UN Member States and officials are considering changes to the format of the UN General Debate for the 75th UN General Assembly session and the surrounding high-level meetings in September 2020. Officials expect that limitations on international travel and convening of large in-person meetings may still be in effect in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The high-level week has been anticipated as the start of a “landmark year” for the UN. 

On 9 June 2020, UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande circulated “elements for consideration” regarding the revised format. The proposal is based on advice from the UN Secretary-General, the host government (US) and local authorities (New York City and New York State), Member States, and the UN’s medical director.

Heads of States and Government would address the General Debate via pre-recorded video statements.

According to the proposal for the high-level week, the General Debate would still take place on the scheduled dates, 22-29 September 2020. On 22 September the President of the 75th UNGA session – Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, who was elected on 17 June – would deliver an opening statement in the UNGA Hall, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would present his annual report on the work of the organization. Heads of State and Government or Ministers would address the General Debate via pre-recorded video statements played on screens in the UNGA Hall. Alternatively, the New York-based Permanent Representative of a Member State could deliver a statement in person in the UNGA Hall.

The physical presence of delegations in the UNGA Hall would be limited to at one delegate per Member States. This may be extended to two delegates, if possible. Everyone would be requested to wear a face covering at all times, maintain physical distancing, and be free of COVID-19 symptoms.

Similar arrangements would be put in place for the high-level meeting to commemorate the UN’s 75th anniversary on 21 September 2020 (UN75).

Other high-level meetings are currently scheduled to convene in parallel to the debate. Therefore, citing operational limitations on parallel meetings, Muhammad-Bande suggests changing their dates to allow for the use of virtual platforms and pre-recorded video statements. These meetings and their proposed rescheduled dates are:

  • Summit on Biodiversity (proposed to reschedule to 30 September);
  • High-level meeting on 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing+25) (proposed to reschedule to 1 October); and
  • High-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (proposed to reschedule to 2 October).

The President notes that proceedings of the high-level week will be streamed live on UN WebTV and all statements made in any of the UN’s six official languages will be interpreted into the other five languages.

In addition, he writes that “we will work to facilitate the meaningful participation of civil society.” Side events are encouraged to take place over virtual platforms only.

A virtual meeting to discuss the proposal took place on 12 June. Member States are invited to submit written comments by 19 June.