Washington’s envoy to the United Nations has listed the COVID-19 pandemic, combating climate change and defending human rights as their top priorities during the high-level week of the General Assembly which begins on Monday in New York.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also reiterated her government’s concerns that the gathering could potentially become a super spreader event after efforts to mandate proof of vaccination was shot down by Russia leading to an about-turn on the need for delegates to show proof of immunization. She also addressed the creation of a new sanctions regime that will target individuals and entities fueling the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia.
It’s the first UNGA for the new American administration. Seeking to strike a different tone to the often-combative stance towards multilateralism espoused by the administration of President Donald Trump.
“President Biden will speak to our top priorities, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, combating climate change climate, the climate crisis, and defending human rights, democracy and the international rules-based order. All three are challenges that stretch across borders, they involve every single country on Earth,” says Thomas-Greenfield
The World Health Organisation releasing figures this week that of the 5.7 billion vaccine doses administered globally, 75% of those were in just 10 countries – among them the United States – with growing concerns that oversupply in some countries is proving prohibitive to nations in desperate need.
When asked about the implication of this ahead of Biden-convened summit on vaccines next week, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield had this to say.
“We’re hosting a summit where we will be bringing all the nations together, bringing businesses bringing, NGOs together to see how we can work in unity to provide vaccines across the world. So we recognize that this is a pandemic and we recognize that it’s going to require leadership and it’s going to require every single country to be a part of trying to alleviate the misery that we see happening around the globe. So the numbers that you shared with us is just one more reminder that we have to up our game.”
A G20 Ministerial meeting on Afghanistan is on the cards during UNGA as Washington upped the pressure on stakeholders to the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia after President Biden early Friday established a new sanctions regime that could target protagonists on all sides.
“For far too long, the parties have ignored international calls, including from the Security Council to engage in discussions for a negotiated ceasefire and initiate an inclusive political dialogue to resolve Ethiopia’s crises and save lives. Human Rights continue to be violated in disturbing ways. Women and Girls are being raped and tortured. And the humanitarian situation has grown even more dire,” she added.
And on the possibility of the risks associated with the pandemic and a large gathering of this nature – amid concerns that anti-vax leaders like Brazil’s President Jair Bolsanaro will attend in person, Thomas-Greenfield again raised concern.
“We are concerned about the UN event being a super spreader event, and that we need to take all measures to ensure that it does not become a super spreader event. Every single visitor coming into the United States, they’re all required to show proof that they’ve had a negative COVID test. We’re also putting mitigation efforts around the city, including, as I mentioned, a truck outside the United Nations building that will provide COVID testing and provide the COVID vaccine. But look, leaders have to be responsible. And they have to take responsibility for their actions and ensure that their actions do not lead to jeopardizing the health and safety of the people of New York.”
Over 70 heads of state and government are expected while South Africa’s in-person delegation will be headed by International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor who’s due to arrive next Monday.