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News, 9/20/2017

High-level Regular Session of UN General Assembly gathers world leaders

The high-level 72nd session of the UN General Assembly started on Tuesday 19 September. The whole world will focus their attention to the speeches and events to be held at the UN.

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen and Deputy Director General of the Political Department Timo Kantola. Photo: Christa Haag.

This year’s regular session will be particularly interesting, because it is the first one for the reform-oriented new Secretary-General António Guterres. A state of feeling of excitement is created by the participation of US President Donald Trump in the General Assembly, because he has expressed criticism towards the UN and threatened to cut US funding to the UN. President Trump has also realised his threats and, for instance, withdrawn US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The Foreign Ministry’s annual hearing of civil society organisations, traditionally organised a week before the General Assembly, was held at the Ministry on 13 September. Representatives from 25 different civil society organisations arrived to discuss with Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen.

Timo Kantola, Deputy Director General of the Political Department, hosted the hearing. The Finnish delegation to the UN General Assembly always includes three delegates representing different civil society organisations. A youth representative is also attending the high-level week in New York.

Finland prioritises equality and mediation in UN

At the start of the event, Minister Mykkänen told about the priorities of Finland’s programme for the General Assembly.  Finland’s UN delegation is led by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö, who will deliver Finland’s address at the general debate on Wednesday 20 September. Mykkänen emphasised actions aiming at gender equality, a matter that is highlighted in the programme of the Finnish delegation, too.  Minister Mykkänen’s programme places special emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and rights, because promoting these rights contributes to girls’ education and women’s employment. In his programme, Minister Mykkänen stresses the reform of the UN system and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

President Niinistö and Minister Mykkänen will attend the Zero Emission Summit on the citizens’ role in achieving the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement. President Niinistö and Foreign Minister Timo Soini will attend a high-level meeting on the prevention of sexual abuse, hosted by the UN Secretary-General, and a meeting on the UN reforms, hosted by the US President. Minister Soini’s programme focuses on conflict prevention and mediation matters in the UN’s activities; Soini and his Turkish colleague will co-host a ministerial meeting of the UN Group of Friends of Mediation. 

Lively discussion on UN reforms

Civil society organisations raised important topics to discussion starting from equality to the The Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (CPNW). The National Council of Women of Finland and the Family Federation of Finland stressed measures promoting equality, and the Minister’s programme was commended for its strong focus on sexual and reproductive health. Civil society organisations thanked the Minister for consideration of the CSO field and especially youth in the composition of Finland's delegation to the

Representatives from 25 different civil society organisations arrived to discuss with Minister Mykkänen. Photo: Christa Haag.

General Assembly. Finn Church Aid stressed the importance of education. The UN Association of Finland and Kehys, the Finnish NGDO Platform to the European Union, highlighted the importance of commitment to the 2030 Agenda. The Central Union for Child Welfare raised the question of safeguarding the rights of the child in refugee situations.

The United States’ changed policy towards the UN has caused concern among civil society organisations. Cuts directed at funding of organisations have caused insecurity of future funding and of countries’ commitment to concluded agreements. The majority of the organisations considered that reforming the UN system is an important part of the solution of the problems. The UN must be able to prevent conflicts and to place the promotion of human rights at the heart of its activities. At the hearing in the Ministry, the UN reform was one of the central themes of discussion, because the reform is high on the Secretary-General’s agenda. Guterres is not the first of the Secretaries-General who have tried to make reforms in the UN system. However, Under-Secretary of State Elina Kalkku noted that there would not be a better time for the reforms than the term of a new Secretary-General. Guterres has a long experience of working in the UN and he has taken reforms as his priority.

Annika Manninen                                                                                                           The author works as a Trainee in the Unit for UN and General Global Affairs.

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