‘World leaders will address UN General Assembly session via pre-recorded video statements’

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Photo: Reuters

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande has recommended that heads of state and government and ministers address the UNGA session in September through pre-recorded video statements as COVID-19-related restrictions on international travel and large in-person meetings are likely to be in place in the coming months.

In a communication to the 193 UN member states on Tuesday, Mr. Muhammad-Bande said the General Assembly should consider holding the General Debate and other meetings scheduled for the high-level week of the 75th session of the UNGA “in a different format” since limitations on international travel and convening of large in-person meetings as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, may, in varying degrees, still be in effect in September.

The new format will mean that it will be for the first time in the world organisation’s 75-year history that heads of state and governments will not gather here for the UNGA session.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande has circulated a paper outlining elements for consideration for the high-level week and will hold discussions with member states during a virtual meeting on Friday.

He has recommended that the General Debate take place as scheduled from September 22 to 29 and President of the 75th session of the General Assembly along with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres address the opening session on September 22.

“Heads of State and Government or Ministers representing Member States would address the General Debate via pre-recorded video statements,” Mr. Muhammad-Bande said, adding that a video statement by one of these high-ranking officials should be submitted by each member state to the United Nations Secretariat through the Permanent Mission.

Alternatively, the Permanent Representative could deliver a statement in the General Assembly Hall and the video statement should be submitted under embargo five days in advance of the scheduled General Debate.

The video statements would be played on screens in the General Assembly Hall based on a previously announced list of speakers.

In order to adhere with social distancing guidelines, physical presence in the General Assembly Hall for the General Debate would be limited to one or at most two delegates per delegation “to limit the footprint and the number of people into the UN building”.

All persons physically present in the General Assembly Hall would be required to be free of COVID-19 symptoms, would need to maintain the recommended physical distancing and wear a face covering on the premises at all times.

Similar arrangements would be made for the high-level meeting of the Assembly to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations scheduled on September 21. This meeting would also be addressed by Heads of State and Government or Ministers through pre-recorded video statements.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande said other high-level meetings, scheduled to be held in parallel to the General Debate, will need to be re-scheduled taking into account the need for physical distancing and limitations on the number of individuals physically present in the UN building at the same time, reducing the total capacity of conference rooms and the UN premises.

He said schedules must be revised for the Summit on Biodiversity to be held on September 30, high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women to be held on October 1 and the high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons to be held on October 2.

All side events during the week would also be required to be moved to virtual platforms to limit the footprint and number of people in the UN building.

Addressing a virtual press conference on Monday, Mr. Muhammad-Bande had said that world leaders cannot come to New York for the annual UN General Assembly session in September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“World leaders cannot come to New York because they cannot come as single individuals. A president doesn’t travel alone. We don’t expect therefore to have presidents here,” he had said.

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