UN General Assembly 2018, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Imogen Granger 

It was this time a year ago that Donald Trump stunned political onlookers across the globe by stating he was going to ‘annihilate’ North Korea. One year later diplomats are ready to expect the unexpected and are prepared for anything at this General Debate. President Trump is likely to command a large amount of attention and air time, especially as he will be leading a Security Council meeting. 

The UN General Assembly is the main policy making body of the UN, created under Chapter IV of the Charter of the United Nations. Its key functions include “promoting international co-operation in the economic, social, cultural, educational, and health fields, and assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. The 139 members of the UN are equally represented in the assembly and each country has one vote. Each member state is represented to discuss and debate a wide array of international issues covered by the UN Charter, such as development, security, and international law. Decisions on important questions such as those on peace, security, admission of new members, and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority whereas other questions need a simple majority.

Every year, in September, all member state delegates meet in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the General Debate. The 73rd session opened on the 18th September and the debate will last until October 1st. A new President is elected at the start of each session and this year it was Ecuador’s Maria Fernanda Espinosa who is the first female president from Latin America and the Caribbean. This years theme is ‘Making the UN relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable, and sustainable societies’

This year there will be a high-level security meeting, led by Secretary General Antonio Guterres to renew commitments to UN peacekeeping operations as well as to promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Another issue on the agenda for the debate is a discussion on safeguarding the ocean for present and future generations. 

Already on day one of the debate leaders have made speeches which have sparked international attention. It is no surprise that Trump has been one of these. Just twelve months after calling North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un a “rocket man” it is clear that great changes have come around for Trump who praised Mr Kim as a “very talented man” in June. In his speech this year Trump criticised Iran and stated that Iranian leaders “sow chaos, death and destruction” as well as accusing the International Criminal Court of “violating all principles of justice, fairness and due process”. However, these comments were not met with offence or anger but with amusement. When referencing the “extraordinary progress” that his government has made he stated that his administration has accomplished “more than almost any administration in the history of our country”. After saying this he was surprised to be met with laughter from the delegates and said, “Didn’t expect that reaction but that’s ok”. 

Moreover, laughter was not the only thing that Trump received from the first day of the debate. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, urged leaders to “reject the law of the most powerful” and rebuked Trump by stressing the importance of “dialogue with Iran” which Trump had just accused of having a “blood agenda”. Overall, the first day signifies another set of controversial speeches from leaders and promises an eventful and noteworthy next few days for the delegates at the debate. 

Sources and Further Reading 

Image: GovernmentZA @flickr

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