September is the busiest month in the United Nations calendar. Each September, the UN holds its annual General Assembly (UNGA) at its imposing HQ in New York City.
The General Debate, starting today and lasting one week, is a highlight of the Assembly agenda. Each representative of the UN’s 193 member states gets a powerful if temporary ‘bully pulpit’ to advocate for positive change. Ministers and senior government officials, many from developing countries, get 15 minutes each to speak out about the urgent issues of the day. They show how these issues are playing out in their own country and region, and what they think should be done to make progress.
This is the only debate (apart from high-level meetings) where heads of state and government regularly participate. And while UN resolutions are not enforced, they do carry political weight, so the Debate is a vital platform for the global conversation.
Other member states have the right to reply, either at the end of each day’s speaking slots or in writing to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. If a country delegation disapproves of what a speaker is saying, they are officially allowed to walk out!
As usual, there’s plenty to talk about: North Korean aggression, climate change and mass expulsion of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims are at the top of the General Assembly Agenda. Yet the Debate theme for 2017 is touchingly simple:
“Focusing on People – striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet.” And who doesn’t want that?
Some people, including President Trump, say the UN is all talk and no action. Even the UN Secretary General wants to make it more efficient and accountable. Russia and Mexico are boycotting the event. Delegations will stage dramatic walkouts during the debates. Yet it’s still the only place where the world can meet to talk things over. As Winston Churchill said: “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.” It’s a formula that is still working after 72 years, so let’s hear it for the UN General Assembly and its Debate.
The UN’s own Social Media team has created a great guide so that you can follow the unfolding meetings and debates online. And use #UNGA to join the conversation and follow on Twitter: @UN. Find out how you can join here.
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