Aidex Voices

In his opening speech to the General Assembly in New York this week, United Nations General Secretary António Guterres stated, ‘peace remains elusive. In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse. Conflicts have deepened and new dangers have emerged’.
In light of growing inequalities, barbaric violations of human rights and increasing xenophobia, racism and nationalism, the UN chief used the opportunity to highlight how his first year in office has witnessed a backwards trend in peace and progress, and urged action on climate, migration, regional conflicts and women’s empowerment.

Placing responsibility on each of the UN member states to define the priorities of action, Guterres highlighted 12 key areas of concern and described ‘the empowerment of women everywhere’ as a stand-alone ‘cross-cutting imperative’. 
Here is a brief summary:

1.    Tackle poverty and inequality with fair globalisation by:

•    Ensuring the benefits of globalisation are distributed equally so as to build ‘prosperous and peaceful societies for all, without neglect’
•    Using innovative instruments to mobilise resources and encouraging government donors to honour their funding commitments is vital to accomplish this
•    Capitalising on private sector and strength of civil society 
•    Repositioning the UN system for development to assist Member States in achieving the SDGs
•    Investing in young people’s futures by giving them a voice and position of choice

2.    Be more ambitious about climate change by:

•    Holding a climate summit to mobilise the international community for more ambitious emission reductions, climate change adaption and energy transition 

3.    Take advantage of migration by:

•    Implementing more opportunities for legal migration and offering people the opportunity to live and work with dignity in their own country 

4.    Reap the benefits of technological advances by:

•    Understanding impact of artificial intelligence on labour markets, ethics and privacy and cybersecurity risks 

5.    Avoid nuclear war by:

•    Fully implementing the UN Security Council’s decisions in response to nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea
•    Improve relations with North Korea with proactive diplomacy 
•    Re-opening of inter-Korean communication channels, especially military-to-military to lower risk of miscalculation and misunderstanding by reducing tensions
•    Inviting North Korea to participate in Winter Olympics in South Korea

6.    Improving Middle East relations by:

•    Urging Israel-Palestine negotiations to achieve the only option of a two-State solution
•    Strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability
•    Encourage meaningful peace negotiations between warring parties in Yemen
•    Strengthen platforms for regional dialogue in the Gulf to enable political solutions
•    Continue negotiations to achieve a political settlement of the conflict in Syria
•    Support efforts in Iraq to ensure the country’s territorial integrity

7.    Strengthen the partnership with Africa by:

•    Fully support African-led solutions to African problems by subregional organisations
•    Adequate and predictable financial help for African forces in Somalia and Lake Chad
•    Supporting Libyan actors in securing a political agreement and democratic elections

8.    Ceasing European conflicts by:

•    Pushing back nationalism and revitalising mediation initiatives 
•    Concerting effort to achieve long-term stability in the Western Balkans
•    Urging European leaders to show the continent can live up to its ideals of shared prosperity and peaceful coexistence

9.    Countering terrorism by:

•    Globally coordinating responses to defeat terrorism
•    Convening a summit of multi-counter-terrorism agencies to advance multilateral cooperation
•    Focusing on root causes and support for victims by grounding our actions in respect for human rights and the rule of law
•    Avoid approaches that feed grievances and narratives that generate violence 

10.    Strengthen UN peacekeeping by:

•    Detailing a plan of action to protect peacekeepers and the populations they serve from being targeted
•    Presenting a report on peacebuilding and sustaining peace to galvanise efforts to prevent violent conflicts
•    Utilising the Mediation Advisory Board effectively to support unstable states 

11.     Reversing exodus of Myanmar’s Rohingya by:

•    Calling on the Myanmar Government to ensure humanitarian access in Rakhine State and for the international community to support those who have fled to Bangladesh
•    Full implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission
•    Continuing to support Myanmar’s democratic transition

12.    Reconcile human rights with national sovereignty by:

•    Supporting states that are prepared to build their capacities to uphold the rule of law and promote respect for human rights and to eliminate all forms of discrimination 
•    Remain fully committed to the Human Rights Up Front initiative 

Following the outlining of these 12 key areas of concern, the UN Chief emphasised the ‘disproportionate impact on women’ in every case, and stated how ‘women’s meaningful participation in peace and security has been proven to make peace more sustainable’. Women’s equal inclusion in the labour force, Guterres remarked would also enforce equal pay and ‘unlock trillions of dollars for our economies.’

The three pillar approach required to achieve these gains includes:

1.    Empowering women and girls by:

•    Launching a road map for achieving gender parity at every level of the UN
•    Mandating an internal task force to review UN spending on gender equality

2.    Ending sexual exploitation and abuse against women by:

•    Implementing a Victims’ Rights Advocate to work closely with States and across the UN system
•    Enable swifter responses to allegations and preventing crimes with States signing up to the Voluntary Compact 

3.    Preventing and addressing sexual harassment by:

•    Reiterating a zero-tolerance approach 
•    Setting up a task-force that reviews UN policies and capacities to investigate, to ensure accountability and to look at the support and protection offered to those affected
•    Working on more detailed measures to simplify procedures for reporting harassment and raising awareness throughout the UN

Guterres finished his speech by declaring that ‘this will be a decisive year for reform’ and the period ahead must ‘set the course for peace and prosperity’. Most importantly, he asserted the responsibility of everyone everywhere to play a role in making our world safer, more sustainable and secure.