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From Tiny Barbados, a Scolding to the World: ‘We Have Not Moved the Needle!’


Mia Amor Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, at the General Assembly Hall rostrum, Sept. 24, 2021, scolding the world for “not moving the needle” on such serious problems as the pandemic and the burning planet. CIA PAK/UN PHOTO

The fourth day of the United Nations General Assembly debate soldiered on, with pointed speeches by, among others, the Caribbean island nation of Barbados, whose prime minister, Mia Amor Mottley, asked the General Assembly Hall, “How many crises and natural disasters need to hit before we see that old conventions of aid mean that assistance does not reach the newly vulnerable?” Mottley was among numerous women leaders who spoke on Sept. 24 after four women gave speeches over the previous three-day stretch.



President Ilham Aliyev began his speech, on Sept. 23, by detailing his government’s efforts to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic. He also noted Azerbaijan’s role as chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. The group “unanimously decided to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship” until 2023, he said. 

Climate change

Aliyev announced his country’s plan to use the territories gained during last year’s war with Armenia as a “green energy zone.” Projects include three wind and solar power plants with a total capacity of more than 700 megawatts. This is part of the country’s shift toward exporting nonoil energy, a sector that has grown 18 percent so far in 2021, he said. (Azerbaijan is a large producer of oil.)

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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

He spent most of his speech discussing the 44-day war in the Caucasus with Armenia, which was triggered only days after Aliyev delivered his virtual speech at the UN General Assembly last September. “Today, a year later, I proudly say Armenia was defeated on the battlefield and Azerbaijan put an end to the occupation,” he said, referring to the sudden escalation in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. He added that “Azerbaijan never reciprocated Armenia’s vicious war crimes by targeting civilians” and that Azerbaijan has “started taking legal actions” against companies conducting “illegal activities” in the territory before the 2020 war.

Azerbaijan is concentrating its current efforts on removing land mines from the areas affected by the conflict, allocating $1.3 billion, Aliyev said, to build “smart” towns and cities in Nagorno-Karabakh. The country aims to begin demarcating what it calls the new borders in the region and creating a corridor to connect Azerbaijan with Turkey and the autonomous republic of Nakhijevan. 


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan opened his speech by acknowledging the role played by Russia in ending the military hostilities with Azerbaijan last fall. Pashinyan spoke to the importance of “opening an era of peaceful development” for the region “through dialogue.” The flash war killed “several thousands of people,” he said, and displaced “tens of thousands of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

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The 44-day war

“I must state with regret that it is difficult to imagine a border delimitation process on the backdrop of almost daily shootings and various provocations on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border,” Pashinyan said in his videospeech. He added that Azerbaijani armed forces have “infiltrated the sovereign territory” of Armenia in the region of Sotk-Khoznavar. (One fact that Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed on: the length of last year’s war.) 

To begin the process of border demarcation, Pashinyan proposed that “the armed forces of both Armenia and Azerbaijan should withdraw simultaneously to the Soviet times border,” with the help of international observers.


Mia Amor Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, focused on her frustrations with inaction by the rest of the world’s nations. “If I used the speech prepared for me to deliver today, it will be a repetition,” she said. “A repetition of what you have heard from others, and also from me. I cannot deliver that speech. I will not repeat my statements of previous years. Why? Because we have not moved on. We have not moved the needle!”

“We are waiting, waiting for global moral strategic leadership,” she continued, in person, to the General Assembly, listing the global ills, from the pandemic and climate change to fake news and vaccine inequities. “How many more crises need to hit before we see that the international system divides, not lifts?”


“How many variants of Covid-19 must arrive before a worldwide vaccination plan is implemented?” Mottley asked. “How many more surges must there be before we genuinely believe that none are safe until all are safe?”

Climate change

Mottley highlighted the inequality of the climate crisis and the resources available to resolve it. “$100 billion is not enough,” she said, referring to developing countries’ pledges to annually provide money to poorer countries to help them manage the effects of global warming. “If we do not control this fire, it will burn us all down.”


Mottley also discussed the role of the tech industry in global inequality. “We have come together to defend the right of states to tax across the digital space,” she said, contrasting that with the lack of action to protect consumers from fake news. “How much wealthier must tech firms get before we worry about how so few have access to data and knowledge?”

Russia tweeted a picture of this meeting of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center, with his Japanese counterpart and delegates, during the UN General Assembly week. Lavrov is to speak on Sept. 25 for his country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a media briefing on Sept. 23, providing an overview of the US participation in the General Assembly session. Besides Afghanistan, Covid-19 vaccines, climate change and mending the rift with France, Blinken said: “Over the course of the week, we’ve of course had the opportunity to engage on many other critically important issues:  Libya, Burma, the Iran nuclear program, DPRK, Syria, Ethiopia, regional migration. The list goes on.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, told the media on Sept. 24 in New York City his current areas of focus: stronger coordination and communication between the EU and the US, especially after the news of the secretive US-Australia-Britain alliance and submarine deal; the EU working more closely with the US on Indo-Pacific matters; negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, which Borrell said he coordinates and should restart “soon.” He added that there was broad international consensus on how to deal with Afghanistan: judge the Taliban by its actions and not let the country fall into economic collapse. He also is concerned about the Wagner mercenary group from Russia possibly providing security to Mali.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio led a G20 ministerial meeting on Sept. 23 on Afghanistan, on the sidelines of the General Assembly debate. A statement from the group referred to “shared priorities,” including preventing a “humanitarian catastrophe” and an “economic collapse” in the country, especially as winter approaches. The last priority in the statement was “respect for human rights, especially of women and girls” as “guiding principles of any activity in and for Afghanistan.”

President Iván Duque of Colombia entering the VIP entrance to the UN, Sept. 21, 2021. He spoke fourth that day. JOHN PENNEY  

Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that the Afghanistan representative inscribed on the list of speakers for Sept. 27, the last day of the General Assembly debate, is Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed ambassador by Afghanistan’s previous regime. The Taliban have requested that they send their own envoy to the debate, but that decision is up to the UN credentials committee, which may not meet for months.

On Haiti, a reporter asked: There have been some comments by the refugee chief Filippo Grandi about the Haitian refugee crisis, that it may be a violation of international law, and there was some more today. Could you talk about that? 

Response: “. . . it is the responsibility of the High Commissioner for Refugees to defend those laws and according to the Convention, so he’s doing what he should be doing.”

Jane Holl Lute, an American who is the UN’s envoy for Cyprus, has stepped down, the UN confirmed on Sept. 24. She remains in her other role, as special coordinator on the UN’s response to sexual abuse and exploitation.

Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article. 

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Anna Bianca Roach is a Simon and June Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow who focuses on climate reporting. She has worked in Canada, Armenia and the United States and is a native speaker of English, French and Italian. She has an M.S. in investigating reporting from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in conflict studies from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She has written for OpenDemocracy, The Washington Post and Deutsche Welle.

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From Tiny Barbados, a Scolding to the World: ‘We Have Not Moved the Needle!’
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