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India urges UN member states to wake from slumber, reshape General Assembly to tackle current world challenges

The United Nations (UN) member states have become “guardians of the status quo” due to their inaction and inertia in the face of stark global challenges like terrorism and climate change, India has said, calling on the international community to catalyse its efforts to rejuvenate the world body as it is set to complete 75 years of existence.

Participating in the UN General Assembly debate on ‘Revitalisation of the Work of the General Assembly’, India’s permanent representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said that despite being faced with such challenges, UN member states have tended to “muddle along, holding meetings, taking some minor stabs at enhancing international cooperation at the margins, becoming guardians of the status quo.

“Today, there is a proliferation of new transnational threats such as terrorism requiring comprehensive cooperation, accelerating technological change requiring broad norm setting, and worsening environmental degradation requiring immediate climate action. Our challenges have become stark,” Akbaruddin said here Thursday.

“Our inertia is considerable, even when it is clear that collective action is required. We steer clear from action, pleading consensus is required for change,” he said.

Akbaruddin called for nations to acknowledge that their collective record as the General Assembly is mixed. “Just as generals too often refight their last war, we diplomats are struggling to overcome our legacy issues, even as the variety and intricacy of new demands for international cooperation has expanded,” he said.

Given that the world is awash with new challenges, Akbaruddin said the 75th anniversary of the UN, to be marked in less than two years, is an appropriate opportunity for all nations to catalyse their efforts to rejuvenate and revitalise.

The agenda for such revitalisation needs to be broad and inclusive, as well as transformative and imbued with the objective of breathing new life.

“…To effectively make a difference, we need to undertake a new journey. A journey which needs to begin soon. The General Assembly, with its universal membership, can be a precious asset in this effort for change,” he said.

Noting that the principal purpose of the General Assembly is not to usurp the role of sovereign states, Akbaruddin said other global institution can match its representative character and the credibility that it derives from such representativeness.

“Decision-making in the General Assembly is not a threat to sovereignty. It is an expression of sovereign equality and opportunity for all to influence global problem-solving,” he said.

Emphasising that proliferating global problems demand new narratives, the Indian envoy said if the General Assembly is not delivering all that is wanted, the solution is not to give up on it.  “Rather, we must make it deliver results for today,” he said.

Quoting Swami Vivekananda, Akbaruddin said people reap what they sow, Akbaruddin said the revitalisation agenda is a challenge for diplomacy but it is a challenge worth taking up, “if we want to maximise the prospects for a peaceful and prosperous 21st century.”

During the debate, delegates said that a streamlined General Assembly will protect multilateralism and increase the capacity of the United Nations to address emerging challenges.

“The need of revitalising the Assembly — the most representative United Nations organ — is indispensable to responding to global challenges and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Assembly president María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés as she opened the debate.

She said efforts are taking place at a time when doubts are emerging about the multilateral system’s ability to address the international challenges. World leaders must look at the Assembly as the main body to discuss the most pressing global challenges, she stressed, asserting that States attach great importance to the role of the United Nations within the multilateral system.

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