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Address by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, at the General Assembly of the United Nations: “Italy, United Nations and multilateralism. Tackling common challenges”

MAttarella NY

New York, 7 May 2024


Mr. President of the General Assembly,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Permanent Representatives,

I greatly appreciate the opportunity of addressing you, in this hall, the symbolic venue where the wills of peoples meet, shortly after the 80th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and after the 70th anniversary of Italy’s accession.

The ambition of the newly-born Italian Republic to join the United Nations reflected our inclination to multilateralism, and I am pleased to reiterate today, standing before you, that Italy is determined to cooperate in the construction of a more just, secure and sustainable world, where all peoples and every person can have their rights fully recognised.

In 1955 Italy, free from the debris of the fascist regime and risen as a republic from the tragedy of World War II, finally joined the United Nations – ten years after its founding – following a long and complex procedure.

Rome believed that the outcome of the membership application could not have been otherwise, for the fundamental principles of the 1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic correspond, under many aspects, to those underpinning the United Nations Charter, and both share the same goals.

Indeed, Italy’s Constituent Assembly, whose firm intention was to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, explicitly included rules that provided for sovereignty limitations “on conditions of equality with other States…required for a world order that ensures peace and justice among Nations”, as well as promoting and encouraging “international organisations furthering such ends”.

The goal of multilateralism has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy and we proudly host, across our territory, UN offices and facilities, from Turin to Rome, from Florence to Trieste and Brindisi.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the Italian Republic’s sensitivity for peace, for the promotion of human dignity and universal values, is to be seen in its constant action supporting post-conflict dialogues and stabilisation processes, in favour of the rights of youths and women – particularly under circumstances of the utmost discrimination, and I cannot fail to mention the plight of Afghan and Iranian women – and in its support of the death penalty abolition campaign.

Its participation in UN programmes, in terms of funding and human resources, is just as noteworthy.

Italy also provides for the presence of civilian and military contingents for development programmes and peacekeeping operations in several parts of the world, often in complex and sensitive scenarios, starting with the UNIFIL mission along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

This has entailed risks and, unfortunately, sometimes, the loss of human lives.

Many Italian military and civilian personnel were killed in countries tormented by internal conflicts in the Middle East and Africa in the search for peace – starting with the thirteen airmen, on a UN mission, slaughtered near Kindu, in the Congo, in 196. I wish to pay tribute to their memory here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the multilateralism that inspires Italy’s role in the world is obviously expressed in other contexts too, from the European Union – which we are a founding member of – to transatlantic relations, in the sphere of self-defence organisation, in the G7 and G20 and in other international organisations.

In all such contexts, Italy works to foster dialogue.

Its geographical position at the heart of the Mediterranean, its history and its culture make it a natural bridge connecting peoples, countries and civilisations.

The global challenges we are facing call for the international community’s collective and orderly response.

In this context, the UN is the universal, inclusive and legitimate institution-platform for addressing such challenges.

The functioning of the United Nations has also been criticised, legitimately and sometimes not groundlessly.

We all would want more from the UN system, often, however, without being ready ourselves to offer more in turn, entrusting it with tasks, responsibilities and means capable of enhancing the effectiveness of its actions, without undergoing that game of reciprocal vetoes that risks paralysing its life.

In the history of mankind, an endeavour such as the United Nations emerged to overcome the zero-sum game that marked relations between nations, based on the rule that, in order to win, someone else had to lose.

The goal is now to win. All together.

The birth of the UN was driven by tragic historical events that brought about brutal death and destruction, and this made governments and nations wonder what could be done to prevent the international conferences following the several conflicts from merely becoming a way of governing relations of force – often just a prelude to another war – instead of being exercises for shaping the future.

The UN was born to replace the logic of oppression with that of cooperation and respect.

The Charter of the United Nations, drafted at the San Francisco Conference, set forth, with great far-sightedness, some fundamental principles: respect for national sovereignty, the peoples’ right to self-determination, the obligation of settling international disputes through peaceful means, respect of human rights and of the person’s dignity, with no distinction as to ethnicity, religion or social background.

The Charter, along with the 1948 Declaration of the Rights of Man, lays the foundations for co-existence among peoples. Such a requirement is enshrined in its overarching goal: peacekeeping.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Ancient-nationalist desires, neo-imperialist, or rather, neo-colonialist impulses, competition, instead of cooperation, between powers all repropose a polarisation of the international system that is detrimental to the freedom and equality of relations between States and peoples, putting peace at risk.

It is therefore more important than ever to strengthen multilateral institutions, starting with the United Nations itself.

The Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine clashes with the UN’s founding reasons and is even more serious considering that it comes from one of the countries that holds the greatest responsibility in the international community, being a permanent member of the Security Council.

The defence of the independence of Ukraine, a founding country of the United Nations, involved Italy, as well as many other international partners, for the affirmation of international law and the principle stating that solidarity must be given to nations attacked by acts of arrogance that aim to replace law with military force.

This is laid down under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which provides for the right to self-defence.

A state, no matter how powerful, no matter whether equipped with a menacing nuclear arsenal, cannot think it can violate, without incurring sanctions, principles such as those of another country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

Russia has taken the great, history-making, responsibility of bringing war back to the European continent.

Furthermore, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just a regional conflict. Quite simply because the war is being waged by a power that aims to play a global role and exert global influence, which derive from the inevitable responsibility of being – as I mentioned – a permanent member of the Security Council; something that no one intends to ignore. Every action it performs multiplies the effects.

The United Nations has experienced long, difficult times, paralysed as it was by the cold war and its opposing blocs.

The fall of the Iron Curtain opened up new perspectives, also favoured by the dialogue prompted by the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which led to the devising of an organisation for the security and cooperation in the European continent. Unfortunately, few invested in its effectiveness.

Moscow now expects to turn back the hands of time and has unleashed a new arms race.

The effects of the crisis in Europe can be felt across the globe: in the slowdown of the agenda of commitments for preserving the planet, in the energy sector and, even more heftily, in food resources.

The FAO and the other agencies of the UN agrifood hub in Rome have helped make huge progress against world hunger over the past decade. Such achievements are now being challenged by the risks of a food crisis arising from the conflict in Ukraine, which threatens the livelihoods of millions of people in other regions of the world, starting with some parts of Africa. Almost three hundred million people risk facing food shortages.

In the space of a few months, the peace dividend that had allowed resources to be allocated to development rather than to arms expenditure, following the collapse of the inter-bloc dispute, has been wiped out.

Last year, global arms spending reached 2.4 trillion dollars, that’s a 7% increase compared to the previous year; the highest in the last fifteen years.

Such resources could be put to good use to ease the humanitarian crises that have affected over one hundred million human beings, to stimulate economic and social growth, to counter the effects of climate change and threats to global health, to promote the moral and intellectual development of younger generations. Instead, given the revival of expansionist aims of some States, these resources have been used to purchase destructive means.

Peace is in the interest of all peoples, everywhere. Everywhere.

Italy, together with other international partners, is unwaveringly committed to the search for a peaceful and long-lasting solution to the conflict. Not just any solution, nor, clearly, a solution that rewards the aggressor and penalises the victim. That would set a dangerous precedent for everyone.

It is not a matter of opting for just any settlement. In order for peace to be just, it must be underpinned by the high and inalienable principles of international law and the UN Charter.

The Charter must also inspire us in dealing with the ever more worrying winds of war in the Middle East.

The tensions and clashes of the recent weeks call for a greater commitment by the international community, if a de-escalation is to be achieved.

This is one of the objectives that the Italian Republic has set itself when taking on the G7 Presidency.

We must put an end to the chain of actions and reactions and start of a process that can halt the massacres and finally lead to a permanent peace: a solution that necessarily entails the shared objective of the full and mutual recognition of the two States of Israel and Palestine, with the absolute recognition of Israel and its security by the States of the region.

In the immediate future, we must respond to the moral duty of providing assistance to alleviate the immense suffering of the civilian population of Gaza.

A further worsening of the situation must be avoided too. I second the Secretary-General’s call for military operations at Rafah to be avoided, given the tragic consequences they could have on Palestinian civilians.

It is also necessary to take due account of the essential role played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and, consequently, the importance of continuing to fund it.

The ceasefire called for by the Security Council through Resolution 2728, the unconditional humanitarian access to the people of Gaza, the release of the hostages abducted in the brutal attack of 7 October – which, I should point out, is what triggered all that followed – and the immediate cessation of all activities supporting terrorist organisations, remain the pillars on which a common diplomatic action should be built with great resolve.

A bitter and harsh conflict cannot violate the rules of humanitarian law, enshrined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, aimed at protecting civilians.

Courage and determination are needed to address the other crises in the region, which unfortunately are many: I am thinking of Syria and Yemen.

Ensuring freedom and safety of navigation in the Red Sea is among the reasons underlying international coexistence.

The militarisation of domains such as the sea, the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and outer space, must be firmly opposed: these are domains that concern all of mankind.

The two conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have also revived the sinister threat of resorting to nuclear weapons, as if the 20th century had not made their tragic consequences clear enough.

The treaty framework for the control of nuclear arsenals, meticulously drafted over the past decades, is a common heritage of all countries.

Violating it, even with mere threats, means jeopardising the destinies of peoples, all of them – even those whose governments threaten using nuclear weapons.

That’s a responsibility the international community cannot ignore.

And this picture inevitably raises a further question.

The desire to bend the United Nations to individual, unprincipled interests – the Charter’s main objective itself is constantly being questioned – cannot cast doubts on its universality and its founding reasons.

Italy’s choice is to be seen in its firm support for the action of the United Nations, the pivotal element of the architecture of world governance that alone can prevent further human tragedies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

more and more often, even as the East-West dispute is resuming, there is talk of a renewed element of international competition: the opposition between the global North and South, which some attempt to instrumentally interpret as the opposition between the West and the rest of the world.

The issue of deep economic and social inequalities is being evoked. In this regard, the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States, approved by the General Assembly in 1974, was a first, important step in affirming the principles of international justice.

The 2030 Agenda and the pursuit of its goals is not a bureaucratic exercise for dreamers, but corresponds to the UN’s calling to attain global progress.

If we were to measure the results, in economic terms, of a prevailing multilateralism, we would notice that, since 1950, the average annual income per capita of the world’s population has increased fourfold. This is a remarkable achievement considering that global population has almost trebled over the same period. And it is even more remarkable when considering that the percentage of the population living on less than two dollars a day has, over the same period of time, dropped from 75% to 10%.

The sometimes artificial representation of reality clashes with experiences of constant cooperation between North and South, with partnerships between countries in every region of the world. Here, at the United Nations, we can find some effective and successful examples of this.

There can be no doubt, however, that on the path leading to the Sustainable Development Goals, it is up to the States in the best condition to show the greatest commitment, being aware that challenges such as climate change and food insecurity are demanding and different levels of responsibility must come into play in order for them to be achieved.

Italy is strongly committed in this regard, as proven by the Conference on the state of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16 – one of the most complex and crucial of the 2030 Agenda – that was held here at the UN headquarters yesterday.

There also seems to be the need for a proper adjustment of the international financial system, designed many decades ago, when the international community conditions were very different.

The difficulties of countries suffering a crisis, the growth of countries in continents such as Africa, are top priorities, if their huge potential is to be developed too.

I have personally experienced the great prospects of a continent that was not just the cradle of mankind, but also represents, to a large extent, its future, particularly owing to the creativity and vitality of its younger generations and to the great opportunities that its future holds.

Italy is greatly interested in promoting a broad and structured partnership, on an equal basis, with African countries, knowing that the development of that continent is a common interest of the European continent and an essential key for successfully addressing the many challenges of present day.

It is from such a standpoint that Italy keeps on working with its African partners, with the African Union and with other regional organisations, so as to promote the development of countries that are geographically very close to us. This was recently to be seen in the Italy-Africa Summit held in Rome last January and in the launch of the Mattei Plan for a sustainable development of the continent.

The response to the several ongoing conflicts in Africa calls for a renewed dialogue and cooperation. The African partners involved in appeasement processes and in the reconstruction of local political and socio-economic fabrics must take responsibility too in handling the situation. This is why Italy has decided to support Security Council Resolution 2719.

This is a first and partial implementation of the proposals set forth under the Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, which Italy steadfastly supports because of its innovative spirit, based on the lessons learnt in the recent past in the area of conflict resolution, because of the fundamental role it assigns to prevention initiatives and because of the truly complete and inclusive approach in providing all the necessary conditions for supporting and consolidating peace processes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Africa and the Middle East – and not only them – regions of Latin America, Asia, and even Europe, are experiencing a growing number of humanitarian emergencies, whether triggered by conflicts, or burdened by climate crises, as in the case of small islands, particularly those in the Pacific, and further compounded by local, fragile contexts.

The international community, and Italy with it, has spared no effort in identifying the necessary resources to intercept emerging needs: the United Nations response system has confirmed its ability in organising the necessary assistance plans, often proving to be the only player capable of operating in the most troubled contexts.

Nevertheless, the gap between the resources made available and needs is still huge.

If adequately supported by its member states, the UN is the only platform capable of addressing the challenges that threaten peace, security and development.

I would like to emphasise this concept: “adequately supported”, since the United Nations lives on the political will and funding of its Member States.

Any possibility of giving new momentum to its activities and operating methods therefore relies on the individual decisions of its 193 member states to commit themselves more.

Yet the number I have just mentioned should suffice to prove how successful it has been: 193 members. There were 51 of them at the start.

The purpose of my presence in this hall – whose duty it is to set the international agenda – is to reiterate Italy’s firm intention to continue supporting the UN in its efforts to renew itself and to respond to the new challenges of the present.


Ladies and gentlemen,

the great transnational challenges we must face, the increasing number of regional conflicts that may further expand, certainly do not question the role of the United Nations; they actually highlight its vital and crucial nature, at the service of mankind.

We need an increasingly representative and effective UN. Every contrasting or different path, every absence, will end up worsening the prospects of the human condition.

We are aware that the UN reflects the diverse aspirations and complexities of its members.

This, if anything, consolidates the reasons for its founding, and can drive renewal.

For many years, we have been discussing the system’s reform, deemed necessary for keeping this Organisation in tune with the times, capable of responding to the evolving international scenario and to the political, social and economic development trends of the various countries and regions.

In this regard, I wish to express my appreciation for the Secretary-General’s action in promoting an updating of the agenda, as well as a reform of the system.

Italy fully supports the proposals made both in terms of the UN’s organisation, management and working methods and in terms of the broader action plans in the areas of development, peace and security, as identified in the various components of “Our Common Agenda”.

The membership urgently called for the drafting of this Agenda to make the UN more efficient, accountable and result-oriented.

In terms of the UN reform and, generally speaking, of the international relations system, the upcoming Summit of the Future represents an undeniable opportunity for the success of the global multilateral architecture.

The UN is a theatre of diplomacy and its task is not just that of addressing and resolving power relations between states; it is called upon to deal with the fate of humanity and to indicate how to solve its problems.

The majority of Member States look to the September Summit and the Future Pact with great attention, and that is undoubtedly justified by what is at stake.

It is often in moments of great crisis that one finds the strength and courage to come up with understandings for the common good.

The reform of global governance, to be summarised in the Pact for the Future, must firstly ensure an inclusive process for all players on the international stage, both at the level of individual countries and of regional groups that, as in the case of the “African Group”, the “Small Developing Islands”, and the “Arab Group”, are bearers of common and legitimate interests.

Clearly, the inclusive process cannot overlook the other players, particularly the representatives of civil society, who look to the United Nations and who are often at the forefront in contributing to the sustainable development of the planet.

The goal of inclusiveness itself underlies the proposal of Italy and of the countries united by the acronym “Uniting for Consensus” for the reform and improved representativeness in the Security Council, chiefly aimed at giving more space to under-represented regions, such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, so as to remedy a historical injustice that is evident to all.

The UN institutions were modelled based on the war, on the relations that arose from World War II.

It is time to forge them based on peace, taking into account the positive continental cooperation initiatives that have grown in recent decades, such as the African Union and the European Union, and those in progress in other regions of the world.

A Council reformed this way would be able to strike a balance between the increase in the number of members (and a fair regional representation) and the need to preserve and possibly improve its decision-making capacities, strongly compromised by the current political polarisation and the repeated, and too often instrumental, use of the veto by permanent members.

Italy will continue to actively and positively contribute to the drafting of the Pact for the Future, so that a shared vision of the instruments and actions required to jointly tackle the global challenges of the 21st century may be achieved.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

concluding this speech, I would like to quote a UN Secretary-General, of whom we have fond memories.

On the eve of this millennium, Kofi Annan pointed out that global challenges have one thing in common: they do not respect borders, and even the strongest state is powerless before them.

Such considerations led him to state that today “more than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. And that is why we have the United Nations”.

These are words of great wisdom that, two decades on, appear to be more crucial than ever and must urge us to commit ourselves productively to consolidate this Organisation and its rules.