INTERVIEW - The world is seeing widening geopolitical divides, protracted uncertainties: UNGA 77 president

Sahar Zahran in Washingtom DC , Sunday 25 Sep 2022

The world is dealing with widening geopolitical divides and protracted uncertainties due to a variety of reasons, and UN Member States are struggling with declining trust and division, President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Csaba Kőrösi told Ahram Online in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the ongoing 77th session in New York.

UNGA

 

Kőrösi, who is also the Director of Environmental Sustainability at the Office of the President of Hungary, was elected by acclamation as President of the 77th session of the UNGA on 7 June 2022. Kőrösi has vowed to make ‘Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science’ the motto for its 77th session. 

He highlighted the “ominous challenges” facing countries, including food and energy shortages, but also debt, the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, and urgent humanitarian and protection needs. 

Kőrösi outlined priorities for addressing these complex global challenges while upholding the UN’s key pillars of peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development, including standing firm on the basic principles of the UN Charter, making significant and measurable progress in “sustainable transformation”, enhancing the role of science in decision making, and promoting greater solidarity. 

“We live in times that rock the foundation this organisation was built upon. With multiple crises looming, nothing less than the credibility of the UN is at stake,” Kőrösi told his fellow ambassadors while assuming his post in June.

 

Ahram Online: Immediately upon assuming the UNGA presidency, you raised the slogan of ‘Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science.’ What are the main solutions and how can they offer a way out of the current international crises?

Csaba Kőrösi: The world is dealing with widening geopolitical divides and protracted uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world, disrupted global supply chains, and climate change.  

Meanwhile, Member States are struggling with declining trust and divisions among themselves, and also among their communities. This is why solidarity is key to finding solutions to these problems. 

There are inequalities which have been growing for years, and if not stopped, will lead to more tensions and more crises. We, as the international community, stand or fall together on big issues.

AO: How do we move forward?

CK: We can find solutions based on solid evidence that can help us move forward. Science can provide that solid evidence by showing what might be the consequences of our actions or inaction. So that the solutions we undertake will be sustainable, and have a positive impact for people and the planet. 

AO: How can the General Assembly mitigate the challenges facing many countries around the world?

CK: The General Assembly is the people’s house because it offers any Member States – small or large – the same rights. 

One example of this was when the General Assembly came together to discuss the situation in Ukraine at a time when the Security Council was blocked. The Emergency Special Session was convened within 24 hours. This allowed all Member States who wanted to speak, to be heard. And for the Assembly to adopt three resolutions related to Ukraine and to Russia. To proclaim itself on the sanctity of the UN Charter and international law.

Since then, the General Assembly “Veto Initiative” resolution has also been adopted. This allows the General Assembly to demand transparency and accountability when it comes to a Permanent Member that is blocking action on a key issue of international peace and security in the Security Council.  

The General Assembly works in close collaboration with the Security Council, as well as the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Also with UN agencies, funds and programs on the ground. As well as with civil society, youth groups, and science and academia. Together, we can create solid plans, in line with the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and see them through on the international scale. 

How those resolutions adopted at UN Headquarters are turned into national and local policy, that is up to Member States. They need to make those decisions based on their communities.

AO: We are seeing today a major loss of confidence in the international system. What is your role in restoring and strengthening that confidence between countries, especially with the increasing divisions among the international community?

CK: The answer is building trust. 

I plan to organise on a regular basis informal consultations among small and diverse groups of Member States on some of the difficult issues that have a direct bearing on the deliberations in the General Assembly. I hope to involve scientific evidence into the discussions, and to probe the different sides represented.

I think we must all do better as an international community to identify common ground, and to use that as the cornerstone of finding sustainable solutions.

I also plan to include those outside of the UN, through consultations with civil society, non-UN organisations and faith-based organisations. I want to give them an opportunity to inform Member States, so that they can advocate for policy decisions. In the end, we want policy decisions that are inclusive, transparent and science-based.

AO: You have promised that your office will promote the values of cultural pluralism and multilingualism. What do you mean by this and how do you intend to achieve it?

CK: Multiculturalism is a shared value. We belong to very different nations with very different traditions, very different cultures. Together we represent the common heritage of humankind.

On multilingualism, there are six official languages of the United Nations, among them Arabic and French. Formal GA meetings have simultaneous interpretation in all six. Whenever possible, I will make an effort to push for such multilingualism, and will pay attention to other languages across the world, because they are also part of our shared cultural heritage.

Furthermore, in December, I will launch the Decade of Indigenous Languages, an international effort led by Member States and UNESCO that will add to multilingualism beyond the traditional languages associated with governments. 

AO: How can the UN agencies play a role in developing a roadmap to solve the crises that countries are facing today, such as climate change and food insecurity?

CK: UN agencies, funds and programs are strong partners because they are focused on specific issues, and, importantly, often have a presence on the ground that understands local issues and complexities. 

When I speak about working with partners and including information from various sources, the wider UN family plays a key part in that conversation. 

As I said in my speech to the UNGA General Debate, the International Panel on Climate Change has proven an invaluable tool for supporting political decisions to combat climate change and to adapt to its consequences. We should consider replicating its success in other areas, such as water, energy, food and biodiversity… This would result in a scientific foundation for action.

AO: You have mentioned on various occasions the water crisis, and we have as an example the dispute between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand and Ethiopia on the other over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damn. Will the water issue remain at the top of your agenda during the 77th session?

CK: The lack of safe drinking water has the potential to become the next major crisis. Many Member States are already facing a lack of drinking water. This is sometimes coupled with droughts or flooding, or in some cases, all three.

The water crisis has huge ramifications for the Sustainable Development Goals. It impacts food security, the economy, health and education, energy production – the list goes on…

Water will be an issue on the agenda of the 77th session with the UN Water Conference coming up next year. This is the first time since 1977 that the UN will convene a full-fledged water conference. 

My office is mandated to convene the preparatory meeting for this conference this coming October. I hope this will give Member States an opportunity to discuss best practices and develop, together, transformative solutions. 

With this conference, we aim to build trust and renew solidarity around the issue of water. Indeed, water can be a source of cooperation, rather than conflict. We can work together to maximise the benefits of integrated river basin planning, and the management of water, energy and food resources.

Water management is not a zero-sum game. You can derive economic benefits from resources – such as by creating energy from a dam – while also building resilience to climate change and reducing disaster risks.

AO: You have said that “the war must stop,” in reference to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. How can this be achieved and how can the UNGA play a role in this regard, especially with the impotence of the Security Council?

CK: The General Assembly in March called for an immediate end of the aggression against Ukraine. The war, however, continues and has brought suffering to millions of people in Ukraine, in Russia, in neighbouring countries, as well as to people thousands of miles away from the conflict, by disrupting food chains, energy supplies and driving up inflation.

It also introduced deeper polarisation and mistrust; mistrust among Member States and mistrust of the UN by people who expect it to take a leading role in stopping the war. We must find a way to come back together, to find new ways to cooperate and rebuild trust.

Russia is a founding member of the United Nations, and we need Russia’s cooperation. It is now up to Member States to answer – how are we going to put together these pieces?

But first we must silence the guns in Ukraine. To bring in more humanitarian assistance. To continue the deal on the safe commercial export of grains. To demilitarise nuclear facilities and protect them – there should be no fighting around nuclear sites.  

I have said it before, and I will reiterate it now: we need a ceasefire, in line with the UN Charter and international law.

But we must also understand that with every day the hostilities continue, more people get killed, injured. More people are displaced. More infrastructure was destroyed. 

The 11th emergency session of the General Assembly can be reconvened at any time if Member States ask for it. If I am asked to do so by Member States, I am ready to reconvene an emergency session within 24 hours.

AO: Is there a danger to establishing peace with the increase of refugees and displaced persons fleeing the cycle of violence?

CK: The war in Ukraine is, sadly, only one of the conflicts that we face. At this moment, more people are forcibly displaced than at any point in history. Beyond refugees fleeing armed conflict, climate change is also displacing people in record numbers.

The international community, and the General Assembly in particular, have frameworks to deal with migration, refugees and internal displacement. The Global Compact for Refugees is one of these tools, along with the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.

What is needed is for cooperation to be the norm, rather than the exception.

Forced displacement that crosses borders is by definition an international phenomenon, and the General Assembly can be a forum for dialogue… for understanding, and for solutions based on best practices that uphold international law.

AO: Discussions have increased in recent years on reforming the Security Council, in conjunction with calls to expand it to be more representative of the international community and alleviate the burden off major powers. What is your vision for dealing with this vital issue?

CK: My role as President of the General Assembly is to appoint the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiations, and to provide them with the support to continue to move the discussion forward. 

How far the discussion goes depends entirely on the Member States. I will urge Member States to continue to find areas on which they agree… and continue to work to bridge the differences.

AOThere are demands that Palestine be included in the UN as a full member state. Do you support these demands and will the General Assembly have a role in resolving the Palestinian issue?

CK: In terms of UN membership, there is a clear process for obtaining UN membership laid out in the Charter of the United Nations and the Rules of Procedure, which starts with the Secretary-General and Security Council.

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