April 5, 2020

Statement by Amb. Mavroyiannis on the Report of the SG on the work of the UN, 22 January 2020

mavroyiannis-gaReport of the Secretary General on the work of the Organization

United Nations General Assembly

Mr. President,

My statement complements that of the European Union.

At the outset, let me welcome the timing of this debate, which allows us more time to better prepare, and follows the main session of the Assembly, giving us the opportunity to dwell on our recent performance and learn from our experiences in order to better chart our future course. We welcome the presentation by the SG, in this framework, of his priorities for 2020 and we see merit in having, in the beginning of each year, a debate on the state of the organization.

Driven by the need to rationalize our cycle of work more broadly, I see merit in the proposal to adjust it to the calendar year. Annual reports could be presented in January and the term of the PGA could also begin in January. The high-level week and the work of the main Committees would remain as they are, with necessary adjustments to their resumed sessions, thus taking place at the end of each GA session, as the pinnacle of our work during the session. This would allow the PGA to better prepare for the high-level week and our leaders to take stock of the work done during the year.

Turning to the Report on the work of the organization, I would like to stress that while it was meant as a tool for our leaders to diagnose what state the UN is in, during the general debate, this is sadly not the case. The general debate is becoming less and less about the issues we face collectively and is looking less and less like what it should be: a single global conversation among those who lead our nations, from which should emerge an operational understanding on actions we need to take to secure the UN we want and the world we want.

The diminishing audience of the general debate is one aspect of its dwindling relevance. The extremely high number of events during high level week, both high-level meetings and side-events, not only divert our attention from the general debate, they also make it impossible to follow the substance of any event. We must introduce limitations to the numbers of events during high level week if we want to preserve the quality and potency of the General Assembly as one of the most significant tools of multilateralism.

Turning now to the state of the organization, I will address 3 points: peace and security, the climate crisis, and the financial situation of the UN.

Peace and security

However central the mitigation of the rule of might is to the UN’s raison d’être, the prevalence of the rule of law in international relations is still an uphill battle. We should not be under the illusion that the primacy of international law and rules-based conduct by states is a reality. There are still far too many violations of the rules and far too little accountability. The UN does not lack the legal basis or the tools to enforce compliance with international law, still it fails to do so more often than not. Bridging the gap between principles and actions is key to the organization’s credibility. 

Climate crisis

As a conflict state with part of its territory under occupation, and a country that has been experiencing the consequences of climate change for years, Cyprus is extremely concerned about the threat posed to peace and security by the climate crisis. Not only have we failed to halt the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, but we have failed to have a serious discussion about the consequences of climate change that we know are imminent:

-Are we ready to deal with an increased number of conflicts that, wholly or partly, result from climate change?

-Can we deal with climate change as a complicating factor of existing conflicts?

-What happens to the development agenda when a single natural disaster can destroy a country’s entire GDP?

-How do we deal with countries becoming – partly or wholly – uninhabitable due to climate change?

-What happens to the borders, sovereignty, maritime zones, and populations of countries which become wholly or partly submerged in water as a result of sea-level rise?

-How will we respond to the fact that tens of millions of people are expected to be displaced as a result of climate change in the next decade, or lose their livelihoods, or find themselves without life-sustaining resources?

We need to remind ourselves that, in recent years, we have proved unable to share the burden of existing flows of migrants and refugees. I would also be remiss if I did not mention here that very recently, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in favour of the applicability of the legal principle of non-refoulement, to individuals whose life is threatened by the climate crisis. Human rights obligations are engaged for all of us already now, before states become uninhabitable.

We urgently need a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond mitigation, adaptation, and curbs on fossil fuels. This strategy should entail answers as regards the human dimension of climate change consequences and be in line with human rights obligations.

Financial situation of the UN

We remain convinced that it is always a good time to invest in the United Nations, to keep it strong and relevant and to ensure its continued effectiveness through reform. To this end, we continue to actively support the Secretary General’s ambitious reform package. We also share the Secretary General’s concerns regarding the dire liquidity problems of the organization, which are, regrettably, hampering its ability to function properly. We believe that we should seriously reflect on the experience of, and the lessons learnt from, the liquidity crisis.

An honest assessment and a more rational, cost effective and results oriented approach in tune with today’s challenges and drawing from best practices globally, is required more than ever, along with more synergy, complementarity, and coordination.

Thank you.