The General Assembly today adopted its work programme for the seventy-seventh session, deciding to include a range of new items on its agenda, also noting that practical arrangements will continue to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acting on the recommendation of its General Committee, contained in its first report (document A/77/250), the Assembly decided that the general debate, which will be held from 20 to 26 September, will continue on Saturday, 24 September.
Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the Assembly’s seventy-seventh session, highlighted the General Committee’s other recommendations, concerning rationalization of work, general debate and the conduct of meetings. The General Assembly also took note of the information on rights of reply, particularly the organ’s practice that rights of reply to addresses made by Heads of State be exercised in writing.
The Assembly adopted a decision, deciding, without setting a precedent for future general debates and mandated high-level meetings planned for future high-level weeks, that Ukraine may submit a pre-recorded statement of its Head of State that will be played in the General Assembly Hall during the general debate of the organ’s seventy-seventh session. The decision was adopted by a recorded vote of 101 in favour to 7 against (Belarus, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Russian Federation and Syria), with 19 abstentions. A proposed amendment was defeated in a recorded vote.
The representative of Ukraine, introducing the decision prior to the vote, said the document aimed at creating conditions to avail of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s right to address the Assembly in the most extraordinary circumstances — the ongoing Russian aggression against his country. He called on Member States to support adoption of the decision in its initial version and to vote against any attempt to undermine it.
The representative of Belarus introduced a draft amendment to the decision, noting that it is justified to provide the possibility of remote participation as an exception to all Member States. The draft decision put forth by Ukraine would be accurate and fairer if it was passed with the introduced amendments. Among them is the deletion of “owing to ongoing foreign invasion, aggression, military hostilities” and replacement of “Ukraine” with “any Member or Observer State facing the situation described above”.
Acting on the President’s proposal and considering that the proposed amendment had been circulated only this morning, the Assembly waived Rule 78 of its rules of procedure, which specifies that: “As a general rule, no proposal shall be discussed or put to the vote at any meeting of the General Assembly unless copies of it have been circulated to all delegations no later than the day preceding the meeting.”
Speaking before the vote, the representative of Canada said the draft decision aims to provide a specific exemption for a very exceptional circumstance, and the situation in Ukraine warrants such an exception. Belarus’ amendment was not proposed in good faith as it seeks to “erase Ukraine from the picture” just like the Russian Federation — aided by a complicit Belarus — aims to “erase Ukraine from the map”. His delegation would vote against the amendment and for the draft decision, he said, urging all Member States that support the Charter of the United Nations to do the same.
The representative of Belarus pointed out that the amendment was disseminated on 15 September, and that invoking rule 78 “is something that gives rise to doubts in our minds”.
The representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that African members frequently encounter similar difficulties in arriving to New York but have been refused a similar right on frequent occasions. Granting the right for just one country and adding to that an obvious political motive to a procedural decision is a bad precedent for all. If the Assembly is considering the possibility of pre-recorded statements at the general debate, then this right must be granted to everyone who needs it, not just Ukraine, he said, noting that the amendment presented by Belarus provides such an opportunity.
The representative of Venezuela said the draft decision attempts to use unilateralism and divide the international community into different blocs. The document claims to be a procedural matter yet it would set a dangerous precedent. He strongly supports the amendment put forth by Belarus and called on Member States to vote for it.
The representative of the United Kingdom said the only reason the Assembly is having this discussion is because the Russian Federation has invaded Ukraine and the country’s President cannot travel to the United States. Belarus is not introducing its amendment in good faith. The President of one delegation, dealing with an invasion by its neighbour, cannot travel. The exception can be granted without setting a precedent, he said, noting that his delegation would not vote for the Belarus amendment.
The representative of Nicaragua expressed concern over the exceptionalism represented by the draft decision, which hinders the Assembly’s work and violates the principle of sovereign equality. Stressing the need to avoid double-standards and to reject “imposing a stance that can hinder constructive dialogue between States”, he expressed hope that Belarus’ amendment will be supported.
Speaking after the vote, the representative of Mexico said that, since the crisis began in Ukraine, his delegation has supported President Zelenskyy addressing Council members through video teleconference. He voiced regret that both the original document and the amendment did not have an inclusive consultation process that would have allowed for an adequate exchange of views among delegations. The Assembly should discuss the matter of the remote participation of Heads of State and Government within the ad hoc working on the revitalization of the General Assembly.
The representative of Cuba said the draft decision, an alleged procedural matter, aims to make an Assembly decision on a substantive issue that is broadly known to have no consensus. This is a clearly political manoeuvre that damages multilateralism and the international community. Exceptional rights are being provided to one State. For this reason, he voted for the amendment and against the decision.
The representative of South Africa said that his delegation supports the full participation of all Member States in this year’s general debate. Noting that the Assembly’s inability to reach consensus on procedural matters at the start of the seventy-seventh session “does not portend well” for the remainder thereof, he said that his delegation does not agree that the proposed amendment was hostile.
The representative of Iran said his delegation voted in favour of the amendments presented by Belarus. Those amendments were reasonable solutions to improve the draft decision and to facilitate the equal participation of Member States during the high-level week of the General Assembly.
The representative of Chile said Heads of State who cannot leave their countries should be able to speak, noting that he voted in favour of the draft decision. He appealed to all parties to the conflict to continue talks, and urged for a peaceful solution through political dialogue and mediation, in line with international law.
The representative Brazil said his delegation abstained from voting on the decision after voting in favour of the amendment proposed by Belarus. Any Head of State facing exceptional difficulties should be allowed to participate in the general debate through a pre-recorded statement. However, the original language unnecessarily politicized what should be a procedural issue.
Prior to adoption of the decision and action on the amendment, the Assembly decided to include a range of items on its agenda, including: “Question of the Comorian island of Mayotte”; “Use of the veto”; “Zone of peace, trust and cooperation of Central Asia”; “Report of the United Nations Youth Office”; “Observer Status for the Digital Cooperation Organization in the General Assembly”; and “Observer status for the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization in the General Assembly”.
It decided to defer consideration of the agenda item “Question of the Malagasy islands of Glorieuses, Juan de Nova, Europa and Bassas da India” to its seventh-eighth session and to include it in the provisional agenda of that session.
Regarding the work of its Main Committees, the Assembly endorsed the recommendation that the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) complete its work by 11 November; Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) by 18 November; Second Committee (Economic and Financial) by 23 November; Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) by 18 November; and the Sixth Committee (Legal) by 18 November. It also approved the General Committee’s recommended allocation of items to each of the Main Committees.
The Assembly, recalling its prior resolutions on the matter, noted that the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine would participate in the seventy-seventh session as observer States, and that the European Union would participate as an observer.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 20 September, to begin its general debate.