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Jeremić in the Final UNA-UK debate with UN Secretary-General Candidates

Following the candidates’ debate in the UN General Assembly, CIRSD President Vuk Jeremić participated in yet another public debate of candidates for the post of the ninth UN Secretary-General at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Graduate Center.

Organized by the United Nations Association – United Kingdom (UNA-UK) in partnership with CUNY Graduate Center and Global Citizen, the July 13th event featured Serbia’s candidate Vuk Jeremić, as well as Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres. The debate was held before an audience composed of civil society, academics, the media, and the wider public.

The event started with welcoming remarks by president of CUNY Graduate Center Chase F. Robinson and UNA-UK Executive Director Natalie Samarasinghe, moving on to the panel discussion moderated by Co-Director of the Future UN Development System Project Thomas G. Weiss and UN correspondent for The Nation Barbara Croisette. The topics of discussion included climate change, human rights, forced migration, peacekeeping and conflict resolution, and UN reform.

Drawing on his experience as a former President of the UN General Assembly, Jeremić said that there has been substantial progress in global climate action since the time of his presidency, and that this is reflected in better coordinated action on both global and national levels. He noted, however, that it will be a “critical task for the next Secretary-General to follow up” with substantial efforts after the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

On the issue of human rights and their worldwide advancement, Jeremić said that they are “critically under-resourced in the current UN structure,” which demands urgent attention. Moving on to the question of “how will he uphold the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” —the obligation of all Member States to prevent mass atrocity crimes and for the UN to intervene in accordance with obligations under the UN Charter—Jeremić pointed to one of his concrete policy proposals embodied in commitment 27 of his platform. He reiterated his intention to create an interagency task force on the prevention of genocide and other mass atrocities, a body that would be chaired monthly by the Secretary-General, and tasked to work in coordination with the UN Security Council.

The candidates at the UNA-UK debate also had the opportunity to reflect on the ways they would reform peacekeeping operations. Serbia’s candidate declared that “we find ourselves in the most dire security situation since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” adding that the UN peace and security system needs a “radical overhaul.” Jeremić identified peacekeeping as one of the areas where the UN is increasingly seen as “not fit for purpose,” and strongly advocated for change that would usher in a “new generation of peacekeeping missions.”

Responding to a question on whether the candidates can give assurances of their impartiality, Jeremić said that his only commitments remain the 53 concrete policy proposals in his platform. He emphasized independence as an important quality for the future Secretary-General, and stressed how critical it has been to have this year’s UN election be so transparent. At the panel’s conclusion, Jeremić stated that “the best of the UN is unfortunately not enough” for the world we live in today, thus once again expressing his belief that the organization needs to change fast.

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