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NEW DELHI: Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid, who prepares to take over as the president of the UN General Assembly, on Friday listed economic recovery in the wake of the devastation caused by the covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and rebuilding sustainably and reformed multilateralism as his priorities.

In New Delhi on a visit, Shahid said in a speech at the government-backed Indian Council of World Affairs think tank that the central theme of the 76th session of the UN, expected to start from 15 September, would be 'recovery'.

“The covid-19 crisis may have put the world in a crisis but I believe this could be an opportunity to build a stronger, resilient world, a more sustainable world," Shahid said in his speech.

“This could be an opportunity to enhance multilateralism and strengthen cooperation. This could be an opportunity for the UN to play a central role in rebuilding communities, rescuing the plant, help in the recovery of economies and above all (in) restoring hope. As president of the General Assembly, I will do all I can to make this a reality," he said. He later added that he aimed to bring producers of vaccines together to ensure that all citizens of the world are vaccinated by the end of 2022 describing the present as the time to “share and chart the future course of action."

Noting that his presidency of the UN would also have a number of key events on climate change like the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, a conference on the oceans and another on desertification, Shahid hoped that the international community could send out a strong message on arresting the negative impacts of climate change.

“It's my intention that we push every possible button and come up with definitive action plans," he said stressing that for countries like the Maldives and Small Island Developing States climate change was an existential issue.

In response to questions posed to him, Shahid agreed that the current composition of the UN Security Council was not reflective of the current global realities. He said he would appoint a panel to ensure that the work on reforming the UNSC that was done in the 75th session of the UNGA would be carried on under the 76th session under him. Pointing to the problems in building a consensus on the matter, Shahid recalled that the Maldives was among 10 countries that had called for reforming the UN system in 1970.

India is seeking a seat for itself in a revamped UNSC but there is a lack of consensus on how many countries should be included in a reformed UNSC that is seen as the powerful decision-making body of the UN whose resolutions are binding on UN member states. There is also no agreement on whether the new members should be given veto powers, now in the hands of only five countries – US, UK, France, Russia and China. In the past, there have been apprehensions about the dilution of veto powers if more countries are given this authority.

On terrorism, Shahid said that he would work towards ensuring an agreement on the definition of terrorism which he described as “pure evil" having “no borders," “no religion" and “no soul." In 1996, India had proposed a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism but it has not moved beyond that stage for the lack of a consensus on the definition of terrorism with some states saying that freedom movements and freedom fighters should not be brought under its ambit. India’s view is that the convention will provide a legal basis for global fight against terrorism as all UN member states will have a multilateral platform to counter terrorism.

On Afghanistan, Shahid said that the maintenance of peace and security was related to the UNSC and “therefore the UN has a very clear role in what is happening in Afghanistan." Fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban has intensified since the departure of US-led combat forces on 1 July.


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