Dennis Francis, President of the UN General Assembly
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is almost as if the UN Charter was torn up and thrown away
05.07.2024 15:33

The General Assembly is a deliberative and representative body of the UN, in which Russia does not have the veto right. Its decisions are recommendatory, yet they show the global approach to the war against Ukraine. Over two years ago, its one hundred forty-one member states passed the resolution calling for the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian military forces from internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. Five countries voted against it.

The General Assembly annually elects its President to guide the discussions at the meetings and monitor how countries comply with the rules. Now, it is Dennis Francis, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago. He visited Ukraine this week - the first visit of the President of the General Assembly in 30 years. Ukrinform spoke with Mr. Francis about the purpose of his trip, the audacity of Russian aggression, and leverage on the aggressor.


         — It is the first visit of the President of the General Assembly to Ukraine for over two years of the full-scale invasion. What led you to it, and what are its objectives?

         — Today, I discovered that the last time a president of the General Assembly visited Ukraine was 30 years ago. It is my first visit to Ukraine, and the purpose of it is to see for myself what has been the effect of the war on this country, what challenges have been created for Ukraine in the wake of the Russian aggression, and what strategies the country is using to overcome these challenges.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has been an active player in the evolution of the war in Ukraine. We have passed several strong resolutions about this war. So, I wanted to come in person, to have conversations with government members, with ordinary people I visited, like in Bucha, to see what has been happening in this country.

It is an attempt to discover and uncover what has taken place on the territory of Ukraine over the last three years.

— The General Assembly isn’t paralyzed by Russia with its veto right, unlike the Security Council. 141 member states have approved the resolution to condemn this war but, unfortunately, Russia ignores this decision. It ignores the decision of the UN Court to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory. Can the General Assembly or any other international body find a way to force Russia to obey the UN Charter?

— What we expect of all members of the United Nations is that they will honor the provisions of the Charter and not violate its rules. In the instant case, the Russian Federation has broken the rules and violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The General Assembly of the United Nations, the largest, most democratic organ of the United Nations, has been very explicit to the Russian Federation — you violate the fundamental principles of the organization; therefore, we expect you to correct that behavior sooner rather than later. The resolution calls for the full withdrawal of all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine immediately.

Now, the General Assembly has passed several resolutions along those lines. It doesn't have the means to force Russia or any other country to comply. However, if you are a member of an organization established based on rules you must comply with them.

We hope and use every opportunity available to us to insist to the Russians, that they withdraw from Ukraine and fulfill their obligations under the Charter. That is what needs to happen. That is the lawful behavior that the United Nations expects of its 193 member states.

One state cannot violate the law most flagrantly and expect nothing to happen. There are consequences and they must know they are in violation; therefore, they need to fix it. The sooner they fix it, the better for everyone.

As long as the war in Ukraine takes place, as long as the Russian Federation maintains troops on Ukrainian soil, the General Assembly will insist that the Russians are in violation of the law and that they must come into compliance. They must take such action to bring them into compliance with the law.


— Have you met any interference from Russia in your work? Did they try to impede you in any activity?

— No, I cannot say that I have met. My job as President of the General Assembly is to reflect in earnest the will, the expectations, and the views of the General Assembly.

When I speak about the situation with the war in Ukraine, I speak on behalf of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The Russian Federation has not sought to impeach me, not that I'm aware of. They are a member of the United Nations General Assembly.

Their rights as a member remain intact. They are treated fairly, as all other members, with the same courtesy and respect. I am satisfied they treat the office of the President of the General Assembly with the same courtesy and respect that all the other members do.

— What are your expectations from the next session of the General Assembly and your successor, ex-Prime Minister of Cameroon Philémon Yang, and the Russian chairmanship of the Security Council?

— The Russian chairmanship of the Security Council lasts until July 31st.

The new President of the General Assembly will assume that office in September of this year. By this time, the Russians would have completed their tenure as President.

Each incoming President of the General Assembly has a work program they intend to implement. I would suggest you visit the website of the UNGA to become familiar with the work program proposed by the incoming elected President of the General Assembly, Prime Minister Yang.

But I can say to you without a doubt that the agenda of the United Nations will continue to reflect the importance of the war in Ukraine because that matter will continue to be an item of the agenda for the General Assembly.

It will not go away because we don't see any indication, as of now. We hope the Russian authorities will decide to withdraw all of their troops by September of this year or earlier, but based on what we have seen thus far, there is no guarantee that that will happen.

That matter will remain a priority on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly.


— Right now, the war between Hamas and Israel forces the world to focus not only on Ukraine but also on Gaza. How can Ukraine avoid becoming just another hotspot on the world map for Asia, Africa, and Latin America against this backdrop?

— The circumstances surrounding the situation in Ukraine have been very peculiar. For example, there has not been an invasion in the Middle East.

No one invaded in the way that the Russian Federation did to Ukraine. I don't believe in the question of Ukraine becoming just another hotspot.

The circumstances that led to military action in Ukraine set it apart. This was a decision to violate basic tenets of international law that float the regulations. It is almost as if the Charter of the United Nations was torn up and thrown away. That cannot happen.

The United Nations was built approximately 80 years ago on those tenets to avoid the scourge of war.

We are living with the consequences of that violation now in Ukraine, and the General Assembly will not be prepared to turn away from it and ignore it because it is so fundamental. It lies at the very core of everything we believe in at the United Nations. It sets a very dangerous precedent that is unacceptable. One that 141 countries decided in the exercise of their vote not to accept. I don't believe that there is any way that is going to change.

Ivan Kosiakin, Kyiv

Photo by Yevhen Kotenko

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