Sunday August 20 2017

Issues on the agenda of forthcoming UN General Assembly session

US President Donald Trump. Agent Photo

US President Donald Trump. Agent Photo 

By Harold Acemah

On Tuesday, September 12, the 72nd regular session of the United Nations General Assembly will convene at UN headquarters in New York. This will be the first session which the new Secretary General Antonio Guterres will attend and participate in as UN chief. He was in Uganda recently to attend a special international conference on the plight of refugees.

The foreign minister of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajcak, has already been elected president of the General Assembly to replace ambassador Peter Thompson of Fiji. Twenty one vice presidents, chairpersons of six main committees and other officers have also been elected to preside over the work of the session.
Among the vice presidents of the assembly, five come from Africa, namely; Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Morocco and Zimbabwe. Mr Tommo Monthe, a veteran delegate from Cameroon, was elected chairman of the 5th Committee which deals with administrative and budgetary questions while Mr Duncan Muhumuza of Uganda was elected vice chairman of the 6th or legal committee of the assembly.

The general debate of the 72nd session will take place in the plenary from September 19-25. The debate is always exciting and provides a golden opportunity for member states to address national, regional and international issues. With the possibility of US president Donald Trump attending, one should expect no-holds-barred speeches from Trump, Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, new French president Emmanuel Macron, Venezuela’s firebrand president Nicolas Maduro, the newly re-elected president of Iran and many others from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

The incoming president of the General Assembly has promised to strengthen the UN to ensure that the world organisation meets the multiple demands and expectations of member states, non-state actors and wananchi generally. He aims to do this without placing additional burden on small states; stress support for progress on the long-awaited UN reform which the big powers are basically opposed to; implement the SDGs and take action on climate change.
The new general assembly president has identified six priorities for his term of office and these are: making a difference in the lives of ordinary people; prevention and mediation for sustaining peace; migration; building a political momentum for the SDGs and climate change; human rights, including gender equality, and finally improving the quality of events organised by the presidency of the assembly.
Well, that is quite a tall order. I wish the new president of the UN General Assembly good luck and every success in the daunting task which lies ahead of him.

Issues on the agenda
The General Assembly will have before it an agenda consisting of 172 items which will be considered by the plenary and six main committees of the assembly. The agenda is divided into nine parts, of which four are of particular interest to Uganda. They include; Part A - promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development; Part B – maintenance of international peace and security; Part C – development of Africa under which the assembly will discuss implementation of NEPAD; Part D – promotion of human rights. The 72nd session will under agenda item 137 consider, in the 5th committee, the proposed budget of the UN for the biennium 2018/2019.
Why does the UN matter to Uganda?

Uganda was admitted as a member state of the UN on October 25, 1962, and our country has for more than 50 years been a committed and loyal member of the organisation. During a period of a decade or so when I was head of the foreign ministry’s department dealing with UN matters, Uganda’s commitment to the work of the UN was partly expressed by paying our assessed contributions to the UN on time, in full and without any excuses. I am told that this is no longer the case. Uganda has, on the contrary, been in arrears for many years with regard to her contributions to the UN, AU, EAC and many other international organisations to which Uganda belongs! What a shame! What is the problem?

During the first 25 years of independence, the OAU and UN were the centrepieces of Uganda’s foreign policy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deployed its best and talented career diplomats to our missions in New York, Addis Ababa and Geneva. I hope that tradition is still alive.
To its credit, the UN has stood by Uganda through thick and thin since 1962. I remember during the most difficult days of the Amin regime, the UN and a few countries stood by and supported the people of Uganda. Most of Uganda’s traditional development partners either suspended diplomatic relations with Uganda or decided to stop most of their bilateral assistance programmes.

The UN deserves Uganda’s full support here at home elsewhere in the world. As the next session approaches, I hope Uganda will once again join the international community and play an active role in the UN’s efforts to maintain international peace and security; promote peaceful settlement of disputes; promote international economic cooperation; address urgent global problems, such as climate change and global warming; implement the SDGs and other agreed decisions of the world organisation.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.