Some Assembly Required

The 75th opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September is the latest event casualty of coronavirus— and participants are concerned about the impact on diplomacy that often happens on the conference sidelines.

At the annual opening of the UN session in September, heads of state convene to deliver their national statements and hold bilateral and multilateral meetings while attending countless receptions, with delegations in the tens or hundreds.

New York City commuters are bound to be relieved. But some diplomats are concerned about losing rapidfire face-to-face meetings, or what the Lebanese Ambassador called ‘touch and go’ meetings. UN observers joked they will miss the reactions of diplomats to certain leaders’ speeches.

More serious are the concerns of civil society groups that fear the loss of a physical annual gathering will harm their ability to engage with UN officialsin both the preparatory stage and during the intense high-level week.

The announcement that the traditional September gathering in New York would be conducted via pre-recorded video messages and virtual side events reflects the reality of the limitations of international travel for 2020.

Despite New York City’s gradual reopening, the international body’s president said it was neither realistic nor safe to allow the over 190 international delegations to converge on the city.