Press Releases

    18 February 2002


    NEW YORK, 15 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Peace Academy seminar in New York City on "The Responsibility to Protect":

    I am delighted to join you this morning for the launch of the report on "Responsibility to Protect." I am particularly pleased to take part in a symposium on a question that I consider critical to the credibility and authority of the international community as we know it -- namely its ability to prevent large-scale loss of civilian life.

    Before addressing the ideas behind the extraordinary and eloquent report before us today, let me express my profound gratitude to the Government of Canada, and to the Co-Chairs of the Commission, Gareth Evans and Mohammed Sahnoun, as well as their fellow Commissioners, for their remarkable accomplishment. When I delivered my address on intervention to the General Assembly in September 1999, I hoped to spark a wide-ranging and constructive debate on how better we can protect the dignity and sanctity of every human life.

    The reactions to my speech ranged widely, but this report represents the most comprehensive and carefully thought-out response we have seen to date. I believe it marks an important step in the difficult process of building a new global consensus on intervention for human protection. So I thank you, and salute you.

    Gareth and Mohammed and others here will recall that during the luncheon I hosted last June to discuss this report, our conversation was interrupted when someone brought extraordinary news into the room: Slobodan Milosevic had been put on a plane to stand trial in The Hague at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

    The symbolism of that signal event coinciding with our discussion was lost on none of us. Today, the trial of Slobodan Milosevic has entered its third day. Justice, we are being reminded, is a necessary component of lasting peace, and deterrence is essential for the protection of human life.

    A central accomplishment of the "Responsibility to Protect" report is its title -- its restatement of the core issue at the heart of the debate on intervention. You have suggested a constructive shift away from debates about a "right to intervene" towards the assertion of a "responsibility to protect".

    I admire your diplomatic skill in redirecting the debate, and -- believe me -- I wish I had thought of this myself. It would have saved me quite a few explanations of just what I was proposing in my speech.

    I say this because your title really describes what I was talking about: the fact that sovereignty implies responsibilities as well as powers; and that among those responsibilities, none is more important than protecting citizens from violence and war.

    As your report notes, I sought to develop the idea of two notions of sovereignty: one for States, another for individuals. This idea was rooted firmly in the United Nations Charter, which affirms the sovereignty of States even as it challenges us to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

    What is clear is that when the sovereignty of States and the sovereignty of individuals come into conflict, we as an international community need to think hard about how far we will go to defend the former over the latter. Human rights and the evolving nature of humanitarian law will mean little if a principle guarded by States is always allowed to trump the protection of citizens within them.

    If, as I believe, we have made genuine progress on this front, let us be clear that sovereignty is not the only barrier to the protection of human life. Lack of political will, national interest narrowly defined, and simple indifference too often combine to ensure that nothing is done, or too little and too late. We still have a long way to go.

    Two areas where words have often taken the place of actions are ones I am very pleased to see highlighted in your report: namely, the responsibility to prevent and the responsibility to rebuild. We are confronting these questions right now in Afghanistan, where we are desperately trying to ensure that the international community stays engaged. Prevention, in the case of Afghanistan today, means ensuring that security is provided throughout the country, and not just in Kabul. Otherwise we risk a return to violence and conflict.

    This brings me to the new context that we all are operating in -- and how it may affect our common agenda for human protection. Eleven September shifted the debate -- and the action -- away from military intervention on behalf of others to intervention in self-defence. I know there are those who are concerned about what this new environment may mean for human rights, for a universal commitment to human protection. I know there are fears that a new kind of cold war culture may descend on us, leading States to abandon their commitment to human rights when considerations of national security seem paramount.

    I think these are real issues. How much freedom do you give up for security and safety? And if you give up too much, do you in the end have security and safety?

    That is a theme for another debate on another day. Today, I would simply say that this new context makes your work, your report, more necessary, not less.

    As I said in Oslo, I believe the future mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion. This will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath the surface of nations or communities. We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the State or nation its richness and character.

    How to protect individual lives while maintaining and even strengthening the sovereignty of States has become clearer with the publication of this report. You are taking away the last excuses of the international community for doing nothing when doing something can save lives. I can offer no higher praise.

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