Joint General Debate of the Fourth Committee
of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly
on Agenda Items 52, 53, 54 and 46
New York, October 25, 2021
The Holy See wishes to thank you for your leadership of this Committee and to assure you and the bureau of our engagement. Pope Francis recently wrote: “At a time when everything seems to disintegrate and lose consistency, it is good for us to appeal to the ‘solidity’ born of the consciousness that we are responsible for the fragility of others as we strive to build a common future.” The multilateral work carried out in this Fourth Committee is an expression of that much-needed solidarity.
Agenda item 52 - Effects of atomic radiation
The medical uses of ionizing radiation, as well as of X-radiation are both well known, and critical to maintaining human health. The work of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) ensures that these uses can be carried out in optimal ways. UNSCEAR also assesses the less benign impacts of nuclear accidents, notably those which occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima, and its reports on these serious events, which had a disastrous impact on large areas, and the fallout from which affect the health of persons in the vicinity, are essential in considering how best to deal with nuclear electric power. This is especially true in view of climate change and how best to move beyond energy sources that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Clearly, the risks of nuclear accidents, not to mention the risks of nuclear proliferation and the need for storage of nuclear waste for centuries, must be taken into account.
Of special note is the Committee’s work on “biological mechanisms by which radiation influences the development of disease, in particular at low incremental doses, and low dose rates,” to evaluate the dose-response relationships for health effects at low levels.
Agenda item 53 - International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space
As our common home revolves, we are able to look up at outer space, truly a “global common” and the collective heritage of all mankind. If we fail to approach this without due openness to awe and wonder, we run the risk of seeing ourselves as masters, consumers, and ultimately exploiters, unable to set limits on our immediate needs. Outer space has become home to an increasing number of satellites supporting and affecting our daily lives in areas such as communications, directions for travel, both locally and internationally, the operations of aircraft and other means of transportation, as well as timely information on the weather and the paths of hurricanes, so that preventive actions can be initiated. Satellites also provide an ideal way to monitor the Earth’s environment, which has become more important because of threats to our common home due to rising temperatures. Accordingly, we should ensure that the satellites, on which we have become so dependent, are not put at risk from the presence of debris left in orbit from spent launching stages, from satellites that have reached the end of their productive lives, or resulting from direct collisions of space objects. Albeit of seemingly insignificant size, the debris is enough to cause damage and the international community is best served by efforts to minimize such risks. Ongoing use of outer space should be carried out by means that do not result in orbital debris. Moreover, operations to remove the already vast amount of existing debris need to be pursued.
Agenda item 54 - United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
To view the situation of Palestine refugees merely as an agenda item would be a significant failure on the part of the international community towards the girls and boys, women and men with their aspirations for a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian Question.
When violence erupted once more earlier this year, Pope Francis lamented the tragic loss of life, including the lives of children. This is “terrible and unacceptable,” he said. “Their death is a sign that [some people] do not want to build the future but rather to destroy it.” Until the longed-for negotiated political solution is reached, the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East remains a lifeline. In particular its mission to build a better future for children so that they can attend school, receive medical care, and have access to regular and nourishing meals is essential to enable them to realize their potential and contribute to the good of society, which can have a positive impact towards greater regional stability. The sad alternative is to condemn them to a life of poverty and want, and, with fewer prospects and openings, there looms the danger of violent extremism. The vital work of UNRWA is carried out in a regional context that is highly unstable. As High-Commissioner Philippe Lazzarini reminded this Committee earlier this month, “four out of the five areas where UNRWA operates are simultaneously in crisis: Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Lebanon and Syria.”
The violent clashes of May this year have also taken their toll on infrastructure, to say nothing of rising rates of unemployment and with a massive 70 percent of the population in Gaza receiving food assistance. Moreover, the socio-economic crisis experienced in Lebanon, where more than half of the population has fallen below the poverty line, including the Palestine refugees who remain there, has also had a negative impact. The lifeline that UNRWA represents, including through providing employment to many Palestine refugees, constantly requires reliable, predictable, and sustainable funds. While its budget is overstretched, humanitarian needs are on the rise, which only increases the fear of the those who depend on it.
While urging the international community to be generous by making commitments to support financially UNRWA, as well as to ensure that contributions are disbursed in a timely manner, the Holy See appeals to relevant actors not to lose sight of the political track and the need to resume negotiations so that “Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, [and may] be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step after step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers and sisters”.
Agenda item 56 - Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects
The peacekeeping missions of the UN are a visible expression of the solidarity of Member States working in synergy, by means of military and civilian personnel and financial support to restore peace and pave the way for stable and secure societies.
Human rights protection — including protection of civilians, prevention of sexual violence and strict compliance with International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law — is now explicitly included in peacekeeping mandates and comprise one of the core objectives of peacekeeping missions.
Drawdowns and transitions of peacekeeping missions, however, are sometimes the result of political or budgetary factors rather than successful completion of the Mission mandate. Transitions may occur in contexts where there is danger of physical violence to civilians and where the gains achieved by missions with their national partners are threatened. During transition, conflict-affected populations might be exposed to new or persistent risks of harm; therefore, continued oversight of protection of civilians during the transition or drawdown process is essential. Greater and more respectful engagement and collaboration with local and national authorities as well as with civil society groups, including religious actors and faith-based organizations, must be part of the planning and implementation process. Such groups must all be involved to carry peace forward and given the wherewithal to help rebuild for the future. At drawdown, national authorities may require assistance to establish stronger security and protections systems.
Peacekeeping operations must also address environmental challenges associated with their operations. In such fragile contexts, the need to care for the environment must be emphasized, especially given the fact the negative effects of climate change contribute to conflicts by exacerbating poverty and inequality and by undermining regional stability.
Slow on-set climate related impact such as reduced rainfall and droughts as well as rapid hazards such as flooding can hamper efforts to increase food and resource security as part of the peacebuilding process. Failure to address the negative effects of climate change can also lead to population displacement and migration and must be taken into account in planning from the start to the completion of a mission.
In conclusion, Madam Chair, as we pay our respects to those peacekeepers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace, we offer a word of gratitude and encouragement to those currently deployed under the blue flag across the globe, in high-risk and increasingly unpredictable environments. Those whom the UN Peacekeeping Missions are sent to serve and protect are not statistics but rather neighbors and companions. The peacekeepers’ work is an expression of this Organization’s solidarity, of its firm and persevering commitment to the common good, and of its responsibility for the good of all.
Thank you for your kind attention.
 Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, 115.
 United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation Sixty-seventh and sixty-eighth sessions (2–6 November 2020 and 21–25 June 2021), A/76/46, 11.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 11.
 Pope Francis, Appeal after the recitation of the Regina Cæli prayer, Sunday, 16 May 2021.
6. Cf. S/RES/2594 (2021), OP 5.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2021, 6.