President Sauli Niinistö speaking at the opening of the general debate of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday in New York City, US, on September 25 2018. Picture: Katri Makkonen/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

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“My country has always been a strong advocate of multilateral cooperation (an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal). For Finland, the rules-based international order is of fundamental importance. At home, being able to rely on commonly agreed rules is a cornerstone of our own national security and welfare. On the global level, common solutions and rules are needed to address the most pressing challenges of our time.”


President Sauli Niinistö was speaking at the opening of the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session on Tuesday in New York City, delivering Finland’s National Statement, about 21:30 Finnish time.

“Unfortunately, there is now reason to be worried for all of us who believe in the benefits of multilateralism. The international system we have built together is under pressure. Its capability and credibility are questioned. We can no longer take the rules-based order for granted. It is our common responsibility to actively defend and develop it,” Niinistö continued.

Act together, not past each other

According to Niinistö, Finland sees the United Nations as the core of the multilateral system. “Therefore, the defense of multilateralism must begin right here. The UN and its members need to show their will to act together, not past each other.”

Niinistö continued: “The three pillars of the UN—peace and security, human rights and development—have stood the test of time. But we have also discovered that many of the present global challenges do not respect the boundaries between them. The pillars are increasingly interlinked, as are the challenges themselves.”

According to Niinistö, “The most important achievements of the UN system in recent years are testimony to this. I am thinking of the Agenda 2030, the Paris Agreement, and the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. Issues like sustainability, climate change and migration are not only about development and human rights. They are also essential questions of peace and security.”

Niinistö continued with one of his favorite topics: “Climate change is the prime example of the need for prompt global action. The upcoming report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will further underscore the urgency of our response. It will also show how much remains to be done. So far, the voluntary contributions from the state parties to the Paris Agreement are not enough to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius. We must do a lot more, and more quickly.”

Niinistö also spoke about the Arctic and how the region is warming at an alarming pace.

65 million displaced people

He continued about migration: “Without mitigation, climate change will also lead to a further increase in migration flows. Already now, some 65 million people across the world are displaced—the highest figure since the Second World War. Some hundred million people worldwide are in urgent need of basic humanitarian assistance, and the number is growing. There are no quick and easy solutions, but doing nothing is not an option.”

Niinistö said that “full-scale wars, conflicts of varying intensity and breaches of international law continue to haunt us.” “They constantly remind us of the immense human suffering involved. We, the international community, need to remain persistent in our efforts to solve ongoing conflicts, regardless of how deep-rooted and long-lasting they may be.”

“Full-scale wars, conflicts of varying intensity and breaches of international law continue to haunt us.”

According to Niinistö, “in conflict prevention, mediation is an invaluable tool.” “It is vital for the future of mediation that experience gained in the past is passed on to future mediators. It was an honor for my country to host the meeting of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation in June in Finland.” “We remain strong supporters of the mediation activities of the UN and other actors. Where appropriate, Finland also continues to offer its good services to facilitate concrete discussions between parties, from Track-2 negotiations to high-level meetings.”

Female and young voices must be heard

Niinistö said that “peace and security, human rights and development are not sustainable without the participation of women and the youth.” “Female voices and young voices must be heard—and acted upon. The needs of women, children and youth are still all too often marginalized in peace talks. Finland promotes the role of women’s effective participation in peace processes through the Nordic network of women mediators.”

Niinistö continued: “Finland appeals to all member states and the secretary-general to consistently keep human rights, non-discrimination and gender equality on top of the agenda of the UN.” “It was with profound sadness that I learned of the passing of Mr. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the UN. His legacy is an inspiration for us all. I would like to conclude by remembering these words from him: ‘More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that, my friends, is why we have the United Nations.'”

President Sauli Niinistö is attending the opening week of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 23–28. President Niinistö will also visit Washington, D.C. while in the United States.