Explanation of Vote on the Modalities Resolution for the UN General Assembly Special Session on COVID-19 (via VTC)

Courtney Nemroff
Acting U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 5, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President, and thanks to Azerbaijan and Canada for their able leadership to co-facilitate the intergovernmental negotiations on the modalities for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we strive to defeat COVID-19 around the world, the United States remains committed to working collaboratively with the international community to take the necessary steps to prevent such a catastrophic pandemic from ever happening again.

The United States constructively engaged throughout the negotiations and showed the utmost flexibility on several issues of concern. We were willing to accept the co-facilitators’ compromise text, including with regards to civil society participation in the UNGASS and the reference to the role of the World Health Organization in the modalities text. We were disappointed to see that the reference to these and other issues in the final version of the text departed from the co-facilitators’ carefully crafted compromise language. For that reason, we broke silence on the October 26 version of the text and asked the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to take our proposals into account in a revised version that would allow the UNGASS to enjoy the greatest Member State support possible. We sent an additional letter to the PGA that was also disregarded, and unfortunately, these concerns were not met. This introduction of new language not reached through normal processes and methods of transparent negotiation undermines the co-facilitators’ role and the integrity of the negotiations process by Member States.

As a result, we regret that the United States cannot join consensus on this resolution.

The United States disassociates from preambular paragraph 4 due to the reference to the World Health Organization (WHO). Our response to the global pandemic must include a whole-of-UN approach that acknowledges the important roles numerous UN agencies have in addressing the multidimensional nature of the pandemic. Language that elevates the role of one UN agency above others is therefore unacceptable to the United States. For the same reason, we cannot accept the new language on the WHO proposed by Armenia in operative paragraph 3 (b).

Moreover, throughout negotiations on this resolution, the United States underscored the important role non-governmental and civil society organizations, including those that do not have ECOSOC consultative status, should play through their participation in this Special Session. The role that civil society organizations play in our collective response to the global COVID-19 pandemic is fundamental and invaluable. The process of admission for these organizations to participate must be completely transparent.  We reiterate our strong concern with the use of the “non-objection basis” clause in OP3(e), which has unfortunately been used to prevent the participation of some civil society organizations in UN meetings and conferences. It is important that we restore an approach that appropriately balances the leadership role of the President of the General Assembly with feedback from Member States, and will help move us towards greater transparency, predictability, and inclusivity. The co-facilitators had proposed compromise language that simply commits Member States to letting the Office of the PGA know the concrete basis of objections they may have to the participation of civil society organizations in UN conferences and meetings. If there are objections to integrating civil society voices into discussions throughout the planning for important UN processes, those objections should not be made in secret. That should be the minimum we offer our important partners. We should continue our efforts to develop and refine clear and transparent procedures to facilitate the full participation of civil society in high-level UN meetings and processes.