Speaking at an event titled ‘Non-violence in Action’, Garces said she was committed to bringing the United Nations closer to the people that the world body is here to serve, to leave no one behind and to beyond a narrow focus or definition of national interest.
“Today we come together to commemorate 150 years since the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, an individual whose name and image evoke the very concepts of peace, restraint and passivity, even in the face of violence and extremism,” she said at the event organised by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence.
Garces said from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, the “leading lights” of recent modern times were inspired by Gandhi “whose example has proven the most durable and enduring”.
She stressed that as President of the General Assembly, she is committed to peace and security and to representing the ideals of Gandhi.
“As we move into the 73rd Session, I commit to working with the General Assembly and its related committees in ways that reflect Gandhi’s view of change,” she said as she quoted the Mahatma, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”.
Garces, who is only the fourth woman President of the General Assembly in its 73 year history, paid homage to veteran Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who wrote history by becoming the first woman to be elected President of the General Assembly in as early as 1953.
“As the fourth woman to preside over the General Assembly in 73 years, I will be remiss if I do not acknowledge the first woman President, Madam Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, a national of India. Like Vijay Lakshmi, the man we celebrate today, was a first, leading the way in ways that have inspired generations to do better,” she said.
The UNGA President also noted that entire generations had lived and died without ever really appreciating the true legacy of a man who worked tirelessly in a country on the other side of the world.
“And yet, despite the distances in time and geography, we would be challenged to find anyone, in any part of the world, who has not heard of or been redeemed by the principles he represented,” she said.
Addressing the event, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner said Gandhi was perhaps one of the greatest advocates and visionaries of sustainable development for humanity.
He said Gandhi, who was a champion for uncompromising truth and non-violence in his time, would be a passionate proponent of sustainable development in current times.
“Today, we are, as the international community of nations 195 countries and 7 billion individuals committed to securing our planet and its prosperity for generations to come. We are committed to the great ideal of Leaving No One Behind. We are still Gandhiji’s disciples,” he said.
Steiner also stressed that Gandhi’s philosophy is reflected in the words ‘leave no one behind’ a central tenet of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He noted the Indian Government’s strong commitment to achieving the SDGs within a short period of time through ambitious goals such as universal rural electrification, road and digital connectivity for all, massive expansions of clean and renewable energy, sanitation and housing for all and universal elementary school education.
“The United Nations Development Programme is committed to continue supporting governments in implementing the SDGs. UNDP in India, through innovative partnerships which promote inclusive and equitable growth, will continue to support national programmes for vulnerable and marginalised population groups, improve livelihoods, and enhance skill-building for women,” he said.
Highlighting the current challenges in global peace and security, Garces said conflicts in Syria and in Yemen continued to rage on and millions have been displaced, while entire cities, historical monuments and cultural icons have been destroyed.
In other regions, throughout Central Africa, for instance, conflict and violence continue, with women and children far-too often the target of needless and horrendous crimes.
“While at one time such crimes would shock the world, the sheer explosion of social media and, occasionally, questionable media, has left many people desensitised to the world around them. We cannot allow this to happen, not when the suffering of our brothers and sisters continues,” she said.
Underscoring the unprecedented scale of tragedy, she said an estimated 124 million people across 51 countries were food insecure, nearly 140 million people required humanitarian assistance and over 30 million people were displaced, either by disasters or by conflict.
She, however, stressed that even in the face of such challenges, humanity yearns for peace and harmony, principles that Gandhi espoused, giving nations cause for hope.