NEW YORK — The speeches may be scripted, but the U.N. General Assembly can sometimes be the only direct window into the regional challenges that command global concern.
On Saturday, world leaders were speaking on behalf of some of the most unstable and unsettling current conflicts. That includes India’s fight over the Kashmir region with bitter rival Pakistan, Haiti’s domestic crises spilling into a migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and questions about the Ethiopian government’s role in reported starvation deaths in the Tigray region.
Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry didn't shy away from addressing his country's turmoil following a major earthquake and the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, in recent months — alluding to but not directly addressing reports that may implicate Henry himself in the murder.
“I want to reaffirm here, at this platform, my determination to do everything to find the collaborators, accomplices and sponsors of this odious crime. Nothing, absolutely nothing, no political maneuver, no media campaign, no distraction, could deter me from this objective: rendering justice for President Moïse,” Henry said in a prerecorded speech.
“It is a debt to his memory, his family and the Haitian people," Henry said. "The judicial inquest is going difficultly. It’s a transnational crime. And for that, we formally solicit mutual legal assistance. It is a priority of my government for the entire nation. Because this crime cannot rest unpunished et those culpable, all those culpable must be punished.”
The statement comes days after Henry fired his chief prosecutor, who had asked a judge to charge Henry in the slaying of Moïse that has shocked the world and to bar the prime minister from leaving the country.
Haiti's troubles have moved beyond its borders, with thousands of migrants fleeing to the United States. This week, the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned in protest of “inhumane” large-scale U.S. expulsions of Haitian migrants. Foote was appointed to the position only in July, following the assassination.
Henry pointedly said that inequalities and conflict drive migration. But he stopped short of directly criticizing Washington, whose treatment of Haitian asylum-seekers has prompted an outcry.
Human beings, fathers and mothers who have children, are always going to flee poverty and conflict,” Henry said. “Migration will continue as long as the planet has both wealthy areas, whilst most of the world’s population lives in poverty, even extreme poverty, without any prospects of a better life.”
It was a flat-out denial for Ethiopia Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, who rejected humanitarian concerns over Tigray as part of a “twisted propaganda campaign" in the embattled corner of northern Ethiopia.
“The criminal enterprise and its enablers created and advertised horrific imagery of faked incidents. As if the real misery of our people is not enough, storylines are created to match not the facts but preconceived stereotypical attitudes," Mekonnen said.
Ethiopia has faced the pressure of global concern since the U.N. warned of famine in the conflict, calling it the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade. Starvation deaths have been reported since the government in June imposed what the U.N. calls “a de facto humanitarian aid blockade.”
In his speech Saturday, Mekonnen urged the international community to steer clear of sanctions, avoid meddling and take a “constructive approach” to its war forces from the region.
“Prescriptions and punitive measures never helped improve situations or relations,” he said, less than 10 days after the U.S. threatened to impose sanctions against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other leaders.
Meanwhile, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi largely sidestepped his nation's regional conflict, making only what appeared to be a passing reference to Kashmir, channeling his comments through the lens of the Afghanistan crisis.
Modi, who spent part of the week meeting with U.S. officials to strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific, was measured in his pushback as compared to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scathing — albeit predictable — rhetoric that had landed hours earlier.
Modi called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.
“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan, wedged in between Afghanistan and India.
On Friday, Khan had, once again, labeled Modi’s Hindu nationalist government “fascist” and railed against India’s crackdown on Kashmir, the disputed region divided between each country but claimed by both.
The Indian government has raised concerns that the chaos left in the wake of the U.S.’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan and feed the long-simmering insurgency in Kashmir, where militants already have a foothold.