While the world needs multilateralism more than ever to address increasingly complex challenges, its institutions — including the United Nations — must embrace reforms in order to be effective and relevant, speakers said today as the General Assembly concluded its inaugural high-level plenary meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.
The representative of Algeria, questioning whether States are carrying out the full power of the Charter of the United Nations or respecting its principles, said the Organization must adjust its structures by instituting reforms which would strengthen multilateralism. Those included revitalizing the General Assembly, reforming the Security Council, and more broadly, enhancing cooperation with regional organizations, notably the African Union.
“We would rather have an imperfect multilateral system than none at all,” Uganda’s representative emphasized, calling for the Assembly’s intergovernmental nature to be preserved and the Security Council to be reformed to make it more representative. He also urged Member States to collectively enhance their cooperation to address such challenges as disarmament, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism.
Noting that Bangladesh relies on the United Nations to help support 1.2 million Rohingya refugees, that country’s representative said it would be folly to think that the developing world needs multilateralism while fortunate nations do not. Global change presents both challenges and opportunities, yet there remains a vacuum in norm‑setting in today’s unexplored and emerging frontiers. “We need global governance and international legal dispensations in all these areas and that can be achieved only through multilateralism,” he said.
Similarly, France’s delegate — one of many to endorse the Secretary‑General’s reform initiative — said international organizations must be supported and modernized if they are to work as a network to address citizens’ concerns. However, although international cooperation had long been a given, that is no longer the case. It is in that spirit that France, Germany, Japan and Canada launched the Alliance for Multilateralism to demonstrate that a silent majority of States support multilateralism and the United Nations.
Only by updating its governance mechanisms can the United Nations overcome global challenges, echoed Brazil’s representative, who said its main institutions fail to properly reflect the current geopolitical landscape and the increasingly multipolar system. Regions with excellent records in contributing to international peace and security are not adequately represented in the administration of the international order, he added.
“One major reason why multilateralism is in crisis is that people don’t understand their own Governments and by extension the intergovernmental organizations to which they belong,” said the representative of the Inter‑Parliamentary Union, emphasizing that “the national interest is best served by participating in global processes that bring all countries together”.
Through its resolution 73/127, adopted on 19 December 2018, the General Assembly declared 24 April as the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. More than 50 delegations participated in the first day of the plenary, with many speakers defending the rule-based international order and warning against the rise of unilateralism, isolationism, authoritarianism, populism and protectionism. (For more information, see Press Release GA/12140.)
Also speaking today were representatives of Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Angola, Ecuador, Senegal, Togo, Kenya, Kazakhstan and Sierra Leone, as well as the Holy See and State of Palestine.
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) spoke, as well.
The General Assembly will next meet at a time and date to be announced.
VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand) said the only effective way to forge a rules‑based international order that is trusted and people-centred is to involve civil society — particularly young people — and local communities. Expressing support for ongoing efforts to reform the United Nations, he said challenges to multilateralism can be an opportunity for positive change. Thailand’s theme as this year’s Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” — reflects that organization’s desire to reinforce dialogue and cooperation with the United Nations.
JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain), emphasizing that “there can be no security without development and no development without peace”, said the international community — represented by the United Nations — must bridge the big economic gap between States. That requires multilateralism and a commitment to ensure balance and cooperation. He highlighted his country’s role in ensuring stability and security in the Middle East, including its participation in international coalitions in Yemen and against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). It is crucial to address all global challenges by working together under the umbrella of the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, he added.
MUAZ MOHAMAD A-K AL-OTOOM (Jordan) said that the challenges facing the world, such as terrorism, violent extremism, climate change, poverty and inequality, can only be overcome by forging unity among Member States. Multilateralism is the only way to address the root causes of conflict, particularly conflicts related to Arab and Palestinian territories. This stalemate must end. Jordan has always worked to achieve the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, contributing to peacekeeping operations and playing a leading role in devising the Organization’s counter‑terrorism strategy. In addition, youth empowerment is key to building a new future. As Co-Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, he emphasized that Jordan will spare no efforts towards those aims.
MARIA DE JESUS DOS REIS FERREIRA (Angola), associating herself with the African Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that dialogue and a multilateral approach are part of the core principles and values of the Angolan Government when it comes to finding peaceful solutions to conflicts at the domestic, regional and international level. Unfortunately, there are a number of conflicts around the world where these principles are not being applied, with dramatic consequences for the humanitarian and economic situation of the populations, she said. The changing nature of conflicts, specifically the rise of terrorism, trafficking in persons, drug trafficking and the multiple armed non‑State actors involved in conflicts around the world, reinforce the belief that cooperation must be strengthened. The United Nations was not created to serve as a springboard for launching wars, threats, blockades and sanctions against sovereign and independent States. Rather, it was created to find common ground and to avoid making the mistakes of the past.
HELENA YANEZ LOZA (Ecuador) said that her country’s constitutional norms underpin respect for the rule of law and human rights. Her Government believes in the power of multilateralism, which is stronger than weapons. It is the instrument of diplomacy. The three pillars of the United Nations are mutually reinforcing, she said, adding that, through joint efforts to bolster international law, the international community can create lasting peace.
FREDERICO SALOMÃO DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) pointed out that only by updating its governance mechanisms, can the United Nations overcome global challenges. Main institutions do not properly reflect the current geopolitical landscape and the increasingly multipolar system. Regions with excellent records in contributing to international peace and security are not adequately represented in the administration of the international order.
ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal), associating himself with the African Group, said that consolidating multilateralism requires a more inclusive, effective and representative United Nations system. He called on Member States and all players to pursue efforts on Security Council reform and revitalizing the work of the General Assembly. Strengthening multilateralism also requires a stronger partnership between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, he said, welcoming cooperation between the Organization and the African Union to promote peace and security on the continent.
KOKOU KPAYEDO (Togo) said that, as a current member of the Human Rights Council and the Economic and Social Council, his country will continue to prioritize multilateralism and diplomacy in order to make progress on the three pillars of the United Nations Charter, namely peace and security, development and human rights. Voicing support for the Secretary-General’s reform efforts, he recalled that Togo has ratified, accepted or acceded to more than 100 multilateral instruments.
KOKI MULI GRIGNON (Kenya), associating herself with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said her country’s foreign policy is based on the premise that its future is inextricably linked to the stability and security of the immediate subregion, the wider African region and the globe. The policy aims towards peaceful coexistence with neighbours and other nations, resolution of conflicts through peaceful means and promotion of regional integration. It also incorporates respect for the equality, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, as well as international norms, customs and laws.
NURZHAN RAKHMETOV (Kazakhstan) said that multilateralism is only effective if there are close partnerships at the regional and subregional levels. In 1999, together with 15 other like-minded countries, his country established the Conference on Confidence‑Building Measures in Asia, an intergovernmental forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in that region. Kazakhstan has also promoted the idea of establishing the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia as a unique platform to promote preventive diplomacy. As well, it is proposing to establish the Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals Modelling Centre in Almaty for the Central Asia region and Afghanistan. This consolidated United Nations field presence, now under one roof, will continue to successfully promote the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), describing his country as an emerging one, said it owes much to the United Nations for its independence. Noting that the country relies on the Organization to assist in the support of 1.2 million Rohingya refugees who have taken shelter in Bangladesh, he said such modern challenges as forced displacement, climate change, ultra-nationalism, terrorism and cyberattacks transcend borders. “It would be folly to think the developing world only needs multilateralism, the fortunate others do not,” he stressed. Noting that rapid global change presents not only challenges, but also opportunities, he said there remains a vacuum in norm‑setting in today’s unexplored and emerging frontiers. “We need global governance and international legal dispensations in all these areas and that can be achieved only through multilateralism,” he said.
PHILIP OCHEN ODIDA (Uganda) warned that the growing threats to multilateralism grossly undermine the mandates of the United Nations and other international organizations. “We would rather have an imperfect multilateral system than none at all,” he stated. Spotlighting several areas in need of improvement, he called for the General Assembly’s intergovernmental nature to be preserved and the Security Council to be reformed, thus rendering it more representative. He also urged Member States to collectively enhance their cooperation to address such challenges as disarmament, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. Meanwhile, the Security Council’s power to impose sanctions should be exercised cautiously and in accordance with the Charter and international law. On peacekeeping, he expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s Action for Peace initiative, but stressed that current rules related to peacekeeping’s budget and operations should be amended to reflect the situation on the ground — particularly in regions such as Africa that increasingly shoulder the burden.
MOHAMMED BESSEDIK (Algeria) said that, while there is no better faith in multilateralism than that expressed in the very name of the United Nations — nations united and acting together for the sake of the world — he questioned whether States are carrying out the full power of the Charter or respecting its principles. To be more relevant, the Organization must adjust its structures — reforms that would strengthen multilateralism — by revitalizing the Assembly, reforming the Security Council, and more broadly, enhancing cooperation with regional organizations, notably the African Union. The failure to resolve the question of Palestine cannot but be seen as a failure of multilateralism, while the ideas of “leaving no one behind” and ending poverty further test its resilience. Climate change, migration and terrorism are other powerful calls to think and act together with mutual respect and shared responsibility, he said, stressing that multilateralism and patriotism are not contradictory.
FRANCIS MUSTAPHA KAI-KAI (Sierra Leone) said that, as a small State, his country recognizes the benefits of multilateralism and its significance in promoting peace, security and development at the national, regional and global levels. He stressed the importance of building on gains made in preventive diplomacy efforts, including heightened collaboration among countries, regional organizations and actors. More so, it was critical to make use of experiences that has helped achieve relative international peace and security.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the European Union, said that, with the resurgence of populism and nationalism, the relevance of the United Nations is being questioned. However, with humanity independent as never before, there can only be a global response to global challenges, based on collaboration. International organization must be supported and modernized. They must work as a network — with stronger links to civil society — to address citizens’ concerns. It is in that spirit that France, Germany, Japan and Canada launched the Alliance for Multilateralism to demonstrate that the majority of States support multilateralism and the United Nations. That majority has long been silent because international cooperation had long been a given. That is no longer the case. Those States must now make themselves known and must mobilize.
BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that multilateralism must serve as a bridge between peoples and peacebuilders, with a focus on mankind’s common destiny and the appropriate means to achieve it. A renewed understanding of multilateralism must be founded on the idea of the international community as a family of nations committed to pursuing the good of all. That requires solidarity on the part of Governments, international organizations and all men and women, founded on a collective and shared responsibility for the common good and the development of those who are most in need.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said multilateralism has always been under attack by those who believe might should triumph over right, are ready to sacrifice long-term interests for short-term political gains, and who forget the lessons of history and are seeking to erode the rule of law. The international consensus regarding the question of Palestine remains the only basis for peace. Yet, no measures have been taken to ensure the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions or to hold those violating them to account. Despite the shortcomings of the multilateral system that they feel in the flesh, the Palestinian people continue to have faith in multilateralism and their commitment to international law as they struggle for freedom, dignity and the end of the occupation, he stated.
ROBERT MARDINI, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), recalled that humanity brought States together to draft, negotiate and adopt the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which today are core to international humanitarian law and represent a shared commitment to humanity. These rules of war are the quintessential product of multilateral consensus. The original drafters knew that investing in shared humanity generates positive results. Humanity and multilateralism are at the heart of the United Nations. Norms that uphold humanity are created in these multilateral fora.
PATRICIA ANN TORSNEY, Inter-Parliamentary Union, recalled that more than 200 parliamentarians met in February at the United Nations and engaged in discussions on the global governance led by the Organization and the root causes of growing distrust in democratic institutions around the world. While they showed strong support for multilateralism, they also underscored the need for deep reforms to make the United Nations more effective. Parliamentarians are no longer bystanders in foreign relations, but active participants, she stressed, also highlighting how parliaments are the essential link between the people and the United Nations. Paradoxically, the distance between global institutions and the people has grown instead of narrowing. “One major reason why multilateralism is in crisis is that people don’t understand their own Governments and by extension the intergovernmental organizations to which they belong,” she pointed out, emphasizing that “the national interest is best served by participating in global processes that bring all countries together”.
AGSHIN MEHDIYEV, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said current challenges like xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism and hate speech must be tackled through dialogue, tolerance and promotion of multilateralism and coexistence. Muslims around the world continue to suffer due to various forms of discrimination, including indiscriminate use of force against the Rohingya in Myanmar, as well as unilateral actions and decisions that might recognize Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan. OIC is determined to disseminate and strengthen a culture of peace.