Ambassador Peter Thomson, Guest of UVU Students, elected as President of the Seventy-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly

A week ago I was able to watch how members of the United Nations elected the President of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). By a secret vote the UNGA elected H. E. Ambassador Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations to that important at the United Nations position on June 13, 2016. His competitor was H.E. Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, PR of Cyprus to the UN. The main function of the President is to chair the sessions of the General Assembly. He has also an informal facilitative role by consulting bilaterally with delegations to assess differences in position, to propose solutions and build consensus for proposals.

I was thrilled to hear how after the election, the new President noted that “the Assembly’s 71st session would bring momentum to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and serve to achieve progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” For us, UVU, students this is now important priority to strengthen university approach of providing our professional growth and advancement through the SDGs implementation in part related to the mountain indicators under the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda of the UN.


  1. E. Ambassador Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations (third from the right) with members of UIMF during his visit to UVU on December 7, 2015

Another reason for my excitement was related to the fact, that my peers, members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) hosted Ambassador Thomson at UVU on 7 December 2015 as a part of the commemoration of the UN International Mountain Day. While Ambassador Thomson represents a nation which is not a mountainous one, during the visit to UVU, the UN dignitary was very interested to learn about UVU students engagement with SMD advocacy in the State of Utah and North America.

UIMF members then asked many questions from Ambassador Thomson about how Small Island Nations’ so successfully work at the UN level and what needs to be done by the mountain nations in order to effectively promote the SMD agenda there. (For more information, see:

It was one more great engaged learning experience on global level for UVU students which happened thanks to the support from university faculty and Dr Rusty Butler, former Associate Vice President for International Affairs and Diplomacy at UVU among them. Dr Butler made UVU very unique by hosting more than eighteen Permanent Representatives of different nations accredited to the UN during 2012-2015, and PR of Austria to the UN, and President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Martin Sajdik among them. As a result of that particular initiative to host UN dignitaries, many of students were able to learn how building personal ties with many of visiting dignitaries could help them to advance very important for people in Utah and global mountain communities SMD goals.

I have been following very closely the election of the new president of the General Assembly using a tip from Dr Butler, who informed us last December that there was a high probability that Ambassador Thomson could be the next President of UNGA.

At the end of May, UVU delegation and I were able to get acquainted again with Ambassador Thomson. I assisted Dr Rusty Butler in his new capacity as the Main Representative from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RANS) to the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) to be prepared for the Fourth High-Level Political Forum at ECOSOC on Sustainable Development (HLPF) held on 11-15 July 2016 at the UN headquarters. This would be his first experience as the Main representative of the major international NGO accredited under ECOSOC with consultative status to report about SMD advocacy in the State of Utah through students engaged learning before such a high level event at the United Nations.

As part of the visit, I was acquainted with Ambassador Thomson and his spouse Marijke, along with H.E. Mr. Vitaly Churkin, PR of the Russian Federation to the UN with his spouse, Irina at a dinner hosted by the PR of Hungary to the UN, Her Excellency Ms Katalin Bogyay in honour of the visit of the UVU delegation to the UN. One of the topics at the dinner was the upcoming election of President of the UN General Assembly for the 2016-2017 and what are the chances for Ambassador Thomson to be elected as President of the 71st General Assembly. In addition the three PRs expressed sincere thanks to the people of Utah and to UVU faculty and students for hospitality and dedication to the United Nations cause.


(L to R) H.E. Peter Thomson, PR of Fiji to UN; Irina Churkina, wife of H.E. Mr Vitaly Churkin, PR of the Russian Federation to UN; Ms. Marijcke Thomson, wife of H.E. Peter Thomson; H.E. Ms Katalin Annamária Bogyay, PR of Hungary to UN and her husband. (Seated), former AVP of UVU Dr Rusty Butler and H.E. Mr Vitaly Churkin, PR of the Russian Federation to the UN (©Rusty Butler)

UVU students have now many new opportunities in building further cooperation with the UN during the Presidency at the UNGA of PR of Fiji to the UN, Ambassador Peter Thomson.

Ambassador Thomson, served as Vice President of the 66th UN General Assembly during 2011-2012 and currently is President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority. Ambassador Thomson, who will replace the current General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft from Denmark, is the first representative of a Pacific small island developing State that will take over the presidency.

Yanko Dzhukev, member of the UIMF, and first Utah Valley University intern at the United Nations Secretariat