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Five things UNGA will discuss

The following issues are already guaranteed to be raised, as they are the focus of particular events which have been scheduled over the next few weeks.

1. Financial reforms to the UN system

President Donald Trump has announced his desire to cut both the overall cost of the UN, and the proportion of the cost that is paid by the United States. As we explained in a recent briefing, neither approach is straightforward, yet neither is impossible.

However, there are risks that too precipitous a rush to cut costs would damage the long-term efficacy of the UN, and thus actually increase costs in the long run. This is particularly true when it comes to peacekeeping, where UNA-UK has been campaigning for long-term sustainable thinking and restraint in budget discussions. Further, President Trump has indicated his desire to cut all funding to family planning and climate change programmes, a counterproductive move which – in addition to the human impacts – will increase long-term costs for the Organisation and the United States.

The fact that President Trump and the Secretary-General are co-hosting an event on 18 September suggests that they have been able to find some common ground with respect to reform. Thus far the only details about what that common ground might look like suggest a fairly limited agenda, focussed on reducing duplication and increasing accountability. However, new announcements cannot be ruled out.

2. The voluntary compact on ending sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers

Also on 18 September the UN will announce its voluntary compact on ending sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. The five-page compact commits the UN to providing more assistance to victims of abuse; to working with member states to build capacity; and to strengthening investigation and accountability mechanisms. In return the UN asks states to pledge to cooperate with the UN; to conduct thorough screening; and to implement accountability measures, including reforms to domestic law to ensure that they can hold perpetrators to account.

UNA-UK is also campaigning on the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse and have recently published a statement regarding the compact. Overall, we welcome this move which will help focus attention on the crucial need for the countries that contribute peacekeeping troops to control and – if necessary – prosecute them.

3. “Climate week”, climate change and the Paris Agreement

This year’s “climate week” aims to draw attention to how accelerated climate leadership can drive innovation, jobs & prosperity. No doubt, much attention will focus on the US’s announcement of intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. UNA-UK hopes that the proactive response by other states and stakeholders including American businesses, mayors and communities will also attract publicity.

UNA-UK is launching a major report on the Paris Agreement. Featuring contributions from António Guterres, Patricia Espinosa, AC Grayling, Achim Steiner, Lise Kingo and other experts, our publication makes the case that climate action is accelerating the shift in global power relations as the centre of gravity continues to move eastwards, southwards and downwards.

4. North Korea, Iran and nuclear non-proliferation

Tuesday 26 September is the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and will be marked by a high-level summit on the issue. Three issues are likely to be covered:

  • North Korea: the UN Security Council were able to agree a set of targeted measures aimed at containing the North Korean regime. The Secretary-General has said: “The solution can only be political. Military action could cause devastation on a scale that would take generations to overcome.”

UNA-UK hopes the Secretary-General will repeat his offer of using his good offices to facilitate dialogue, and then sit back. While neither side seems to be interested in negotiation at present, this could have a calming effect, and pressure to change tracks, by keeping the option of negotiations option.

  • Iran: the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal, represents one of the most effective and successful attempts at making the world safer through diplomacy in recent times. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has said that “the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA (“Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” on Iran’s nuclear programme); are being implemented”. UNA-UK hopes that states will support IAEA’s conclusions.
  • Nuclear ban treaty: UNA-UK supports the ban treaty as an important statement of intent towards a nuclear-free world. This is particularly important in light of the nuclear powers’ failure to uphold their part of the bargain written into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires them to make meaningful steps towards disarmament leading to a nuclear-free world. Further information is available in our briefing: here.

5. Modern slavery and human trafficking

Last year, UK Prime Minister Theresa May highlighted the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking in her speech to the UNGA. The UK subsequently made this a focus of its presidency of the UN Security Council, and the issue will now be discussed at the UNGA’s two-day high-level forum on 27 and 28 September.

Discussion will focus on the implementation of the Global Plan of Action on human trafficking, agreed in 2010. One of the key issues for the forum will be ensuring that states differentiate between the distinct issues of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Human trafficking is a form kidnapping, it consists of forceful movement of people for purposes of exploitation and can lead to modern slavery. Migrant smuggling consists of the (often voluntary) movement of individuals over state lines in violation of that state’s border regulations. Last year we explored these issues in an edition of our magazine.

As such the issues are related, but they are not the same. An effective strategy for combatting modern slavery and human trafficking should therefore not make travel across borders for vulnerable individuals more difficult. A holistic approach to the issue would include steps to reduce vulnerability by increasing the number of safe passageways for seeking refuge and for migration.

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