You are here:

UNGA 77 Miscellany

A landmark launch of Scoring for the Goals event with projection of images of Sustainable Development Goals on the UN Building.

Want to know more about UNGA? Read on to learn about the General Debate, and Queen Elizabeth II’s long history with the UN.

Did you know?

  • The General Assembly has not always met at UN Headquarters. It first met in Central Hall Westminster, London. Over the first seven years the UNGA cycled between Flushing Meadows in New York and the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. It took up permanent home at UNHQ in 1954, although in 1988 it moved to the Palais de Nations in Geneva to allow Palestinian President Arafat to speak (the US had refused him a visa).
  • The UN was made up of 51 Member States when it was created in 1945, and today there are 193 Member States. Each Member State has an equal voice, and a single vote. 
  • The order of the speeches at the General Debate is different each year, though since the 10th session in 1955, Brazil has spoken first and the United States has spoken second, with a few exceptions.
  • Though speakers are asked to keep their statements to under 15 minutes, world leaders often go well beyond that. The longest speech given during high level week took place in 1960. President Castro of Cuba stood at the podium and said, “although we have been given the reputation of speaking at great length; the Assembly need not worry. “We shall do our best to be brief, saying only what we regard it as our duty to say here”. He finally sat down 4 hours and 29 minutes later. 
  • The gavel used by the President of the General Assembly is known as “Thor’s gavel” as it was originally a gift from the Icelandic ambassador Mr Thor Thors at the 1952 opening of the new UN Headquarters. This gift was to mark Iceland’s status as the world’s oldest democracy. The precise gavel has been replaced twice: in October 1960, then President of the General Assembly, Frederick Boland of Ireland broke the first one when energetically using it to silence Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev who was banging his shoe on the desk. In 2005 the second gavel was stolen. The current gavel is made of pear tree wood to a Viking design, and bears the Icelandic phrase “society must be built on the basis of laws” in both Latin and Icelandic.

Queen Elizabeth II and the UN

Last week the UN General Assembly held a special session paying tribute to the Queen’s memory, where UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described her as a “pillar without peer on the world stage for more than 70 years”. Queen Elizabeth II visited the UN headquarters on two occasions, first addressing the General Assembly in 1957, then again over 50 years later, in 2010. 

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom addresses the United Nations General Assembly in October 1957. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Fox

We share some highlights from these visits below.

In 1957, a then 31-year old Queen Elizabeth highlighted the values which underpinned the United Nations:

This Assembly was born of the endeavours of countless men and women from different nations who, over the centuries, have pursued the aims of the preservation of peace between nations, equality of justice for all before the law and the right of the peoples of the world to live their lives in freedom and security.

But, Mr President, the future of this Organisation will be determined, not only by the degree to which its members observe strictly the provisions of the charter and cooperate in its practical activities, but also by the strength of its people’s devotion to the pursuit of those great ideals to which I have referred.

When justice and respect for obligations are firmly established, the United Nations will the more confidently achieve the goal of a world at peace, law abiding and prosperous for which men and women have striven so long and which is the heart’s desire of every nation here represented. I offer you my best wishes in your task and pray that you may be successful.

Over 50 years later, she returned to the UN headquarters in New York, speaking about how the UN had transformed in this time:

In my lifetime, the United Nations has moved from being a high-minded aspiration to being a real force for common good.

Watch her speech in full:

In a statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres paid tribute to Her Majesty’s recent engagement at COP26 in Glasgow. She looked to the future, emphasising the importance of acting for the sake of future generations:

It is the hope of many that the legacy of this summit – written in history books yet to be printed – will describe you as the leaders who did not pass up the opportunity; and that you answered the call of those future generations. That you left this conference as a community of nations with a determination, a desire, and a plan, to address the impact of climate change; and to recognise that the time for words has now moved to the time for action.

Of course, the benefits of such actions will not be there to enjoy for all of us here today: we none of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.

Click here to return to the UNGA77 Briefing

See more:

Photos: Launch of Scoring for the Goals event with projection of images of Sustainable Development Goals on the UN Building. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom addresses the United Nations General Assembly in October 1957. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Fox