India's success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals can change the face of the world, UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa has said, describing the country as a "very important player" of the multilateral system.
Espinosa said she is very much looking forward to engaging and working together with India under her presidency of the 193-member UN General Assembly.
"India is indeed a very important player of the multilateral system. It is a friendly country to the United Nations. If India succeeds in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda - we are talking about 1.3 billion people - this really can change the face of the world,'' she told PTI.
Espinosa, Ecuador's former Minister of Foreign Affairs, was in June elected president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, becoming only the fourth female president of the organisation in its 73-year history.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the veteran Indian diplomat and sister of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first woman to be elected president of the General Assembly in as early as 1953. Later, Angie Elisabeth Brooks of Liberia was elected president in 1969 and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain in 2006.
Before assuming office as UNGA president, Espinosa had visited India and had held meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Recalling her visit to India, she said she was touched to see how the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) were being implemented on the ground in the country.
During the visit, she had met NGOs and groups of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods and said it was heartening to see them organising their communities using the SDGs as a framework.
Lauding India's efforts in various aspects of the UN system, she said India is a very strong contributor of troops for UN peacekeeping operations. "It is very important also to set the standards on issues of involvement of women in peacekeeping, zero tolerance to any abuse or violence against women peacekeepers and against women and girls in general in conflict situations,'' she said.
Espinosa also congratulated Prime Minister Modi for being conferred with the United Nations' highest environmental honour, the 'UNEP Champions of the Earth' award, recognising his leadership of the International Solar Alliance as well as his pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022.
"I was very happy to see the award given to India and Prime Minister Modi for his environmental work and to look at the every strong commitment of India towards renewable energy. They are really very important players for the climate agenda as well," she said.
Despite these opportunities, India also faces several challenges in areas of sanitation and urbanisation, she said when asked about what challenges she sees for the country.
Given that India is a highly populated country, the issue of balance between rural and urban areas, access to services are major challenges, she said adding that "if you have the political will, if you have the proper planning, you are committed then the challenge becomes an opportunity."
"I see that things are happening in a very positive way. The favourable conditions are a very dynamic and active civil society engagement, vibrant democracy, strong participation of people, engaged citizens are the conditions you need to make a difference and the conditions are there in India", she said.
She further said that historically India has had a vibrant civil society and strong democracy and "these are the contributions that India" can make to the multilateral system.
On India's role at the UN and expectations from the country going forward, she said the contributions that India can make are huge. "I am really very much looking forward to working on all my seven priorities with India. I see India as a country of hope and potential as well, she said.
Espinosa has listed revitalisation of the UN, gender equality, youth, peace and security, migration and refugees, environmental action, decent and meaningful employment and commitment towards persons with disabilities as her key priorities in the GA session.
Last week, commemorating the International Day of Non-violence, celebrated across the world on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary, Espinosa had said that the legacy of the Mahatma has proven the most durable and enduring and had voiced her commitment to peace and security and representing the ideals and principles of Gandhi in the current UNGA session.
She said non-violence is not only a philosophy but it can be translated into political action. The peaceful settlement of disputes, the fostering of dialogue, generosity to understand the divergent perspective on issues is extremely important, she added.
"The only way to be a peaceful world is using the philosophy of nonviolence from Gandhi and translate it into political action and commitment. Humility and generosity are universal values but at the same time, they are so important to address challenges that we all face, to address the refugee situation, specific conflicts around the world", she said.
"Sometimes we feel that nonviolence is non-action. On the contrary, non-violence can be translated into very strong political action and commitment. These principles are so important and we owe that to the legacy of Gandhi", she added.