Remarks at the Ad-Hoc Working Group Meeting for GA Revitalization

David Lee
Senior Advisor for Political Affairs
New York, New York
March 25, 2021


Thank you, Ambassador Mlynar and Ambassador Lopez. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Abelian, for your briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the operations of the United Nations. We thank the Secretary-General for his leadership during this very challenging time.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten so many of our countries, endanger the health of our citizens, and disrupt our daily routines. It has also significantly changed the way we do business here in New York. In the face of such an overwhelming global crisis, though, we have also seen examples of innovation and creativity as the UN System adapts to new constraints.

The United States appreciates the impact the Secretary-General’s reforms have had on UN operations in the COVID-19 context. The consolidation of the Office of Information and Communication Technology has enabled a global approach to implementing the UN’s IT strategy to ensure business continuity around the world. Reform in supply chain management helped peace operations address shortages for much needed resources. Translators are working faster than ever to publish critical communications thanks to new technologies.

Our operations across the General Assembly have also changed significantly – including for the main committees of the General Assembly, plenary resolutions, General Assembly side events, and this revitalization process. Our hybrid in-person and virtual gathering approach has not only contained the spread of the disease, but in some cases, it has even improved efficiency. After the public health necessity of these practices has passed, we hope to see delegations continuing to implement some of these new innovations.

The well-being of the UN staff and accredited diplomats remains our paramount priority. We must continue to carefully assess which gatherings of the General Assembly absolutely require in-person meetings, and which ones do not. This is especially vital given that for each in-person meeting, many UN Secretariat staff are required to travel to the UN and potentially put their lives at risk.

Regarding virtual negotiations, we found that for negotiations by New York-based delegations, this innovation turned out to be more productive than in-person consultations in most instances. Though we will continue to prioritize in-person negotiations when it is safe to do so, we must carry forward some of the efficient and effective working methods, mostly related to information sharing, that we have developed during this period.

We applaud several innovations that have allowed us all to continue working during the pandemic, including the silence procedure during the 74th Session and the move to the possibility of electronic voting during the 75th session. The United States continues to believe, however, that electronic voting should be reserved for exceptional circumstances, as we emphasized when the decision was adopted. The COVID-19 pandemic was truly an exceptional circumstance.

We found that the General Debate, which allowed for the participation of the majority of heads of state and government, was innovative and ultimately successful.

It has been a challenging year, to say the least. The United States is grateful to the Secretary-General and the Secretariat, the PGA, and to all Member States for your shared commitment to the safety and well-being of our delegations.

In anticipation of this meeting, we had hoped – per our latest resolution – that the Secretary-General would have issued a report on the impact of COVID. We look forward to engaging the Secretary-General and the PGA more robustly on this and other revitalization issues in the future.

Today, we want to pose one question to USG Abelian: In light of your briefing to us today, what would you recommend we consider as criteria for determining when the GA should hold in person meetings or employ hybrid or virtual formats?

In conclusion, we want to note that we are collectively making steady and encouraging progress against this virus. Nevertheless, we will continue to remain vigilant and support innovations that keep us all safe.

Thank you.