For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:   UNIS/SG/2517
Release Date:   10 March 2000
Secretary-General, Citing Wide Range of Crises, Tells Security Council
Need for Effective Humanitarian Assistance Never Greater

 NEW YORK, 9 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the meeting of the Security Council on humanitarian aspects of issues before the Council, delivered on 9 March:

 I wish to pay tribute to the Government of Bangladesh and its Permanent Representative for convening this meeting on a critical aspect of our mission to end suffering and alleviate extreme hardships around the world.

 Let me, at the outset, also express the hope that this meeting will build on the progress made at the first meeting of the Council devoted to humanitarian activities, hosted by Brazil last January.  The experiences of the past decade, from Africa to the Balkans to Asia, have taught us that our humanitarian mission holds both greater promise and greater peril than almost any other part of the United Nations' work.

 We have seen how humanitarian action can save lives, but we have also seen how it can be exploited and abused by parties unwilling to abide by international humanitarian principles, and only too willing to subvert such action to further their own inhumane policies.

 As we meet today, it is clear that Mozambique presents us with a most urgent case of need.  Even as the assistance in some places has been too little too late, I am pleased that the Council is addressing the plight of the people of Mozambique, and that the overall response has been very generous.

 Mozambique today is only the most urgent of a number of crises.  Over the last year, from the Balkans to the Sudan, from Venezuela to Afghanistan to Central Africa, the world has been confronted with humanitarian emergencies that seem only to grow in horror and pain.  Wars and natural disasters, often joined in a terrible combination, continue to cause massive loss of life, tremendous suffering and great dislocations of peoples and groups.  The need for effective humanitarian assistance has never been greater.

 In all these situations, we must ask ourselves:  Are we doing enough?

 Are we helping those most in need, or just those most immediately in reach?  Is our aid the right aid for the emergency in question?  Is it affecting a conflict in a way that may perpetuate it rather than end it?  These are the questions that we must keep asking in order to ensure that we provide the best, most effective humanitarian assistance.

 We must strengthen our capacity to bring relief to victims, but we must also devise more effective strategies to prevent humanitarian emergencies from arising in the first place.  I recently presented the case for better and more cost-effective prevention strategies for both man-made and natural disasters in my Annual Report on the work of the Organization.  And within the United Nations, I have launched a major effort to develop a system- wide framework for early warning and preventive action.

 The fact is that humanitarian aid does not exist in a vacuum.  In some cases -? such as in Mozambique today, or with the floods in Venezuela or the earthquake in Turkey last year -? we face true natural disasters.  In others, however, we confront man-made disasters which are rooted clearly in war and tyranny.

 From the Great Lakes to Bosnia, we have learned that, while the humanitarian imperative is sacred, there is also a humanitarian dilemma.  This is the dilemma that too often has forced us to provide food and clothing not only to the victims of conflict, but also to its architects.  It is the dilemma that too often allows combatants to use humanitarian aid and its recipients as tools in war.  It is the dilemma that, at times, has turned camps created for the needy and vulnerable into havens for extremists and bases from which they could continue their acts of hatred.  It is the dilemma, finally, that makes clear that humanitarian assistance is no substitute for political action.

 One thing is clear, however:  these humanitarian dilemmas have made the global humanitarian mission more important, not less.

 Today, I wish to emphasize three major issues facing humanitarian action.  First, how such action can make a positive contribution to efforts to restore and maintain peace and security.  Second, how we can continue to make progress in integrating humanitarian and political-military elements of United Nations peace operations.  Third, how we can ensure that the legal and principled basis of humanitarian action is respected and strengthened.

 It is clear that, in many instances, the causes of humanitarian and security crises are the same, or that the one arises from the other.  It is equally clear that, while conflict and war are the main causes of humanitarian crisis, involving violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and producing mass population displacement, such crises often perpetuate instability.

 There are no more acute examples of this vicious and violent cycle than the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the crisis in Angola.  The crisis in the Democratic Republic has implicated a dozen States and over 50 million people, and had its roots in the humanitarian crisis in the Great Lakes region.

 It is clear, therefore, that humanitarian action not only serves to protect the victims of conflict from further loss and suffering, but can actually contribute to maintaining peace and security.  This is true in both negative and positive terms.  Negatively, weak support for humanitarian action can result in delays to refugee reintegration, lack of adequate assistance to demobilized combatants, and failure to restore livelihoods or rebuild societies.  In positive terms, effective humanitarian action to help civilian populations can give them a sense of stability, restore respect for human rights, and lay the foundation for reconciliation.

 It is equally important that humanitarian concerns be given early consideration when comprehensive peace agreements are negotiated, as well as in peacekeeping missions.  This helps ensure that there is sufficient advance planning on the humanitarian side for operations undertaken to implement a peace agreement, and that early efforts can be undertaken to mobilize resources for recovery in the immediate aftermath of a conflict, which is essential if there is to be lasting peace.

 In addition, the success of a peace agreement frequently depends at least in part on humanitarian work, including permitting refugees to return, or resettling displaced persons; giving assistance to demobilized combatants; restoring the livelihoods of people affected by war; and giving fighters alternative ways to earn their living.  Recent examples where such humanitarian work has helped consolidate in peace agreements can be found in Mozambique, Cambodia, Central America, and more recently Guinea-Bissau and, hopefully, Sierra Leone.

 I also believe that we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the legal and principled basis for humanitarian action is maintained, respected and strengthened.  The legal framework for humanitarian action in war is provided by universal norms embodied in international humanitarian law, human rights law, and refugee law.  The basic purpose of these intersecting bodies of law is to ensure that civilians are protected from the impact of war, and when that does not occur, that the essential needs of all victims are met and their fundamental rights respected.  We must do more to ensure that this principle is understood and applied in every part of the world.

 Finally, I wish to make a few points about the vital issue of resources.  As I have said, inadequate support for humanitarian action can have adverse effects ?- both by exposing civilians to the risk of increased suffering, and by undermining the positive contribution of humanitarian action to peace and security.

 The Security Council can strengthen its support for humanitarian action in at least three ways.  First, it can press Member States to commit themselves fully to provide the financial support needed for humanitarian programmes.  Recent Council efforts to do this in the case of Angola have shown a direct positive result.  Second, the Council could consider including in peacekeeping mandates provisions for financing the early stages of post-conflict reconstruction and the restoration of the rule of law.  Third, the Council should address the fact that post-conflict peacebuilding activities are routinely hampered by the failure to sustain the flow of resources, leading to gaps between the provision of direct humanitarian assistance and the restoration of longer-term reconstruction and development.

 The lamentable truth is that far too many of the peace agreements that are signed collapse before they are implemented, or relapse into conflict after initial implementation -? in part, because there are not enough resources to foster essential post-conflict recovery and stability.  The Council must find ways to avoid this tragic and wasteful pattern of events.

 In closing, let me express my gratitude to the Council for drawing the attention of the international community to the challenges facing humanitarian action.  It is my hope that, from now on, humanitarian concerns will be fully integrated into your efforts to foster peace and security.  Only, thus, can we hope to fully grasp the humanitarian challenge, and ensure that our assistance will reach those most in need.

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