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As 71st General Assembly opens, new President pledges to ‘turn the wheels’ on implementing 17 Global Goals

13 September 2016 – The United Nations General Assembly opened its 71st session, with an emphasis on ensuring that implementation of the new global development goals, adopted by its 193 Member States last year, is well underway.

“The 70th Session launched the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], and for integrity’s sake the 71st must be the year we witness the wheels turning on the implementation of all 17 SDGs,” the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, said as he took an oath of office before proceeding to open the new session.

Mr. Thomson, who had had been serving as the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations until his appointment, said that the theme of the 71st session is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World.’

On 1 January 2016, the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September last year – officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with the aim of achieving the SDGs, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

The new Assembly President noted that it had been heartening to observe the sincerity with which governments and national planning agencies around the world have begun integrating the 2030 Agenda into national processes.

“But make no mistake, the great majority of humankind has yet to learn of the Agenda; it has yet to embrace the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that if successfully implemented will bring an end to poverty and secure a sustainable place for humanity on this planet,” he said.

To fulfill his commitment to achieving meaningful progress in all 17 Goals during the session, Mr. Thomson said he had appointed a team specifically dedicated to the implementation of the SDGs.

This session will be also special, he flagged, in that his office will have the experience of working with two Secretaries-General. The search for the best possible candidate to fill the post is approaching its final stages.

“As President of the Assembly I will dedicate myself to facilitation of the transition process, and will be available at all times to assist the incoming Secretary-General settle into her or his responsibilities of office,” he said.

Mr. Thomson also pledged to work to strengthen the relations between the UN’s organs, continuing the practice of holding regular meetings with the Secretary-General, the Presidents of the Security Council, and the President of the UN Economic and Social Council, and inform the membership as to the scope of these meetings.

He also pledged to maintain financial transparency of his presidency by ensuring that all contributions to the running of his office are entered into a UN trust fund where the donors and expenditure will be public knowledge.

He said his team will strive to find new methods to resolve entrenched conflicts, diminish the atrocities of global terrorism, better manage migrant and refugee flows, and end the many humanitarian crises.

But make no mistake, the great majority of humankind has yet to learn of the Agenda; it has yet to embrace the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, that if successfully implemented will bring an end to poverty and secure a sustainable place for humanity on this planet.

The link between sustainable development, peace and security, and human rights has never been more explicit, he noted, drawing attention to next week’s high-level meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants. “I regret the evidence of widespread lack of empathy for people on the move, many of whom are fleeing from conflict, persecution, or climate change […] It is time to turn down the rhetoric of intolerance and ratchet up a collective response based on our common humanity,” he said.

In the area of peace and security, the Assembly President said the 71st session must build on the review of the Global Counter-Terrorism strategy, including the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Violent Extremism, and act on improving the UN architecture to face these threats.

The session must also look to take forward implementation of the ambitious ‘sustaining peace’ agenda, agreed by the General Assembly and Security Council earlier this year, he added, noting that this is an opportunity to bring new coherence and coordination to the UN’s work across peace and security, development, and human rights.

In his remarks, the new General Assembly president also highlighted the issue of UN Security Council reform. “The membership is unanimous in agreeing that reform is necessary to align the Security Council with the realities of the 21st Century,” he said.

During his speech, Mr. Thomson invited to the stage his seven- and five-years-old granddaughters, who, he noted, will be young adults ready to fulfill the potential of their lives in 2030, when the remaining 14 years of the new development agenda have expired.

“What kind of world will we have bequeathed them and all their brothers and sisters around the world, your own grandchildren and children, born and yet to be born?” he asked in an appeal to create a better future for them.

“The 71st session will only be fulfilling,” he said, “if at its end we can be assured real progress is underway on each of the Goals, that our faith and hope in progress is not misplaced, and that a better world will be at hand when the year 2030 rolls around.”
UN chief addresses new Assembly

Addressing the opening of the new Assembly session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the chosen theme.

“This first year is crucial. It is a time when all Member States should align their policies, programmes and spending behind the 17 goals,” he said.

He said it is also a time to bring the Paris Agreement on climate change into force, drawing attention to the high-level event he is hosting on 21 September will strengthen momentum for achieving that objective this year.

Mr Ban noted that on 1 January 2017, the 71st session of the Assembly will welcome his successor, the ninth UN Secretary-General. “You will serve as a bridge between my administration and the next […] You will have my full support, and that of my team, in ensuring a seamless transition,” he said.

“The Assembly will be called upon to address many threats, and to show its solidarity with people facing injustice,” he added. “People also look to this body not just to react to problems, but to work proactively and preventively to better the human condition.”

Earlier today, Mr. Ban attended a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the 55th anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, one of his predecessors, at which he renewed his call to the General Assembly to appoint an eminent person or persons to review new information which may exist regarding the circumstances around his death and the loss of 15 others in a plane crash during their mission for peace.
Closure of 70th General Assembly

Prior to the opening of the 71st session, the General Assembly held the last meeting of its 70th session, with the outgoing Assembly President, Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, underscoring the progress made under his leadership, including the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, as well as the holding of the Special Session on the World Drug Problem, and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The General Assembly has discussed the three major UN reviews on peace building and peace operations, and on women, peace and security, he said.

Turning to the election of a new UN Secretary-General, Mr. Lykketoft said: “I am very proud that we broke new ground with unique transparency in the selection process. The two-hour presentation of each of the candidates in the General Assembly dialogues, and their collective Global Townhall debate, were important highlights and helped to include the global public in the debate about the future of the UN. And I hope that transparency proves instrumental in identifying the best possible new Secretary General over the coming months.”

He appealed to the Security Council to also make the remaining process open and engaging to preserve the legitimacy of their recommendation as it feeds into Assembly’s final decision.

“Throughout this session, I sought to instil greater transparency in everything we do – and I am delighted to see that many of the steps I have advanced relating to the integrity, transparency and accountability of my own office have now been codified in the GA Revitalization resolution adopted earlier this morning – and I look forward to witnessing the first ever taking of an oath of office by an incoming President in just a few moments,” he said.

United Nations




Your Excellency, Ambassador Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly;

Your Excellency, Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations;

Your Majesties;

Your Excellencies;

Distinguished delegates;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I wish to congratulate you, Mr President, on your election as the President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly.

I assure you of South Africa's continued support in the implementation of your priorities and responsibilities throughout your term.

We also commend Mr Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark for his able stewardship of the General Assembly during the historic 70th Session.

Mr President,

The year 2016 is an important year in South Africa as we mark two significant historic anniversaries in our country.

We recently marked the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 Women's March against discriminatory and racist laws and the 40th anniversary of the June 16th 1976 Youth uprising against apartheid.

These two marked significant turning points in the history of our struggle against apartheid minority rule in our country.

The Women's March in 1956 brought the gender dimension of the struggle and the equal role of women in the fight against white domination, oppression and injustice into sharp focus.

Equally, the youth uprising 40 years ago highlighted and cemented the role of young people in fighting for liberation and a better society. We are reminded of these two milestones as we address the theme of this debate, which is "Sustainable Development Goals: a universal push to transform our world".

Last year, world leaders marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Agenda 2030.

We committed ourselves to an ambitious and transformative global development programme that seeks to address the triple challenge of this century, which is Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality.

To a great extent, the Millennium Development Goals played a critical role in galvanizing governments and communities all over the world to put in place programmes and policies aimed at poverty eradication and in addressing socio-economic development particularly in Africa.

It is a well-known reality that our continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, did not achieve the targets that were set in the MDGs. It was for this reason that we insisted that the Sustainable Development Goals should continue the unfinished business of the MDGs.

We have an interest, therefore, in ensuring the full implementation of the SDGs, as we take forward the agenda of promoting Africa's sustainable development.

Mr President,

We have made significant strides in the past couple of decades in reversing the impact of underdevelopment and the legacies of Colonialism and Apartheid in Africa.

If the African Continent is to develop faster, we need to address certain constraints.

This includes addressing inadequate infrastructure, the high dependency on primary products, high exposure to commodity price volatility, limited investment in research and development, science, innovation and technology, low private sector investment as well as the need to continue improving skills.

To respond to some of these constraints, the Continent has embarked on a number of initiatives. These include the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the Presidential Infrastructure Championing Initiative, the African Mining Vision, and the Programme for the Infrastructural Development of Africa.

In South Africa we have put in place a National Development Plan which is aligned to AU Agenda 2063, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At the core of our development plan is the focus on poverty eradication and the upliftment of the standard of living of our people.

Our National Development Plan is also in line with the drive for industrialization of Africa.

This will contribute to the eradication of poverty, reduce inequality and unemployment, and will also contribute positively to global growth and prosperity.

It is therefore imperative that Africa and the Least Developed Countries, which were left behind in previous industrialisation processes, must not be excluded from the 4th or New Industrial Revolution.

Mr President,

The successful implementation of Africa's development plans depends on the availability of resources. We are therefore seriously concerned about the loss of resources of the continent through illicit financial flows.

The Joint African Union and UN Economic Commission for Africa's High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa estimates that illicit flows from Africa could be about 50 billion dollars per annum.

Illicit financial flows deprive developing countries of the much-needed economic resources to uplift their economies in order to provide infrastructure and basic services such as education and health care.

We urge the world at large to treat this problem with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves.

Mr President,

We also need to close the gap that has painfully divided people between the rich and the poor and which has divided countries between big and small economies.

Global inequality and economic exclusion have become a serious threat to global peace and stability. Inclusive growth is thus a peace, security and prosperity imperative.

Inclusive growth will however remain a distant dream if powerful nations continue to put their national interests ahead of the global collective interest.

Mr President,

The African continent remains committed through the African Union and its Peace and Security Architecture to resolve the remaining conflict areas.

We have committed ourselves to silence the guns by 2020.

We appeal to the UN Security Council in particular to support African peace operations so that we can achieve this noble goal.

The situation in Libya, South Sudan and the Central African Republic remains a continental priority.

We strongly urge the UN Security Council to better align and coordinate with the African Union in efforts to bring about peace in these sister countries and the continent at large.

Beyond the continent, we remain concerned about threats of terrorism. Fifteen years after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, international terrorism remains a challenge that no single country or region can successfully deal with.

We have witnessed the rise of ISIS and are horrified by its brutal and senseless killings.

The conflicts in both Libya and Syria have provided a fertile ground for the terrorists to carry out their unjustified terrorist activities.

The conflict in Syria has led to chaos in that country in under five years with devastating effect on the stability of the region.

The deadlock in the Security Council on the Syrian question exposes the inherent structural dysfunction of the 1945, post Second World War consensus.

We must therefore, ask ourselves if the UN, and in particular the UN Security Council as currently configured,  can fulfill its mandate in addressing the challenges of the twenty first century?

The UN Security Council is supposed to act in our collective interest without being bogged down by domestic narrow interests of few states.

It is imperative and urgent that the United Nations, and in particular the Security Council, should be reformed.

South Africa has been calling for, and we will continue to call for, the fundamental reform of the United Nation's Security Council in order to ensure the representation of Africa.

One billion people cannot continue to be denied a voice in this manner.

Mr President,

The lack of progress in finding a durable solution to the Palestinian question and the Saharawi Arab Republic's struggle for self-determination remain a major concern for us.

It is important that the United Nations should carry out its historic mission in ensuring that the two longest outstanding decolonization and occupation issues are resolved once and for all, in fulfillment of the UN Charter objectives.

Mr President,

The signing of the Paris Agreement last year marked a historic moment in humanity's resolve to minimize the impact of climate change and address the human contribution to it.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend our Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, for the extra-ordinary leadership that he provided since COP 15 in Copenhagen.

He remained unwavering in his commitment to see a legally binding agreement finally agreed to by all.

The adoption of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action during COP17 was a historic milestone and marked a turning point in the negotiation of a legally binding instrument. It provided a clear roadmap with targets and deadlines.

Mr President,

On behalf of the people and government of South Africa I would like to take this opportunity to salute the outgoing Secretary General of the UN, His Excellency Mr Ban Ki Moon, for the sterling and outstanding manner with which he steered the affairs of the organization in the past decade.

We wish His Excellency Mr Ban Ki-moon well with his future endeavours.

We are pleased that the UN General Assembly has, for the first time in the history of the UN, been at the centre of the process of finding a new Secretary General.

We believe in a balanced and equal role between the two principal organs on the question of the selection of the Secretary General.

The General Assembly as the most representative organ, representing all the aspirations of the peoples of the world, should be central in determining the right man or woman to lead the UN to the future.

The UNGA cannot be expected to just rubberstamp decisions of the Security Council.

South Africa is particularly supportive of the proposal to limit the term of office of the Secretary General to a seven year non-renewable term in order to allow him or her to work without being concerned about reappointment.

Mr President,

South Africa looks forward to working with you and other Member States throughout this Session.

I thank you!

Issued by The South African Presidency


Intervention by His Excellency, President Zuma, at the Launch Event of the United Nations High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, New York

20 September 2016

Your Excellency, Mr François Hollande, President of France

Your Excellency, Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Your Excellency, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation

Your Excellency, Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation

Your Excellency, Mr Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Honourable Commissioners


Ladies and gentlemen

Allow me to start by thanking the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, for establishing the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth.

This I believe is an initiative that could contribute considerably to developing countries' efforts to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and overcoming the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

I would also like to express my appreciation to His Excellency President François Hollande, with whom I had the privilege to serve as co-chair of the Commission as well as the vice-chairs Dr Margaret Chan, Mr Guy Ryder and Mr Angel Gurria.

Allow me further to extend a special word of thanks to the Commissioners, the team of Sherpas, the Expert Group led by Dr Richard Horton and the members of the World Health Organisation's Secretariat for their tireless efforts over the past few months to ensure that we have a benchmark report to present today.

The world needs to focus on the potential of the health sector to generate millions of jobs if we are to increase health security at the national, regional and global levels. This need is particularly urgent in developing countries.

Communicable diseases know no boundaries and non-communicable diseases are on the increase.

To protect ourselves and enhance humanity's well-being, we need to invest in a more extensive and appropriately aligned health workforce.

We also need to provide access to affordable and effective medicines and other medical products that will ensure a healthy global population, which is able to contribute to global economic growth.

Investment in a healthy workforce and in the broader health economy goes to the heart of implementing the African Union Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The costs associated with training and deploying health workers and the delivery of health services should not be seen as a cost to the economy.

It should rather be viewed as a prudent investment, which will yield substantial dividends in terms of job creation and economic growth.

The youth, in general, and women in particular can benefit from this investment.

For Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to be achieved it is necessary to have a health workforce that is adequate, well placed, competent, skilled, motivated and accessible to the public.

The Commission is making ten recommendations to the Member States of the United Nations ranging from training needs, continuing education and the need to focus on primary health care.

The report also deals with health emergencies, ensuring the safety of health workers, addressing underserved areas and the benefits of using information and communication technologies.

It further proposes that we prioritise these recommendations over the next five years because by doing so, we will greatly increase our chances of meeting several of the goals we set ourselves in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It will, however, require bold political leadership at all levels as well as enhanced cross-sectoral collaboration in the fields of finance, labour, education, science, technology, health and social development in order for this to be achieved.

I believe that this is possible and a worthwhile investment to consider.

I therefore urge you to take the steps necessary to advance and implement the recommendations contained in the Commission's report.

I thank you.

The South African Presidency



March 2018






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