H.E. Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly meets with the UN-DPI NGOs
I think we all need to read the Charter again, because we tend to forget why we are here.”
“You and your work are more needed than ever.  Because it is not a secret that we all need to join forces to make sure that multilateralism is taken seriously.”
— H.E. Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés
[Lightmillennium.Org] On December 5th 2018 H.E. Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, conducted a one-on-one meeting with the NGOs of the UN DPI, where she elaborated on the 73rd General Assembly theme: “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies.”

Summary by Julie MARDIN, 2019 Prospect
NGO Rep. to the United Nations Department of Public Information
The Light Millennium

As Mr. Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division, United Nations  Department of Public Information, pointed out in his introduction, H.E. Ms. Espinosa Garcés is the 4th woman and the 1st woman from Latin America to head the General Assembly.  And H.E. Ms. Espinosa Garcés is on a quest to make the closest thing we have to a world Parliament a more relevant, transparent, and properly valued institution.  To do this she states that the UN needs to be more efficient, more transparent, to listen more to the people we represent, and to do serious work identifying what are the most pressing issues.  By engaging with regional and political groups, they identified a list of seven focus areas of the most pressing concern.

1) Revitalization of the United Nations. This, H.E. Garcés said, was not the sexiest topic, but the goal was to make sure that the organization is fit for its purpose, with feet on the ground, that even those functioning in the bureaucracy are still connected to the people in need out there who will be affected by their decisions. This restructuring of the UN revolves around 3 pillars:

a—support of the Secretary-General

b—revitalization of the process of the General Assembly—she spoke particularly passionately about the need for this parliament of humanity to regain its authority.  It passes 600 resolutions every year, but does not have the power of follow up.  There needs to be a strong scaffold, and she called on the help from the NGOs in the room.

c—reform of the Security Council- one of the most complex, divisive issues, and yet which the member states are mandated to proceed with.

The other areas of focus include:

2. Gender equality– focusing on the political empowerment of women and the political participation of women in decision making.  With this in mind there will be an event on March 12, 2019, entitled Women in Power, which will include heads of state and other high level participants.

3. Rights of persons with disabilities – to universalize the CRPD, and make the UN quarters more accessible to persons with disabilities.

4. Climate Action – another high level event will take place on March 28 Climate and Future Generations.  Also to be included is the Global campaign against single use plastics and plastic pollution.

5. Youth, peace and security, will support the preventive diplomacy approach and the role of young people in making peaceful societies.

6. Decent Work—this year being the Centenary of the ILO – a very important ILO report is anticipated on the future of work. And with the High Level Political Forum and ECOSOC’s investigations on SDG 8, to do with decent work and economic growth, there will be a lot of momentum for collaboration to build on these issues.

7. Migration and refugees.  They are aiming for a global compact to come out of the upcoming conference in Marakesh on the 10th and 11th of December.

Interactive Session with the UNDPINGO Representatives:
“You and your work are more needed than ever.  Because it is not a secret that we all need to join forces to make sure that multilateralism is taken seriously.”

The first question from the audience was on how to deal with powerful member nations who are against all the goals of the United Nations, a veiled reference to a superpower presence, which led to a discussion on the nature of power, and how it really is a collective project.  Another elephant in the room was the question of reform at the Security Council, and how might NGOs be able to help, which is perhaps unanswerable at the moment, as it is still such a topic of disagreement amongst the nation states.  Ms. Espinosa Garces skillfully addressed and navigated all the many difficult problems raised, the processes on how to deal with  violence in Venezuela and Nicaragua, how to end homelessness, and to allow the voices of the impoverished into the UN, as well as to how the DPI and ECOSOC affiliated NGOs could receive their seat at the General Assembly.  This last issue was brought up by Ms. Bircan Unver of the Light Millennium who put the simple question

“How can the UN be relevant if we are left out of all or most parts of the UN General Assembly’s sessions?”

With H.E. Ms. Espinosa Garcés’s interest in boosting the relevance of the UN and the General Assembly, which she sees as the most democratic body that exists in the world today, this topic has become all the more timely.  Ms. Espinosa Garces stated that there were several ideas on the table on how this participation could be formalized, there was the existing ECOSOC accreditation process and mechanisms, and the NGO committee at the UN.  It would all have to go through the nation states, but that of course, the NGOs would have an ally in her.

“You are the voice of consciousness of your countries.”

H.E. Ms. Espinosa Garcés hoped that there would be many more meetings like this, as she felt herself at home amongst the NGO members, having launched her long and diverse career from the non-profit world.  Her first job at the age of seventeen was at the National Institute of Heritage in her native Ecuador, and then at a small NGO the Fundacion Natura, leading into a lengthy civil service that included multiple positions in government, as Minister of Foreign Affairs (twice), minister of National Defense, and Coordinating Minister of Natural and Cultural Heritage, Foreign Trade, and the Environment.  In 2014 she was named Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva, in which capacity she defended the case of Julian Assange in a discussion on arbitrary detention.  The General Assembly will have a chance for dynamic reform with this accomplished, multi-faceted and gracious lady at its helm.

Video – the full session is available throug the following link:
One-on-One with the PGA”
5 Dec 2018 –  The 73rd President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés participated in a One-on-Once session with the NGO Community.

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More photos from the session by The Light Millennium (@lightmillennium #lightmillennium):