Published: 11:47, September 6, 2023 | Updated: 12:31, September 6, 2023
78th session of UN General Assembly opens
By Xinhua

Dennis Francis, then president-elect of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly and current president of the UNGA, addresses a plenary session of the General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, on June 1, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

UNITED NATIONS- The 78th session of the UN General Assembly was declared open on Tuesday by new General Assembly President Dennis Francis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his opening remarks read on his behalf by his deputy, Amina Mohammed, warned of a world of deep challenge and division that is testing the United Nations.

"Despite profound global challenges, this is not a moment for pessimism. This is a moment for action," he said. "Action for peace and human rights; action to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals and tackle the existential threat of climate change; action to create productive jobs and expand economic opportunity, especially for women and young people; action to ensure that rapid evolutions in technology like artificial intelligence are a help, and not a harm, to humanity; action to build a world of hope and promise for all that leaves no-one behind."

"More than any room on earth, the General Assembly represents our common humanity and our shared commitment for peace, sustainable development and human rights. Let's forge the solutions that all people expect and make progress toward a better, and a more peaceful and prosperous future, and a healthier planet," said Guterres.

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In his opening remarks, Francis said the new session of the General Assembly began "amid a daunting global agenda, beset by a series of cascading challenges."

He called on member states to push for and nurture peace by empowering those most vulnerable; to deliver shared prosperity by unlocking the resources required for transformational results; to accelerate progress by capitalizing on the enablers of youth, innovation, and technology; and to drive sustainability.

"This session, I will commit to engaging regional and other groups to collectively collaborate to bring to life a renewed atmosphere of global cooperation and shared commitments. My ambition is for the General Assembly to address the array of challenges it faces in the most effective and inclusive way possible," said Francis.

He called on member states to adopt a true spirit of multilateralism for problem-solving "so that we can better protect, if not guarantee, the security and dignity of humankind."

Francis, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago, was sworn in at the closing of the 77th session of the General Assembly on Tuesday morning.

The logo of the United Nations is seen at the General Assembly hall at UN headquarters, Sept 21, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)

The intertwined challenges of climate, conflict, and poverty continue to make peace more elusive. Sharp geopolitical divides have brought the world to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty. They have bred skepticism of the multilateral system and have forced many countries to navigate a narrow strategic space to drive change for their societies, he said.

The intertwined challenges of climate, conflict, and poverty continue to make peace more elusive. Sharp geopolitical divides have brought the world to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty, said General Assembly President Dennis Francis

"As the UN's chief policy-making body, the General Assembly bears a special responsibility to ensure that our efforts must be anchored in a robust multilateral system, faithful to the cherished values and principles enshrined in the Charter, our Charter -- one that draws its strength -- and legitimacy -- from greater inclusion and meaningful opportunities for enhanced engagement to shape decisions."

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As the world's poorest bear the steepest costs of violence, long-term investments are needed to leave no one behind, he said. "To this end, we must find tailored solutions to the specific challenges of countries in conflict and post-conflict situations. The General Assembly must lend its weight to enhancing financing, technology, debt sustainability and capacity-building in places where development is in deficit and where assistance is most needed."

As things stand, 680 million people -- 8 percent of the global population -- will still be facing hunger in 2030, he said. "Without a quantum leap in our commitments, without a radical transformation of our action, we risk sorely missing the mark on the promises we made to leave no one behind. There are specific objectives that demand an immediate and essential reinforcement of our efforts, including through accelerating the implementation of our sustainable development agenda. This is particularly important for already disadvantaged and marginalized groups."

The United Nations headquarters building is seen from inside the General Assembly hall, on Sept 21, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)

Women and girls are systematically denied their most basic human rights -- from education and employment to equal pay and land ownership. It is time to confront the epidemic of violence against women. It is imperative that the multilateral system and its institutions be built for the advancement and success of women and men, not either or, not one or the other. And this means closing the gender gaps that have festered for far too long, to the detriment of far too many, and to society itself, said Francis.

Ethnic, racial, sexual and religious minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and others are all vulnerable to intersectional forms of discrimination, said General Assembly President Dennis Francis

Ethnic, racial, sexual and religious minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and others are all vulnerable to intersectional forms of discrimination. The General Assembly must redouble its efforts to tackle the insidious spread of human rights violations and extremism, in all their declinations -- from hate speech to institutionalized discrimination, he said.

"We must firmly repudiate any ideology that seeks to sow fear and division. We must, instead, lead the conversation on equality, equal rights, and nondiscrimination as legitimate and imperative social norms that undergird strong, cohesive productive societies."

Francis called for efforts to build sustainable societies that are in harmony with each other and with nature, which he said is the only way to ensure humanity and the planet's survival.

"The General Assembly's historic recognition of the newest human right -- the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment -- reinforces its key role in protecting our global commons. With a population set to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, it is imperative that we transition to a mode of producing, consuming, and living that is respectful of, and in equilibrium with all people, species and ecosystems," he said.

"The 'future we want' requires a pre-emptive nurturing of Nature, that we work proactively and purposively, not just responsively, that we embrace bold, progressive, and visionary action, that prioritizes long-term strategies to promote sustainable development for future generations, ensuring both their well-being and quality of life," said Francis.