Remarks at the General Debate of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly

Trina Saha
Deputy Counselor for Political Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 11, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. We are pleased to extend our thanks to Ambassador Mlynar for his renewed service as co-chair. We welcome Ambassador Lopez as our incoming co-chair, and we thank Ambassador Pobee for her leadership during the 75th session.

The United States welcomes this opportunity to reflect on progress over the last several sessions of this working group and exchange views on further improvements to the work of the General Assembly, with the aim of enhancing its effectiveness and efficiency. In this spirit, we are pleased to commend a number of innovations.

First, the United States welcomes the reduction of duplicative resolutions and agenda items across six UNGA committees. Moving away from annual reporting and negotiation can often streamline our processes with little cost to outcomes. We have seen this with our biennial resolutions across several committees, including the Third Committee resolution on elections and democratization. We also continue to support moving to a biannual UNGA revitalization resolution process.

Second, we continue to encourage the adoption of a code of conduct for elections in the General Assembly. We believe such a move would improve transparency and accountability for member states’ election campaigns.

Third, the United States remains strongly supportive of meaningful and open civil society participation at high-level conferences and meetings. These voices offer vital perspectives on issues the General Assembly considers, and we must not miss this opportunity to link our work in this body to real-world outcomes and impacts. The UN Secretariat’s various new virtual platforms should be made accessible to civil society for its participation in our meetings, just as it is for Member States and other participants.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a significant global health challenge that has spared no country. It has upended so many of our assumptions and practices, and it continues to significantly impact the content and form of our delegations’ work. Over the past year, we have seen examples of innovation and creativity as the UN system adapt to new constraints.

For example, we are pleased that many UNGA committees, plenary resolutions, GA side events, as well as this revitalization process, have adopted hybrid in-person and virtual gathering options. In addition to the clear public health benefits of this approach, it has also improved efficiency. We hope that delegations see value in continuing some of these innovations even after the public health necessity of these practices has passed.

Despite successes in promoting innovations in the meeting procedures, it is essential that the safety of delegates and UN Secretariat staff remain the paramount priority, while striving for the continuity of the General Assembly’s functions. For each meeting of the General Assembly and the committees, we need to carefully assess when in person meetings are absolutely necessary and should utilize virtual meetings whenever possible. We must always be mindful that for each in person meeting, many UN Secretariat staff are required to travel to the United Nations to service that meeting. The more we minimize in-person meetings, the more we lower the risk of exposure to both UN Secretariat staff and to delegates. This is true for all meetings of the General Assembly, all Committees and all other subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly.

In particular, our delegation would welcome informal meetings on virtual platforms. Given the requirements of social distancing and the need to separate into different conference rooms for most of the committee work, we thought that in some cases, our virtual platform negotiations turned out to be more productive than the in-person gatherings. In the post-COVID framework, however, virtual negotiations may not be an effective, efficient, and collaborative substitute for in-person negotiations.

We think that the silence procedure process during the 74th Session worked well. We were also pleased to support the decision taken during the 75th session to provide for electronic voting. However, we must emphasize, as we did when that decision was adopted, and as the decision itself notes, that electronic voting should be reserved for exceptional circumstances and should only be used to provide for the essential functions of the UN. It should not be “business as usual” during a pandemic.

We thought that the General Debate was quite successful and allowed for the participation of most heads of state and government in new and innovative ways.

We look forward to continuing this discussion, and we thank the co-chairs for gathering us today.