Seventy-fifth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Joint General Debate
United Nations, New York, October 16, 2020
At the outset, allow me, on behalf of the Holy See, to congratulate you as Chair of this Committee, andto wish you, along with the bureau and all who have thus far facilitated our important work, every success and to assure you of our collaboration.
[Agenda item 51 – International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space]
The Holy See recognizes the great advances with regard to peaceful uses of outer space. At the same time, a number of challenges are evident. The space environment is becoming increasingly full of orbiting satellites. Some States and financial interests are expressing the hope to establish operations on asteroids and the Moon, in order to extract materials from those bodies. Despite the unending outward dimension of the space environment, the region just above us is actually becoming relatively crowded and subject to increasing commercial activities.
Satellites have become integrally linked to life here on earth, assisting navigation, supporting global communications, helping forecast theweather, includingthe tracking of hurricanes and typhoons, and monitoring the global environment.
Due to this massive increase in use and dependence, the United Nations, particularly through its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, ought to ensure that the international community proceeds in a way that guarantees that a globally-agreed framework is adopted to address possibly conflicting uses. Failure to do so will lead to clashes that none of us seeks. So many satellites are being launched to provide Internet access today, for example, that astronomers are finding that these risk obscuring the study of stars.
We have also had several instances of space objects colliding with each other, with the generation of “space debris” that endangers other satellites. It is in the clear interest of all States, and in particular those that have placed objects in to space, to establish arrangements, the so-called “rules of the road,” to eliminate the risks of satellite collisions. The loss of satellites that provide global positioning services, for example, would have a dramatically negative impact on human life. Preventing the generation of space debris does not concern only the peaceful uses of outer space. It also must encompass the equally problematic space debris left by military activities.
Member States should proceed to work out arrangements that preserve the unitary and universal character of outer space, increasing their common interests in it for the benefit of every person regardless of earthly nationality. One possibility would be that satellites be launched by international organizations or consortia, rather than by single States or companies, and that activities that exploit resources in space be carried out by such groups.
Resolution A/RES/74/82, on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, adopted by the General Assembly on December 13, 2019, provides an important overview of how this exploration and use are being pursued. Two points from this resolution are of particular importance. The first is the relevance of peaceful uses of outer space in furthering the objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The second concerns the United Nations Platform for Space-Based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), the precedent of which could be easily applied to monitoring for purposes of international security.
[Agenda item 52 – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA]
Turning now to address Agenda item 52, the life of refugees has been made much more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowded living conditions, restricted income, chronic disease and constrained mobility increase the vulnerability and diminish the resilience of refugees in responding to the novel coronavirus.
In Lebanon, the destruction of the port and three hospitals as the result of the August explosion threatens to impede the delivery of aid and strain the provision of medical care to refugees as they compete with displaced citizens for emergency assistance. Meanwhile, in Syria, reports estimate that the war has displaced two-thirds of the Palestine refugee population at least once since 2011, worsening the refugees’ already hazardous life conditions.
Despite serious funding issues, UNRWA has continued to do a commendable job in assisting Palestine refugees across the region with sanitizing items, healthcare, education, family support and other social services. It has also rehabilitated dilapidated housing and healthcare facilities to handle the COVID-19 demand, and outfitted schools and their pupils with electronic devices through its Technical Vocational Training Program to continue their schooling at home.
Last June, the Holy See was present at the Ministerial Pledging Conference, thereby showing its commitment to a strong UNRWA in a challenging world and raising its voice, in particular, on behalf of those innocent children, “weary, worn out by conflicts” who have inherited from past generations such a complex situation. My Delegation’s hope is that financial contributions will match commitments made and that those who have stopped contributing to the vital work of UNRWA reconsider that choice, particularly in the light of the current situation. If the pandemic teaches us anything, it is that we are all interdependent. Pope Francis recently reminded us, “Solidarity today is the road to take towards a post-pandemic world, towards the healing of our interpersonal and social ills. There is no other way. Either we go forward on the path of solidarity, or things will worsen.”
The worldwide refugee crisis is enormous and growing. The COVID-19 pandemic adds urgency to the proposals of the Global Compact on Refugees adopted two years ago. Palestine refugees are a longstanding refugee population. Only a directly negotiated peace between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples will bring an end to their plight.
The Holy See urges Member States to consider how they might assist in finding and implementing a just outcome to the suffering of Palestine refugees across the Middle East region.
[Agenda item 54 – Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects]
The critical challenges facing peacekeeping are magnified by the plague of the pandemic. No country is immune from this crisis. Persons living in unstable political environments or in post-conflict situations, however, are especially vulnerable. COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted the nature of the work of UN Peacekeeping operations and this is a cause of deep concern for us all. The pandemic has affected contact with the local populations who have, in some cases, equated peacekeepers with a so-called “foreign” virus, thereby making ordinary interactions even more difficult. Thankfully, safety and preventative measures are being put in place in missions to allow for screening and treatment of staff. The slowed deployment and rotation of contingents, due to border closures and travel restrictions, has disrupted supply chains and other aspects of the mission and mandate of their lifesaving operations. That is why “UN peacekeepers currently deployed deserve our gratitude and support.”
In this regard, given the added pressures, the increase of security threats and targeted attacks against peacekeepers in several theaters of operations is deeply troubling. Peacekeeping missions, by their very nature, are situated in deteriorating and complex political and security environments. The Holy See condemns in the strongest terms all acts of violence against United Nations peacekeeping personnel and notes that such attacks might also constitute war crimes. Security Council Resolution 2518 (2020) prioritizes the safety and security of peacekeepers in the field and calls on all parties to work together to ensure that missions are adequately equipped to implement their mandate effectively and safely. For UN peacekeeping to succeed, the international community must make long-term financial investment rather than focus on short-term cuts.
Twenty years ago the Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) addressing the situation of Women in Conflict. Nevertheless, despite efforts and growing awareness, war and violence continue to impact women disproportionately. States must rededicate themselves to protecting women and children from sexual violence during armed conflict. The Holy See would like to reiterate that“The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is unacceptable and must be stopped. In the face of such heinous crimes, we must never overlook the plight of those children conceived as a result of sexual violence in war. Both Mothers and Children are innocent victims and no effort must be spared to ensure their full integration into society.” Moreover, it encouragesall efforts made by the United Nations to improve conduct and professionalism in the field and to eradicate all cases of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by those who serve under the blue flag. Exemplifying a commitment to ending sexual violence means that UN personnel must commit to fair and unbiased prosecution of their own field workers found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The WPS agenda, of course, goes beyond the negative aspects I have just mentioned. Women need to be included in all aspects of the peace process, in particular, preventativediplomacy, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, humanitarian and other post-conflict processes. Evidence has shown that women in peacekeeping means more effective and sustainable solutions and a better chance at lasting peace.
Allow me, in conclusion, to cite the words of Pope Francis at the General Debate as we approach the important work of this Special Political and Decolonization Committee, with its broad agenda stretching as it does from Outer Space to some of the most vulnerable and sadly divided places on the planet. “It is our duty,” he said, “to rethink the future of our common home and our common project. A complex task lies before us, one that requires a frank and coherent dialogue aimed at strengthening multilateralism and cooperation between States. Let us make good use of this institution in order to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together.”
Thank you for your kind attention.
See UNWRA, COVID-19 Response Summary, March-June, 2020.
Pope Francis, General Audience, September 2, 2020
Pope Francis, Invocation for Peace, June 8, 2014
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, op-ed originally published in French,Le Monde, 2 April 2020.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Statement at the Seventy-fourth Meeting of the General Assembly, United Nations, New York, 28 September 2019.
Pope Francis, Address to the Seventy-fifth Meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 25 September 2020.