Calling for reforms, the President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Abdulla Shahid has said that the United Nations should reflect the geopolitical realities. The over 75-year-old body is the most represented organisation of the world with 193 member countries that collectively form the main body of the United Nations.
Speaking to WION’s diplomatic correspondent, Sidhant Sibal, the UNGA President said, “I have urged member states, appealed to member states, if you want the United Nations to be regarded as credible, we will have to make sure that we become relevant to the current geopolitical realities of the day. We have to change the composition of the security council and the way that it functions,”
UNGA President is on a two-day India visit, during which he had several meetings that included External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra. In the interview, he listed out his achievement under the “Presidency of hope” and how the Russia-Ukraine conflict was a challenge.
Abdulla Shahid is also the Maldives’ foreign minister. In response to WION, he called the ties between New Delhi and Malé “outstanding”. Dismissing anti-India propaganda in his country by some elements, Abdulla said, “It’s a program of propaganda being pushed by a group of people who have nothing to offer to the people of Maldives,”
WION: If you can list out the key highlights of your Presidency?
Abdulla Shahid: I came promising a presidency of hope, I came at a time when the world was reeling under death and despair, devastation during COVID-19. My theme of hope was based on five rays of hope: the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding sustainably, respecting the rights of all, responding to the needs of the planet, and reforming the United Nations. Because I believe recovering from COVID-19 is to be our first and foremost effort. There is no other way than to recover from COVID-19 pandemic and achieve vaccine equity and vaccinate the world.
I convened a high-level meeting on February 19 this year, to bring the countries together and to galvanise the international community on vaccine equity in addition to rebuilding sustainably. Achieving SDGs have been a challenge even before COVID-19. For small countries, LDCs etc the meagre resources that were allocated to achieve these SDGs had to be channelled to confront the pandemic. So, we were completely off track in many parts of the world to achieve the SDGs. We have to use this as an opportunity to restart and make this into recovery so that by 2030 we can achieve as much as possible.
Respecting the rights of all, human rights have to be part of all, everything we do, and I wanted to bring this important theme, one of the fundamentals of the foundation of the UN, to the centre so that we are able to build around it. Never let human rights be relegated to the periphery.
Responding to the needs of the planet we see what is happening to the planet. We see how badly the environment is degraded; climate change is impacting countries. We are seeing the glaciers melting, we see the deserts expanding, the forest fires raging, we see storms intensifying, and the sea level rising. We need to unite in front of this and have a conversation. In July I convened, “moment for nature”. World leaders take a moment for nature and think about how we can save this planet for future generations.
WION: Presidency was challenging amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. How did that impact your Presidency, a divided UN: West versus Russia and China?
Abdulla Shahid: Well, it was a challenging time, because the permanent five members are involved in a conflict. What we were able to prove at the UN was the system for multilateralism does work, because at the UN when UNSC fails to address an international peace and security issue persistently. Then the UNSC or membership have the right to bring the issue to the general assembly. The general assembly has no veto, and every country has one vote.
That was brought under United for peace resolution, and once a special emergency session is convened, the powers of the security council are transferred to the general assembly, including the power of enforcement of chapter 7 which is what we are in today. I am presiding over a special UN session that has been convened at the request of the security council after 40 years. We have seen the world unite with 143 countries, supporting the resolution that was submitted. We saw the international community speak clearly and loudly.
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WION: But it also shows a very defunct UN. What initiative you took to reform?
Abdulla Shahid: The process of the reforms of the security council has been going on for the last 14 years. The intergovernmental negotiations are continuing. This year, for the first time, we were able to do more meetings. We were able to bring more consensus on the very diverse issue that was on the table. We have to be mindful that we are talking about 193 countries coming together, including the five permanent members. It will continue to be a long process. However, I have urged member states and appealed to member states that if you want the United Nations to be regarded as credible, we will have to make sure that we become relevant to the current geopolitical realities of the day. We have to change the composition of the security council and the way that it functions.
WION: Personally, for you what were the key focus areas, youth and women empowerment are issues you have been close to and raising it strongly.
Abdulla Shahid: Gender equality is one of my priorities. I make sure, in my office at the general assembly that the office of the president is gender balanced, including at a very senior level in the cabinet. Also, I made a pledge that I will not attend any panel that is not gender balanced, a pledge that I have kept. I have also made sure to meet women and girls during all my travels to understand their views and understand the challenges and convey a message to them that together we can achieve.
If business as usual is maintained, it will take 138 years for gender parity to be achieved. That is unacceptable, we have made positive interventions. We have to make sure that we properly talk about it and make complete, positive interventions so that it will be changed. Having more women at the table and in the decision-making in politics, and the economy is essential. I convened a high-level meeting on violence against women in politics because of violence against women in politics. We need to address this issue.
We have to make the workplace friendly and welcoming for women coworkers. I remember in 2019 in the UN when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand came to the general assembly, she had to leave the general assembly every two hours, because she was carrying a baby and had to feed. We do not have a facility for that. I have been successful in establishing a lactation room at the United Nations. Currently, we have nine rooms under the guardianship of New Zealand and El Salvador, one of them next to the general assembly hall itself. We have to mainstream, not only establish, and talk about it so it is established in other parts of the world as well.
The question of highlighting the fact that women do not have equal opportunity has to be highlighted time and time again. We are talking about the pandemic so example, we saw death and devastation but one topic we do not talk about is violence against women and vulnerable groups. It is an issue neither you nor I can avoid because at the end of the day it’s our mothers, our sisters and our children.
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WION: What brings you here in Delhi? You had a number of key meetings.
Abdulla Shahid: India was the first country to support my presidency when my candidature was declared. India played a very important role in backing my presidency. The support India has given in the form of my Chef de cabinet, for example, a distinguished diplomat from India, Ambassador Nagaraj Naidu. He has been outstanding and working with member states. I wanted to convey and express my gratitude as my presidency comes to an end, for the cooperation and commitment they have given to the presidency of hope. More importantly to mention how appreciative the UN is of the outstanding commitment that India has for multilateralism. India is a member of the security council and continues to highlight many of these cherished principles at the UN. I also met the UN country team here who are doing outstanding work in reaching out to the people of India, in assisting the development work.
WION: How do you see the geopolitical flashpoints, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an aggressive China leading to Taiwan strait crisis. How do you see the development, what will you suggest to the global community?
Abdulla Shahid: Our total commitment is to multilateralism, peaceful settlement of disputes and cherishing the United Nations Charter because the whole point of creating this organisation, the UN, is to bring these countries together to avoid conflict, avoid war and find a peaceful settlement of disputes. So, wherever you are, whatever disputes you have, you have to be committed to bringing that dispute to the United Nations, peaceful resolutions through the multilateral legal system.
WION Now asking you questions in your capacity as the foreign minister of Maldives. How do you see India Maldives ties? We recently saw the visit of President
Abdulla Shahid: Outstanding, that is how I will describe the relationship between the Maldives and India. Since President Solih took office on November 17, 2018, and Prime Minister Modi was himself present, the relationship has skyrocketed. The Maldives was the first country Prime Minister Modi visited in his second term. They have met so many times and the cooperation and understanding, at the leadership level, is excellent and that sets the agenda for us, who have to deal with it. Taking into consideration the number of pacts that were signed, ongoing bilateral projects, and the number of visits that have taken place, one word to describe the relationship is outstanding.
WION: We have seen elements taking part or supporting anti-India propaganda including by former President Yameen. How do you see it, and do you think that can be curtailed?
Abdulla Shahid: It’s a program of propaganda being pushed by a group of people who have nothing to offer to the people of Maldives. No economic agenda, no development agenda, or social agenda. So they have to come up with something. So, they are attacking our best friend and closest ally. It is just like shooting down on our own foot.
WION: We are witnessing a heating up of the Indian ocean with increased Chinese presence. We saw a Chinese spy vessel docking in Sri Lanka. How does it impact Maldives?
Abdulla Shahid: For the Maldives, it’s very simple. A stable Maldives is essential for stability and prosperity in the Indian ocean. A stable and prosperous Indian ocean is essential for prosperity in the Maldives. So will do everything and we will work with everyone to maintain stability, peace, and prosperity in the Indian ocean.
WION: Questions remain over why the President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapakse first came to the Maldives.
Abdulla Shahid: Obviously, a question that you will have to ask President Rajapakse as to why he chose the Maldives.
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