Controversy at UN
World’s leaders begin fall session in New York
President George W. Bush addresses the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007, in New York City. (Photo: White House photo by Eric Draper)
President Bush delivered a bold speech to world leaders earlier this week, marking the formal opening of the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
During his 15–minute address, the President criticized several countries that he said have a long history of human rights abuses. He singled out Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where child labor, persecution, and other violations of human rights are said to be widespread.
Bush vowed to enforce stricter sanctions against that country’s military government. Economic sanctions have been in place since 1997.
"Americans are outraged by the situation in [Myanmar]," he said. "The people’s desire for freedom is unmistakable."
For the past month, Buddhist monks, students, and other protesters have staged peaceful demonstrations against the government in the capital city of Yangon.
Bush spoke briefly about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called upon the international community to support the Iraqi and Afghan people in their "fight for democracy."
He went on to condemn the governments of Belarus, North Korea, Syria, Zimbabwe, and Iran as brutal regimes. Bush reserved his harshest criticism for Cuban President Fidel Castro. Castro rose to power in 1959. Last year, because of illness, he transferred his presidential duties to his brother, Raul.
"In Cuba, the long reign of a cruel dictator is nearing its end," Bush said.
In response to President Bush’s remarks about their ailing leader, the Cuban UN delegation walked off the floor of the General Assembly during the speech.
Iranian Leader in Spotlight
Controversy dogged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad throughout his four-day visit to New York, which began on Sunday. Thousands of protesters gathered at Columbia University to protest his public appearance there on Monday.
In a speech before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, the Iranian leader said his country would not respect UN orders to stop uranium–enrichment activities. He also declared that the discussion of Iran’s nuclear intentions was "closed" to further debate. Ahmadinejad has continually denied that Iran is building a nuclear bomb.
Representatives from six countries are meeting at the UN this week to discuss new international sanctions against Iran. The sanctions are intended to hurt Iran economically and force it to stop its nuclear research. Five of the six countries, including the U.S., hold veto power at the UN.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate voted 76 to 22 to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.
Busy Week at the UN
In all, world leaders delivered 27 speeches this week, covering a variety of topics—from global warming to human rights.
The United Nations was founded in 1945. Its 51 original members were committed to achieving worldwide peace. Today, the UN is made up of representatives of 192 countries. Each year, the UN General Assembly meets in session from September to December.
For more information about the UN, check out our Special Report, including Kid Reporter Michael Carboni’s audio-visual tour of the UN headquarters.
Critical Thinking Question
Read today’s story and answer the following question.
What is the most important issue that the UN members should be discussing this session?
Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board.
Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.