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The opening of 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly

The 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 72) opened at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday this week (September 12). The General Debate is covering the theme, "Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a Sustainable Planet" as well as looking at a wide variety of other issues including education, environmental conventions, social development, trade, gender and human development, technology, innovation, water, sanitation, and peace and security.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the opening of the session. Commending the Assembly's President Lajčák's experience, vision and wisdom, he welcomed the choice of theme for the year, and said he looked forward to working together in all areas. Noting the serious threats facing the world today, ranging from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to global terrorism, from climate change to inequality, he said:  "We also face major challenges, from migration to the unintended consequences of technological advances, such as cyber attacks.  People around the world are rightly demanding change and looking for Governments and institutions to deliver." He underlined the importance of reform: "We all agree that the United Nations must do even more to adapt and deliver. That is the aim of the reform proposals that this Assembly will consider." 

The Secretary-General emphasized that one key change, within and beyond the United Nations, must be to empower the world's women and girls.  The Secretary-General said people were rightly demanding change. This was the basis of the reform proposals that were under consideration. The United Nations, he said, must do more to support Member States and produce better results for the people it served. He said he had just launched a road map for achieving gender parity throughout the United Nations, at all levels.  He appealed to member states to put forward women candidates for vacancies, adding that parity at the United Nations would improve performance at the UN. He concluded by stressing that despite today's conflicts and the grinding daily impact of poverty, he remained convinced that this was far more an era of transformational potential, and called on the 72nd session of the General Assembly to "take bold steps to seize those opportunities as we continue to serve "we the peoples".

Addressing the Assembly for the first time in his capacity as President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) said his tenure would be a "year of firsts". He called upon Member States to come together to help people striving for peace and a decent life. Following his election Mr. Lajčák identified  six overarching priorities for his tenure: making a difference in the lives of ordinary people; prevention and mediation for sustaining peace; migration; political momentum for the Sustainable Development Goals and climate; human rights and equality, including equal opportunities for genders; and the quality of events organized by the Assembly Presidency. He noted that the session would see negotiations for the first intergovernmental compact on migration and the signing of the first agreement on the elimination of nuclear weapons. It would also be a year of follow-up in regards to maintaining the momentum in implementing and financing the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring continued work on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. He said, "We must follow our commitments from yesterday with actions now," warning against relegating reports, events and resolutions of the past to United Nations archives.

President Lajčák has described United Nations reform as critical. The Organization today, he said, looked very different from the body established in 1945.  The United Nations had evolved over the years, and much of that change was to be seen through the Assembly's revitalization process. Equally, the United Nations must now continue to contribute a fresh outlook. He went on to say that the work of the United Nations could often be complex but he recalled that above all the United Nations had been created, first and foremost, for the people of the world, adding, 

"The people who need the United Nations the most are not sitting in this Hall today." He said it would be impossible to choose one priority for the United Nations to focus on this year. Most Member States, he said, didn't have large representations in New York and smaller States in particular, struggled to stay on top of the busy calendar.  It was necessary, therefore, he said, to streamline the agenda.  Stressing the importance of treating every speaker with dignity, President Lajčák also said he would remain committed to transparency.

A number of events have been taking place in parallel to the opening of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, including Global Goals Week 2017 and Climate Week NYC 2017.