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GA/12412
29 March 2022
Seventy-sixth Session, 63rd & 64th Meetings (AM & PM)

No Atonement Without Repair, Keynote Speaker Tells General Assembly Event Commemorating Victims of Slavery, amid Growing Calls for Reparations

Understanding Millions of Human Stories behind Facts, Slave Trade’s Figures Key to Knowing Past, Secretary-General Says

There can be no atonement if there is no repair, the keynote speaker during the General Assembly’s annual event commemorating the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade said today, as many speakers joined the growing calls for reparations to the descendants of human beings bought and sold as chattel for generations.

The meeting to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade — observed annually on 25 March — also saw the adoption of a draft resolution declaring 12 May as the annual International Day of Plant Health as well as two draft decisions on the accreditation processes for upcoming conferences and summits, and a text calling for elevating pandemic prevention, preparedness and response “to the highest level of political leadership”.

Keynote speaker Nikole Hannah-Jones, a journalist at The New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, opened the meeting by describing herself as the great-great granddaughter of men and women born into slavery in the United States.  She said some 15 million people were transported in the hulls of barbaric ships during the transatlantic slave trade, which transformed the global economy.  She added that after its abolition in the United States, slavery was reborn as a system of apartheid benignly known as “Jim Crow laws”.  She went on to emphasize the importance of Black people’s resistance, while pointing out that the legacy of slavery still exists in poverty, violence and incarceration affecting the Black community.  “It is long past time” to make reparations to the descendants of enslaved people, she stressed.

Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the world remembers the transatlantic slave trade as a crime against humanity and an unspeakable human rights violation.  Calling the International Day a time of learning, he said that behind the facts and figures of the slave trade are millions of human stories, emphasizing that understanding them is crucial to understanding the past.  He went on to describe racism as slavery’s most pernicious cause and most persistent legacy, saying it continues to stain the present as the justifications used for the slave trade became instrumental in shaping modern conceptions of race.  Today, they even find new resonance in online echo chambers of hate, he added.

Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said slavery was intended to strip its victims of their names, individuality and legacies.  By documenting, sharing and reflecting on their stories, “we prevent them from fading into obscurity and reaffirm their individual human worth”, he added.  Noting the collective trauma endured by successive generations, he agreed that the consequences of slavery — including the racist attitudes it facilitated — have also endured.  People of African descent continue to experience multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination that often intersect with and are amplified by other forms of prejudice, he said.

Lesotho’s representative, speaking for the African Group, stressed the need for all countries to adopt laws against racial discrimination as well as racist doctrines and practices.  Expressing alarm over manifestations of discrimination in today’s purportedly civilized world — including those based on ideas of racial superiority, hatred and apartheid — he noted that students of African descent are currently facing discrimination and racism as they seek to flee the conflict in Ukraine for safe havens in neighbouring States.

Cuba’s representative said today’s commemoration is particular important in light of the racism and xenophobia that continue to flourish in the world’s most developed societies.  Noting his country’s deep historical ties to Africa, he said the international community must give compensation and reparations to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, as developed countries profited immensely from it and are responsible for the losses it caused.  Even today, the rich are able to profit off the backs of the poor majority, he stressed, pointing out that most of the developing world has yet to begin vaccinating its population against COVID‑19 while developed countries administer more and more “booster” shots.

The Assembly also took up its annual draft resolution on global health and foreign policy, the 2022 version titled “Elevating pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to the highest level of political leadership”.

Norway’s representative introduced that text, saying the coronavirus pandemic revealed weaknesses and overwhelming inequities in today’s world.  Among other things, the resolution calls on countries to strengthen pandemic prevention and build resilient health-care systems, she said, while expressing support for discussions leading to a global convention on pandemic preparedness and response under the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Assembly adopted that resolution without a vote, after delegates debated its contents and weighed the efficacy of the ongoing global response to COVID‑19.

Brunei Darussalam’s representative said that if global health had indeed been fully integrated into foreign policy before the COVID‑19 pandemic, “the world might have been better prepared to face the crisis, with stronger and more resilient health systems”.  That disconnect was on full display during the pandemic and in its aftermath, he added, noting that many nations unilaterally closed their borders, banned exports of critical medical supplies such as face masks, personal protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators, “played the blame game”, and spread misinformation.

Australia’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said the cost of preventing future health crises is low compared to the cost of responding to them.  Australia is committed to using the lessons learned from COVID‑19 to build a more agile and responsive global health system with WHO at its core, she added, emphasizing that a new global instrument on pandemic preparedness is a critical component of that approach.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, citing the pandemic’s detrimental impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment, called for urgent counter-measures.  She went on to note that her delegation would have preferred that the draft resolution contain an explicit reference to sexual and reproductive health care as an integral part of public health.

In other business, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, a draft resolution titled “International Day of Plant Health” (document A/76/L.42), which designated 12 May as the date for that annual observance.  Introducing the text was the representative of Zambia.

Members also adopted two draft decisions, respectively titled:  “Accreditation and participation of an intergovernmental organization in the 2022 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14:  Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (document A/76/L.44); and “Accreditation and participation of an intergovernmental organization in the international meeting entitled ‘Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all — our responsibility, our opportunity’” (document A/76/L.45).

Other speakers on the International Day of Remembrance were representatives of Nauru (for the Asia-Pacific States Group), Mexico (for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Belgium (for the Western European and Other States Group), United States (for the host country), Barbados (for the Caribbean Community), Haiti, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and the Russian Federation.

Speaking on global health and foreign policy were representatives of the Philippines (for the Group of Friends in Support of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Health Care Facilities), Thailand (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Malaysia, China, Cuba, Russian Federation, Egypt, India, United Kingdom, Japan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Chile.

A representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See also participated in that discussion.

The Assembly will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 April, to take up “Prevention of armed conflict”.

Opening Remarks

ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, noted that over the course of four centuries, more than 15 million men, women and children from across Africa were subjugated, shackled and involuntarily transported to the Americas.  Many perished on the journey, succumbing to appalling conditions, he added.  For those who survived, a life without compassion, joy and freedom awaited, their days filled with torture and forced labour — the brutal reality of the transatlantic slave trade, which to this day remains the largest forced movement of a people in history, he said.

Slavery was meant to take away the names, individuality and legacy of its victims, he continued.  By documenting, sharing and reflecting on their stories, “we prevent them from fading into obscurity and reaffirm their individual human worth” — hence today’s observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, under the theme “Stories of Courage:  Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism”, he said.  “We must never forget, and we must always contemplate the lessons of this tragic chapter in our history.

He went on to emphasize the importance of certain facts without equivocation:  many people of African descent were stolen from their homes, put in chains, separated from their families, bought, sold, abused, tortured and violated in body and spirit.  That collective trauma, endured for hundreds of years by successive generations, cannot be expected to heal quickly while its consequences — and the racist attitudes that facilitated it — still endure, he stressed.

Recalling a visit years ago to Gorée Island in Senegal — the largest slave-trading centre on the West African coast from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century — he said the enslaved were packed into small cells, chained and shackled.  Through the small “door of no return” every man, woman and child walked into the slave boat to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to build the new world.  Slavery was not only a dreadful individual ordeal, he said, but a cultural trauma.

As acknowledged by the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, he noted, people of African descent continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of the slave trade and colonialism, experiencing multiple and aggravated forms of discrimination that often intersect with and are amplified by other forms of prejudice.  He said the Ark of Return, the United Nations permanent memorial to the victims, is a reminder that “only by acknowledging history can we understand how it continues to inform and affect the present”.  Only by addressing those injustices can the international community truly honour those victims who fell prey to one of the most vicious institutions ever devised by humanity, he added.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the world remembers the transatlantic slave trade today as a crime against humanity and an unspeakable human rights violation.  “But there is also much that we do not know,” he added, emphasizing:  “Today is a day of learning.”  Behind the facts and figures of the slave trade are millions of human stories about suffering, pain and families ripped apart, and understanding them is crucial to understanding the past, he said.  Their most pernicious cause and most persistent legacy — racism — continues to stain the present, he stressed.

“The transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans was instrumental in shaping modern conceptions of race,” he continued, pointing out that more than 200 years since the end of the slave trade, the vicious lie of racial supremacy remains alive and now finds new resonance in online echo chambers of hate.  Underlining that “ending slavery’s legacy of racism is a global imperative for justice,” he said that imperative implicates everyone and everyone is responsible for standing up and speaking out in solidarity against racism wherever and whenever it is encountered.

At the same time, the prosperity achieved across so much of the Western world was only possible through the exploitation of African slave labour and know-how, he pointed out.  “We must reverse the consequences of generations of exploitation, exclusion and discrimination — including their obvious social and economic dimensions through reparatory justice frameworks,” he said.   Warning that the mistakes of the past should not divert attention away from the evils of today, he noted that outside the African continent, people of African descent are often among the last to benefit from health care, education, justice and other services.  While the African Diaspora has enriched societies around the world, people of African descent still face marginalization, exclusion and unconscious bias, he said.  Marking the International Day of Remembrance, he called for a united front to combat racism, to tackle inequality and injustice, to learn and teach the past, and to build societies based on dignity, respect, justice and opportunity for all.

Keynote Address

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, journalist at The New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, delivered the keynote address, saying she has dedicated her life’s work to excavating the legacy of transatlantic slavery, believing it is the defining undercurrent of life in the Americas.  She described herself as the great-great-granddaughter of men and women born into slavery, which existed for the first 250 years of the land that would come to think of itself as the freest nation in the world.  However, 15 million people were transported in the hulls of barbaric ships, transforming the global economy, she noted, emphasizing that the international community must never forget the scale of horrors experienced by people of African descent to enrich Europeans and build the nascent New World economy.

Noting that slavery was reborn into what was benignly called “Jim Crow Laws” but should have more aptly been called apartheid, she said that perspective should not only be defined by the enslavement of African peoples but also by the resistance of Black peoples, as no people voluntarily submit to their own enslavement.  People of African descent resisted from the moment of their capture, on the long walk to the coast, and so frequently at sea that ships were specially designed to resist mutiny, she noted.  The international community must remember the fierce black radical tradition of resistance, as well as those of Brazil, the Maroons of British Guyana, and the revolts in Jamaica in 1690 and in New York in 1712.  She went on to point out that the Haitian revolution defeated three mighty colonial empires, for which that country has been punished ever since.  “Black people were actors in their own freedom,” she said, stressing that marginalizing such stories legitimizes the lies of omission that underplay the horror of slavery.

She went on to state that she stands as a recipient of that tradition — her father born in a shack in 1945 on a plantation in Mississippi, a strictly apartheid state suffering lynchings and not sharing in rights.  Children could be put to the fields at age 3, so her grandmother loaded her two young children (her father aged 2) and escaped the apartheid of the south — determined that her children would not pick cotton, which led to the possibility of her addressing the esteemed United Nations today.  The defining story of the African Diaspora is not slavery, “but our resistance to it”, she argued, while pointing out that the legacy of slavery exists in poverty, violence, and incarceration affecting the Black community.  People of the African Diaspora should not have to continue fighting, as European and American institutions are obligated to repair the wrongs of the past, she said, adding “clearly and without flinching” that for those who engaged in and profited from the slave trade, it is “long past time” to make reparations to the survivors and descendants of chattel slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.  “There can be no atonement if there is no repair,” she said.

Statements

NKOPANE RASEENG MONYANE (Lesotho), speaking on behalf of the African Group, affirmed the need for all countries to adopt measures aimed at eliminating racial discrimination while preventing and combating racist doctrines and practices.  “Any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is false, morally condemnable and socially unjust,” he stressed, describing racial discrimination anywhere in the world as deplorable and without justification.  The African Group is alarmed that manifestations of racial discrimination — based on racial superiority, hatred and policies of apartheid, segregation or separation — still appear in today’s purportedly civilized world, he said, noting that students of African descent are currently facing discrimination and racism as they strive to flee the conflict in Ukraine to safe havens across the borders in neighbouring countries.

In that regard, he continued, reparations for slavery and colonialism should cover not only justice and accountability for historic wrongs, but also eradication of the scars of racial inequality, subordination and discrimination that were built under slavery, apartheid and colonialism.  Spotlighting the triumphs of cultural transfer from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade — which took place in spite of the atrocious circumstances of great suffering — he affirmed that the continent’s legacy of culture, music, storytelling, dance, art and food transformed the places in which they found themselves and shaped societies throughout the Americas.

JOSIE-ANN DONGOBIR (Nauru), speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Group, described the transatlantic slave trade as among the worst violations of human rights in the history of humanity.  It was grounded in social and economic inequality, hatred, racism and prejudice which continue to affect people of African descent today, she added.  Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she said too little is still known about the trade and its lasting consequences, underlining the importance of educating current and future generations about its causes, consequences, lessons and legacy.

Expressing profound concern about the recent rise in violence and hate crimes against Asians and people of Asian descent — including Asian diplomats in New York — she called upon the concerned Government to fulfil its commitments and take real action to address systematic racism, racial discrimination and hate crimes.  The Asia-Pacific Group welcomes the theme of the International Decade 2015-2024, as proclaimed by the General Assembly, which is “People of African Descent:  Recognition, Justice and Development”, she said, noting that one of its objectives is to promote greater knowledge of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), said the transatlantic slave trade was a system of global oppression that for 400 years linked the economies of three continents — the largest legally-established forced migration in history and one of its greatest atrocities.  The scourge affected not only African people and their descendants but also indigenous peoples, he noted, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the bravery of those who fought against their oppressors.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for reparative justice as essential to racial equality and undoing the legacy of slavery, he said the African-descended population of the Americas is a legacy of the slave trade, with their innumerable contributions having enriched the region.  Noting that slavery remains apparent in contemporary racism, he said that despite the abolition of the slave trade, many forms of modern-day slavery remain.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that it affects more than 40 million people — a greater number than at any other time, with 99 per cent of victims of sexual slavery being women and girls, reflecting the gender inequality of our time.  It is crucial to respond to the painful lessons of yesteryear by honouring and protecting those who suffer today, he stressed.

PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group, said the transatlantic slave trade was an unprecedented tragedy, and the international community must never forget the suffering.  Paying solemn tribute to its countless victims and to their descendants, he said it is also essential to remember those who courageously fought their oppressors, and to teach children about the horrors of that history.  It is critical to acknowledge that racism against people of African descent lingers on, he emphasized, calling for a redoubling of efforts to fight the unacceptable affront of racism.  The international community must work to dismantle racist structures and prohibit slavery and the slave trade in all their forms, he stressed, while noting that even today, slavers still engage in people-trafficking, forced labour and forced sex.  Citing the Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, he called upon Member States to step up efforts to fight all forms of human trafficking.

Ms. LEE (United States), speaking on behalf of the host country, recalled statements by the American self-emancipated enslaved person, global luminary, orator and diplomat Frederick Douglass, who described the abolition of slavery as the most important work of his lifetime.  She said the transatlantic slave trade forced millions of people from their homes and communities and subjected them to dehumanization, creating a global empire of unparalleled wealth and fuelling the global economy.  Describing that period as an indelible stain on the history of the United States and the entire Western Hemisphere, she noted that countries involved in the trade continue to grapple with its modern-day impacts.  Against that backdrop, societies must honour the victims of the transatlantic slave trade by dismantling its institutional remnants, including inequity and systemic underdevelopment, she said.

Emphasizing that the United States must demonstrate an unprecedented commitment to racial justice, equity and inclusion within its borders and in all its international affairs, she said President Joseph R. Biden will sign today the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act of 2022, which was recently passed by the United States Congress more than 120 years after that body first attempted to criminalize lynching as a hate crime.  Outlining other recent national legislation — including a bill urging the establishment of a commission on truth and reconciliation, another calling for the creation of a commission to explore the issue of reparations and President Biden’s 2021 action that made Juneteenth a national holiday — she went on to note several additional efforts at the international level.  All that work notwithstanding, however, much more remains to be done, she said, declaring:  “We must embrace this occasion as a clarion and dynamic call to move forward.”

FRANÇOIS JACKMAN (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), described today’s commemoration as part of a larger fabric of research, recognition and — “we hope” — reparations, which is being woven into the global multilateral system.  The words of the Assembly President and the Secretary-General provide clear guidance in that regard, he said, adding that the theme — “Stories of Courage:  Resistance to Slavery and Unity against Racism” — draws the connection between that blood-soaked chapter in human history and the contemporary challenges faced by Caribbean and other societies shaped by slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

CARICOM has long believed that humanity must take further steps to address both the historical roots and contemporary branches of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, he affirmed, emphasizing:  “The only tool to achieve this goal is reparatory justice.”  Many nations have agreed on that approach, he said, noting in that regard that the CARICOM Reparations Commission’s 10-point plan has striking similarities to the Four-Point Agenda towards Transformative Change put forth by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He went on to stress that full and good-faith implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action is a crucial way forward.

ANTONIO RODRIGUE (Haiti), associating himself with GRULAC and CARICOM, said the day was very significant for his country, the world’s first Black republic.  Describing slavery and the transatlantic slave trade as the worst genocide the world has ever seen, he said it demands more than a simple commemorative ceremony.  Its shockwaves are still being felt, with people of African descent remaining victims of the racism from which it originates, he said.  Emphasizing that the uprooting and enslavement of between 15 and 20 million Africans did not happen by accident, he said it originated from racist ideologies driven by the so-called Enlightenment and legitimized a colonial system.  However, the revolution of 1791 shone a ray of hope for humanity, giving Haiti a special place in the history of emancipation, he affirmed.  Its independence in 1804 led to the overthrow of the notion of White superiority over Black, he stressed, recalling that abolitionist Frederick Douglass affirmed its importance in 1893 at the inauguration of Haiti’s pavilion at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Inviting Member States to work for better comprehension of four centuries of the transatlantic slave trade and contemporary forms of slavery, he underlined that it is high time for a wide-ranging discussion on reparatory justice.

YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba) said the commemorative day is of particular importance given the racism and xenophobia prevailing in the most developed societies.  Some 1.3 million African slaves were brought to Cuba by force to replace the indigenous population exterminated by Spanish colonialists through forced labour, he added.  Emphasizing that Cuba’s history is deeply linked with Africa at all levels, he noted that more than 4 billion people in developing countries continue to suffer the after-effects as the current victims of that centuries-long barbarism.  The international community must give compensation and reparations to the victims because the developed countries profited from and are responsible for the associated losses, he stressed, noting that in today’s world, the rich are able to profit from the poor majority.  He further pointed out that during the pandemic, most of developing world has not even begun vaccinating everyone while the developed States have already administered booster shots.  As long as the international community does not solve the deep causes of racism, inequality and exclusion that have survived slavery, today’s homage will remain a simple formality, he warned.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the annual commemoration should be a day of deep reflection, noting that the transatlantic slave trade had millions and millions of victims, each of whom was violently and cruelly ripped from his or her home, forced to march for hours, for days on end, and then sent on a journey without return.  The slave trade is at the heart of the deep social and economic inequalities that continue to impact Black people all over the world, even at a time when many countries continually talk about the importance of human rights, he reaffirmed.  Paying homage to the bravery of the millions of victims, he also spotlighted brave warriors and resisters who stood up against slavery in nations across the Americas.  “On this day to commemorate and remember, we salute those who faced such intolerance, injustice and flagrant violations of human rights […] and those who through their creativity, contribute to the fight,” he said, drawing attention to crucial African-descended artists, both today and throughout history.

JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola), associating himself with the African Group, said the International Day highlights the heritage of the continent which for more than 400 years saw its children treated as slaves across the Atlantic.  Drawing attention to the historical causes and consequences of the transatlantic slave trade, he reiterated that it was the largest forced migration in history, with more than 20 million victims.  It is no wonder that Africa stagnated economically between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, he emphasized, noting that the continent fell far behind and that African rulers themselves fought over control of the slave trade.  The history of conflict, national legal deterioration and social and political fragmentation were the result.  He pointed out that an estimated 5 million people were stolen from Angola alone and condemned the crimes against humanity committed during that long historical period.

STEPAN Y. KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation) said the present and future generations must not forget the tragic chapter of the transatlantic slave trade, nor the Second World War, both of which found their root causes in the depraved concept of racial superiority.  Describing the slave trade as one of the most heinous crimes in history, he noted that apologies have not been forthcoming, let alone compensation.  European colonial Powers and the United States profited, with the latter country enjoying prosperity as a result, while systemic racism, hate speech and open xenophobia continue to exist there and in the European Union, he said, also linking those ills to blockades and unilateral coercive measures.  Pointing out that Western countries have stood in the way of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, he condemned colonialism, saying his delegation supports historic justice for its crimes.

International Day of Plant Health

The Assembly next turned its attention to a draft resolution titled “International Day of Plant Health” (document A/76/L.42).

NGOSA SIMBYAKULA (Zambia), introducing that text, recalled that in October 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization endorsed Zambia’s proposal for an International Day of Plant Health to be observed annually on 12 May.  Such an observance will help raise awareness of the importance and impacts of plant health in addressing issues of global significance, while reminding States to take policy action, build capacity and invest in infrastructure aimed at promoting plant health and control of plant pests and diseases.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.42” without a vote.

Sustainable Development

Acting without a vote, the Assembly then adopted the draft decision “Accreditation and participation of an intergovernmental organization in the international meeting Stockholm+50:  A healthy planet for the prosperity of all — our responsibility, our opportunity” (document A/76/L.45).

It then adopted, again without a vote, the draft decision “Accreditation and participation of an intergovernmental organization in the 2022 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” (document A/76/L.44).

Global Health and Foreign Policy

The Assembly then turned its attention to the draft resolution “Elevating pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to the highest level of political leadership” (document A/76/L.43).

MONA JUUL (Norway), introducing that text on behalf of the CORE Group of Global Health and Foreign Policy Initiative, said COVID-19 stands as one of recent history’s greatest global challenges, revealing weaknesses and overwhelming inequities in today’s world.  The draft sends a clear message of the need for greater international coordination of the response to the pandemic, she said, adding that it also calls upon Member States to strengthen pandemic prevention and build resilient health-care systems through a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach.  It urges greater funding for pandemic prevention and response, and emphasizes access in order to speed up development, production and dissemination of treatments.  Since diseases of zoonotic origin will drive future pandemics, there must be a common strategy to address disease outbreaks, she said, emphasizing:  “No country can control a pandemic alone.”

ENRIQUE AUSTRIA MANALO (Philippines), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends in Support of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Health Care Facilities, noted the urgent global need to improve water, sanitation and hygiene — known as “WASH” — as a first line of defence against the spread of the coronavirus.  It is also crucial for stopping the spread of other diseases and preventing future pandemics, he said, noting that WASH services help to uphold the dignity and human rights of all people, especially those in vulnerable situations.  In health-care facilities, they are crucial to preventing unnecessary illness and deaths, he noted.  Recalling the Secretary-General’s global call to action in support of WASH services in health-care facilities in March 2018, he said they are crucial to realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and to reducing inequality.  He went on to call for greater investments in WASH services, also spotlighting their central role in providing a safe environment for maternal and new-born health care and preventing the growth of anti-microbial resistance.

HARRIET LUDWIG, of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said:  “This is a time for humanity to come together.”  Instead, the Russian Federation - with support from Belarus — is deliberately targeting civilians and civilian facilities, such as hospitals, in Ukraine, she noted.  Urging Moscow to fully respect the Assembly’s resolution on that matter, adopted on 24 March, and to abide by international law, she warned that the pandemic will regrettably “not be the last” and called for more actions to prepare for future pandemics and other health threats.  Citing the pandemic’s detrimental impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment, she called for urgent counter-measures, going on to state that her delegation would have preferred that the draft contain an explicit reference to sexual and reproductive health care as an integral part of public health.

SUPARK PRONGTHURA (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said the text is very timely and relevant, given the continued human cost of COVID-19, the suffering and the severe socioeconomic disruption and devastating impact on lives and livelihoods, which has severely affected the region.  To emerge more resilient, ASEAN will seek to fully and effectively implement COVID-19 initiatives, seeing the need to enhance vaccine production and distribution in the region, he said, adding that its initiatives will also strengthen regional vaccine security and self-reliance in the longer term.  “We must also build resilience to emerging infectious diseases and future health threats, including anti-microbial resistance,” he said.

MOHD HAFIZ BIN OTHMAN (Malaysia), associating himself with ASEAN, said the pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation, which the world has failed.  There remains a lack of global preparedness, solidarity and cooperation, marked by a North-South divide, he said, adding that the suspicion and acrimony between them is even more disappointing.  In the larger context, COVID-19 affects trade and economic growth, he said, emphasizing that the only solution is “vaccinating the world”.  In the meantime, the cost will be in the trillions of dollars, he warned.  “Vaccine nationalism must end,” he stressed, noting Malaysia has contributed almost 1 million vaccines to Bangladesh, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Palestine in support of solidarity, humanity and multilateralism.

SHILPA KADAMBARI PULLELA (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, condemned the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine and its negative impacts on public health.  Since the Assembly’s high-level meeting on universal health coverage in 2019, the world has witnessed the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Expressing the group’s support for the delivery of vaccines, test kits and other diagnostics as an urgent measure around the world, she said the cost of preventing future health crises is low compared to the cost of responding to them.  Noting women’s critical role in those efforts, she said they also suffer most from a pandemic’s health, security and economic impacts and find themselves at heightened risk of violence and marginalization in their wake.  The group is committed to using the lessons learned from COVID-19 to build a more agile and responsive global health system with the World Health Organization (WHO) at its core, she said, stressing that a new global instrument on pandemic preparedness is a critical component of that approach.  She also advocated for an inclusive and transparent negotiation process that reflects the diverse experiences of Member States and encouraged reflection by core group members aimed at allowing for a more open and constructive process.

NOOR QAMAR SULAIMAN (Brunei Darussalam), associating herself with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and agreeing that global health and foreign policy are inextricably linked, said that if global health had been fully integrated into foreign policy before the pandemic, “the world might have been better prepared to face the crisis, with stronger and more resilient health systems”.  That disconnect was on full display during the pandemic and its aftermath, as many nations unilaterally closed their borders, banned the exports of critical medical supplies such as face masks, personal protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators, “played the blame game” and spread misinformation.  As a small country dependent on free trade and open borders, Brunei Darussalam cannot afford to turn inward and shut its borders completely and was forced to navigate the delicate balance between saving lives, protecting livelihoods and containing the spread of the virus.  Noting that it kept its economy open, she said it also donated medical goods and equipment to many partner countries in a spirit of solidarity.  It also put in place widespread testing and tracing programmes and today has fully vaccinated more than 94 per cent of its population.

GUO JIAKUN (China) said overcoming the pandemic and restoring economic growth are international priorities.  It is crucial to uphold solidarity against the immunization gap, he added, pointing out that no one is insulated and all lives are important.  He went on to emphasize the need for fair distribution of vaccines rather than empty promises, noting that China is the world’s biggest contributor, with more than 2.1 billion doses distributed to more than 120 countries and international organizations.  One out of two doses used globally is made in China, which has worked with 20 countries to develop vaccines and donated $100 million to the COVAX facility, he added.  The pandemic is a litmus test of the global health governance system, he said, calling for cooperation against future outbreaks.

YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba) said the pandemic has revealed an unjust international system, not only because of its effects on health, but also due to its socioeconomic impact.  The developed countries have engaged in a frenetic race to protect themselves while strengthening unilateral coercive measures against developing countries, thereby imposing additional difficulties despite calls to relax them from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, he noted.  It is an unsustainable paradox that the international community has so many scientific and medical resources while millions continue to die, he emphasized.  Cuba has faced intensified aggression from the United States under the longest blockade ever established against any country, he said, adding that it impedes access to equipment as well as technology and drugs from companies in the United States.  That compelled Cuba to create three of its own vaccines, which reached 89 per cent of its population with more than 35 million doses, he noted, adding that his country has also sent more than 4,000 medical collaborators to 40 countries, despite being impeded by the United States.

IVAN G. KONSTANTINOPOLSKIY (Russian Federation), expressing support for the draft resolution, said it is a brief, clearly focused text that takes his delegation’s main comments and concerns into account.  He also welcomed the text’s references to WHO’s central role, to advocacy for the further strengthening of the agency as a coordinating body and to the International Health Regulations, saying his delegation also supports the development of a new international legal instrument under the aegis of WHO.  He went on to welcome references to the importance of universal health coverage and the decision to convene a high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance in 2024.  The Russian Federation emphasizes that it would be counter-productive to try to pre-empt or hurry the development of a new WHO instrument, including by creating parallel processes that risk eroding unity on that important issue, he cautioned.  In response to delegations that used today’s sector-specific event to launch false allegations against his country, he rejected those allegations and noted that some States that claim to support core United Nations principles have instead trampled upon them for many years.

OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt), welcoming the draft resolution’s references to WHO, said the world is still witnessing new mutations of the COVID‑19 virus in spite of efforts to provide vaccines to all countries.  Achieving that goal will require political will on the part of all parties, he emphasized.  Egypt has advocated for an international strategy that takes the manufacturing capacities of Member States into account and organizes the transfer of technology, capacity, testing and medications, he said.  Egypt’s own national efforts include exploring the manufacture of its own COVID—19 vaccines and transferring the requisite technologies in an effort to make Egypt a regional centre for vaccine production and export, he added.  It is also working with China to produce its Sinovac vaccine locally, thereby contributing positively to the global supply chain and supporting neighbouring countries with low vaccination rates, he said.

ASHISH SHARMA (India), noting that COVID—19 has caused more than 6 million deaths around the world since its outbreak and continues to pose a grave threat, said his country has taken a holistic approach, addressing preventive health care through yoga and affordability through the National Health Protection Scheme, which has issued 210 million health cards and granted more than 30 million people access to treatment.  The Scheme also provides for health insurance up to $7,000 per family every year for secondary and tertiary hospitalization, covering about 100 million households or about 500 million people, he added.  He also cited the development of medical infrastructure, including India’s plan to establish 157 new medical colleges, and a nutrition policy.  He went on to point out that his country has supplied more than 170 million doses of vaccines to 96 countries and two United Nations entities since January 2021 and has strongly advocated for the principle of equity in WHO, proposing, alongside South Africa, a waiver of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) for vaccines, diagnostics and medicines.

Ms. ANDERSON (United Kingdom), condemning the Russian Federation’s attacks on health-care workers and facilities caught in crossfire, emphasized that health must remain a priority.  She said her country remains committed to collaboration with the international community on multilateral efforts to provide equitable access to vaccines, and to Security Council resolution 2565 (2021), intended to ensure people affected by conflict are not left behind, adding that the United Kingdom welcomes the high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance scheduled for 2024, an issue the international community must address.

NAKAGAWA SHU (Japan), emphasizing that global health issues must be placed in the context of universal health coverage, welcomed the resolution’s references to antimicrobial resistance, while cautioning that COVID—19 will undo progress made in that field.  That is a serious problem from the human security perspective, he said, while noting that health issues have been dealt with in silos and calling for an integrated approach.

ZAHRA ERSHADI (Iran) stressed the importance of affordable health care but cautioned that accessibility cannot be achieved without technology transfer.  Progress on global health depends on international cooperation, she said, rejecting unilateral coercive measures, in particular those imposed against her country by the United States.  The measures continue to pose a threat to the Iranian people’s right to health, she added, noting that country’s exclusion from the banking system has affected medical supplies.  Despite that difficulty, however, Iran joined a limited number of countries to manufacture COVID—19 vaccines, she stated.

NURZHAN RAKHMETOV (Kazakhstan) said that in order for health systems to be resilient, they require strong primary health-care personnel to deliver the first line of care during the initial phase of a crisis.  As the international community moves from emergency response to the control phase on COVID-19, it must ensure everyone has access to treatment and vaccines, he said, emphasizing that primary health care is the cornerstone for realizing the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Assembly then took up the draft resolution “Elevating pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to the highest level of political leadership” (document A/76/L.43).

By that text, the Assembly would urge Member States to increase international collaboration and coordination on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response at the highest political level, including by participating in and supporting ongoing discussions to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.  Also by the text, it would call upon Member States to prioritize pandemic prevention, preparedness and response in their national agendas, with full respect for human rights, to ensure a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, with a view to realizing universal health coverage with primary health care as its cornerstone.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.43” without a vote.

Explanation of Position

The representative of the United States, noting that his delegation joined the consensus on the draft, condemned the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine and its attacks that have disrupted health services, destroyed facilities — including maternity wards and children’s hospitals — and struck buildings where innocent civilians were sheltering.  There is no justification for such unprovoked and unwarranted attacks, and while discussing pandemic preparedness, such brazen actions cannot be ignored, he emphasized.  Noting that his country is the largest contributor to GAVI in support of the COVAX facility — providing, either with that entity or bilaterally, more than 480 million doses to over 100 countries and economies — he stressed that the United States works to advance economic prosperity for all people.  He said the United Nations must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and refrain from comment on actions or decisions in other forums, including the World Trade Organization.  The resolution’s references to technology transfer and know-how are understood to be on voluntary terms, and trade language in the General Assembly is non-binding on United States trade policy, he declared.

The representative of Armenia, noting the draft’s reference to the special session of the General Assembly on the coronavirus pandemic held on 3 and 4 December 2020, said it was promoted by Azerbaijan, which instrumentalized the pandemic to unleash a large-scale military escalation against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh in September-November 2020.  That aggression led to thousands of human casualties, and the resulting humanitarian crisis was further exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19, he said, disassociating his delegation from preambular paragraph 9.

The representative of Chile said his country has led efforts to establish an intergovernmental body tasked with elaborating a draft pandemic treaty, and for that reason, Chile joined the consensus.

The observer for the Holy See welcomed the draft’s recognition of the importance of ensuring universal health coverage, which is essential to realizing sustainable development as a cornerstone of effective pandemic preparedness.  Emphasizing the need to improve access to quality, safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other health technologies, he expressed support for international collaboration and coordination on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.  The Holy See further supports the Core Group’s approach to negotiations, particularly its decision to maintain a narrow focus on the major objective — to avoid complicating the process by inserting topics known to be complex and controversial, he said, expressing hope that the same methodology will apply in future negotiations and in other forums.

Right of Reply

The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said Armenia’s attempt to challenge General Assembly resolutions simply at the mention of initiatives advanced by her delegation are irresponsible and unethical.  Azerbaijan did not unleash aggression against anyone, she said, adding that asserting the opposite is absurd.  Its military actions during the 44-day war unleashed by Armenia in 2020 were carried out in self-defence, she emphasized, pointing out that the war resulted in more civilian casualties in Azerbaijan’s populated areas.  Instead of spreading lies, Armenia must abandon its obsolete and false narratives, and practise good neighbourliness, she stressed.

The representative of Armenia rejected the outdated fabrications and distortions expressed by Azerbaijan’s delegate, saying they aim to conceal that country’s violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  She reiterated that Azerbaijan unleashed a large-scale military escalation amidst a global pandemic, unleashing immense destruction and suffering.

For information media. Not an official record.