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Happy UN birthday

The General Assembly celebrates its 70th birthday

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The first General Assembly of the UN in London

Born on the ashes of the horror and devastation of the Second World War (its first meeting held in Central Hall in London in 1946), the General Assembly has been the place where countries convene to find a common position on the pressing issues of the moment

December 10, 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of the first United Nations meeting of the General Assembly. This day, back in 1946, there were 51 nations represented in Westminster Central Hall in London, England, and only one vote was taken that day: the one to pick the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. After the vote, Mr Trygve Halvdan Lie of Norway became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. Within the first month, the first resolution vowing to eliminate nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction was issued and by the end of the first year, 106 other resolutions had been passed, including the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the foundations of UNICEF. The first General Assembly addressed global issues of “the political rights of women, the plight of refugees, the right to self-determination, genocide and civil society participation”.

Seventy years later, 193 members, representing 99.5% of the global population, come together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, where the various councils meet daily to discuss, strategize, and facilitate the goings-on all across the world.The General Assembly President for the 70th sessions H.E. Mr. Mogens Lykketoft addressed the members gathered to commemorate the anniversary. Mr. Lykkekoft mentioned in his address that at the time of the first meeting, there were no female representatives but even now that the number has risen to 18%, he is still concerned by the fact that women remain under-represented.

Addressing the room he stated: “These features and imbalances aside, the first meeting of the General Assembly was without any doubt the beginning of something special. It was a major step forward by what is now commonly referred to as the international community. Following a horrific period of war, destruction, genocide and nuclear bombings – he continued – nations of the world deliberately decided to come together and choose the only genuine path to achieve global peace, security, justice, human rights and social advancement. And in the General Assembly, they created the one true space in which ‘We the peoples’ – voices both big and small – would be heard”.

The Permanent Representative of Italy, Sebastiano Cardi, addressed the Assembly with hope for the future by saying: “Last year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of our organization by achieving landmark steps to advance sustainable development and to fight climate change. The 2030 Agenda, its 17 Goals and 169 targets are an ambitious and important accomplishment. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda is the framework for financing these development goals. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction addresses the issue of resilience. The landmark Paris Agreement on climate change is a further triumph for multilateralism. These achievements can pave the way toward sustainable development and demonstrate the results we can obtain when we work together constructively. 2015 ended on a promising note”.

Samantha Powers, The US Ambassador to the UN, also spoke at the informal meeting saying in regards to the first resolution put out by the first General Assembly, 70 years ago, “Now just pause for a moment to take in the audacity of those goals, set out in the very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly, in its very first gathering. Those delegates were taking the aspirations set out only a few months earlier in the UN charter to save succeeding generations form the scourge of war, and they were trying to put it into practice. Let me read to you what part of America’s delegate to that first General Assembly meeting, then Secretary of State James Burns said to his fellow delegates when they adopted that resolution: ‘The problems presented by the discovery of atomic energy and all other forces capable of mass destruction are common responsibilities of all nations, and each of us must do our part. At this first session of the General Assembly, we must begin to put less emphasis on our particular viewpoints and particular interests and seek with all our hearts and minds and means of reconciling our views and our interests for the common good of humanity”. Powers mentioned the successes of the UN, but also the work still to be completed. That resolution made 70 years ago has been violated now multiple times by North Korea as recent as last week. She spoke of President Obama’s mission towards ending access and use of weapons of mass destruction, with the Iran Deal and other initiatives adding that, as the only nation to actually use nuclear warfare on another country, it is the responsibility of the United States to take preventative measures against nuclear conflict.

Among those who attended that first meeting seventy years ago, Sir Brian Urquhart deserves a special mention. He made an appearance at the United Nations on Dec 10, 2016, to join the General Assembly in their meeting. The sitting Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon also spoke to the Assembly, first acknowledging and thanking Mr. Urquhart for the his contributions by saying: “I am also especially pleased and honored to welcome Sir Brian Urquhart, who is sitting with us. Thank you very much for your participation. With vision, principles and dedication, he helped lay the groundwork for much of what we see today. Sir Brian did more than live history. He shaped history. And he recorded that history as a brilliant writer and journalist. We are privileged to have him here today. Sir Brian, the world is in your debt. I thank you”. Ban Ki-moon continued adding: “Once again, our journey to a healthier, more sustainable and more peaceful planet begins here in this General Assembly chamber. The resolutions adopted by this body may not all be acted upon right away yet they stand as our common position on the most pressing issues of our times. These resolutions tell the story of our resolve. They reflect our conviction that the countries of the world coming together can do far more collectively than they ever could alone. Each delegate who speaks, each vote that is cast, every gavel that opens a new meeting adds a little more hope to the world. Our record should inspire us to work harder and reach higher. Poverty and hunger, discrimination and injustice afflict millions of people. Wars, conflicts and natural disasters have driven record numbers from their homes. Just when we need to build bridges, some are building barriers. This General Assembly is more important than ever”.

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