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Francis: 4 priorities during UN presidency

Paula Lindo TT's Permanent Representative to the UN Dennis Francis holds aloft his gavel after his swearing-in as President of the UN General Assembly on September 5. - UN Caribbean
TT's Permanent Representative to the UN Dennis Francis holds aloft his gavel after his swearing-in as President of the UN General Assembly on September 5. - UN Caribbean

TT’s permanent representative to the UN Dennis Francis said he would be focusing on four priorities during the 78th session of the UN General Assembly. He made the statement during his first address to the assembly following his swearing-in as president on Tuesday.

Francis said his four watchwords for the 78th session would be peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability. He called on the delegates present to engage in a true spirit of multilateralism as they took part in the assembly.

He said the intertwined challenges of climate, conflict and poverty continue to make peace more elusive, with sharp political divides bringing the world to a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty.

“Countries are being forced to navigate a narrow strategic space to drive change for their societies. This is especially true for small-island developing states (SIDS), middle-income countries, and countries in the global South, struggling to meet their unique needs among the evolving risks.”

Speaking on the prosperity watchword, Francis said the poorest people in the world bore the steepest cost of violence, and encouraged the assembly to find tailored solutions to the challenges of countries suffering conflict and post-conflict situations.

“The General Assembly must lend its weight to enhancing financing, technology, debt sustainability and capacity building in places where development is in deficit, and where assistance is most needed. I urge member states to take advantage of key opportunities to scale up investments and expand financing for development.”

He said several key upcoming conferences, including the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28), the fourth International Conference on SIDS, and the third UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, would help ignite transformation across critical work streams.

“Throughout the 78th session, I have committed to prioritising the needs of countries in special situations, in particular the least developed countries. We can no longer tolerate unjust financial systems that keep countries trapped in vicious cycles of debt and deprivation.”

Francis said the UN had a full toolkit containing all the elements needed to bolster progress on the sustainable development goals. He said those tools had not yet been deployed to their fullest potential, and the upcoming SDG summit would set the tone for the agenda of the meeting and the next seven years.

TT's permanent representative to the UN Dennis Francis addresses the UN General Assembly after being sworn in as President on Tuesday - Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry

“We will have the opportunity to come together on the three major health processes that have been ongoing: the fight against tuberculosis, pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, and universal health coverage. The covid19 pandemic has taught us that global solidarity and co-operation remain imperative if collectively we are to build resilient health systems and improve the global health architecture.

He said 680 million people, eight per cent of the global population, would still be facing hunger in 2030 without quick action. He said there were specific objectives that demanded an immediate and essential reinforcement of our efforts, including through the accelerating implementation of the sustainable development agenda.

“This is especially important for our already disadvantaged and marginalised groups. Women and girls are systematically denied their most basic human rights, from education and employment, to equal pay and land ownership. It is time to confront the epidemic of violence against women, a virulent hate whose shadow is cast over many communities. It is imperative that the multi-lateral system is built for the advancement and success of women and men, closing the gender gaps that have festered for far too long.

“Ethnic, racial, sexual, and religious minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and many others are all vulnerable to intersectional forms of discrimination. The assembly must redouble its efforts to tackle the insidious spread of human rights violations and extremism, in all its declinations, from hate speech to institutionalised discrimination. We must firmly repudiate any ideology that seeks to sow fear and division.”

Regarding sustainability, Francis said the alarm has been continually been raised regarding pollution, biodiversity loss, over-exploitation of finite resources, and climate change.

“It is critical we build sustainable societies that are in harmony with each other and with nature. It is the only way to ensure humanity and the planet’s survival. COP28 is a critical time for the world to come together and align behind faster, more equitable, and truly transformative climate action. The assembly’s historic recognition of the newest human right, the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, reinforces its key role in protecting our global commons.”

Francis said water, especially, remains inadequately conserved and prioritised. He called for a green-blue revolution that brings together and addresses concerns around water, climate, biodiversity, land and soil degradation, and global food security.

In a statement, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said Francis expressed his appreciation to the TT government for entrusting him with the privilege of representing the diverse and dynamic people of TT at the UN and for reposing its confidence in him to acquit the office of president with dignity, independence and fairness.

“He further stated that his presidency will reflect the values of tolerance, inclusion, co-operation and unwavering respect for human dignity that TT has proudly upheld and defended over 61 years of membership in the UN.”

Francis also commended the work of deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed in championing the development agenda, as well as the UN secretary general for his leadership and advocacy towards a UN that is “fit for purpose, as exemplified by his recent launch of the Our Common Agenda Report.”

During the high-level week of the UN General Assembly, which begins on September 18, Francis will preside over the many meetings mandated by the assembly, including the high-level general debate under the theme for the session, “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all.”