Press Releases

    30 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 19 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the annual meeting of the Canadian Bar Association in Montreal, 18 April:

    Thank you, Madam President [Ms. Sylvie Devito, President of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Bar Association], for the kind words you addressed to me. Thank you to the Quebec branch of the Canadian Bar Association for this sumptuous dinner. My warmest congratulations also to Judge Louise Mailhot on the well-deserved prize she was awarded this evening.

    Allow me first to say how honoured I am to be among you. Madam President, you afforded me great pleasure by inviting me to speak to such a prestigious gathering about the stakes and challenges of the fight against terrorism at the international level.

    The terrible events of 11 September have shown us the fragility of our world. These days, no one can feel truly safe any more, and the fight against terrorism rightly concerns all of us: young and old, politicians and ordinary citizens alike.

    It goes without saying that the terrorist attacks against the United States and their aftermath have had major repercussions for the United Nations. The fight against international terrorism has become one of our top priorities, and we are confronted with its multiple consequences on a daily basis. Meanwhile, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said on several occasions, our primary mandate -- promoting justice and tolerance, preventing conflicts, combating poverty, protecting the environment, advocating equal rights for men and women -- and new challenges, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, must continue to receive all the attention they deserve. Indeed, such issues have lost nothing of their urgency. On the contrary, they are more relevant than ever before, in my view.

    I am convinced that the success of the fight against terrorism will ultimately be dependent on our ability to build a genuine world community capable of guaranteeing the safety and dignity of all the Earth’s inhabitants. To that end, the fight against terrorism requires that we do battle on several fronts, with patience and with resolve. We must:

    • Mobilize the necessary political will and establish norms of cooperation at the international level;
    • Strengthen the international legal framework;
    • Deal with all the consequences of the fight against terrorism; and
    • Improve the global environment, and by that I mean improving the living conditions of the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants.

    Let me start with the first front on which we must do battle, namely, political will and the norms of cooperation at the international level.

    No sooner had 11 September occurred than the representatives of the States Members of the United Nations set to work, first to express their unequivocal condemnation and demonstrate their resolve, and then to determine how the world might best protect itself against terrorism.

    On 28 September, the Security Council unanimously adopted an unprecedented resolution, resolution 1373, which targets terrorists and those who harbour, assist or support them. This resolution obliges Member States to cooperate in areas as diverse as the suppression of terrorist financing, early warning, cooperation in criminal investigations and exchange of information on the risks of terrorist attacks.

    In order to monitor implementation of the resolution, the Security Council has established a Counter-Terrorism Committee which is currently -- with the assistance of experts -- considering the reports submitted by Member States on the measures they have taken. To date, the Committee has received no less than 143 reports.

    Clearly, the obligations imposed by resolution 1373 constitute a heavy burden for poor countries whose limited resources are already insufficient to meet the basic needs of their populations. The United Nations system, through various agencies -- whether it be the International Civil Aviation Organization, with its headquarters here in Montreal, or the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime -- provides support to developing countries so that they can play their part in the international fight against the scourge of terrorism.

    In this fight, we have no option but to cooperate. The major challenge that confronts us today is to maintain the unity and consensus that emerged last September. We will not succeed unless the international community is prepared to unite in a broad coalition.

    The United Nations is the organization best placed to serve as a rallying point. Only the United Nations can give international legitimacy to long-term action on the part of the international community and encourage as many States as possible to take the difficult, but necessary, measures required to defeat terrorism.

    This brings me to my second point: the need to strengthen the international legal framework.

    Twelve conventions and protocols relating to international terrorism have already been drafted and adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. Only eight days ago, the last of these instruments entered into force. I am referring to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 1999, which has finally provided the international community with the means to track the sponsors and masterminds behind terrorist attacks.

    Another instrument of utmost importance is the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, which was ratified by Canada just two weeks ago. Our country has now ratified and implemented the 12 United Nations conventions and protocols relating to terrorism. Some -- but not all -- of these instruments, such as the 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, have achieved near-universal ratification. It is clear that until these conventions and protocols are implemented in all countries, there will be weaknesses in the international legal framework which terrorists will not hesitate to exploit.

    Having said that, in order to perfect the legal framework, we must also reach agreement on a global convention on international terrorism. Some pending issues have thus far prevented us from reaching agreement, the most problematic being the definition of terrorism. It is no easy task to precisely define terrorism. As the Secretary-General has said, however, legal precision must be based on moral clarity. No end or cause, however noble, can justify such means.

    The adoption of a global convention would unequivocally demonstrate the international community’s resolve to criminalize behaviour which shows utter contempt for the sanctity of life and fundamental human rights. Such an instrument would fill any gaps in the existing conventions in the field, and the resultant strengthening of international cooperation would facilitate prosecution of persons directly or indirectly involved in these heinous crimes.

    We must also strengthen the international norms aimed at preventing the use or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as controls on other types of weapons, such as small arms and landmines, which can be highly dangerous in the hands of terrorists. We must also enhance the physical protection of sensitive industrial facilities, including nuclear power stations and chemical factories, and redouble our vigilance in the face of cyber-terrorist threats.

    At the same time, it must be recognized that the fight against terrorism has brought certain basic issues to the fore, which raises the question of whether the existing instruments are really adapted to the needs of the day. How far, for instance, should the right of legitimate self-defence -- which is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and reaffirmed in the resolution which the Security Council adopted on 12 September 2001 -- extend with respect to terrorism? To what extent do the Geneva Conventions apply to terrorists? The heated debates which these issues continue to provoke demonstrate, in my opinion, the importance of continuing to reflect upon and clarify such issues, with a view to adapting the conceptual framework -- which was elaborated in another context -- to the situation which concerns us today.

    In this connection, I am delighted that the International Criminal Court is about to become a reality. Last week, as you are aware, we achieved the 60 ratifications necessary for its establishment. The Court’s Statute will enter into force on 1 July, less than four years after its adoption, and the Court should begin its work in 2003. Clearly, it will not deal with past problems, since it has no retroactive competence. Until all the "major" States subscribe to it, its ability to act will remain limited. The establishment of the International Criminal Court, nonetheless, represents a very significant step forward, from the point of view of the development of international law.

    The fight against terrorism also raises problematic issues at the national level. Since 11 September, governments have been obliged to implement various measures in order to better protect their citizens. But how far can the State exercise control in free and democratic societies? What price are we prepared to pay for our security? And how can we ensure that the security measures that have been adopted do not undermine the very foundations of our democracies?

    In this connection, I would like to pay tribute to the great input and involvement of the Canadian Bar throughout the process of the adoption of the Anti-Terrorism Act, to ensure that it meets the need for the protection of Canadian men and women, while having the least possible impact on their fundamental rights and freedoms.

    Like you, I think that we can -- and should -- adapt to the new realities without sacrificing human rights and universal values. If we sacrificed them, we would be granting a kind of victory to the terrorists. I have no doubt that open, tolerant and democratic societies will manage to find the necessary balance between the requirements of security and respect for civil liberties and the fundamental rights of their citizens.

    I now come to my third point: the need to deal with the consequences of the fight against terrorism.

    Nowhere else is this issue better illustrated than in Afghanistan. The defeat of the Taliban has created a new and very welcome moment of opportunity. But we now have to deal with a country exhausted by 20 years of war, where almost nothing has been left standing, except its resilient people. The people of Afghanistan need our help to reconstruct the institutions of the country and build the foundations of a society, reconciled with itself, turned towards a shared future and working together for the prosperity of all its members. If we do not want Afghanistan to relapse into tribal feuds, with the risk of becoming again a harbour for terrorism, we must support these efforts.

    The United Nations has been present in Afghanistan throughout this crisis, trying to alleviate suffering and to meet the needs of a population that has had to cope with almost every privation known to mankind. The fall of the Taliban regime has enabled us at long last to deploy to our full capacity. For me, it has been especially moving to know that so many young girls and women are so happy about being allowed to attend school again. To fulfil the hopes that recent events have raised will require our attention and engagement for many years. But our investment today in the sustainable development of Afghanistan should be seen as a simultaneous investment in preventing a recurrence of the chaos and conflict of the past decades.

    The fight against terrorism is also affecting the life of many other people. The drop in tourism has had a harmful impact on the economies of some small developing countries, notably in the Caribbean. For many poor countries, the strengthening of the security on the movement of goods has imposed an additional cost on their exports, while their fresh products are sometimes left for days at customs. The freeze of the assets of Somalia’s biggest remittance and telecommunications company Al-Barakaat, because of alleged links to terrorist groups, has deprived thousands of Somali families of the financial help they were receiving from relatives abroad, while greatly limiting telephone contact within the country and to the outside world. To address this problem, in January, the United Nations Programme for Development launched a project to help rebuild Somalia’s banking system and bring legitimacy to its money transfer companies.

    While we cannot leave a stone unturned to defeat terrorism, we must also do everything possible to make sure that innocent people are not affected by our action.

    This brings me to my fourth point: the need to improve the global environment.

    If there is a lesson to be drawn from the events of 11 September, it is that what happens on one side of the planet may very well have a profound impact on people’s lives thousands of kilometres away. When we let a country sink into anarchy and chaos and allow human rights to be systematically violated there -- to the point where life loses its sacred character, when we abandon a people to terror at the hands of a violent and obscurantist regime, or to living conditions so abject and desperate that death becomes preferable to life, we all run the risk of paying the price.

    We must redouble our efforts to find solutions to the conflicts which continue to rage in the world, inflicting untold sufferings on millions of innocent people. I am thinking in particular of what is happening in the Middle East at the moment, where the danger of a conflagration of the entire region cannot be underestimated. It is crucial that we find a way of making the Israelis and Palestinians renounce the logic of war for a logic of peace.

    Just because a country has emerged from conflict, that does not mean that it no longer requires assistance from the international community. It often happens that, in the wake of a conflict, the State, for all practical purposes, ceases functioning as such, and finds itself virtually incapable of dispensing justice, maintaining law and order, providing health care and an educational system and creating an environment conducive to the resumption of ordinary economic activity. Over the past decade, the United Nations has, on numerous occasions, been called upon to spearhead international efforts to assist these countries in rebuilding their institutions and in establishing a lasting peace.

    All too often, the countries to which I have been referring are too poor, too polarized and too devastated by the legacy of conflicts to be able to single-handedly create the conditions needed for sustainable peace and development.

    Left to themselves and to poverty, some countries are all too prone to fall into or revert to conflict and anarchy. They then become a threat to their neighbours, and even to world security, as was brought brutally home to us by the events of 11 September.

    Far be it for me to suggest that poverty engenders terrorism. That would be insulting the poor, who generally want only one thing: to live decently and in peace. Terrorists have no right to justify their acts by invoking poverty.

    I strongly believe, however, that if we reject all that terrorists represent -- violence, intolerance, fanaticism -- and if we want to protect the values that we cherish -- liberty, tolerance, justice and equity -- then we must do more, much more, to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

    A year and a half ago at the Millennium Summit, world leaders agreed that we should use the first 15 years of the new century to launch a major offensive against poverty, illiteracy and disease and established a number of very precise goals: the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, they undertook to reduce by half -- by the year 2015 -- the proportion of the world population whose income is less than one dollar a day, and the number of people who suffer from hunger and have no access to drinking water. They undertook to ensure that, by 2015, all children, especially girls, would have the benefit of primary education. The world leaders also promised to do their utmost to check the spread of HIV/AIDS and to control malaria and other major diseases afflicting humanity.

    Last month, at the International Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey, Mexico, the international community examined ways of mobilizing the resources needed to attain these objectives. The consensus that was reached shows that there is a common vision of what measures need to be taken to resolve all the problems of development. Developing countries have recognized that they must pursue sound economic policies, combat corruption and establish a favourable environment for foreign investment. Developed countries, for their part, will help them by providing more official development assistance, opening their markets further and continuing to reduce the burden of debt. If we all hold to our promises, we will be able to achieve our goal, while, at the same time, improving the world environment. Each step towards the creation of a better world for all reduces the potential breeding ground for despair: a despair which reaches such proportions that, for some individuals, violence becomes an acceptable solution.

    I began by saying that the success of the fight against terrorism will ultimately depend on our ability to build a genuine world community capable of guaranteeing the safety and dignity of all the Earth’s inhabitants. In fact, it is the great challenge of globalization that is the major reality of the twenty-first century. Our fate is inextricably linked with the rest of the world. Indeed, as the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it, "We stand united, carried along on the same planet, the crew of one and the same ship."

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    * Revised to reflect translated text originally delivered in French