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U.N. 2024 Goals Reflect Human Rights as Top Global Priority

Mr. Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, set forth his priorities for the remaining months of his term when calling to order the informal meeting of the plenary following the start of 2024 (Tuesday 16th of January). The collective body, comprised of 193 member states, was briefed on the intrinsic need for collective commitment and action, as well as the pivotal role of constructive engagement and multilateral exchange when confronting the dire, converging challenges the world faces today. 


Reiterating his unwavering determination to realize a more ‘peaceful, prosperous, progressive and sustainable world’, Mr. Francis acknowledged past successes at the hands of the General Assembly (SDG Summit and meaningful resolutions regarding Universal Health Care and Pandemic Prevention) but remarked on the imminent consequences bound to stem from ignorance regarding ongoing, overlooked challenges (escalation in Gaza Strip, Ukraine, Sudan, etc.) 


Peace was highlighted as the single and most important priority for 2024, remaining the foundation and ultimate goal of collective efforts at the international level. Quoting Gandhi’s ‘there is no way to peace, peace is the way,’ the president set his sights on the Summit of the Future, a process to facilitate meaningful dialogue regarding pressing issues, such as the implementation of an international financial architecture which more adequately aligns with contemporary global realities or the ‘supercharging’ of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation. 


With peace as the central goal in mind, focus was heavily shifted toward the current human rights situation around the world. Calling for the immediate implementation of resolutions designed by the General Assembly, emphasis was placed on the crucial role of ‘we, the peoples’ as paying the price for ‘triggers they did not pull.’ Mr. Dennis urged member states to push for ubiquitous respect for international law as a means to facilitate the process of peace, mentioning the intrinsic importance of humanitarian and human rights law as essential to the U.N. Charter.


Following the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark attainment which continues being at the core of the United Nations to this day, the president of the General Assembly recognized fundamental freedoms intrinsic to every human, singling out specific goals such as drawing more attention to the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, especially regarding denied access to education.


Mention of the fourth Gayap Dialogue in his address raised concerns regarding how to effectively realize the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human rights amid ‘cascading global crises.’ Mr. Dennis invited states to build on the sentiments reflected in his dialogue summary, where he reiterated the urgent need to strengthen the current multilateral system with regards to human rights underlining the holistic recognition of civil, political, cultural and economic rights as comprehensive and universal. 


Amid heightened polarization and geopolitical division, the summary praised the U.N.Human Rights Council and Vienna Declaration and Program of action (1993) as pioneering documents paving the way for ‘the adoption of several global and human rights instruments.’ Highlighting the importance of all Human Rights without exception, Mr. Dennis reflected on the varying perspectives presented by participants. Among others, engaging with honesty and self-introspection rather than calling out others and acting more proactively rather than reactively were mentioned, as well as avoiding double standards and respecting regional mechanisms instead of undercutting them through external intervention. 


Raising awareness on human rights as opposed to dwelling solely on power relations is a concurring 2024 goal across U.N. bodies, with eminent personalities such as António Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General, portraying his deep distress and evident horror regarding ongoing violations of international and humanitarian law around the world. Imploring parties to uphold such standards, he called for the protection of civilians and demanded that their essential needs be met, stating that nothing can or will ever justify deliberate killing, injury or kidnapping. Mr. Guterres expresses his desire for wars such as that in Ukraine and Gaza to end in line with the U.N. charter and international law. 


Observing the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (27th of January), the Secretary-General additionally called for global unity at a time where hate and division have become mainstream and are rapidly proliferating. Emphasising the imperative need to openly stand against discrimination and intolerance, he urged civilians to ‘never lose sight of each other’s humanity, and never let down our guard’. Similarly, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stressed that remembrance of the Holocaust obliges citizens everywhere to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights through remembrance of the tragedy and to ‘respect an international order built on the fundamental principle that there is dignity in every human life.’


With 2024 beginning amid turmoil and devastation, the U.N. looks to shine a light on the urgent need to address existential threats as to achieve peace, emphasising the enormous, untapped capacity to kickstart transformational change regarding new global consensus on how to better provide for people and the planet. Strong commitment to continued constructive engagement with member states remains a top priority, encouraging the reformation of the rule-based, multilateral system in order to meaningfully prioritise cooperation, mutual respect, dialogue and diplomacy. 


This article is part of a collaboration between the St. Andrews Law Review and United Nations Association St. Andrews.

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