Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador Dennis Francis was elected Thursday as the next president of the U.N. General Assembly, the 193-member world body that has been at the forefront of the United Nations’ condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is a key venue for all countries to tackle urgent issues from growing global poverty and inequality to climate change.
Francis, the longest-serving ambassador of his Caribbean nation, takes over the presidency at the start of the 78th session of the assembly in September and will preside over the annual gathering of world leaders later that month.
Francis was elected by acclamation with a bang of the gavel and loud applause. He will succeed Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary, a diplomat for nearly 40 years who was highly praised by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said, “I will miss his advice and guidance.”
The General Assembly, which is the U.N.’s most representative body, has taken the spotlight in reacting to the war in Ukraine because of Russia’s veto power in the Security Council, which is charged with ensuring international peace and security. It has adopted six resolutions, which included demands for Russia to withdraw all its forces from Ukraine and condemnation of its “attempted illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they are important as a reflection of world opinion.
Francis was asked how the war will factor into the upcoming session and replied: “I believe that the will exists, and the capacity exists, to think and act globally beyond the limits of the war, and that will be something that I’ll be seeking to encourage in various ways so that we can make common cause in finding consensus, or, if not consensus, at least compromise.”
A career diplomat for nearly 40 years, Francis came out of retirement to become Trinidad and Tobago’s U.N. ambassador in September 2021. He previously represented the nation at U.N. agencies in Geneva, Vienna and Paris and held top posts in the foreign ministry. He also served as high commissioner to Jamaica and was accredited to the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
Francis has chosen “Peace, Prosperity, Progress and Sustainability” as his theme, saying they constitute “the four supreme objectives before the international community” at this critical time. Kőrösi’s theme for the current assembly session has been “Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science.”
After his election, Francis told the assembly that “education is the great liberator, lifting people up the social ladder and strengthening society in the process.”
A key focus, he said, when world leaders meet in September will be to re-energize action to deliver on U.N. goals for 2030, which are seriously lagging. They range from ending extreme poverty and ensuring quality secondary education for all children to achieving gender equality, reducing inequality and taking urgent action to combat climate change.
Guterres said Francis will take the presidency “at a deeply challenging moment for the human family,” pointing to “conflicts and climate chaos, escalating poverty, hunger and inequality, mistrust and division.” And he said the 2030 goals are “in danger” and “slipping out of reach.”