UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders, by the numbers

The 77th UN General Assembly saw 195 speakers with an average of 19 minutes of speech, against the prescribed time limit of just 15 minutes. Palestine, an observer at the global body, kept the mic for the longest speech made over 47 minutes

The Associated Press September 28, 2022 10:04:40 IST
UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders, by the numbers

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave the longest speech over 47 minutes and also carried props. AP

United Nations: The barricades are down, the world leaders have left and New Yorkers are complaining slightly less about traffic. The gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly is over. Here, we break down the stats for you:

UN General Assembly Sessions: 77

The first UN General Assembly was convened in 1946. This month the 77th session opened.

Days of General Debate: 6

The stately fireworks that mark the so-called General Debate — where presidents, prime ministers and kings take the stage — began on Tuesday, 20 September. Speeches continued through Monday, 26 September, with Sunday off.

Speakers: 195

The 195 includes speeches from three permanent observers — Palestine, the Holy See and the European Union — as well as opening speeches from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the president of the 77th General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary, who also delivered a closing speech.

First speech: Brazil

Last speech: Nauru

Brazil is historically the first member to speak, as their decision to volunteer amid others’ reluctance in the early days of the General Assembly set a precedent. Nauru is by no means obligated to go last — in 2021, the final speaker was Timor-Leste — but the order of speakers is generally determined by factors including geography and what position the speaker holds.

Title of speakers:

— Presidents: 73

— Kings: 2

— Princes: 2

— Emirs: 1

— Prime ministers: 49

— Transitional or acting leaders: 2

— Secretaries of state: 1

— Vice presidents: 4

— Ministers: 52

— Permanent representatives to the United Nations: 7

The most common types of speakers are heads of state, heads of government and ministers. This year saw four royals at the rostrum including the kings of Jordan and Eswatini and the emir of Qatar. There were two speakers with the title of prince: Prince Albert II is Monaco’s head of state, while Prince Farhan bin Faisal is Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister (though the tally above counts him only in the prince column).

Pietro Parolin, the delegate from the Holy See, has the title of “secretary of state.” The position is held by a cardinal who acts as the pope’s deputy and handles the Vatican’s political and diplomatic affairs.

General Abdel-Fattah Burhan is Sudan’s transitional leader. He led a coup against a transitional government charged with shepherding the country to democracy last year. Mali’s acting prime minister, Abdoulaye Maiga, is also a spokesperson for the government of the country’s coup leader, Assimi Goita.

Gender of speakers:

Male: 173

Female: 22

Women’s voices at the UN General Assembly typically number few. Even among this year’s speakers, fewer than half — nine, to be precise — were heads of state or government. The paltry total still represented an improvement from last year, when only 18 women spoke.

The president of last year’s General Assembly, Abdullah Shahid of the Maldives, convened the first-ever UNGA Platform of Women Leaders to try to address the gap. During the meeting last week, participants said it could take anywhere between 130 and 300 years to achieve gender parity.

Absences: 3

Afghanistan, Myanmar and São Tomé and Príncipe are all UN member-states, but none took the microphone this year. The status of Afghanistan and Myanmar’s representation remains in dispute — the same issue precluded the two Asian countries from speaking last year, following the military junta’s toppling of Myanmar’s civilian government and the resurrection of the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan. The reason for the small African island nation’s absence was less clear; an email seeking comment from its UN mission was not returned and the phone numbers for the mission were not operational.

Languages used to deliver speeches: 22

— English: 105

— French: 23

— Spanish: 20

— Arabic: 19

— Portuguese: 6

— Russian: 3

— Korean: 2

Belgium and Canada do not factor into the breakdown above, as their representatives each delivered significant portions of their speeches in both English and French.

Of the six official UN languages — Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish — Chinese was lone in which only a single speech (China’s) was delivered. The other languages with one-speech-only appearances: Bengali, Bosnian, Catalan, Farsi, German, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Malay, Mongolian, Polish and Turkish. The United Nations has its own argot, regardless of the language.

Video speeches: 1

Because of the ongoing war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was granted special dispensation by a vote to address the General Assembly via a pre-recorded video. His speech aired Wednesday, running a little under a half-hour, and was delivered in English.

Right of reply

Usages: 21

The country that made the most use of the exercise: Iran, at 4

The right of reply is the closest the General Debate gets to a debate. Countries are allotted time after the day’s speeches to respond to claims made by others. In addition to Iran, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all made multiple uses of this feature.

Shortest speech: Guinea-Bissau’s, given by President Úmaro Sissoco Embaló, at 7 minutes, 30 seconds

Embaló’s speedy speech, delivered in Portuguese, still managed to touch on a range of topics including climate change, regional security, infectious diseases, and the US embargo of Cuba.

Longest Speech: Palestine’s, delivered by President Mahmoud Abbas, at 47 minutes, 23 seconds

Palestine is not a member of the United Nations but regularly speaks at the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting because of its status as a permanent observer. Abbas even brought props. The runner-up was Congo, a UN member-state represented this year by President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, whose French speech clocked in about 10 minutes shorter than Abbas’.

The average length of speeches: Around 19 minutes

Delegates are “kindly requested” to keep speeches to 15 minutes, as the president of the General Assembly reminded the hall multiple times as the first day of the General Debate wore on. Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová ended her speech (under 12 minutes!) with a bit of a mic drop: “And since obeying even the smallest of rules matters, let me finish here to respect the agreed time limit.”

References to “August” Body, Assembly, Hall or House: At least 24

References to “September” body, Assembly, Hall or House:

Yes, we know what “august” means — but when listening to more than 10 hours of oration on the dire state of the world, one looks for moments of levity.

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