27 March 2003

Secretary-General Urges UN Member Countries to Respond "Swiftly and Generously" to Appeal for Humanitarian Aid to Iraqi People

NEW YORK, 26 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is today's statement to the Security Council, as delivered, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

It is exactly a week since I last had the honour to address this Council. During that week we have all been watching hour by hour, on our television screens, the terrifying impact of modern weaponry on Iraq and its people.

We not only mourn the dead. We must also feel anguish for the living, and especially for the children. We can only imagine the physical and emotional scars that they will bear, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

All of us must regret that our intense efforts to achieve a peaceful solution, through this Council, did not succeed.

Many people ask why the Iraqi Government did not take full advantage of the last chance they were given by the Council, by cooperating actively, wholeheartedly -- in substance, as well as procedure -- with the inspectors that the Council sent to ensure that Iraq was disarmed of weapons of mass destruction.

But, at the same time, many people around the world are seriously questioning whether it was legitimate for some Member States to proceed to such a fateful action now -- an action that has far-reaching consequences well beyond the immediate military dimensions -- without first reaching a collective decision of this Council.

The inability of the Council to agree earlier on a collective course of action places an even greater burden on you today.

The Council, which has now had Iraq on its agenda for 12 long years, must rediscover its unity of purpose.

We all want to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible. But, while it continues, it is essential that everything be done to protect the civilian population, as well as the wounded and the prisoners of war, on both sides, and to bring relief to the victims.

This obligation is binding on all the belligerents. The Geneva Conventions and all other instruments of international humanitarian law must be scrupulously respected.

I would recall in particular the provisions of the fourth Geneva Convention, under which those in effective control of any territory are responsible for meeting the humanitarian needs of its population, and are required to maintain dialogue and cooperation with international organizations engaged in humanitarian relief. No one, on either side, must obstruct that relief.

Last week, I drew your attention to the dire plight of the Iraqi people, even before these latest hostilities, and the extent of their dependence on the food and medical supplies distributed under the oil-for-food programme.

The programme has now come to a halt, with some $2.4 billion of supplies, mainly food, in the pipeline. The Council needs to determine how it will adjust the programme to make it possible for these supplies to reach the Iraqi people under the present circumstances, and to ensure that food, medicine and other essential, life-sustaining supplies continue to be provided.

I am aware that a concerted effort is being made to reach agreement, and I hope that it will soon succeed.

But the conflict is also now creating new humanitarian needs, which the oil-for-food programme is not expected to cover. We do not yet know how many people will be injured, how many will be displaced from their homes, or how many will be deprived of food, water, sanitation and other essential services. But we fear the numbers may be high.

As I said, the primary responsibility for meeting these needs falls on the belligerents who control the territory. But the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations are ready to help. Indeed, they have been preparing actively to do so. And even though their international staff have had to be temporarily withdrawn from Iraq, most of them have national staff who even now are at work, bringing what limited relief they can to their fellow citizens. Those brave and devoted Iraqis deserve our profound respect.

I fear that the humanitarian effort required in the coming weeks and months is going to be very costly. We are about to launch a "flash appeal" to donors.

I urge Member States to respond swiftly and generously, and not to do so at the expense of victims of other emergencies in other parts of the world, which may be less newsworthy but are no less devastating for the people caught up in them.

This Council has other heavy responsibilities related to this crisis.

It needs to determine how it will address the many needs of the Iraqi people -- whatever the outcome of the war -- and what the United Nations itself may be asked to undertake. For anything beyond strictly humanitarian relief, we need a mandate from the Security Council.

Needless to say, the Council's responsibilities also extend far beyond Iraq. There are many other conflicts that urgently need your attention -- not least, the conflict that inflames passions throughout the Middle East and colours so many people's attitudes to the Iraqi issue. I mean, of course, the tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, for whom the noble vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, which you laid out just a year ago, is still far from being realized.

In the last few months, the peoples of the world have shown how much they expect of the United Nations, and of the Security Council in particular. Many of them are now bitterly disappointed.

Their faith in the United Nations can be restored only if the Council is able to identify and work constructively towards specific goals. I urge the five permanent members, in particular, to show leadership by making a concerted effort to overcome their differences.

For my part, I would emphasise two guiding principles, on which I believe there is no disagreement, and which should underpin all your efforts or your decisions in the future on Iraq.

The first principle is respect for Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

And the second, which flows logically from the first, is respect for the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own political future and control their own natural resources.

Let me conclude by saying that we are living through a moment of deep divisions, which, if not healed, can have grave consequences for the international system and relations between States. By your interventions this afternoon in this debate you have it in your power to deepen those divisions, or to begin to heal them.

I appeal to all of you to choose the latter course, and to reunite around a new resolve to uphold the principles of the Charter.

This is essential if the Security Council is to recover its rightful role, entrusted to it by the Charter, as the body with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

For my part, I am prepared to work with the Security Council, on this crisis as in others, and to assist in any way deemed helpful.

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