11 April 2019
Member States Exchange Ideas on UN’s 75th Anniversary
Photo by IISD/ENB
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The first informal open-ended meeting on the date and modalities for the commemoration of UN’s 75th anniversary took place on 8 April 2019, in New York, US.

The Permanent Representatives of Singapore and Iceland serve as co-facilitators of the intergovernmental consultations.

They intend to prepare a zero draft resolution to facilitate further discussions and build consensus, and to finalize any draft resolution and complete their work by the end of May 2019.

8 April 2019: UN Member States exchanged views on the commemoration of UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020, during the first meeting on the date and modalities for such an event. Governments also considered possible themes, the level of participation, the nature of the outcome and ways to engage stakeholders, in particular youth.

On 13 February 2019, the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) appointed Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore, and Bergdis Ellertsdottir, Permanent Representative of Iceland, as co-facilitators for intergovernmental consultations on the date and modalities related to the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary. In her letter announcing the appointment, President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces said the anniversary could constitute a unique opportunity to reiterate UN Member States’ “collective attachment” to the UN and multilateralism.

The first informal open-ended meeting on the date and modalities for the commemoration of UN’s 75th anniversary took place on 8 April 2019, in New York, US. Opening the meeting, Espinosa said the anniversary is a critical moment for the UN and the world, which are at “a tipping point:” the international community is on the brink of irreparable damage to its rules-based international system. She noted the rise of nationalist populism and extremist ideologies, and a shift toward a “more multipolar but also more polarized” world, warning that these could negatively affect hard-won multilateral agreements and institutions, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Global Compact on Migration, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and arms control instruments. She said such trends are particularly dangerous for smaller states. Espinosa suggested that the commemoration event could be used to galvanize commitment to multilateralism, and to give further impetus to ongoing UN reforms in the areas of peace and security, management and development. The UNGA President added that achieving the SDGs is “vital” to making the UN relevant for all.

During the ensuing discussion, delegations expressed general consensus that participation should be at the highest level possible, ministerial-level and above, and that youth should be actively engaged in the event. The need for robust, effective, social media and communications campaigns was emphasized by many governments. While most governments called for active civil society participation in the commemoration and its preparatory process, some said such participation must be in line with UNGA rules of procedure, and the co-facilitators must ensure that Member States remain in the driver’s seat of the preparatory process.

On the date of the event, many delegations favored holding an event during the UNGA’s high-level week in September 2020. Others suggested 26 June, the day of the signing of the UN Charter, adding that the commemoration should take place in San Francisco, California to draw more international attention.

On the theme of the commemoration, some said the celebration should focus on the UN’s history and achievements, highlighting equal rights of men and women, and large and small nations. Others called for the commemoration to showcase the benefits of multilateralism and reiterate Member States’ commitment to multilateralism. One speaker said it should reaffirm commitment to the UN and its work, while another highlighted the reform of the UN Security Council. Another speaker said the focus should be on a unifying agenda, highlighting the UN’s coordinating role “in a multipolar world.” Some added that the commemoration should be used as an opportunity to make the world more familiar with the UN and its role and importance.

Some proposed that the commemoration highlight the importance of implementing the 2030 Agenda. Speakers also: proposed a focus on a forward-looking vision for the UN’s next 25 years; said the commemoration should focus on common successes and challenges; said the theme should emphasize the interdependence and interconnectedness between all countries; and stressed the need to highlight how the UN is reforming itself to respond to global challenges.

On the outcome, delegations said it should be a political declaration reaffirming Member States’ commitment to multilateralism. A speaker added that the political declaration could give impetus to the UN reform process. Others noted that the outcome should be a “mainly procedural” resolution as it was for previous anniversaries, in order to avoid long and contentious discussions. A number of delegations expressed a preference for no outcome document, while some indicated flexibility on the format of the outcome, as long as it is unifying and does not include divisive issues.

A delegation said the preparation process should be “mindful” of the organization’s financial strain. Another proposed that a youth dialogue on the UN’s 75th anniversary take place the day before the commemoration event.

Summarizing the views expressed, Garfoor noted that the tone of the discussion was “very positive and encouraging.” He said common points included: the need to look both at history and forward into the future; an interest in the collective opportunity to highlight the value of the UN; giving youth a role as they represent the future; inclusion of stakeholders but within the UN framework; and a short, succinct and unifying outcome.

Garfoor explained that it is the co-facilitators’ understanding that the commemoration will be a stand-alone event at UN Headquarters in New York in September 2020, but this does not exclude other events on other different occasions, such as the signing of the UN charter in June or UN Day in October. He added that the co-facilitators will not produce a document at this point, but remain “in listening mode” and convene a second meeting on 15 April 2019. Eventually the co-facilitators intend to prepare a zero draft resolution, and they aim to finalize any draft resolution and complete their work by the end of May 2019.

Ahead of the consultation on 8 April, the co-facilitators circulated a background note on commemoration of past UN anniversaries, including details on events held in 1955, 1970, 1985, 1995, 2005, and 2015. The note specifies the themes, duration and outcome document of each anniversary commemoration. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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