This week the opening of the General Assembly United Nations in New York didn’t disappoint in bringing us moments of “firsts,” “lasts,” and points in between.
The first General Assembly took place a year after the birth of the UN, in 1946. The following year a baby girl was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Little did she know at the time that it would take her life time — but Dilma Vana Rousseff would become the first woman after 66 years, as the President of Brazil, to address the opening of the UN General Assembly. She is “first” in other categories, namely the first female to become president of Brazil, and the first female economist to hold that position! In opening the GA, Dilma proclaimed, “For the first time in history, a female voice opens the general debate. I am certain this will be the century of women.” We are certainly behind her in this sentiment in advancing this hope for women and humanity. (Watch video.)
Qatar assumed the presidency of the 66th General Assembly for the next year. Ambassador Al-Nasser of Qatar spoke in his opening speech about how the “blossoming of the Arab spring – with all what it represents in the Arab and human history – has faced everybody with heavy responsibilities to assume and with positions that they have to take.” Can they harness the leadership of the Arab region and the momentum of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) uprisings, as well as the petition by the Palestinians for membership into the UN? It’s left to be seen.
The Haves and the Haves Not at the UN today
If you were one of the privileged proprietors of the coveted ECOSOC badge, then you were one of the Haves easing in and out of the mega-armed security zone around the UN fortress. You have it? Yes, then enter into the Surreal World of the Mega-Armed Security Zone where all is not so real—except for those real looking machine guns and bomb-sniffing dogs, and….! If you have become immune to seeing the twenty police car escorts of shaded window Suburbans, the ubiquitous Matrix-look-alike secret service agents with the de rigor lapel pin, and the sharp-shooters atop the General Assembly dome, then you have been at the UN too long – or at least 10 years since this year does mark the anniversary of 9-11 and the introduction of severe security measures at every opening of the UN General Assembly. If only it was a Matrix illusion but no, there is no going back and security measures keep getting built up rather than scaled back, inflating the egos of those being protected to securely. Not only that but the consequences are that even for those of us with ECOSOC accreditation and passes, the spaces and access were once again limited for those wanting to attend events at the UN.
Points in between
Coming after Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday, International Day of Peace, Obama delivered his speech at the UN mentioning peace over 40 times. Mainly, he was stressing this point, “The fact is peace is hard,…Even as we proclaim our love for peace and our hatred of war, there are still convulsions in our world that endanger us all.” So for the sake of keeping the “peace,” which is more like keeping the status quo of conflict and war, the US opposed Palestine’s formal request to gain membership into the UN. (Watch video).
Delegates of the GA cheered when Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, formally requested UN membership. In his speech, president Abbas said, “The time has come also for the Palestinian spring, the time for independence.” (watch video: http://gadebate.un.org/66/palestine)
Ironically, the International Day of Peace also marked the execution by lethal injection of Troy Davis , an African American in the US state of Georgia amid serious doubts over his guilt. Davis was convicted in the 1989 of murdering an off-duty police officer. Yes, the death penalty is still legal in parts of the US. What this execution has done is sparked a strong civil response and renewed discussion on the death penaltly. In New York on Thursday thousands turned out for an impromptu protest against capital punishment and the Davis execution. Protesters ended up at what is now called “Liberty Plaza,” to join the ranks of “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, some saying they were inspired by the Arab Spring, gathered at Wall Street since last Saturday. The uniting of the marches and protesters was not as incongruous as it may seem for the linkages are intensely intertwined between poverty and the jailed population of African-American males in the US.
The last country to present on Friday, 23rd was Bulgaria, ironically, the birthplace of the father of the first presenter opening the GA, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (her father changed his name from Ruzef to the more Portuguese Rousseff). Although last for the week and presented late in the day, the speech was significant in its comparison of the Arab Spring and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this speech, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nickolay Mladenov, said,
“Today we stand on the doorstep of historic change in the Middle East. Change, the scale of which can be only compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sweeping transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after the end of Communism. Both processes are quite different, but share a fundamental similarity — people have come out of the bondage of fear. Although the circumstances in each country
are divergent, the root causes for what is happening in the Middle East are similar,… Millions of people who live on the brink of poverty and see a privileged few reap the benefits of economic freedom will demand fair economic opportunities for all.”
P.S. As promised in Montreal, I have begun tweeting this week! Follow events, comments and FTF happenings on Twitter at @femtaskforce. Stay tuned for updates of this weeks meetings of the WB/IMF and NGO in Washington and more UN updates of the GA next week.
featured image by United Nations.