UN assembly chief: unilateralism will strengthen pandemic

The new president of the U.N. General Assembly is warning that unilateralism will only strengthen the COVID-19 pandemic

Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir announced that the General Assembly will hold a high-level special session on the COVID-19 pandemic in early November, though diplomats said the date may slip. He told a press conference later it would have been better to hold the meeting at an earlier time in the pandemic, suggesting June.

Bozkir took over the reins of the 193-member world body after taking the oath of office and being handed the large gavel signifying the office from outgoing General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who presided over a unique year-old session that he said was “defined by a pandemic.” It included virtual meetings and new voting procedures.

He said “no state can combat this pandemic alone” and it is the members’ responsibility “to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral cooperation and international institutions, with the U.N. at their center.”

“Since the start of the crisis, the critics of multilateralism have been more vocal,” Bozkir said. “The pandemic has been used to justify unilateral steps and weaken the rules-based international system. International organizations have been reproached and the need for international cooperation has been questioned.”

The assembly president said the criticisms aren’t baseless, “but their conclusions are misguided,” again warning against unilateralism.

In a farewell speech, Muhammad-Bande, said the emergence of the novel coronavirus showed the need to deepen multilateral cooperation in the health sector as well as other areas and to implement the commitment of world leaders “to scaling up national and global efforts to build a healthier world for all.”

Next week Bozkir will preside at the annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly which will be mainly virtual, with leaders delivering prerecorded speeches to a virtual audience and one diplomat from each member state in the assembly chamber.