7 November 2001


NEW YORK, 6 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a statement made today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Asia Society Luncheon in New York:

First let me thank you for inviting me to speak at this luncheon. When Robert Radtke talked to me about this gathering, he suggested that I might want to talk about terrorism and the role of the United Nations. This is an issue that is now permeating almost every aspect of our work.

Had we met before 11 September, I would no doubt have talked to you about the persistence of conflict in the post-cold-war era and how the United Nations is responding to these mostly internal, inter-ethnic but no less bloody wars.

I would certainly have pointed to the growing gap between rich and poor countries, the unacceptably high level of extreme poverty, the dramatic consequences of the HIV/AIDS crisis and I would have tried to persuade you that with political will and more financial resources, progress can be achieved and hope restored.

I would have lamented the low priority given to the environment and suggested that delayed action on climate change and other environmental fronts will only mean more costly and drastic solutions down the line.

Finally, I would have talked about the institution itself, how it is changing for the better under the leadership of Kofi Annan and why, despite all its weaknesses (and there are many, I’m the first to admit), the United Nations remains an indispensable institution.

The terrorist attacks of 11 September have not made these issues any less relevant, but they are certainly the proper starting point of my presentation.

So let me try to situate the role of the United Nations at this crucial juncture, which I see articulated around several concentric circles. The first circle, the hard core so to speak, is terrorism itself and the cooperation that is required to eradicate it.

It is worth recalling that on the very day of the attacks, both the Secretary-General and the Security Council issued statements condemning in the strongest possible terms the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The General Assembly and the Security Council followed the next day with strong resolutions. The Council’s resolution was particularly significant in that it referred to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which deals with the right to self-defence and qualified the acts as threats to international peace and security.

As I am sure you also know, the Council issued a second resolution on 28 September This resolution imposes sweeping obligations on all member States of the United Nations to outlaw the financing of terrorist organizations, cooperate in criminal investigations, share information etc.

These resolutions are enormously important not only for the message they send to the terrorists and those who help them but because they provide the basis for the necessary domestic action, not all of which will be easy or uncontroversial. Even steadfast friends of the United States may find it easier to take certain measures by invoking the United Nations decisions rather than American requests.

Now that we have these resolutions in place, attention must turn to their implementation. The Security Council has created a special committee chaired by Ambassador Greenstock of the United Kingdom to monitor it and provide practical guidance, with the help of experts.

We must realize, however, that the obligations placed on all countries by the Council are extremely demanding. Many countries will need help to draft new legislation and introduce the necessary control systems. This is an area where the United Nations can be of real assistance.

The United Nations is also working to strengthen the international legal framework regarding terrorism. There are already 12 conventions on the books, many dealing with air transportation. The Assembly is still considering a comprehensive convention on terrorism. Agreement has been held up by lack of consensus on a definition of terrorism. Let us hope that the recent events will focus the minds and pave the way to an early conclusion of these negotiations.

It is also worth pointing out that many parts of the United Nations family are deeply involved in looking at specific aspects of terrorism, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and even the Universal Postal Union (UPU). These agencies are now focusing their expertise to address these challenges, which have taken on a new and frightening urgency.

The second circle concerns Afghanistan which is currently in the eye of the storm. We are acting there on two fronts: the political and the humanitarian.

Let me start with the humanitarian. I’m sure you all know by now what a miserable life ordinary Afghans have been leading after more than two decades of war and a drought that is now in its fourth year. Already last year, our humanitarian agencies were describing the situation as catastrophic and it is only getting worse.

We have geared up in the neighbouring States and in the border areas to receive very large numbers of refugees –- a challenge given that these countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, already harbour millions of them.

Our biggest concern, however, is delivering assistance, principally food, inside Afghanistan. We have managed to send relatively small amounts almost every day, counting on our local staff for distribution. The quantities are clearly insufficient and our staff faces grave difficulty (harassment, stolen equipment etc.).

The political front is even more daunting. For many years now, we have tried to bring an end to the civil conflict and facilitate the formation of a multi-ethnic government that would be acceptable to the Afghans and to the neighbouring countries. Given the real possibility of a collapse of the Taliban regime, this task has acquired even greater urgency.

That is why the Secretary-General re-appointed Lakhdar Brahimi as his Special Representative for Afghanistan. A former Foreign Minister of Algeria, Brahimi is considered by all to be the ideal person to take on this job. He knows the region and all the players extremely well and is one of the most experienced and most admired envoys we have ever had. He is charged with overseeing all United Nations activities in Afghanistan: political, humanitarian and eventually rehabilitation. As you probably know, he has been in the region now for close to two weeks, with an intensive programme of meetings with officials in Pakistan and Iran and other neighbouring countries. We are looking forward to receiving his expert advice and insight when he returns before the beginning of the general debate this weekend.

There is much speculation these days about a possible role for the United Nations in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Some have even suggested the deployment of a peacekeeping force and a mandate similar to the ones we received from the Security Council for Kosovo and East Timor where we are, for all intents and purposes, the government. It would be premature for me to offer definitive views on what kind of responsibility the United Nations might eventually be given, but people who know Afghanistan far better than I do concur in saying that solutions imposed from outside are unlikely to be viable.

I might add that all of us in the United Nations are quite conscious of the risks involved. We, along with a few non-governmental organizations, have been operating inside Afghanistan almost non-stop through the war years so we know better than most what a difficult environment this is.

The third circle concerns the United Nations’ political, human rights, humanitarian and development work in countries and regions that are most affected by the events of 11 September and their aftermath.

Most important among them is of course the Middle East. To say that the situation in the region is volatile is probably an understatement. A way must be found urgently to stem the violence between Israelis and Palestinians and bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The Secretary-General has worked patiently with them and with key third parties -– the United States, the European Union, Russia, the moderate Arabs -– towards that end. We remain convinced that the parties must return to the road map that they had agreed to under the Mitchell Commission recommendations and the Tenet Plan.

We are also concerned about repercussions in moderate muslim countries. The slowing down in the world economy is additional cause for concern. The international community should be ready to respond quickly and effectively to crises that may erupt as a result.

This brings me to what I would call the fourth circle which has to do with the United Nations traditional role in resolving conflicts and combating poverty, the two being often (though not always) closely linked.

It would be an insult to the poor of this world to suggest that poverty generates terrorism. Poor people usually want only one thing: to be able to live decently and in peace. And the sick minds that have planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have no right to invoke the poor as a justification for their action.

But there is no doubt in my mind that if we reject what the terrorists stand for –- violence, intolerance, fanaticism -–, if we want to protect the values that we hold dear –- freedom, tolerance, justice, equality, non-discrimination –- then we must do better, much better, to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

Yes, the developing countries must help themselves; yes, foreign aid alone is not the answer. But it is frankly scandalous that the era of unprecedented prosperity we have experienced in the last several years has also seen an unprecedented drop in foreign aid. As a percentage of gross national product (GNP), official development assistance (ODA) is now at its lowest level ever. Barriers and subsidies continue to impede trade in sectors of greatest interest to developing countries, particularly in agriculture. Debt burdens, although reduced in recent years, remain very high in too many developing countries. And arresting the AIDS pandemic will require significant and sustained new resources for many years to come.

In including these perennial challenges in my fourth circle, I am not trying to push my favourite issues on the back of the terrorism agenda –- hitch-hiking, I think it’s called! -- I’m simply suggesting that we will have a better chance of winning the battle over terrorism if people around the world, especially young people, feel they can hope for a future that is better than that of their parents. This will not happen unless those who have more reach out to those who have less.

It would be fair to ask whether the United Nations is in good enough shape to tackle all these challenges. I guess the answer depends on whether you are a glass-half-full or half-empty person. You can make a long list of the deficiencies of the United Nations system. But I’m a glass half-full kind of person myself, so what I see is a little different.

I see an Organization that is very ably led: not only the Secretary-General, but also people like Gro Brundtland and Ruud Lubbers; an Organization that has been able, on extremely short notice and within a few months of each other, to take on Kosovo and then East Timor, that has done much to put the AIDS issue on the map, that is delivering humanitarian assistance very competently to millions of people, that has lived under a regime of zero nominal growth for six years while being asked to do more and more.

I see an institution that enjoys the confidence of the vast majority of the countries and people of this world. We are not perfect but we can and do adjust to a changing world and changing demands. The fight against terrorism is opening a new chapter and I am confident it will be written with the United Nations as a major protagonist.

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