Talk to Al Jazeera

Maria Fernanda Espinosa on Khashoggi, Yemen and the GCC

The UN General Assembly president talks to Al Jazeera about Palestine, the Khashoggi crisis, and rising nationalism.

The United Nations has long faced criticism over its efficacy, particularly with regards to its means of enforcing its resolutions.

As nationalism rises in Europe, conflicts continue to cause hardship for millions of people in Yemen and elsewhere, and the international community continue to grapple with the fallout from the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some – including the body’s most powerful member, the United States – are questioning the role of the UN. 

In June, Maria Fernanda Espinosa became only the fourth woman to be appointed as president of the United Nations General Assembly in the seven decades since its founding. 

In a lively and wide-ranging interview, the Ecuadorian diplomat – who also serves as the country’s foreign minister – said multilateralism is still crucial in tackling the raft of global challenges.

“We need a stronger United Nations, we need a stronger General Assembly. We need to undertake this very profound structural reform process that we are undergoing,” she told Al Jazeera.

There are so many hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering humanitarian issues in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip. We know that it's painful and we need a collective response.

by Maria Fernanda Espinosa, UN General Assembly president

“It’s not an issue that is done by magic … Multilateralism is more needed than ever because we are facing so many global challenges and the only response to global challenges is through global leadership.”

However, when considering disputes in the Middle East, including the ongoing Gulf crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Espinosa strongly advocated a regional response.

“Dialogue is the only weapon, really, truly, efficient weapon to end any kind of conflict … The call would be to look from a regional perspective, how to address the difficulties Gulf countries are facing and how they come together because they have more issues that unite them than issues that separate them,” she said.

A resolution was long due on Palestine, according to Espinosa who acknowledged that the UN resolutions were not having the desired effect. 

“We have passed I don’t know how many resolutions, both in Security Council and in the General Assembly, and the call I had made as President of the General Assembly is for the compliance of the agreements we have made on the Palestinian issue.

“When we get organised and act on this issue there are so many hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering humanitarian issue in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip. We know that it’s painful and we need a collective response.”

Espinosa says dialogue is the 'only weapon' to end conflict [Jamil Bassil/Al Jazeera]
Espinosa says dialogue is the ‘only weapon’ to end conflict [Jamil Bassil/Al Jazeera]

While avoiding criticising the Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s killing, Espinosa called for a thorough and independent probe, but said this would have to be requested by concerned UN member states and considered by the Secretariat.

What is important is that there is no impunity on this issue, she said, adding that Khashoggi’s murder stands in contrast to UN values.

“Journalists should be protected and live in safe environments to deliver on their work. The United Nations as an organisation is in favour of the right to free press and safe working environments for journalists.”