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Preview: The United Nations General Assembly

Sep 16, 2011 Written by  Hanna Trudo, DC Correspondent; and Chrisella Sagers, Managing Editor

United NationsThe United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will be held at the UN Headquarters from September 19th to 27th in New York.

The Assembly will feature a series of high-level meetings and the general debate of the 66th session.

This year, the General Assembly’s schedule addresses key discussion categories such as the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases; desertification, land dehydration, and doubt in the context of sustainable development and poverty education; the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action in addressing the AIDS epidemic; and a series of security meetings held by the Secretary General.

Speakers will include the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, and the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, a non-governmental organization’s representative of civil society, with a focus on the Economic and Social Council, will speak.

High-Level Meetings

The first meeting, a series of three roundtable discussions held by Member States on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), will span two days, from Monday, September 19th to Tuesday, September 20th. The talks will address the rising incidence, developmental and socio-economic impacts, and the risk factors of NCDs, as well as methods to strengthen national capacities and policies, and foster international cooperation and coordination.

Later on Tuesday, a high-level meeting will address desertification, land dehydration and doubt in the context of sustainable development and poverty education. The President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are scheduled, among other high-ranking officials, to speak. Following the meeting, a series of two consecutive interactive panels will take place, and will be co-chaired by Northern and Southern Heads of State or Government.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 22nd, the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action will take place in the General Assembly Hall. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Head of State of South Africa, along with one speaker from each regional group represented will guide Thursday’s discussion. A representative from a non-governmental organization who focuses on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is also scheduled to speak.

General Debate and Symposiums

The general debate of the 66th session of the Assembly will take place from Wednesday September 21st to Saturday, September 24th; and Monday, September 26th to Tuesday, September 27th. The proposed theme of the debate is “the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means.”

On Monday, September 19th, the Secretary-General’s Symposium on International Counter-Terrorism Cooperation will take place at the UN Headquarters. The symposium will be held by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force Office (CTITF) in partnership with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and the constituent CTITF entities.

This year’s discussions are prompted by the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy that was adopted in September 2006 by the UNGA. Over the past several years, the Strategy has become increasingly important to national and regional counter-terrorism efforts, and is considered a multi-lateral milestone. The symposium will focus on four key elements of the Strategy in the Assembly: (1) measures to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; (2) measures to combat terrorism; (3) measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system in this regard; and (4) measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.

Intertwined in the symposium will include sessions on promoting dialogue and countering the appeal of terrorism, strengthening law enforcement and the role of regional organizations, among others.

Security Issues

To spearhead the mark of the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, a high-level meeting will take place on Tuesday, September 20th at the UNGA. The movement’s mission – in which 18 countries facing high under-nutrition rates have expresses interest joining – promotes the provision of specific nutrition interventions to those most at risk while enhancing nutrition sensitivity within various sectors. The meeting will be joined by Heads of State, and leaders from the UN, private sector. and civil society.

On Thursday, September 22nd, Nuclear Safety and Security will be discussed at the UNGA in the context of “Strengthening nuclear safety and nuclear disaster risk preparedness.” The Secretary-General will chair the opening meeting, and will introduce speakers from the Heads of States or Government of Brazil, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and United States, in addition to others. The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency will also speak at Thursday’s meeting.

Last year, in September 2010, the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health launched “Every Woman, Every Child,” a global initiative that seeks to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world. The UN Secretary-General will host a special event to promote the causes’ success last year and further propel the organization’s momentum. At the event, speakers hope to bring to light the efforts that have been made and the results they have yielded thus far, and to present recommendations as well as announce new commitments on Tuesday, September 20th.

Scheduled to take place three days later on Friday, September 23rd, the seventh Conference Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty will take place. Further details of the meeting have not been released yet.

All the Buzz: Controversy

The most publicized controversy of this General Assembly will be the decision to take the vote on Palestinian statehood to a vote. If the vote is presented to the General Assembly, it will be likely to pass, giving Palestine the same observer status as the Vatican, but allowing it to have a place on UN member bodies. This route, by completely avoiding the Security Council, where just one veto can kill a measure, would remove the United States' control over the situation, and frantic efforts to stop the vote from being presented have failed. If it is presented to the Security Council, a passing vote is highly unlikely, as the United States has already declared it will veto the measure; even if the United States were not to vote, it is highly likely that a large number of abstentions would destroy any hopes of getting enough votes to pass the measure and declare Palestine a full country. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will go forward with the measure, and plans to present the issue at 12:30 pm on September 23rd.

Less public controversies include Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tussle with other branches of the Iranian government. Mr. Ahmadinejad has attempted in the past few days to unilaterally release the two jailed hikers accused of spying for the United States, but every announcement he has made has been refuted by other parts of the government. Mr. Ahmadinejad is facing a loss of support from powerful political players in Iran, including the important son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and rumors have been flying that he may be impeached or imprisoned.

A final point to watch will be the interaction between Iran and Venezuela, as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez just announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad will be visiting the South American country after his appearance at the UNGA. Mr. Chavez will not be attending the General Assembly due to his ongoing treatment for cancer, but the invitation for Mr. Ahmadinejad's visit with further chill the icy relationship between the two countries and the United States, after the Obama Administration placed sanctions on the state-owned Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, for its business interactions with Iran.

Side Events

Just as important as what goes on in Turtle Bay in September are the side events that take place in New York City during the General Assembly.

To coincide with the UN meeting on non-communicable diseases, the International Food Information Council Foundation will be hosting the Global Diet and Physical Activity Summit on Monday, September 19th, with this year's theme of “Insights to Motivate Healthful, Active Lifestyles.” Discussions will focus on NCDs, reducing obesity, and understanding consumer behavior to influence nutrition decisions.

The Clinton Global Initiative is holding its three-day annual meeting from September 20th to the 22nd, addressing issues including disruptive technologies and innovative change, women and girls empowerment, microfinance, and the world at 7 billion people. Conference speakers will include Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Women's Issues; Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State; Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa; Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund; and Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda.

Last modified on Friday, 16 September 2011 17:30

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