Social distancing globally won’t help combat COVID-19; the world needs multilateralism: UNGA President


UNITED NATIONS: Social distancing at the global level will not help as no country could combat COVID-19 alone, President of the UN General Assembly‘s 75th session Volkan Bozkir has said, asserting that multilateralism is the “panacea” to all the problems in the world.

Bozkir, addressing the UN ambassadors and delegates, said that since the beginning of the crisis earlier this year, critics of multilateralism have become more vocal and the pandemic has been used to justify unilateral steps and weaken the rules-based international system.

“In the past six months, our plans for the 75th year of the United Nations have changed. Today, we have other urgent priorities. Our masks remind us of the very serious threat we face… They remind us we are in this together,” Bozkir said as the 75th session of the General Assembly commenced on Tuesday.

Wearing masks, UN diplomats and envoys sat socially distanced in the iconic General Assembly Hall as the high-level annual session begins in a largely virtual format this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“International organisations have been reproached and the need for international cooperation has been questioned. These criticisms are not baseless but their conclusions are misguided,” the veteran Turkish diplomat told the 193-member General Assembly.

Giving a clarion call for strengthening multilateralism to combat the pandemic, Bozkir said, “Make no mistake: No state can combat this pandemic alone. Social distancing will not help at the international level. Unilateralism will only strengthen the pandemic.

“It will move us further away from our shared goal. At this time of crisis, it is our responsibility to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral cooperation and international institutions, with the UN at their center.”

Later, addressing the UN correspondents at a press briefing, Bozkir said that multilateralism is the “panacea” to all the problems of the world.

“Multilateralism can best be implemented in the United Nations platform,” he said.

Responding to a question on whether he thinks the UN can survive a second term of US President Donald Trump, who has been very critical of its agencies and withdrawn from the UN entities and agreements like the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord, he said if the UN shows to the world that it is doing its job in a strong manner and “the wind is blowing from all the world behind to the UN, then I don’t think any country or any person can think of abolishing this institution or lessening its strength.”

“Personally, I don’t have any concern about it. I have full trust that the United Nations is irreplaceable and it will be with us for another 75 years,” he said.

Bozkir said that there is a need to continue a frank, transparent and results-oriented dialogue about “what went wrong in our efforts to contain the virus and what we have to do to avoid a similar situation in the future.”

He stressed that the international community will also need to ask and answer questions about how COVID-19 vaccines can be distributed “fairly and equitably. This is not just a question of health and economics, but of ethics in the most profound way.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressing the opening of the 75th session of the General Assembly, said in the landmark year of the world organisation, “it is clear that the world has high expectations of us, as the main platform for multilateralism and cooperation on a rules-based international system.”

“The nature of multilateralism is changing and I have frequently pointed to the need for a more networked and inclusive multilateralism for the 21st century,” Guterres said, welcoming Bozkir’s pledge to work towards consolidating trust and cohesion among UN member states, major groups of countries and other international organisations.

“These efforts are essential to the unity and solidarity we need in this next crucial year, as we respond to the pandemic, build a strong recovery and implement the Sustainable Development Goals,” Guterres said.

For the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations, state heads and government, ministers and diplomats from 193-UN member states will not be gathering in New York for the high-level UNGA week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World leaders will send pre-recorded video statements in advance to the UN for the largely virtual General Debate as well as other virtual summits planned during the session, including the high-level meetings to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UN.

Bozkir added that during the 75th Session, a Special Session will be convened to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and a second one against corruption.





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