United Nations General Assembly in NYC: What to know about this year’s session

Every September, the United Nations General Assembly brings leaders from around the world to Manhattan to discuss key issues on a global scale.

The General Assembly, one of the six main branches of the UN, kicked off last week and runs through Sept. 30. But the part of the General Assembly that most New Yorkers are familiar with — the General Debate, when many world leaders come to town — began Tuesday.

This year marks the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who was elected president of the 74th session, said he looked forward to using the General Assembly’s “advocacy tools to promote a multilateral approach to finding workable solutions to issues confronting us.”

Scroll down to learn more about the UN General Assembly and this year’s General Debate.

A brief summary of the UN General Assembly

The General Assembly was created under the United Nations charter in 1945. The assembly’s 193 members, each representing one country, are considered the chief deliberators and policymakers for the United Nations. It is the only UN body that has equal representation from every member nation and often has a hand in the codification of international laws.

Where and when does the General Assembly take place?

The General Assembly will convene at UN headquarters, 405 E. 42nd St. in Manhattan, every weekday through Sept. 30.

The General Debate runs through Sept. 30. Per rules, it should last nine days, but the debate’s goals can typically be accomplished in a shorter amount of time. There are two sessions per day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 9 p.m., though end times are flexible depending on how closely speakers stick to their time allotment.  

What will be discussed at this year’s General Debate?

Among other events, there was a Climate Summit and a high-level meeting to discuss Universal Health Coverage held on Monday; a high-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development convened on Tuesday; and a high-level meeting on the elimination of nuclear weapons will take place on Thursday.

What is President Donald Trump doing at the General Debate?

Trump delivered a stinging rebuke to China’s trade practices during his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday. The president said Beijing had failed to keep promises that it made when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and was engaging in predatory practices that had cost millions of jobs in the U.S. and other countries.

“Not only has China declined to adopt promised reforms, it has embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping forced technology transfers and the theft of intellectual property and also trade secrets on a grand scale,” Trump said. “As far as America is concerned, those days are over.”

The president is also expected to attend several high-level meetings throughout the remainder of the week.

General Debate speakers

There are dozens of speakers from member nations scheduled on each day of the General Debate. Each speaker is generally given about 15 minutes to deliver their statement.

Brazil has been the first member nation to speak at the General Debate since 1955, a tradition mainly because it had historically always offered to speak first while other member nations were reluctant to start the dialogue. The United States is always second since it is the host country, and the speaking order from the third slot forward is decided based on myriad criteria, including preference, level of representation and geographic balance.

NYC traffic due to the General Assembly

Aside from the politics, the General Assembly has gained a reputation in the city for the traffic it causes. With so many notable world leaders in the same place at the same time, security on the East Side of Manhattan near the UN building is beefed up and the NYPD regularly closes streets for short periods of time throughout the day while presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries are ferried back and forth between where they’re staying and UN headquarters. For a list of street closures broken down by each day of the workweek, click here.

With Reuters