The use of nuclear weapons should be unthinkable … yet the world seems to be "sleepwalking to war," Guterres tells UN.
Guterres calls for statesmanship to avoid nuclear war with North Korea
In his first address to the UN General Debate as secretary general to the United Nations, Antonio Guterres laid out his priorities and called on the international community to work with him. From countering terrorism to dealing with the impact of refugee flows, conflict resolution and mediation were vital, Mr Guterres said.
It was a reinforcement to his announcement last week of a "higher council on mediation" with 18 world leaders and former officials, including Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet and the former foreign minister of Jordan, whose task is to resolve crises and conflicts around the world, rather than trying to deal with the consequences of conflict.
Opening the week-long marathon of speeches at the UN, Mr Guterres began by outlining the crises troubling the world, warning that "the world is afraid of nuclear war with North Korea". The North Korean crisis has been a focal point for a number of bilateral and side meetings in New York at this, the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.
The National at the United Nations General Assembly
"The use of nuclear weapons should be unthinkable. But today global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War," Mr Guterres said. Yet the world appeared to be "sleepwalking our way to war," he added and appealed for "statesmanship" from world leaders
On Myanmar, Guterres renewed his plea for an end to the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and beyond. "We are all shocked by the dramatic escalation of sectarian tensions in Myanmar's Rakhine state," he said. The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations and allow unhindered humanitarian access, and must address the grievances of the Rohingya "whose status has been left unresolved for far too long."
On the continued occupation of Palestine, he said "the two-state solution is the only way," and warned of the dangers of "stagnation" in the process of reaching an agreement.
He repeated his key message: the need to end conflict and address its root causes. "You cannot counter terrorism without peace," he said.
As a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the issue of migration and refugees is close to his heart. The world must address "human mobility," Mr Guterres said. "We do not just face a crisis of refugees but a crisis of solidarity … instead of closed doors, [we]need to have human compassion".
He himself was a migrant, he said. But safe migration should not be limited to the elite. Refugees and displaced people were not the problem, he repeated. Rather, the biggest challenge was dealing with people being forced into migration, and "politicians stoking resentment in search of electoral gain."
Though he did not directly mention the US president Donald Trump — who followed Mr Guterres in addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday — the difference in their respective visions in the world were clear. While Mr Trump talks about building walls and keeping jobs at home in the US, Mr Guterres spoke of the need to open up borders to generate "‘new markets and new jobs"’.
Mr Guterres repeated warnings from scientists that extreme weather, such as Hurricane Irma, will become the new normal. "The number of natural disasters has quadrupled since 1970," he told the assembly and urged UN members to implement the Paris Climate Accord. President Trump rejects the accord.
Half way through his speech, Mr Guterres switched to French and spoke of the need for opportunity for all.
"‘Progress is not fair … there are regions and communities far away from waves of growth, far from resources in this part of the world," he said. But, highlighting the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), he said there was a plan to "change course and bring about fair globalisation" — the 2030 Agenda. And while world leaders endorsed the SDGs and 2030 Agenda, Mr Guterres said, ‘It is not money that we are lacking, it is wisdom. We need sustainable development to benefit everyone’.
The UN was the place to tackle the world challenges which governments and international organisations "are quite simply not ready or equipped" to deal with. It would take "new strategic thinking and new ethical way of thinking". Mr Guterres pledged to make it a pillar of his term as Secretary General and in his closing words called on the UN — the body he now leads — to "advance human dignity for all."