6 September 2018

Last May, the United Nations General Assembly elected Miroslav Lajčák, the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, President of its 72nd annual session, and he formally took up the job on 12 September.

Last May, the United Nations General Assembly elected Miroslav Lajčák, the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, President of its 72nd annual session, and he formally took up the job on 12 September.

Mr. Lajčák’s tenure as President of the General Assembly comes to an end later this month.

In his acceptance speech last year, Mr. Lajčák identified six priorities for his presidency and said that he would be “focusing on the people.”

In his first interview with UN News, shortly after taking office last year, the veteran diplomat and politician expressed hope that by the time his tenure came to an end, he would be able to say that it had been a “good session”.

“Good, because we delivered concrete results for people – and that we were able to overcome our narrow national views and positions in the interest of compromise, which is good for all of us,” he added.

In this exit interview with the President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, UN News began by asking Mr. Lajčák if his answer then, reflects his thinking now.

 

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák speaks at an event on the role and importance of financing for sustainable development.

 

Miroslav Lajčák: There is no doubt that the General Assembly is the most representative international body. My ambition has always been to make it also the most relevant one. And when I look back at this 72nd session, I can say I am moderately satisfied.

We have accomplished many good things. But obviously, this is an unfinished job and a work in progress. It would not be realistic to expect that we can do everything in one session, but we can be satisfied with many things.

I believe that this 72nd session will be remembered by three issues.

First, the fact that we reached an agreement on the first ever document regulating migration – the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

Second, the emphasis we put on the prevention of conflicts and sustaining peace – and here, I am really proud of the high-level meeting that I organized in April that brought together many dignitaries. We really paid attention to the issue of the prevention of conflicts.

And third, the reforms, this session has been very much about reforms. On top of many ongoing reform processes that have been taking place in the General Assembly, we also successfully managed to adopt three reform proposals submitted by Secretary-General António Guterres, namely: the reform of the peace and security architecture; development system; and the management reform.

Migration is a reality... there is no single person who would deny that migration is not taking place. So, it is only logical that it is the UN and it is the General Assembly responsible to address this fact.

 

UN News: You mentioned the Global Compact on migration as a major achievement. Why was it needed?

Miroslav Lajčák: Migration is a reality. There is no single person who would deny that migration is not taking place, and yet, we did not have a single international framework or platform addressing this phenomenon. So, it is only logical that it is the UN and it is the General Assembly responsible to address this fact.

After almost two years of very intensive work, we came to a consensual agreement on the text of this document in July. It has yet to be formally adopted in December, but it is a huge achievement.

And I really believe that this is a good document – a realistic one – which is stating the truth that migration is here to stay. It is not saying that migration is good or bad. It is not encouraging nor trying to stop migration. The mission is to help the Member States’ Governments to have one set of principles and recommendations on how to deal with migration and to help us all to shift from reaction to action: from a reactive mode to a proactive one, and obviously, to try to channel migration into a status that is called safe, orderly and regular.

 

UN News: In your latest op-ed, you wrote about the need to engage young people. Have you been able to do anything to make the UN more interesting and attractive to youth?

Miroslav Lajčák: Absolutely. For me, the interaction with young people has been one of my priorities, and in all my travels, I try to meet with young leaders, young entrepreneurs, young activists. I held several lectures at universities. I organized regular monthly Twitter chats with young people.

And the highlight of my activities related to young people was the Youth Dialogue in May, where we invited a huge number of young people, and we wanted to do it differently from the standard UN events. We wanted to offer a platform for young people to tell us how they see the world, how they see our work, how they see the performance of the UN. And yes, we succeeded. Young people spoke openly, honestly about issues, particularly related to prospects for quality education, employment, and prevention from radicalization. I was very encouraged by the outcome, but also by the atmosphere of this meeting.

 

Office of the President of the General Assembly
Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd UN General Assembly, taking part in the Olympic torch relay in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea.

 

UN News: You also said that it was a great experience for you. Perhaps you could share some personal highlights?

Miroslav Lajčák: I am a professional diplomat and the position of the President of the UN General Assembly is a diplomatic Mount Everest. It is a unique experience. It gives an insight to the top politics and diplomacy.

For me, the things to remember were the general debate – the high-level week, which was remarkable. We had the highest ever number of speakers. For the first time after 11 years, every single Member State and Observer State took the floor – 196 speakers.

Also, my visit to the Winter Olympics was something I will remember. Not necessarily only due to sports, which is a great thing in itself, but also – or even more importantly – in the context of the inter-Korean dialogue, as I was engaged.

I met with representatives from both Koreas several times. At the beginning of my mandate in September and towards the end of 2017, the atmosphere was very difficult. But then, after the new year, it started improving. And when I saw the joint Korean team entering the stadium, and when I saw and heard the very positive enthusiastic reception by the crowd there, that was a very powerful moment.

Out of all these trips, I would mention one in particular, which was my visit to Colombia because I wanted to see the major peace deal in implementation, working.

And also, the trips – in all my travels, I met with the UN family in each of the countries I visited. That gave me a fantastic insight on how the Organization is working hand in hand with Governments to address the needs of Member States. That was something I am very, very grateful to have had – this opportunity.

Out of all these trips, I would mention one in particular, which was my visit to Colombia because I wanted to see the major peace deal in implementation, working. And I saw the system in place that is very much focused on delivering on what has been agreed. That was very impressive.

 

UN News: What were the major challenges in your work during this year?

Miroslav Lajčák: There are many. We live in a challenging world, and this 72nd session has been also influenced by the continuous lack of support for multilateralism, in general. The UN is needed more than ever before, and yet, there are Governments who don’t seem to understand that.

We have been struggling with many issues, but our goal and ambition was to make sure that the United Nations is successful, efficient, relevant.

For me, the challenge is first to focus or to prioritize quality over quantity. A lot is happening. There are so many events taking place. I really wanted to make sure that once we organize an event we dedicate enough time and attention to have a good discussion – engagement in a dialogue, listening to each other – and then there will be a concrete outcome as a result of this event. This is one of the big challenges.

The second challenge is to make sure that we understand that everything we do here in this building, and within the UN system, has its impact for the real life of concrete people. Adoption of a resolution is not the end of our work. The end of our work is the improvement of living conditions for the people. And people must see that what we do here matters to them, and it is meant to improve their life.

And the third challenge for me as the President – and, I believe, for every president – is the fact that we have 193 Member States and each of them should see me as their President. To maintain the trust and support of all the Member States is, of course, an ongoing challenge.

 

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Assembly President Lajčák congratulates María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, the President-elect of the 73rd session of the General Assembly, as Secretary-General António Guterres looks on.

 

UN News: Are there any specific initiatives that you would like your successor to continue working on?

Miroslav Lajčák: Yes, absolutely. The fact is that the role of the President of the General Assembly takes one year, but there has to be a continuity for the General Assembly itself. I have continued many activities that were started by my predecessors, and I am sure that my successor will continue with a number of things that I launched.

First, probably: focusing on people. This has been the theme of my presidency and now, having seen the proposed theme for the 73rd General Assembly, it focuses very much on people, and I believe it is very important.

I launched a new initiative, which is called “morning dialogues”, a platform for permanent representatives to meet and discuss – in an informal, personal, honest and open way – issues that are relevant, but not on the regular agenda. This was very positively supported and received by the Member States. There is even an initiative to formalize this process through a resolution on revitalization of the General Assembly to make sure that the morning dialogues will also continue after my departure. And my successor already expressed her commitment to this.

Another issue I am sure will continue being promoted will be the focus on gender balance and empowerment of women. This has been one of my priorities.

Another issue I am sure will continue being promoted will be the focus on gender balance and empowerment of women. This has been one of my priorities. More than 70 per cent of my office is made up of women. And I’ve appointed 38 facilitators and chairs of different processes, out of which 20 were men and 18 women. My successor, being only the fourth woman President of the General Assembly, there is no doubt will also pay attention to the gender balance, gender equality, and empowerment of women.

Another issue I believe will continue is a focus on inclusivity and accessibility. I really believe there is a room for improvement when it comes to making the work of the UN and our meetings more easily accessible for persons with disabilities. And we undertook several initiatives, and I am certain they will also continue during the seventy-third and subsequent sessions.

A final point I may mention here is the strong emphasis on the highest ethical standards and transparency. This is something that I inherited from my predecessors: making sure that all aspects of the work of the President of the General Assembly and the office meet the highest standards of transparency and ethics. I am sure that this will continue also for the next session and the sessions after that.

 

UN Photo/Manuel Elias
Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák speaks to the press at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

 

UN News: What’s next for you?

Miroslav Lajčák: Well, I go back to my country, Slovakia. I go back to my job as a Minister of Foreign and European Affairs. My calendar for October is already pretty full, and other month. And my Ministry is waiting for me, my Government is waiting for me. Slovakia will also take over the position of the Chairman-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 1 January 2019, and it is the Foreign Minister who is the Chairman-in-Office. My agenda will be pretty full, and I am looking forward to it.

 

UN News: Will we see you at the next session of the General Assembly?

Miroslav Lajčák: Yes, absolutely. I will end my role as the President of the General Assembly on 17 September, and I will be back here for the General Assembly in my national capacity as the Foreign Minister of Slovakia.

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