September 20, 2022: World leaders gather at UN General Assembly

By Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 5:46 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022
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5:24 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Russia's war in Ukraine is "compounding" pre-existing international problems, Finland's president says

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö urged the international community to come together in solidarity to uphold laws and principles of human rights, against the backdrop of Russia's "unprovoked war" in Ukraine.

Speak at the United National General Assembly on Tuesday, Niinistö said Russia is "raging a brutal war in Ukraine" and while countries and members of the assembly might not always agree, “it our common obligation to uphold” rules around international laws and human rights, he said.

“Russia use of force is in blatant violation of the Charter of the United Nations," Niinistö added.

“The ripple effects of that war are already far-reaching and severe. They are compounding the pre-existing problems faced by the international community," he said, pointing to things like energy, food security and finances as examples.

These are all things that impact vulnerable countries the most who are already under stress from the climate crisis and the pandemic, he said. In order to respond to these challenges, Niinistö said there needs to be "collective action" and sustainable solutions.

“This truly is a watershed moment,” he said.

Niinistö said the UNGA, where world leaders are in the same place, in person for the first time in several years, is an opportunity to engage in dialogue. Now, he said, is the time to show "solidarity" and cooperation between countries.

“The international community can and should emerge stronger from this crisis," Niinistö said.
1:14 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Turkey's Erdogan calls for "dignified way out" of Ukraine war that is "rational and fair"

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the United Nations General Assembly. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for an end to the "Russian-Ukrainian crisis" on Tuesday,  saying the seven-month war had sent a "wave of shock" around the globe.

Erdogan expressed that "war will never have a triumph and a fair peace process will not have a loser," in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

He called on the world to "support the peaceful initiatives of Turkey to settle this dispute once and for all. We need a dignified way out of this crisis. And that can only be possible through a diplomatic solution which is rational, which is fair, and which is applicable." 

"We are investing tremendous efforts in order to ensure that the war will be finalized by protecting the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine once and for all,” Erdogan said, adding, “And we would like to launch an appeal to all the international organizations and countries of the world to to support peaceful initiatives of Turkey to settle this dispute once and for all."

The Turkish leader underlined the need for "diplomacy in the settlement of the disputes through dialogue" and celebrated his part in negotiating the Black Sea Grain Initiative agreed in Istanbul, "as a result of the heavy efforts that we have invested together with the UN secretary-general which managed to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, finding its way through the rest of the global markets. 

"This is a critical agreement that was undertaken jointly with the United Nations, and this is one of the greatest accomplishments of the United Nations in the recent decades," he added. 

Erdogan said the "Istanbul Convention proves once again that negotiations can yield results, especially in issues which are vital to all the parties involved."

9:32 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Anti-Bolsonaro activists project images on UN building, calling the Brazilian president a "liar"

From CNN's Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo and Hira Humayun

Anti-Bolsonaro activists project an image of the Brazilian president on the side of the United Nations building in New York City.
Anti-Bolsonaro activists project an image of the Brazilian president on the side of the United Nations building in New York City. (US Network for Democracy in Brazil)

A group of activists projected images of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on the side of the UN building in New York late Monday night into early Tuesday morning, just hours before Bolsonaro lead off the UN General Assembly with the first speech from a world leader.

Photos of Bolsonaro calling him "liar," "Brazilian shame," and "disgrace" in different languages were projected on the building by members of the US Network for Democracy in Brazil, a civil society group that aims to educate the public in the United States about the current political climate in Brazil.

The group has been vocal and critical of Bolsonaro.

A spokesperson for the United Nations late Tuesday disputed the activists' claim that the images were projected on any UN building.

Last year, the US Network for Democracy in Brazil conducted a similar protest hours before Bolsonaro's opening speech at the UN. A truck with screens displaying the words “Bolsonaro is burning the Amazon” were seen in the vicinity of the UN headquarters.

5:46 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Colombian president slams destruction of Amazon rainforest in his first UNGA speech

From CNN's Hira Humayun

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro addresses the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, recently-elected Colombian president Gustavo Petro strongly condemned the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

“Here in the Amazon jungle is a failure of humanity,” he said, slamming the exploitation of the rainforest’s resources for profit by businesses.

"For you, my country interests you only if you can spread poison in the jungle, take its men to prison and cast its women into exclusion," he said.

Petro went on to say, “For power relations in the world the jungle and its inhabitants are those responsible for the plague that inflicts them.”

He called the discourse around saving the jungle “hypocritical” and said recommendations and warnings from scientists about the destruction of the rainforest, have been ignored.

“The jungle is burning, distinguished delegates,” he said to the assembly, “The jungle - the climate pillar of the world- is disappearing along with all of its life. The enormous sponge absorbing planetary carbon dioxide is evaporating. The savior jungle is seen in my country as the enemy to be defeated. As the weeds that must be pulled out.”

 Protection for the Amazon rainforest has been an issue Petro has been vocal about.

11:55 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Colombian president attacks world's "addiction to power and money" and calls for end to war on drugs

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly.
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly. (Brian McDermid/Reuters)

Abandoning the careful wording that characterizes so much diplomacy at the UN, Colombian President Gustavo Petro in his speech attacked the global north, contrasting the dangers of drug addiction to what he described as humanity’s even more damaging “addiction to power, and to money.”

“What is more harmful to humanity? Cocaine, carbon or oil?” he asked.

Yet “carbon and oil are protected even though their use could leave humanity to extinction. This is how world power works,” he added, to murmurs in the assembly hall.

Petro, the first leftwing president in Colombia’s history, called on all of Latin America to reject the war on drugs. “We conceal the loneliness of society by blaming the plant (coca),” he said.

He also accused the global north of “reproducing 1933 at a planetary scale” in its treatment of migrants fleeing crushing environmental conditions, and of seeking to profit off of global disasters like the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The climate disaster is full of viruses which are working to overcome us, but you are turning even medicine into business and vaccines into merchandise.”

His speech received a robust round of applause.

11:31 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Presidents of France and Iran held meeting at UN Tuesday, source says

From CNN's Richard Roth

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the United Nations Tuesday, according to a diplomatic source. 

It’s the first high-level meeting with a Western country for Raisi since taking office last year. 

The meeting took place as efforts to bring back the nuclear agreement has stalled.

11:23 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Brazil's Bolsonaro calls for peace talks, not sanctions, to end Ukraine war

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro addresses the United Nations General Assembly. (Brian McDermid/Reuters)

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday called for diplomacy as the best way to bring an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Bolsonaro said the first step toward lasting peace must be "an immediate ceasefire, the protection of civilians and noncombatants, the preservation of critical infrastructure to assist the population."

Bolsonaro said Brazil does not see sanctions against Russia as a viable way to end the seven-month conflict that started following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We do not believe that the best way is to adopt unilateral and selective sanctions that are inconsistent with international law. These measures have harmed the economic recovery and threatened the human rights of vulnerable populations, including in European countries," Bolsonaro said.

"The solution to the conflict in Ukraine will only be achieved through negotiation and dialogue," he said.

Some context: In April, Reuters reported Russia asked Brazil for support in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the G20 group of top economies in the face of sanctions.

Bolsonaro, who has kept Brazil neutral in the Ukraine crisis, expressed “solidarity” when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 16, about a week before the invasion began. Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Franca previously said Brazil opposes the expulsion of Russia from the G20.

1:18 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Protest buses outside UN target Iranian president over the death of a young woman

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

Electric billboard buses have been circulating around Manhattan’s east side in the vicinity of the United Nations, with illuminated signs on the sides targeting Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Each panel shows images of Mahsa Amini — the young Iranian woman who died this month after being detained by Iran’s morality police — and lays the blame for her death at Raisi’s feet. The Iranian president has ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Amini’s death, which is galvanizing protests in Iran as well.

Iranian officials have said that Amini suffered a "heart attack" and fell into a coma following her arrest. However, her family said she did not have a pre-existing heart condition, according to Emtedad news, an Iranian pro-reform media outlet that claimed to have spoken to Amini's father.

1:17 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Protesters at the UN call for world leaders to stop the "murder" of the planet

From CNN's Caitlin Hu at UN headquarters

As the UN general debate opened in New York on a grey Tuesday morning, environmental activists chanted, sang and waved banners outside the UN headquarters, calling for leaders to stop the “murder” of the planet and destruction of the Amazon, singling out Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in particular.

Inside the opulent green and gold assembly hall, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres echoed protesters’ calls for climate action, kicking off the day of speeches with a warning that the planet is burning and global action to stop it still halting and uncoordinated.

As diplomats huddled and whispered in hushed tones, Bolsonaro himself took the stage.

The first country leader to speak, by tradition, the Brazilian president — who faces a reelection battle in October — attacked his country’s previous left-leaning government and touted “efforts to modernize Brazil’s economy” and food production under his presidency.

Briefly, he said that much of the Amazon remains untouched — but also argued that indigenous communities living in the vast forest need economic activity. Deforestation in the forest has skyrocketed under Bolsonaro, who has encouraged expansion of the country’s agribusiness and other commercial industries that make use of Brazil’s natural resources.