UN General Assembly: The Four Key Global Issues to Watch For
With the US “locked and loaded” on Iran, the Amazon on fire and India and Pakistan feuding over Kashmir, the upcoming UN General Assembly will be a check-in for where countries stand on several important issues.
Once again, another session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will commence on September 17 while the high-level general debate will run from September 24 to September 30. Past highlights have included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calling George Bush “the devil,” an almost two-hour-long speech by Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi during which he tore up the UN charter, and last years spectacle when the assembly floor laughed at U.S. President Trump as he boasted of his administration’s achievements.
This year’s session, with polarization and international tensions rising, is likely to give rise to more dramatic moments. The UNGA is the largest convergence of heads of state from around the world and each is given 15 minutes to speak on today’s most pressing issues. Nearly 200 participants are already scheduled to deliver their speeches in the General Assembly.
Here are four issues likely to dominate the 74th meeting of the UNGA:
India and Pakistan War of Words Over Kashmir
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to raise the issue of Kashmir at the UNGA, warning that India’s recent aggressive actions in the region of Jammu and Kashmir has spurred extremism.
“Next week, I am going to address the U.N. General Assembly, and I will not disappoint the people of Kashmir. I will stand for the rights of Kashmiris as nobody did it in the past,” the former cricket star said while addressing a gathering in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s capital of Muzaffarabad
In response, India had harsh criticism for Pakistan’s promise to bring the Kashmir issue to the UNGA floor, calling the country a “hub of terrorism.”
Pakistan is attempting “to misuse this forum to spread baseless and deceitful narratives about my country,” Indian diplomat Sandeep Kumar Bayyapu said on Thursday.
“The truth is that the delegation represents a geographical space that is now widely known as the hub of terrorism that has jeopardized innocent lives in our region and beyond.
“Such attempts have not succeeded earlier and will not succeed now,” he added.
Tensions in the disputed region have deteriorated since India lifted Article 370 of India’s constitution on August 5. The provision had granted the regions of Jammu and Kashmir a special status with a degree of autonomy, except for primarily on issues of foreign affairs and defense.
As Walter Yeates previously reported for Citizen Truth, Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim area, split by India and Pakistan, which both countries claim as their own. The recent actions of India have drawn the ire of Pakistan, claiming such to be in violation of international law. Pakistan has made appeals to the United Nations Security Council while scolding the Hindu nationalist government of India.
Since the revocation of Article 370, the Indian controlled Kashmir region has been under a virtual lockdown with government-imposed curfew-like restrictions.
India and Pakistan each control roughly half of the contested region, while China controls a smaller region in the north. After the partition of British India into Pakistan and independent India in 1947, the neighboring countries have engaged in three bloody battles, two of which were sparked over the Kashmir region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex the Valley of Jordan in the West Bank should he win the Israeli election on September 17, sparked outrage and condemnation worldwide.
Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh responded that if Netanyahu followed through on the aggressive move he would be “a prime destroyer of peace in the region.”
While Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said, “Such an announcement should be encountered by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah with cutting off all ties with Israel, mainly the security coordination and halt of all futile peace negotiations with Israel.”
Indonesia, one of the current non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, suggested the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) raise the issue of the annexation of the West Bank at the UNGA and the UNSC.
“Indonesia sees a campaign promise made in Israel concerning Israel’s west bank annexation plan as an act of discrediting the international law and a flagrant violation of U.N. resolutions,” Director General for Multilateral Cooperation, Febrian A. Ruddyard, said at on Sunday an emergency meeting of the OIC called in response to Netanyahu’s proclamation.
The presence of 57 members of the OIC is expected to push the discussion of the Palestine issue toward a special U.N. session.
Besides the West Bank annexation, another Palestine-related key issue is whether the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will be renewed following U.S. withdrawal of financial aid and support and an internal ethics report that alleged ethical abuses as the agency.
In 2018, the U.S. suspended its $300 million in annual financial aid to the UNRWA, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation.” The Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium then followed suit, as Aljazeera reported.
In late July of 2019, an internal investigation into ethical violations at the UNRWA was made public. AFP, which obtained a copy of the report, said the allegations include “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”
The relief agency is responsible for distributing aid to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. The current UNRWA mandate is still valid until June 30, 2020 but is renewed by the UNGA every three years.
Iran vs US Tensions
While the recent exit of Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor may bring renewed hope for peace and diplomacy between Iran and the U.S., a meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Donald Trump at the UNGA has been apparently ruled out.
“Neither is such an event (Trump-Rouhani meeting in New York) on our agenda, nor will it happen. Such a meeting will not take place,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks broadcast by Iranian state TV.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. broke out when the latter abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed under the Obama administration in 2015. Trump slammed the pact for not adequately restricting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, despite repeated reports from the monitoring agency – the International Atomic Energy Agency – that Iran was in compliance with the agreement.
Most recently, the disagreement worsened following U.S. accusations that Iran was behind attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities on Saturday. Though Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia insist Iran was responsible, claiming the Houthis did not have sufficient weaponry to carry out such an attack.
With Trump proclaiming the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to retaliate against the attacks, the tensions between Iran and the U.S. will likely be a subject of intense debate at the UNGA. European nations have condemned the U.S. for pulling out of the Iran Deal and sought ways to salvage the deal, though they have not been able to set up an alternative financial system to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet issued a warning last week that climate change poses a severe threat to human rights by reducing natural resources and triggering famine, conflict and migration.
“The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope,” she told the U.N. human rights council in Geneva.
“The economies of all nations, the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every state, and the rights of all your people, and future generations, will be impacted” by climate change, she warned.
Bachelet’s warning comes after a worldwide spotlight in recent weeks landed on fires that are still raging in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been blamed for weakening environmental protections that have lead to a surge of deforestation and fires in the rainforest. The crisis also led to a colorful public feud between French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro during which Bolsonaro took shots at Macron’s wife.
According to a U.N. statement, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made climate change one of his top priorities. Guterres scheduled the opening of the Climate Action Summit for September 23, though prior to the summit’s opening Guterres scheduled a Youth Climate Summit for September 21.
With the climate summit, the Portuguese diplomat aims to push countries to solutions in six areas:
- A global transition to renewable energy.
- Sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities.
- Sustainable agriculture
- Management of forests and oceans.
- Resilience and adaptation to climate impacts.
- Alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy.
Other Key Topics, First-Ever Universal Health Coverage Meeting
Besides the aforementioned issues, the U.N. reports the UNGA will also be focused on issues like universal health coverage. On the same day as the climate summit, the U.N. will host its first-ever High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.
In 2015, all 193 member states of the U.N. agreed on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, one of which, SDG3, included a number of health-related goals including achieving universal health coverage.
“With at least half of the world’s population lacking access to the essential health services they need, and health costs pushing almost 100 million into extreme poverty each year, the meeting is being billed as the best opportunity to secure political commitment from Heads of State and Government to prioritize and invest in universal health coverage and ensure health for all,” wrote the U.N.
Other focuses for the UNGA will include achieving and financing the rest of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is divided into 17 goals for sustainable development and ensuring support for developing nation-states.