UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The new president of the United Nations General Assembly warned on Tuesday that unilateralism would only strengthen the COVID-19 pandemic and called for a new commitment to global cooperation, including on the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.
Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir has announced that the General Assembly will hold a high-level special session on the COVID-19 pandemic in early November, although diplomats have said the date could slip. He said at a press conference later that it would have been better to have the meeting earlier in the pandemic, suggesting June.
Bozkir took the reins of the 193-member world body after taking the oath and receiving the great hammer signifying the office of outgoing General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who chaired a single year-old session which he said was “Defined by a pandemic.” It included virtual meetings and new voting procedures.
Bozkir told diplomats from UN member countries, seated in socially remote spaces from the boardroom, that “confronting the effects of the coronavirus in all its dimensions will be a top priority for my presidency.”
He said that “no state can fight this pandemic alone” and that it is the responsibility of members “to build people’s confidence in multilateral cooperation and international institutions, with the UN at the center”.
“Since the onset of the crisis, criticism of multilateralism has grown louder,” Bozkir said. “The pandemic has been used to justify unilateral action and to weaken the international rules-based system. International organizations have been criticized and the need for international cooperation has been questioned. “
The president of the assembly declared that the criticisms are not without foundation, “but that their conclusions are wrong”, again warning against unilateralism.
Bozkir said “a frank, transparent and results-oriented dialogue” must continue on what has gone wrong in efforts to contain the virus, what must be done to avoid a similar situation in the future and on the equitable distribution of vaccines, which he said. “It’s not just a matter of health and economics, but of ethics in the deepest way.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the coming year “critical” for the United Nations, saying: “We must continue to respond to the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by strengthening systems health care and supporting the development and equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines. “
In a farewell speech, Muhammad-Bande, said that the emergence of the new coronavirus shows the need to deepen multilateral cooperation in the health sector as well as in other areas and to implement the commitment world leaders “to step up national and global efforts to build a healthier world for all.” “
Next week, Bozkir will chair the annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly, which will be mostly virtual, with leaders delivering pre-recorded speeches to a virtual audience and a diplomat from each member state in the hemicycle.