UN chief Antonio Guterres has suggested holding the annual General Assembly session in September under a different format, such as using pre-recorded messages of world leaders, saying it is highly unlikely that Heads of State and Government will be able to travel to New York for the high-level week due to the COVID19 pandemic.
The UN is commemorating its 75th anniversary this year and the General Assembly session, held annually in September, brings world leaders, ministers and diplomats from 193 Member States to New York and the UN headquarters along with the media and thousands of civil society members.
New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. A total of 356,278 COVID-19 cases and more than 28,302 deaths have been reported in the state.
In a letter dated May 18 to President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Secretary-General Guterres said the medical community anticipates that the COVID19 pandemic will continue to cycle with varying degrees of severity across the world in the coming months, requiring international travel restrictions to remain in place for some destinations, as also social distancing measures and restrictions on large gatherings.
Quarantines might affect travellers to and from New York City, he said, adding that for some countries, the pandemic and various containment measures is likely to entail a significant disease burden.
"In light of the foregoing, it is highly unlikely that Heads of State and Government from all Member States will be able to travel to New York in September, for the high-level week of the 75th session of the General Assembly, Guterres said in the letter, seen by PTI.
Therefore, you may wish to recommend that the General Assembly considers holding the General Debate of the seventy-fifth session in a different format, such as using pre-recorded messages provided by Heads of State and Government or Ministers, with physical presence in the General Assembly Hall limited to one delegate per delegation based in New York, Guterres said in the letter.
He said such a format would allow for the General Debate to continue with the participation of speakers from all Member States at the highest possible level, and with the physical presence of Member States in the General Assembly Hall.
Guterres added that similar arrangements could be made for the high-level meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Guterres said that this format will be better as opposed to postponing the General Debate to a date in 2021.
While the General Assembly could consider postponing the General Debate to a date in 2021 within the seventy-fifth session, I believe that it would be better to hold the General Debate at the start of the session to allow for the remainder of the main part of the session, in both the Plenary and the Main Committees, to proceed.
It would also allow for the work of the Organisation to continue uninterrupted, albeit in a different format, and for world leaders to convey their views on important international issues, including on the international response to the pandemic, as well as to hear the views of other leaders, Guterres said.
The General Debate is held at the beginning of each session of the General Assembly in September and usually runs for over a week when leaders and ministers from the 193 UN Member States address the world from the iconic lectern in the General Assembly hall.
The options in the letter are among the first to give a sense of how the high-level General Assembly session may take place this year in New York City, which has been the epicenter of the COVID19 pandemic in the US.
The city so far has 191,073 coronavirus cases and 15,983 confirmed COVID19 deaths and an additional 4,823 probable deaths.
Telecommuting arrangements have been in place at the UN headquarters since March 16 and last week, Guterres extended the order till June 30.
Guterres said in the letter that while September is still some months away, during which forecasts about the pandemic may evolve, any decision to ease restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing measures in the city will depend on the steps that New York City and New York State will take in the coming months.
The UN chief has asked relevant departments to explore options related to the procedural and technical aspects required to hold the General Debate and other high-level meetings in the new format.
The Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) will provide a provisional list of speakers depending on how member states respond to the suggested format and modalities for the General Debate.
Regarding other mandated high-level meetings scheduled for September, Guterres said the General Assembly could consider holding them only if the social distancing measures applicable at that time can be implemented or else these meetings could be postponed to a date in 2021, still within the period of the 75th session that runs through September next year.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented and devastating crisis that has spared no one, and the engagement of the General Assembly will be essential for a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response, he said.
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