Seeking Justice, Balance and Peace at the U.N.

With the horrific news from Israel and Palestine, which erupted weeks after the horrific news of Azerbaijan’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is difficult to see our world — and humanity — as anything but fractured and cruel.

Division is truly an inescapable element of our reality. Hopelessness stirs as war and conflict stack one after another; helplessness settles as crises become intertwined, even when taking place on distant points of the globe.

But this overlap, the very factor that complicates so much on the global stage, also serves as a path toward unity and peace. Our problems are not confined to one country, and neither should our solutions.

The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly convened for its high-level week from 18-22 September, bringing together leaders from its 193 member states, as well as its permanent observer states: the Holy See and Palestine. As a member of the delegation representing CNEWA at the U.N., I had the opportunity to attend the first day of high-level general debate.

In addition to speeches from António Guterres, secretary-general of the U.N., and Dennis Francis, president of the General Assembly, the first session of general debate welcomed leaders from Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Jordan, Poland, Cuba, Turkey, Portugal, Qatar, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Guatemala, Hungary, Switzerland, Slovenia and Uzbekistan.

In his opening address, Mr. Guterres explained the ongoing shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world, which brings with it the capacity for “justice and balance,” but only if institutions of governance, like the U.N., adapt with this change.

“The alternative to reform is not the status quo,” he said.

“The alternative to reform is further fragmentation. It’s reform or rupture.”

The institutions he mentioned included the U.N. Security Council, which he said better serves its original 1945 objectives and realities — rooted in “colonial domination” — than the present needs of its member states.

“It is time for a global compromise,” he said. “We have all the tools and resources to solve our shared challenges. What we need is determination.”

The war on Ukraine was a major focus for many countries, as was food insecurity, care for migrants and refugees, and the pursuit of peace.

“Let unity decide everything openly,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. “Weaponization must be restrained. War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land. We must be united to make it.”

Mr. Zelenskyy’s speech outlined the forms of weaponization used by Russia in its attacks on Ukraine, highlighting three main points: the weaponization of food, of energy and of children.

The first of these, food, refers to Russia blocking the Black Sea ports and withdrawing from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has created a global grain shortage. He claimed this move is an “attempt to weaponize the food shortage on the global market in exchange for recognition for some, if not all, of the captured territories.”

The grain shortage has had its impact on CNEWA’s world, particularly in northeast Africa, where its effects coupled with existing factors, such as drought and conflict, to further push countries like Ethiopia into a food insecurity crisis.

Those most vulnerable to food insecurity, said King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein of Jordan, are refugees, who compose over a third of his country’s population.

In Jordan, as with many nations, the current humanitarian response is not sufficient to address the growing needs of its refugee population, he said.

“The responsibility to act falls on everyone’s shoulders,” he said. “Because the world cannot afford to walk away and leave a lost generation behind.”

He called the audience’s attention to the political situation and resulting migration in Syria and Palestine as well, noting that “Jordan’s case is a microcosm of the entire region.”

“Delaying justice and peace has brought endless cycles of violence,” said King Abdullah in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, more than two weeks before Hamas’ attack on Israel.

“Preserving Jerusalem, as the city of faith and peace for Islam, Christianity and Judaism, is a responsibility that we all share.”

In calling for solidarity and unity, leaders at the General Assembly made their appeals for peace and for progress. Their words remind us that our world’s problems should not be tools for isolation and further division, but for cooperation. Even when sharing the struggles of their own countries and people, leaders at the General Assembly pleaded for action on behalf of their neighbors.

Though urgent and pragmatic, there was hope on the General Assembly floor.

The news since, however, serves as a tragic reminder how this hope for peace is not sufficient if left as a wish or a plea. Peace, and more importantly justice, requires action, education, determination and cooperation. As we watch division and hatred grow, we must remember our shared humanity. Without it, what will become of us?

Olivia Poust is assistant editor of ONE.

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