On Monday, September 21, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly was held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its founding. Leaders from most of its member countries spoke via recorded videos. Hinting at the complete disregard of the US for international laws, some of the leaders highlighted the need for a strong commitment to multilateralism and warned against the attempts to “boss over” other countries or international forums by some countries. The theme of the meeting of world’s top leaders was “The Future We want, the United Nations we need.”
Addressing the meeting, UN general secretary Antonio Guterres said that the UN gives hope to most of the people around the world. However, it “is only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideas and each other”. He also emphasized the need for multilateralism at a time when the world is facing serious threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
Chinese president Xi Jinping argued that no country should be allowed to dominate the world and keep all the advantages of development to itself. He argued for the need to increase the representation and voices of the developing countries in order to make the UN more balanced in its approach. About multilateralism he said, “there must be no practice of exceptionalism or double standard. Nor should international law be distorted and used as a pretext to undermine other countries’ legitimate rights and interests of the world peace and stability,” reported Xinhua.
The president of the US, Donald Trump, did not participate in the meeting despite being listed as the first speaker from the member states. Acting deputy representative to the UN, Cherith Norman Chalet represented the US.
More than 180 leaders from across the world addressed the meeting through recorded messages, including Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari. Most of the leaders highlighted the challenges looming in front of the UN, including the pandemic, rising economic inequalities in the world, climate change, reforms in the UN security council to make it more representative and rising instances of countries violating the UN charter.
The functioning of the UN and its auxiliary organizations, such as the World Health Organization and other international forums such as the International Criminal Court, have faced increased challenges in recent years, particularly due to the reluctance of the Trump administration in cooperating and adhering to international laws and conventions.
Sanctions against Iran
On Monday, the US went ahead and unilaterally declared the arms embargo against Iran despite the UN security council saying no to it. 13 out of 15 members of the Security Council had rejected US notice for snapback sanctions against Iran earlier this month. Members, which include strong US allies such as France and the UK, have rejected the US demand for international sanctions against Iran on the basis of UNSC resolution 2231 because it withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 and hence is not a “participant” of the deal anymore.
The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo went ahead and announced sanctions against the Iranian defense ministry and president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, for allegedly violating the sanctions against Iran. He also emphasized that all members of the UN have the responsibility to “fully comply with their obligations under these re-imposed sanctions” in a tweet a day before.
We will not hesitate to enforce our sanctions, and we expect all @UN Member States to fully comply with their obligations under these re-imposed restrictions.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 20, 2020
Unilateral moves such as this undertaken by the Trump administration in the last four years have jeopardized the functioning of the international organizations and multilateral forums raising concerns for the future of the UN itself.
The threats to multilateralism will be one of the central concerns of the General Assembly’s annual meeting starting today. The meeting will be conducted with strict rules of physical distancing with one delegate being allowed from each member country. Pre-recorded speeches of world leaders will be broadcasted in the meeting.