The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
As part of a four-country, seven-day official visit through South America, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made his first stop in Colombia over the weekend. He joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to visit sites in the north of the country, near the Caribbean Sea, that have been subject to floods and mudslides. Altogether these natural disasters have killed 469 people since last year.
Ban ended his visit yesterday in the town of Soacha by visiting populations displaced by ongoing internal violence. He praised Colombia’s recently-ratified Victims’ Law, which awards territory and compensation to over four million internally-displaced Colombians. The secretary-general visited a school in the large settlement for uprooted civilians of Altos de la Florida, which was constructed with UN funds. Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister, recalled his own personal childhood—having been displaced as a result of the Korean War that bifurcated the Korean Peninsula.
Ban’s tour comes one week after he announced his intention to seek a second term as secretary-general. Colombia occupies one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and Ban received Santos’ endorsement over the weekend.
The secretary-general continues to Argentina today, where he will be received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, wrapping up his Latin American tour on Friday, June 17.
Marcos Díaz, a 35-year-old ultra distance swimmer from the Dominican Republic, completed an aquatic tour across five continents when he arrived in New York City on Wednesday. The Santo Domingo native partnered with the United Nations on the “Swim across the Continents” tour to raise awareness for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Díaz, nicknamed the “Dominican Dolphin,” began his journey on May 15 when he swam the 12 miles (19.5 km) from Papau New Guinea to Indonesia, crossing Oceania and Asia in four hours and 18 minutes. Over the next four months, he traveled from Jordan to Egypt; from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; and from Russia to Alaska.
Díaz completed the final leg of his trip in New York City yesterday, when he swam from the Statue of Liberty to Gantry Plaza State Park across from UN headquarters. There he presented UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a petition signed by 200,000 people across the world, urging leaders to maintain their commitment to the MDGs. The end of the tour coincides with a UN summit commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the MDGs by every UN member country.
The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, include freedom from extreme poverty and hunger, quality education, decent employment, adequate health and shelter, the right of women to give birth without risking their lives, environmental sustainability, and gender equality.