United Nations General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid speaks with Manish Kumar Jha of The Financial Express about accountability and actions in the context of expanding global conflict. He emphasized the responsibility to protect (R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Many States felt that translating early warning into early action remains a challenge. It is perceived that the UN has been slow to respond to some of the critical global conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. While the United Nations deserves kudos for what it has been able to accomplish in its humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world, Shahid says.
Manish K.Jha: The UN has emphasized the responsibility to protect (R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Many States highlighted that translating early warning into early action remains a challenge. It is perceived that the UN has been slow to respond to some of the critical global conflicts in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. How would you look at these questions?
President of the UNGA: The presidency is for one year. We did our best not to lose hope. I hope we can do better. Since 1945, yes, the United Nations has been through a lot. If you make a list, we can find many values. But also, if at least, we can find lots and lots of success. So an organization with 193 members in an evolving and dynamic political environment. From crisis to crisis, it will simply be a miracle to solve everything in a year. But I think the The United Nations deserves praise for what it has been able to accomplish.
Manish K.Jha: If we focus on some of the critical issues in this part of the world, for example, starting with the Rohingya population of Myanmar, who were forced to flee the country after military operations in Rakhine State in August 2017, this which brings the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over one million. What are the resolutions? What is the exit door at the United Nations General Assembly?
President of the UNGA: the General Assembly of the United Nations with its 193 Member States symbolizes the international conscience. When we speak, we send the message that this is international conscience and condemnation of the way refugees are treated. Debate, human rights violations are occurring all over the world, which clearly demonstrates the will of the international community not to tolerate such violations. It is important, it is also important that we do not deviate from the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. As I said earlier, it’s not a perfect world. All we can do is redouble our efforts and I have called on Member States to continue to do more in this area. For example, the migration review forum was held during the 76th presidency, a forum that is very divisive. But if you look at the archives, this is the first time the Migration Review Forum has been held since the creation of the Migration Compact. In our view, in this very toxic international environment, member states decided to adopt the declaration without a word by consensus, thus increasing the reach of many countries that were clearly opposed even to the pact itself.
Manish K.Jha: While the world appreciates the UN for all good work, there are pressing issues that are widely discussed, but not raised by the UN. For example, resolve against China for the genocide against the Uyghur Muslim population. There are not many sessions and condemnations that have come up against China. How could the UN ignore such problems?
President of the UNGA: The United Nations is made up of member states. It’s 193 members. The UN is what member states make it. And on the specific issue that you mentioned, it is an issue that is dealt with by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Manish K.Jha: India is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and India’s annual tabled resolution “Measures to Prevent Terrorists from Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction” has been co-sponsored by over 75 countries and adopted by consensus in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. Could you highlight some of the initiatives to strengthen the mechanism?
President of the UNGA: when it comes to terrorism. We must be very clear that terrorism has no ethnicity, no religion, no religion. Nothing but evil. The only way to fight evil is to unite. And the United Nations must unite totally against this horrible scourge which rages in many parts of the world. There are no excuses.
Manish K.Jha: It’s in your capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives. There is a spiraling economic crisis that we see in the subcontinent, starting with Sri Lanka. Could you give us an overview of the current economic situation in the Maldives?
UNGA President: The Maldives is a small middle-income island. Of course we have been hit very hard during the Covid pandemic as our tourism industry is our number one industry. And when the world went into lockdown, we didn’t have tourists from a middle-income country, we arrived in a zero-income country overnight, so imagine how that would have been. But we were able to work with our neighbours, especially India, which came into our existence by offering us a bubble travel arrangement, through which Indian tourists were able to visit the Maldives under strict protocols. And that meant that even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, we had half a million tourists in the Maldives, and most of them from India. Since then, the economy has improved. We received nearly 1.8 million tourists last year. Our goals are higher this year. However, the conflict in Europe again affected the market. But we are optimistic that we will again achieve record numbers this year for tourists. Overall, the economy is doing well. Prospects are good. But in today’s interconnected world, as food prices soar, fuel prices rise, and crisis after crisis hits the smallest and most vulnerable, they are first and worst. So we always have to be on it.
Manish K. Jha: Mr President, you said – you are a small country but you are strategically placed and you take your responsibility in the Indian Ocean very seriously. Watch how, as Sri Lanka faces a severe economic crisis, a Chinese warship was docked to further inflame tensions in the region? How to collectively ensure a peaceful region of the Indian Ocean? How can we counter this?
UNGA President: For us in the Maldives, it is very clear, a stable and prosperous Maldives is essential to stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean. Likewise, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean are essential for the stability and prosperity of the Maldives. So this is something we will never compromise.
Manish K.Jha: I understand there are ongoing discussions on a political agreement on the peaceful use of outer space, the fourth proposal, including a commitment to negotiate an international instrument to prevent an arms race. What are you planning on that?
President of the UNGA: The first committee is seized of the question. It is still under discussion. You know, this is a new area, even for the General Assembly. There have been new groups that have been formed in the first committee since once the committee decides, it is the President of the General Assembly (PGA). But I think those discussions are still ongoing. But it is a very important subject. The Member States are all seized of it.