Palestine and More: the 66th UN General Assembly

Full house this week: the UNGA during its General Debate, courtesy of UN Photo/flickr

September marks the beginning of term not only for students but also for hundreds of UN diplomats in New York. Taking over the role of Assembly president from Joseph Deiss (Switzerland), Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser (Qatar) opened the 66th UN General Assembly last Tuesday. After having had a couple of days to deal with organizational matters, the GA started its substantive deliberations today:

A Talking Shop? So What?

Listen, talk, vote: UN General Assembly Hall; photo: Sebastian Delmont/flickr

If you don’t read, watch or listen to Swiss media you probably haven’t noticed. On Tuesday, the new president of the UN General Assembly Joseph Deiss opened the 65th session of the UN’s house of representatives. As a Swiss I feel honored that only a decade after a majority of my co-citizens finally agreed to become a full member of the UN, our former federal councilor and foreign minister will be chairing the General Assembly (GA) for one year.

Joseph Deiss, a former economist, is realistic about his new position. Confronted with the criticism that the UN GA is only a talking shop and lacks any power, he says: So what? The GA is the only body representing all states in an equal manner and the only place where representatives of even the smallest and least important countries have a say. The UN GA is the principal place for international debate.

The GA also facilitates the human aspect of diplomacy. A colleague pointed out that Iran, Iraq and Israel are seated next to each other in the assembly hall. Imagine an Israeli diplomat bumping into the representative of Iran and apologizing: “Oh, I’m very sorry!” – “No problem at all”, the other says.

Addressing, perhaps implicitly, the big number of small states in the opening address, Deiss called for making the UN the center of global governance. Institutions such as the G8 or the G20 may be more efficient and be able to act swiftly. However, it is only the UN that has the legitimacy to make decisions for all states. In order for the UN to play a more active role in global governance, the organization needs to be reformed, which is one of the main points on Deiss’ agenda.

Let’s hope that the opening ceremony will not remain the last occasion we’ve read or heard about the 65th session of the UN General Assembly.

Yes, I was talking to you: fellow bloggers, journalists and news editors.

Listen to our podcast on the relevance of the UN and see our resources on UN reform.

ISN Weekly Theme: UN (Ir)Relevance

Photo: Bernardo Londoy/flickr

On the occasion of the 64th UN General Assembly the ISN asks whether the UN makes a difference in world politics.

In the ISN podcast this week, I ask Ambassador Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein to evaluate the work of the UN. Due to the media’s focus on peace and security, people tend to neglect the UN”s activities in the fields of human rights and development, says Wenaweser.

The UN faces management problems. The five permanent members of the Security Council are unhealthily influential, and this is not only in the Council. Yet, according to Wenaweser, the organization has achieved much, for example in responding to the 2004 tsunami disaster or in promoting international criminal justice.

What else do we offer on the UN?

  • Security Watch features a story by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on the vast agenda facing UN leaders at the 64th General Assembly.
  • In our policy briefs section Eric Rosand of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation examines the strengths of the UN’s Terrorism Prevention Branch and identifies challenges lying ahead.
  • Rob Jenkins of the Crisis States Research Centre writes on the two-year old UN Peacekeeping Commission and its role in disseminating international norms, in our publications section.

This and more you’ll find on the ISN website.