economies.
This will be at the core of the High-Level Thematic Debate on “Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19 through Tourism” that I will convene in May.
In that same spirit, we simply must do more to protect our planet.
We are already in the midst of a climate crisis. This is a clear and irrefutable fact. The scientific literature and the warnings of climate experts only confirm what is right before our eyes.
Raging wildfires, droughts, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events have become more commonplace worldwide. They continue to leave trails of death, destruction, and tragedy. My own country, the Maldives, is one among many low-lying SIDS faced with imminent extinction this century if sea-levels continue to rise.
The recent volcanic explosion on the Pacific island nation of Tonga, followed by a tsunami, is an example of the devastation that a SIDS country is often confronted with. The damage caused by the tsunami was so severe that satellites could see it from space.
Our thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with the people and the Government of Tonga. The international community needs to come together to extend possible assistance that Tonga needs.
The impacts will not stop with SIDS. The dangers may not be as imminent, they may not be as apparent right now, but the path we are all on is the same. We must take heed.
My message on climate remains the same as it did when I held my High-Level Climate Event in October, and from when I went to COP26 in Glasgow: we have the capacity to act on climate, we simply must find within us the will to step up.
Through harnessing science, investing in renewables, and implementing blue and green economies, we have the power to make a positive difference. We therefore have to act responsibly to safeguard our earth and its natural treasures for future generations.
With the 76th session of the General Assembly coinciding with high level meetings on biodiversity, desertification, the ocean, energy, and climate, I decided that in July I will convene the General Assembly for ‘A Moment for Nature’. This event will allow Member States the opportunity to assess our progress in protecting the planet while generating solutions.
As we reflect on the world that comes after the pandemic, we must ponder on the inequities that characterized the world leading up to it. That is how we can resolve them going forward. That is how we can respect the rights of all.
We have a responsibility to protect vulnerable communities that are marginalized and discriminated against.
During the remainder of the session we will host, among other events, a High-Level Event on the launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, and a High-Level meeting to mark the commemoration of the first International Day for Countering Hate Speech.
Let us never forget that migrants are often among the most vulnerable populations. This May, we will also hold the First Migration Review Forum, under the auspices of the General Assembly.
I have circulated a calendar of meetings and events for the remainder of the session, which is on my website, updated regularly.
When we reflect on the iniquities that characterize our world, gender issues remain at the forefront. Women continue to be discriminated against, marginalized, and underrepresented at every level, in every field, from politics, to business, to science.
We must do our utmost to ensure that women always have a seat at the table and that their voices are given equal consideration to that of men. We must remove barriers to women’s participation, challenge gender biases, and deconstruct patriarchal norms.
I remain committed to doing my part. In addition to ensuring that my staff remains gender balanced I will strive to meet with and assist gender champions throughout my term.
I will listen to and act on the advice of the President’s Advisory board on Gender, which I earlier reconstituted and expanded.
And I will also ensure that a gender perspective is included throughout the work of the General Assembly and throughout all my events and initiatives.
Recovering from Covid, rebuilding sustainably, protecting the planet, promoting human rights – these are all worthwhile and necessary goals.
However, no nation can successfully address them by acting unilaterally. Global challenges require global solutions. That understanding remains at the heart of this great organization and illustrates the enduring importance of multilateralism.
Throughout the remainder of the session, I will support efforts to revive faith in multilateralism and pass on that faith to the youth. That is why I am very proud to have implemented the Fellowship for HOPE that I had announced last year.
Under this fellowship, eight young diplomats and civil servants from underrepresented countries have joined my team and over the next eight months will also have an opportunity to work with their Permanent Missions in New York and gain real experience of the workings of the multilateral system. I am glad to see them here today, at the General Assembly Hall.
It is my expectation that they will take back the lessons they learn, to serve their home communities, and advocate for continued multilateral engagement.
Many of the issues I have touched on have also been highlighted by the Secretary-General in his report ‘Our Common Agenda’. On 15 November, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on a follow-up to the report, emphasizing the necessity of taking this agenda forward.
Accordingly, over the next two months, we will convene five thematic informal consultations on Our Common Agenda. Throughout these consultations we will strive to identify initiatives that have broad support and deliberate on the best method of implementing them. I urge the membership to fully engage in these consultations.
Throughout all our efforts, there is one constant that needs to be present: hope.
Yes, the tasks before us are daunting. Yet cynicism offers us no solutions.
Cynicism is a path to inaction. If we give into it, we will be lulled into complacency, into the false belief that our actions do not matter and that we can only await the inevitable.
Hope is what will strengthen our resolve. Hope is what will give us the courage of our convictions and inspire us to act. Hope is what will remind us of all that we have achieved and all that we can achieve if we work together. One world. One planet. One humanity.
That is the basic message I will continue to convey during my Presidency of Hope. That through hope, we can make a lasting difference.
We can overcome this pandemic, achieve universal vaccination, protect the planet, recover sustainably, promote human rights, and revitalize the United Nations. Through hope, we can lay the foundations for a better tomorrow and build on that vision.
Through hope we can ensure that the 76th session of the General Assembly is a successful one.
I thank you.
Before we proceed, and I open the floor for comments and questions I would like to share with all of you the sad news of the untimely passing away of a colleague in my Office. Ms. Gail Farngalo, a Liberian national, who was my Team Leader for Human Rights passed away last night.
Extremely knowledgeable of the areas she handled particularly gender equality and women’s empowerment, Gail leaves a deep legacy at the United Nations for the years she served both as a delegate of the Permanent Mission of Liberia and as a staff member of the OPGA. Our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues at the Permanent Mission of Liberia.