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We thought we’d brighten your UNGA week with a tour through some of UNGA’s most memorable moments.

Longest speech: In 1960 President Castro of Cuba stood at the podium and said, “although we have been given the reputation of speaking at great length; the Assembly need not worry. 'We shall do our best to be brief, saying only what we regard it as our duty to say here”. He finally sat down 4 hours and 29 minutes later, having given the longest speech on record in the general debate. His speech gave a potted history of US aggression towards Cuba, US aggression more generally, the achievements of his government, a refutation of the claim that he was staying in a brothel and two sections for which he was cautioned by the chair: one in which he gave his opinions on the rival candidates in the US’ 1960 presidential election (“As far as we are concerned, both of them lack political sense”) and one in which he asked the chair for permission to be rude about the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, which was denied.

Shortest speech: This would appear to be Australia’s H. V. Evatt who took a mere minute in 1948 to thank the UNGA for electing him its President.

Worst prop: At the height of the cold war the 1960 general debate was particularly stormy. In addition to Castro’s marathon the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev became so incensed by the speech of the Philippine delegate that he banged his shoe repeatedly on the desk. However, the shoe was at least well made. In 2012 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brandished a crudely drawn cartoon bomb at delegates. 

Strangest speech: Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe’s speech in 2015 included the line “we are not gays”, with limited context to widespread offence and confusion. However, in 2009 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave an even stranger rambling 90-minute speech, suggesting that JFK’s assassination was the work of Mossad, and Jack Ruby was an agent of Israel and that swine flu had been made in a laboratory. He also symbolically ripped a copy of the UN Charter, and complained about his jet lag (now President Trump had his first brush with UNGA controversy as a consequence of Gaddafi’s speech, Gaddafi having stayed as a guest on Trump’s property, his oversized tent raising planning concerns).

Most awkward silence: In 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent an increasingly awkward 45 seconds staring down delegates in silence.

Most aggressive speech: While most General Assembly speeches attempt to avoid personal abuse there have been some extraordinary exceptions. In 2012 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be eliminated and questioned the holocaust and September 11. In 2006 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the American President George W. Bush the devil, and claimed he could smell the sulphur still.

Best speech: The title of best speech ever given to the General Assembly is of course highly subjective, but Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia’s speech to the 1963 General Assembly is the only one to have been paraphrased and set to music by Bob Marley; his line that “until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned… the African continent will not know peace” forming the key refrain in Bob Marley’s 1976 hit “war”.

Did you know?

  • The General Assembly has not always met in UN Headquarters. It first met in Central Hall Westminster, London, where earlier this year UNA-UK hosted the Secretary General. Over the first seven years the UNGA cycled between Flushing Meadows in New York and the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. It took up permanent home at UNHQ in 1954, although in 1988 it moved to the Palais de Nations in Geneva to allow Palestinian President Arafat to speak (the US had refused him a visa)
  • 5 nations – North Korea, South Korea, Tanzania, Moldova, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – sit outside of expected alphabetical order due to their wish to have their preferred adjective (such as Democratic or Republic) in front of their name.

What is UNA-UK?

UNA-UK is the only UK charity devoted to building a credible and effective UN. We have a strong track record of securing change at the national and international level, from helping to reverse UK objections to the Cluster Munitions Convention, to leading a global campaign (1 for 7 Billion) to transform how the UN selects its Secretary-General.

More about our organization and our aims can be found on our website. Our present work is grounded in deep concern about the health of our international system, which, for all its flaws, has improved the lives of millions of people worldwide. Strained to breaking point, it will not endure unless governments actively work to improve it; governments, in turn, won’t act unless people call for action – a principle at the heart of our theory of change: UK action > stronger UN > better world.

Any further questions?

UNA-UK are always happy to answer any further questions you have and senior members of staff will be available for interviews on request. Please contact us on or +44 (0) 020 7766 3454 if we can be of any assistance.

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