UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly elected Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak Wednesday as its next president, a job he pledged to use to help reform and strengthen the United Nations, with peace and a decent life for all people as a top priority.
The 193-member assembly, the U.N.'s most representative body, burst into applause when current President Peter Thomson of Fiji announced that Lajcak had been elected by acclamation to lead its 72nd session beginning in September.
Lajcak, a veteran diplomat who came in a distant second to Antonio Guterres in last year's race to be U.N. secretary-general, called it his "greatest honor" to have won the assembly's unanimous support for what he said is "an increasingly demanding position."
"We live in difficult times. We need the U.N. more than ever, and we need a strong and efficient United Nations," he said. "We must never forget that all we do is to serve the people of this planet and therefore to focus on peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet must be the overarching priority for all of us."
Lajcak told the assembly that during his yearlong tenure he will also focus on investing more in conflict prevention that saves lives and money, stepping up action on U.N. goals to end poverty and address climate change by 2030 and on putting a spotlight on migration and negotiations on a global compact on the complex issue of migration.
Human rights will also be "an overarching principle guiding my work," he said. "There is no peace and development without respect for dignity and fundamental rights. Continued support to equality, including equal opportunities for genders, will remain high in my activities."
Lajcak said there is strong support for U.N. reforms among member states, including revitalizing the work of the General Assembly and especially modernizing the 15-member Security Council, the organization's most powerful body.
"There is a high degree of accord that time is up to transform the Security Council into a 21st century body," he said, vowing to work closely with member states on how to push forward reforms that have been stymied for decades by political differences on how to expand the council.
Lajcak said efforts to strengthen the importance of sustaining peace and preventing conflicts will be addressed at a high-level U.N. conference in April 2018.
Guterres congratulated Lajcak, saying he "has always demonstrated an impressive command of all aspects of U.N. action and a strong commitment to the principles that govern our work."
He then quoted the Slovakian minister's previous words — that "strengthening the U.N. is the best investment to achieve the universal desire for peace, development, equality and justice in the world."
While the presidency of the General Assembly is largely ceremonial, it is also prestigious and the world body does control the U.N. budget and adopts treaties and numerous resolutions, which are not legally binding. It is also the scene of the annual gathering of world leaders in September, shortly after the new Assembly session begins.
The presidency rotates annually between five geographic areas and it was the turn of the Eastern European group to nominate a candidate for the 2017-2018 assembly session.