UN summit to conclude without Myanmar or Taliban presence

Diplomats say this year's meeting has been one of the most unusual in recent memory

The UN General Assembly meeting in New York will conclude on Monday having had no representation from the increasingly isolated military government in Myanmar or the new Taliban government in Afghanistan.

They join a small number of regimes that have not taken part in the summit over human rights concerns, or because they do not have UN membership.

How encouraging to see the General Assembly meet again in person. Don't we all aspire to 'get back to normal?
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo

South Africa was suspended from taking part in the assembly in 1974 and readmitted in 1994 following the end of Apartheid.

Last week, the Taliban requested participation, asking UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres if their envoy Amir Khan Muttaqi could speak at the summit.

That request would have been reviewed by a committee of representatives from the Security Council. But any decision would have been moot, according to one UN official, who said the militant group sent their request “too late” for consideration by the summit, where 100 world leaders met.

Instead of Mr Muttaqi, former Afghanistan envoy Ghulam Isaczai was due to speak at the summit but withdrew his name.

A high-level UN diplomat told AFP that "an agreement" had been reached between the US, Russia and China preventing Myanmar's UN ambassador – an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement who has refused junta orders to quit – from speaking.

Kyaw Moe Tun, chosen by former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is supported by the international community and has retained his seat at the UN following the February 1 military coup.

In May, the junta appointed a former general to replace him, but the UN has not yet approved the appointment.

Kyaw Moe Tun was the victim of a recent alleged conspiracy foiled by US investigators that plotted to either force him to resign or kill him if he refused.

He told journalists his plans for the General Assembly were "low profile."

Diplomats were, however, expecting to hear from Guinea's representative to the UN, Aly Diane, even though he is an appointee of the former president who was deposed in a military coup earlier this month.

It is another curiosity at this year's high-level meeting. Last year's event was mostly online, due to the pandemic.

"How encouraging to see the General Assembly meet again in person," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Friday.

"Don't we all aspire to 'get back to normal?'" he asked.

General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid agreed in an interview with journalists.

"It is clear that diplomacy greatly benefits from the creativity, exchange of ideas, discussions and flexibility that comes with in person meetings," he said.

Aukus row

Many leaders chose to send video messages instead, however.

French President Emmanuel Macron initially said he would attend, before opting to send a video message that was to be played the day after US President Joe Biden spoke.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will speak on Monday for France, whose presence all week was overshadowed by a spat with the US over a mega submarine deal with Australia.

The address will be delivered through a recorded video message, despite Mr Le Drian having been at the UN for five days this week.

"It is rare for one of the five permanent members of the Security Council to intervene on the last day. I've never seen it," said a European diplomat, on condition of anonymity.

But despite the tensions and concern over growing lack of mutual trust among the international community, Mr Shahid said this year's General Assembly led him "to the conclusion that we all share the same concerns and wish the same outcome."

Washington, fearing the event would be a hotbed for the coronavirus, had tried to dissuade leaders from travelling to New York, where a vaccine mandate is in place.

Strict rules over masks and social distancing were imposed, with only seven people per delegation allowed. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was flanked by 20 people when he walked the corridors of the UN.

Ultimately, only four positive cases were reported, all in the delegation of Brazil, whose president Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine sceptic, although his wife did receive a shot while in New York.

The restrictions meant that on the first day of the debate, only 1,929 people passed through the security gates at the UN, compared to 26,000 in 2019, according to the world body.

In all, by the end, more than 200 speeches will have been delivered, many focusing on international collaboration on climate change and Covid-19.

Updated: September 27th 2021, 2:54 PM