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President Sauli Niinistö addressing the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session in New York on September 29. Picture: Cia Pak

When the Finnish national composer Jean Sibelius passed away in 1957, the UN General Assembly honoured him with a moment of silence.

It was 60 years ago when Finland joined the UN, the family of countries that, according to President Sauli Niinistö, care and shoulder their responsibility.

President Niinistö shared the warm anecdote in his address at the UN General Assembly’s 70th session, during a general debate at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday September 29.

Then he continued with a more serious tone.

“We are now facing an extremely dangerous crisis in Syria, Iraq and parts of North-Africa. We are also witnessing an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unlike any other since the Second World War. ISIL and its horrendous terror is a direct by-product of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. It threatens the peace and stability in the Middle East, in Africa and even in Europe,” Niinistö said.

“Largely due to wars and conflicts, we are facing a new era of migration. Around sixty million refugees, the largest number since the Second World War, are a clear proof of that. The present refugee situation in the Middle East, in many parts of Africa, and in the Mediterranean is unbearable for all.”

The present refugee situation in the Middle East, in many parts of Africa, and in the Mediterranean is unbearable for all.”

According to Niinistö, although the neighbouring countries bear the heaviest burden, “the refugee crisis is causing serious political tension in Europe.”

“Finland is also receiving proportionally a very high number of asylum seekers. Not helping is not an option for us. But we have to find more effective and sustainable ways to help those in need. Solving the conflict in Syria and elsewhere is essential for any lasting solution.”

“The international community must now show that we do care. Especially the UN Security Council and the countries in the region, must work together on finding a political solution to the crisis in Syria,” Niinistö said and continued, “Finland welcomes all constructive efforts that pave the way for a realistic, workable and lasting peace within a framework of international co-operation. Finland also remains committed to the work of the international counter-ISIL coalition.”

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President Sauli Niinistö meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 28 2015. Picture: The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Niinistö reminded that the conflict in Ukraine has not yet been solved, “although an agreement to this end has been approved.”

“We welcome the steps taken towards the implementation of the Minsk agreement. All illegal measures, like the annexation of Crimea to Russia, cannot and must not be recognised.”

Niinistö said that last year alone, there was 42 armed conflicts around the world with “approximately 180,000 fatalities.”

“Wars and their consequences continue to threaten stability far beyond the war-zone itself.”

Niinistö said that although the UN peace operations are at the very heart of its efforts to maintain international peace and security, the scope and complexity of today’s violent conflicts has surpassed the ability of the international community to address them properly.

“Critical thinking, flexibility and decisive action are needed to manage and solve these crises.”

“Critical thinking, flexibility and decisive action are needed to manage and solve these crises.”

According to Niinistö, since the beginning of its UN membership, Finland has contributed 50, 000 men and women to UN peacekeeping operations.

“In per capita terms we are number two contributor in Europe. And we will further strengthen our contribution. We will shoulder our responsibility.”

Niinistö also congratulated the major success of international diplomacy: the historic agreement reached on the Iran nuclear programme in July, where Iran and a group of six nations led by the US reached an accord to limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for over a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

“Humankind faces the need for profound change,” Niinistö said, “we cannot continue business as usual, a way of life that exceeds planetary boundaries and exhausts the Earth’s resources. We have all the facts at our disposal, for example on global warming. It is up to us to act. We can choose – or lose – our future.”

“I believe we are on the right track: we have just adopted the new Agenda 2030, which has the potential to transform the world. For the very first time we have a real program for sustainable development, binding all member states.”

“Humankind faces the need for profound change,” Niinistö said, “we cannot continue business as usual, a way of life that exceeds planetary boundaries and exhausts the Earth’s resources.

The agenda is based on the principle of “leave no one behind” with its sustainable development goals, targets and implementation plans. The agenda forms a comprehensive blueprint for eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality and protecting the planet.

In addition Niinistö reminded that another vital step in tackling global challenges is yet to take place: the Climate Conference in Paris in December, where the objective is to achieve legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

“Let us make it a success. We must care for our children and their children.”

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President Niinistö meeting with the UN secretary general Ban-Ki Moon in New York on September 28. Picture: The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Niinistö also welcomed the efforts to enhance the transparency and inclusiveness of finding a successor to the current UN secretary general, Ban-Ki-moon.

“As a nation that has throughout its 60 year UN membership championed gender equality, my country Finland expects to see many excellent female candidates for the position. It is high time that the other half of humankind took up this challenge.”

President Niinistö travelled to New York on September 24-29 to attend the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations. Niinistö also took part in a summit concerning adoption of sustainable development goals for 2015-2030.

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The president of the United States Barack Obama and his spouse Michelle Obama welcoming President Sauli Niinistö and his spouse Jenni Haukio at the reception of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 28. Picture: The White House / Lawrence Jackson

In addition, Niinistö participated and delivered statements in several other high-level events of the United Nations, such as the equality event – co-hosted by UN Women, the United Nations organisation for gender equality, and China – and the Summit on UN Peacekeeping convened by the US president Barack Obama. The programme also included bilateral meetings. Niinistö’s spouse Jenni Haukio took also part to the programme.

Other participants in the high-level events included the minister for foreign affairs Timo Soini, minister for foreign trade and development Lenita Toivakka, minister of agriculture and the environment Kimmo Tiilikainen and the minister of the interior Petteri Orpo.

Source: The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The UN in a nutshell

The United Nations is an international organisation founded in 1945.  It is currently made up of 193 member states.  The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding charter.

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United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Picture: UN Photo

Due to the powers vested in its charter and its unique international character, the United Nations can take action on the issues confronting humanity in the 21st century, such as peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, gender equality, governance, food production, and more.

The UN also provides a forum for its members to express their views in the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and other bodies and committees. By enabling dialogue between its members, and by hosting negotiations, the organisation has become a mechanism for governments to find areas of agreement and solve problems together.