UNITED NATIONS — The president of the U.N. General Assembly said Monday that world leaders will not be coming to New York for their annual gathering in late September for the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Tijjani Muhammad-Bande told a news conference that he hopes to announce in the next two weeks how the 193 heads of state and government will give their speeches on pressing local and world issues during the assembly’s so-called General Debate.
“World leaders cannot come to New York because they cannot come simply as individuals,” he said. “A president doesn’t travel alone, leaders don’t travel alone” and “it is impossible” to bring large delegations to New York during the pandemic.
“We cannot have them in person as we used to — what happened in the last 74 years — but it will happen” Muhammad-Bande said of the annual event.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended last month that the gathering of world leaders, which was supposed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, be dramatically scaled back because of the pandemic.
Guterres suggested in a letter to the General Assembly president that heads of state and government deliver prerecorded messages instead, with only one New York-based diplomat from each of the 193 U.N. member nations present in the assembly hall.
Muhammad-Bande said Monday that by late September “maybe a hundred or so” people might be allowed in the General Assembly chamber.
The meeting of world leaders usually brings thousands of government officials, diplomats and civil society representatives to New York for over a week of speeches, dinners, receptions, one-on-one meetings and hundreds of side events.
This year was expected to bring an especially large number of leaders to U.N. headquarters to celebrate the founding of the United Nations in 1945 on the ashes of World War II.
Muhammad-Bande said the 75th anniversary celebration “is not conceived as one moment” but will continue throughout the year starting on June 26, the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco.
He said a political declaration on the United Nations at 75 is also being negotiated, and world leaders will have the opportunity to mark the occasion — only not in person.