Press Releases

    23 January 2004

    In Montreal, Deputy Secretary-General Invites States to Give Greater Dynamism to UN to Protect World’s People from Danger

    NEW YORK, 22 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the “Canadian Club” in Montreal on 19 January (translated, in part, from French):

    I am delighted to be here, at home, at the start of the new year.  The year 2003 was a difficult one for the world and an extremely difficult one for the United Nations.  We have had to deal with the loss of many of our friends and colleagues killed in Iraq and with a flood of criticism.

    We hope that 2004 will be a better year.  But, as they say in the military, “hope is not a battle plan”.  That is why I would like to speak to you about what the United Nations has done, what it is currently doing and what it must still do to help the world overcome the obstacles to peace in the early twenty-first century.

    Since 11 September, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction have been continuously in the headlines.  These threats are not new.  They have been around for decades.  What is new is the international environment in which they exist and the spread of their tentacles beyond the borders of countries.

    In this new environment, it is legitimate to ask if the current mechanisms for collective security are adequate to meet the challenges.  Are the principles and rules that govern the action of the United Nations still valid, or are approaches that date back to 1945 now outdated?  For example, is “pre-emptive war” sometimes justified or is it simply a war of aggression that is portrayed otherwise?  Apart from recourse to force, what other instruments do we have at our disposal?  What more can we do to combat terrorism and arms proliferation?

    In the 1990s, we were forced to wrestle with similarly difficult issues in the face of the suffering of civilians in civil wars.  Should the international community intervene to protect the citizens of sovereign States from genocide, ethnic cleansing and other serious violations of human rights committed by their own governments?  Is State sovereignty an absolute, immutable principle or should it be viewed from a different perspective?  And if we decide to intervene, do we have the means to do so?  Are we up to the task of realizing our ambitions?

    The United Nations is at the centre of these debates and not a day goes by without someone calling for the reform of the Organization.

    The former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, always said that politics was a matter of change.  It is often thought and wrongly so that the United Nations is a hopelessly hidebound institution that is incapable of change.  The truth, however, is that we too work with change and we did not wait for global terrorism to occupy the place it now has on the international agenda.

    In organizational terms, the United Nations has undergone a veritable silent revolution over the past few years. Without much fanfare, it has transformed itself. Today its structures are more streamlined; it’s working methods more effective, its various programmes better coordinated. Things have also changed in the field: peacekeeping operations are now better integrated and more multifaceted.

    Our guiding principles have also evolved.  Before, the United Nations rarely intervened -- politically or militarily -- in the internal affairs of States, even in cases of bloody conflict.  Its peacekeeping operations were generally aimed at ensuring respect for ceasefires or preventing the resumption of hostilities between States.

    As the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court shows, the international community is no longer prepared to allow States to take refuge behind claims of sovereignty to violate human rights with impunity.

    On two occasions since I joined the United Nations, in other words since 1998, the Organization has been called upon to administer territories: Timor-Leste, which, under its supervision, has become a fully sovereign State, and Kosovo, for which it remains responsible until the final status of the territory is determined.

    In Afghanistan, the United Nations is working to ensure that the political transition is as smooth as possible.  It first supervised the creation of a provisional Afghan administration and later, just recently, assisted the constitutional Loya Jirga in reaching agreement on a new constitution.

    In Africa, it is engaged in extremely complex operations in the territory of Member States such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The goal is no longer merely to monitor ceasefires but to help restore lasting peace.

    I am not saying that we have had nothing but brilliant successes to our credit. The international community has too often acted too late to stop massacres of innocent civilians. The genocide in Rwanda, for example, is a permanent blot on the history of the United Nations, whose Member States lacked the political will to intervene.

    When we do intervene, moreover, it is often very difficult to secure the resources we need.  Unfortunately, the rich countries have allocated most of their resources to NATO-led operations and the poor countries have had to bear most of the burden for peacekeeping operations under United Nations command. The countries that furnish most of the peacekeeping contingents today are all developing countries:  Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, India and Ghana.  Not so long ago, however, Canada and other industrialized countries, such as Finland, France and the United Kingdom, were among the main troop contributors.

    The UN has also been very active in addressing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- and its role in that effort is more important than is usually recognized. Take, for instance, the groundbreaking resolution adopted by the Security Council soon after 9/11 -- resolution 1373.  You probably haven’t heard much about that, but it is among the most important steps since 9/11 to address the threat of terrorism.  No concern about State sovereignty prevented the Council from imposing binding obligations on all 191 Member States to take steps to prevent terrorism and it’s financing.

    What about Iraq?  Is it not evidence of the marginalization of the UN?  Well, the very issue that led to the war in Iraq was that country’s failure to comply with the demands of the United Nations Security Council.  The intrusive weapons inspections regimes set up after the Gulf War were unprecedented in the extent of their intervention in the affairs of a UN Member State.  The inspections successfully disarmed Iraq of large quantities of weapons.  Indeed, UN inspections, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are critical tools to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    Nevertheless, the crisis over Iraq last year was clearly a failure of the collective security system, no matter which way you look at it.  For those who supported the action taken in March 2003, the UN failed because it would not authorize it.  For those who opposed the action, the UN failed because it could not stop it.

    The Secretary-General is acutely conscious of the cleavage in the international community exposed by the Iraq crisis.  While, in the past, States often failed to live up to the Charter, now some States are directly challenging its fundamental principles, and questioning whether they are adequate to our new world.  If all States did that, we could go down the road of more and more unilateral action, with or without justification.  On the other hand, the Charter is not a suicide pact.  States cannot be expected to subscribe to it if they lack confidence that genuine threats will be dealt with by collective action.

    That is why, as the Secretary-General declared last September, we have reached a fork in the road.  We need to make collective security work for all its participants.  We have to be able to fashion collective responses to challenges such as those posed by Iraq or Al-Qaeda, just as we have to deal better with mass killings such as we saw in Rwanda and Srebrenica.

    The Secretary-General has created a High-Level Panel of experienced men and women to examine these issues and make concrete proposals to strengthen the international system.  Following their report, he intends to make recommendations for change to the Member States of the United Nations.  I am sure that the report of the International Commission of Intervention and State Sovereignty entitled “The Responsibility to Protect” -- a report which Canada led the way in producing -- will be an important contribution to the panel’s deliberations.

    We need to come out of this review with a stronger consensus within the international community on the principles and rules which must govern the pursuit of peace and security, as well as the political will to bring whatever improvement might be required to our collective mechanisms and institutions.

    The Secretary-General has asked the High-Level Panel to undertake the most comprehensive examination of security issues possible.  For many people, poverty and disease pose much greater risks than terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.  What is more, while it is true that armed conflicts and terrorism have very diverse causes, they are often linked to poverty, inequality and the desire to gain control of limited resources. That is why to invest in development is to invest in conflict prevention.  And, given the expected dividends, the price is not too high.

    In order to neutralize the new threats to international peace and security, the situation of the poorest in the world must be markedly improved. This is what the heads of State and government pledged to do when, at the Millennium Summit, in 2000, they adopted eight goals to be attained by 2015 in such fields as poverty (to be reduced by half), AIDS (halting its spread), and primary education (to which all children must have access).

    The Millennium Goals, which are measurable and come with specific timetables attached, provide us with very clear benchmarks for evaluating the progress made at the global level and in each country.  They were approved by both the rich and poor countries, as well as by the principal organs of the international system, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

    But the most important thing is that they are attainable, even within the relatively tight deadlines that have been set.  Take for example the reduction of poverty.  Approximately 1.2 billion persons live on less than a dollar a day.  Even though this figure has remained virtually unchanged since the late 1980s, it nevertheless conceals important successes.

    In East Asia, the percentage of the population living on less than a dollar a day is plummeting:  in 10 years, it has dropped from 28 per cent to 14 per cent.  In South Asia, where nearly half of the world's poor live, the decline has been less marked -- from 44 per cent to 37 per cent -- but the trend is accelerating.  Even in Africa, where progress has been slower and where half of the population is still completely destitute, a few countries, such as Cape Verde, Mauritius, Mozambique and Uganda, are recording annual growth rates of 7 or 8 per cent.  If they succeed in maintaining this rate of growth, the incidence of poverty in these countries could decline by 50 per cent by the year 2015.

    Despite these encouraging signs, however, progress has been very uneven and we would be quite wrong to rely on some sort of magical intervention by the markets or on a miraculous take-off of the global economy to achieve our goals. The only way to do so is to create a global partnership between rich and poor. This partnership for development is in fact the eighth Millennium Goal.

    In order for it to succeed, the leaders of the poor countries must implement economic reforms, seriously tackle corruption and invest in basic services and infrastructure.  But the rich countries too must take even bolder steps on many fronts:  aid, debt relief, removal of subsidies, opening up of markets and sharing of technologies.

    At the international conferences that were held in Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg in 2001 and 2002, they pledged to work towards these goals.  They must now honour those pledges and there are some signs that seem to indicate that they intend to do so.  Canadian development aid, for example, has just begun to increase again after years of steady decline.  But there are also many worrying signs, notably the failure of the negotiations in Cancun that should have lead to greater access to markets for the products of poor countries.  We must absolutely reverse this trend and make 2004 the year of promises that are finally kept.

    On no issue is this more important than on HIV/AIDS -- the deadliest epidemic in human history.  So far, AIDS has hit Africa worst.  But this is not an African problem.  It’s a global problem.  The virus is spreading in nearly every part of the developing world -- in the Caribbean and Central and South America, in Russia, India and China, in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.  And we delude ourselves if we think that, somehow, the developed world has won its own battle against the disease, or is insulated from its appalling global costs.

    Sixty million people have already been infected, and of those, more than 20 million have died.  More than 13 million children have been orphaned.

    Forty million people are now living with the virus.  Every hour of every day, almost 600 people are infected.

    But the impact of AIDS goes far beyond these shocking numbers.  AIDS is wreaking havoc on the future.  Babies are losing mothers; schools are losing teachers; hospitals are losing doctors; and governments are losing civil servants.  This is not just the largest public-health crisis ever seen -- it’s a governance crisis, a security crisis, and a social crisis too.

    The Secretary-General has made the fight against HIV/AIDS a personal priority.  He led the way in the establishment, two years ago, of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to help mobilize resources in this fight.  And he has spoken out against the stigma and discrimination that AIDS victims suffer in many societies, which is a major obstacle to both prevention and treatment efforts.

    However, he would also be the first to admit that, whatever one does, it never seems like enough.  The fact is that leaders -- in both the developed and the developing world, including your leaders -- have to do much more to fight AIDS.

    Don’t think for a minute that this is a lost cause -- far from it.  Real successes have been achieved in many countries -- in Uganda, for instance, where thanks to the Government’s “big noise” campaign, virtually every man, woman and child now knows what it takes to avoid infection.  Or take Senegal, where a national AIDS programme -- strongly backed by the country’s religious leaders, including Muslim clerics -- has kept infection rates to below 2 per cent.

    In the fight against AIDS -- and in the broader fight to meet all the Millennium Development Goals -- we don’t need many high panels or much careful re-examination of doctrines.  We need to keep the promises that have been made.  The tragedy is that, while we have the resources to forge a true global partnership for development, we still lack the political will to deliver those resources where they are desperately needed.

    When it comes to AIDS, we have made some progress; the resources available have doubled in the last two years.  But they are still woefully inadequate.  They must double once again over the next two years if we are to reach the 10 billion dollars required annually to stem the tide of AIDS.  That means that all of us, all over the world -- including all of you -- need to keep the fight against AIDS at the top of the political agenda.

    Our world faces enormous problems and most people are unaware of their scale and gravity.  Having said that, we are also scoring successes, although most people are unaware of their importance.  A great deal remains to be done, but with the necessary spirit of initiative, energy and courage, the countries of the world can successfully rise to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

    In certain cases, new forms of collective action will be needed to achieve our goals.  What will be needed in other cases is the political will to take concrete action and to honour commitments given.  In all cases, States must resolve to give greater dynamism to this universal and indispensable body, the United Nations, so as to make all the peoples of the world, from Monterrey to Monrovia and Montreal, safe from the dangers that threaten our time.

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