BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – As the United Nations marked its 75th anniversary on Monday, leaders renewed calls for “reinvigorated” multilateralism in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Appearing via videoconference, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah addressed a high-level meeting of the General Assembly, acknowledging the UN’s role in preserving peace but also echoed calls for reform within the global body.

“It is remarkable for a large organisation such as the UN to remain relevant for three quarters of a century,” he said.

“Over the years the UN has worked to resolve conflicts in Bosnia, Timor Leste, and closer to us in ASEAN – in Cambodia. However the question of Palestine, terrorism and achieving the sustainable development goals — and many others — remain work in progress.”

The monarch added that unprecedented challenges such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic required renewed multilateralism.

“If history has taught us anything, it is that we could not have realised such achievements without strong support and commitment from all nations.

“Not by abandoning the UN when it becomes politically difficult, but by working together and by seeking convergence at the national and international levels,” he said.

“The UN is far from perfect, and the cost of maintaining it continues to rise every year. Nonetheless, there is no other option available that can replace its role.

“Therefore we must continue to make it better, more cost effective and more empowered to support multilateralism in a world order based on the universal rule of law.”

His Majesty added all every member state must uphold the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, so that small nations like Brunei can have their voice heard as “equals among all nations big or small”.

“If this organisation fails, we would all fail, diminishing the hopes of more than seven billion people.”

“Brunei Darussalam continues its pledge to work together with all member states, and carry out our commitment and responsibilities, as well as pay our dues to ensure that the world and its people will continue to live in peace, to develop and progress.”

Brunei’s contribution to the UN in 2020 was US$701,334. The UN’s annual budget for 2020 was US$3.07 billion.

Secretary-General António Guterres (L) and Volkan Bozkir, president at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. Photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe

A scaled-down UNGA

As the UN General Assembly kicked off on Monday, this year’s meetings will look vastly different — devoid of large delegations, global leaders or international press corps.

Instead, with COVID-19 still limiting global movement, just one representative from each of the 193 UN members will be allowed, and only someone already in the United States.

Everyone else will have to appear by videoconference, including at least 160 heads of state.

Addressing the general assembly in New York, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres cited the body’s major achievements over the past 75 years: peace treaties and peacekeeping missions, decolonisation, setting human rights standards, eradication of disease, a steady reduction in hunger, development of international law and landmark pacts to protect the environment.

“The organisation we celebrate today emerged only after immense suffering. It took two world wars, millions of deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust for world leaders to commit to international cooperation and the rule of law.

“That commitment produced results. A Third World War – which so many had feared — has been avoided.”

Guterres also appealed for greater international cooperation, saying the COVID-19 pandemic had laid bare the world’s fragilities.

“Today we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”

“Climate calamity looms, biodiversity is collapsing, poverty is rising, hatred is spreading, geopolitical tensions are escalating, nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert. Transformative technologies have opened up new opportunities but also exposed new threats.”

He advocated for a more “inclusive multilateralism”, saying nations must work together to improve world governance.

Member states also adopted a political declaration to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, reaffirming their commitment to multilateralism and to rebuild a post-pandemic world that is more equitable.