TANZANIA – Two of the world’s most persistent conflicts punctuated debate at the United Nations on Friday, as the annual gathering of world leaders deviated from the dominating issue of the war in Ukraine.
Addressing hostilities thousands of miles apart and sharing little more than their decades of longevity, the Palestinian and Pakistani leaders nonetheless delivered similar messages, accusing a neighbor of brutality and urging world leaders to do more.
“Our confidence in achieving a peace based on justice and international law is waning,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said. “Do you want to kill what remains of hope in our souls?”
With Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank in its 55th year and no substantial peace talks in 13 years, it was a stark if perhaps unsurprisingly pessimistic assessment. Israel's prime minister backed a two-state solution to the conflict in his own speech a day earlier — but there is almost no prospect for one in the near term.
Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly after the Palestinian leader, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif of Pakistan similarly addressed a generations-old fight, accusing India of a “relentless campaign of repression” in Jammu and Kashmir. Those mountainous lands have been claimed by both sides since British rule of the subcontinent ended 75 years ago and India and Pakistan were born.
Sharif urged world leaders and the U.N. to “play their rightful role” in resolving the fight and said India “must take credible steps” too.
India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, might provide a rebuttal to Sharif when he gets his turn at the rostrum on Saturday. India has called the region an integral part of its nation.
After days of world leaders returning again and again to Ukraine, Sharif and Abbas provided a reminder of the other problems facing the international community.
Later, Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi spoke of the “political impasse” gripping his country for nearly a year and preventing the formation of a new government. He called for “serious and transparent dialogue” among the various factions.
And Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, repeated complaints that 1 million Rohingya refugees in crowded camps in her country are a threat to its security.
“The situation can potentially fuel radicalization,” she said of those who fled a harsh crackdown by Myanmar’s military.
Hasina has said that repatriation is the only solution to the crisis, but that Bangladesh would not force them to go back to Myanmar, where members of the Muslim minority face extensive discrimination.
Throughout the first three days and 104 leaders’ speeches, many criticized how Russia had managed to block U.N. action on Ukraine because of the veto it wields as a permanent member of the Security Council. Abbas shifted the attention to the power of Israel and its allies, which he said meant no matter how many hundreds of resolutions pass, none would be implemented.
“Do you know who is protecting Israel from being held accountable? The United Nations,” he said in a speech more than three times the 15-minute limit leaders are asked to respect.
Israel, in turn, has complained that it has been treated unfairly by the world body and has been held to a different standard from other member states, as when it comes to complaints about human rights violations. Its ambassador to the U.N., Joshua Lavine, issued a statement calling Abbas' speech “a lie-filled rant.”
Even as other issues bubbled up, many leaders continued to call for action against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.
“He won’t stop at Ukraine if we don’t stop him now,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday.
Major battlefield developments in Ukraine cast a shadow over the week – nuclear threats by Putin, the activation of some military reservists and votes in Russian-held territories derided by many world leaders and seen as a prelude to annexation.
Russia and Ukraine faced off Thursday at a Security Council meeting — an extraordinary if brief encounter during which the top diplomats from nations at war were in the same room exchanging barbs and accusations, albeit not directly to each other.
Meanwhile, on Friday, a team of experts commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body, said its initial investigation turned up evidence of war crimes committed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
Besides Ukraine, familiar refrains have resounded in U.N. speeches, with repeated mentions of climate change, economic crises and inequality. The gathering is a rare moment for many leaders to grab the spotlight on a global stage dominated by the biggest, richest and most militarily mighty countries and issue calls for action.
“The obligation of each leader before history is not to overlook failings and shortcomings in favor of wishful thinking or flattery,” President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus said Friday in his final General Assembly speech as leader of the Mediterranean island nation.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
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