It is that time of year again: The United Nations General Assembly’s annual meeting with world leaders returns in a hybrid format after being virtual last year. Which heads of state and government are coming? What should you watch for? We’ve got your guide to the 76th UNGA session. We speak with Nigerian Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who was the 74th president of the General Assembly, about what to expect. Muhammad-Bande led the Assembly throughout the first year of the pandemic, and it was no easy task to move its meetings online, when the UN was hardly prepared for such an undertaking and New York City was the epicenter of the virus for several months.
We also spoke with Estonia’s Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets. Estonia is planning to send a delegation to New York City, ready to adapt to local Covid-19 restrictions.
Our latest podcast episode provides the lowdown on UNGA, as it’s called. Given that information has been trickling out as to who is planning to fly to New York City for the big gathering, which begins Sept. 21 and lasts through Sept. 27, everything is subject to change at the last minute in the pandemic. To catch up with UNGA, we also have been updating our article on it. Accompanying our story is our UN-Scripted podcast episode, available on SoundCloud and Patreon, produced by Stéphanie Fillion and Kacie Candela, with research provided by Anna Bianca Roach.
For now, at least 100 heads of state and government and dozens of foreign ministers should be showing up physically to deliver their speeches at the UN. That includes President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, who, according to The Guardian, said he has not been vaccinated but argues he doesn’t need to because he tested positive for the virus last year, so his antibody level is high enough. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the UN, told the media on Sept. 17 that anyone entering the US must show proof of a negative Covid test. New York City is parking a medical van in front of the UN during UNGA, dispensing free Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccinations and Covid testing to anyone who asks, though people must show an ID.
[Editor’s note: After publication of the UN-Scripted podcast episode, the president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, sent a letter to UN member states that the initial honor system for vaccination and Covid-19 testing remains in place for delegations attending the 76th session, and that UN authorities will not be verifying vaccination status upon entering the UN headquarters.]
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.