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Woman president to head UN General Assembly

UN General Assembly to be headed by its third-ever woman president

Haya Rashed Al Khalifa

The Legal Counsel to the Royal Family of Bahrain, pioneering lawyer Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, has been elected President of the 61st General Assembly session, becoming only the third woman who will hold that post and the first one elected since 1969.

“What inspires me is a deep feeling of pain caused by the tragedies all over the world, on both the human and environmental levels,” Ms. Al-Khalifa told the Assembly after her election by acclamation for the session beginning 12 September.

On the human level, much suffering has been due to political disputes, wars, terrorism, poverty and malnutrition. On the environmental level, it has been due to pollution, global warming, the depletion of natural resources and the extinction of living species, she said.

Welcoming the election, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was “particularly pleased” that a woman would occupy the post. “I met her yesterday and I found her quite impressive,” he told reporters. “All the Member States are determined to work with her and to support her, and I think she’s going to bring a new dimension to the work here.”

Ms. Al-Khalifa was one of the first two women admitted to the practice of law in her country. She said she had witnessed several instances where women were harshly treated and their suffering had driven her to find suitable solutions to reduce their pain and uphold the principles of the UN Charter, with its emphasis on respect for human rights.

“The future of coming generations depends on the way we address contemporary problems,” she said. “We should work towards preserving humanitarianism and ensuring that our planet is a safer and more suitable place to live in.”

In that regard, it was critical to reach a comprehensive and practical strategy to combat terrorism, one of the greatest contemporary evils. She questioned, however, whether that strategy would be possible without addressing the problems of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and extremism. Ms. Al-Khalifa called for a focus on the importance of education in nurturing future generations and on fostering educational curricula that promoted openness, critical thinking and creativity.

She thanked the outgoing president, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, for the great effort he had made towards achieving UN reform and improving international peace and security and human rights. She said she would continue on that path.

Mr. Eliasson, who is a senior Swedish diplomat, noted that Ms. Al-Khalifa had held many high-level positions with leading legal organizations, including the International Bar Association.

Her distinguished legal roles had been coupled with a prestigious diplomatic assignment from 2000 to 2004 as Bahrain’s ambassador to France and permanent delegate to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he said.

Also elected in separate meetings today were several other officers of the Assembly.

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