14 July 2006

Secretary-General Details Reform Proposals Designed to 'Keep the Promise' of UN, Highlights Italy's 'Steadfast' Support, in Meeting with Parliamentarians

NEW YORK, 12 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks at a meeting with Italian parliamentarians in Rome, 12 July:

Thank you my good friend Lamberto Dini. It is good to see you again. You ended your comments by talking about the ICC and the treaty of Rome, and I will tell you a story about that later. Chairman Marini, I am very happy to be here and exchange some ideas with members of this chamber.

Let me thank you very warmly for the welcome you have given me. But, let me first apologize for keeping you waiting. It is not my habit to keep parliamentarians and important citizens waiting, but I did get caught on phone calls about the Middle East situation and what is happening in Lebanon, on top of the Gaza situation, and our concern that, if it is not contained, it can spread very quickly in the region. I do apologize for keeping you waiting.

Permit me to congratulate all of you on the tremendous performance of your team in Germany. Your players not only brought home the World Cup, they also showed us, over and over again, why football is truly a beautiful game. You must be very proud of them.

For a brief moment the whole world was united together and focused on the ball. I happened to be at the championship and it was a very warm feeling everywhere. Indeed, Italy showed the world that, despite recent troubles, its footballers can strive towards greatness and realize the hopes of an entire nation.

As a Secretary-General of the United Nations, I understand such sentiments all too well. After all, I represent an organization which cradles not just the aspirations of one country, but the dreams of people everywhere for a better, more peaceful future.

The United Nations is no less vital to the world than football is to the Italian fan. Of course, my own country, Ghana, did not make it to the championship, but I was very proud of my boys. They played well and they left the championship with their dignity and their heads held high.

I think the role of the UN is clear to most people. Here in Italy, you have been steadfast supporters of the Organization and that is why, last year, your Government, with other Member States, agreed on bold measures to strengthen our international system. You will recall that I submitted a report to the Member States called Threats, Challenges and Change. I decided on preparing that report after the decision to go to war in Iraq, because I saw how it divided the Organization and the international community, and the sense in some quarters that our system of collective security was not working. Of course, the UN itself was caught in the middle. Those who supported the war were very upset with us that the Security Council did not support the war. Those who opposed the war were extremely angry that the UN could not stop the war. It was extremely difficult to explain to them why the UN could not stop the war. In fact, I recall arguing with one of them by saying, if you have a force on the move, the only way to stop it is by using a counterforce -- we don't have an army. If the UN had tried to organize a counter force, you'd be asking for world war and nobody wanted that. At least what was clear is that the Council acted how it ought to, and did not support military action. Because of that division, I felt we needed to take a critical look at how the system worked and that was the basis of my report Threats, Challenges and Change. That eventually led to my report In Larger Freedom, which the Member States used at their landmark Summit in New York last September.

At that Summit we achieved a historic breakthrough on the responsibility to protect populations threatened with genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. It led to a massive boost in financing for development, and genuine progress on debt relief. Fourteen African countries had their debt cancelled since then and eight more had their debts considerably reduced. And it committed us to a renewed and reinvigorated United Nations, responsive to the needs of the twenty-first century.

Since then, important progress has been made. A new Human Rights Council has been established and a new Peacebuilding Commission is in force. That Commission is intended to help countries coming out of conflict, by stabilizing the environment, consolidate peace and work on reconstruction.

We have a Democracy Fund and a new Central Emergency Response Fund for critical humanitarian work. This is a very important development, because the Fund will be $500 million, and we will ensure that it is consistently replenished. That Fund will allow us to act the moment a disaster strikes, whether it is natural or man-made. Today, we operate in a rather ridiculous manner, which no Government can accept. The way we operate is, when the disaster strike, we begin to pass the begging bowl around to Governments asking for money. Sometimes we get the response we need, sometimes we don't get the response we need. In the case of the tsunami, there was an exceptional response. I think what we needed was oversubscribed.

If you analyze why in the case of the tsunami it happened and not with others, it is because the tsunami became an international phenomena. There were about 50 countries involved, and there were human stories to be told in almost every country -- a Swedish mother looking for her son, an Argentinean wife looking for her husband, an American child looking for his parents… All this went all over the world. So, all the nations were engaged and, besides, it was on December 26th, Christmas time, a time of giving. People were generous. Not just Governments, but also the average man and woman in the street. So there, for the tsunami, we got lots of money. Some situations we are lucky in; we get 15 per cent of what we need to assist and, yet, it is at the critical phase -- the first three days or the first week -- when people begin to die and you need the help. The way we operate and collect money, often, we don't get the resources until a week or two weeks later, when the second wave of deaths begins. So this Fund will enable us to work quickly. I often describe the traditional way we operate as like telling the Mayor of Rome that we know that there is fire from time to time in Rome, we know you need a firehouse, we know you need firemen, but we will build you one when the fire breaks. In a way, this Fund is an attempt to correct this situation.

Let me also say that the General Assembly is considering my recommendations for a global counter-terrorism strategy, which I believe is important. If we are going to contain terrorism, we need to cooperate, as countries can not do it on their own. I hope they will come to an understanding. And we are also asking the Member States to review all of the mandates that are more than 5 years old, to weed duplication, to weed out mandates that are no longer needed, so that we can focus on real urgent issues of today, rather the problems of yesteryear.

I also hope the Member States will continue to work on management reform, where we have solid proposals in front of them.

I also hope that they will not let the proposals on Security Council reform linger. The President of the General Assembly has scheduled a discussion on this for 20 July, and I hope the Member States can take it over from there and become very actively engaged. You all know my position: the Security Council must be reformed and brought in-line with today's realities. We should make it more representative, more democratic, and, therefore, it would gain in greater legitimacy. We have two groups within the UN. I offered two proposals in my report. One was simply to recreate new semi-permanent seats, for a total of 25 seats. The other option is 5 permanent seats, 6 permanent seats without veto and 14 rotating seats. Here, the members are polarized. You have the two camps, one for permanent seats without a veto, and also a large number say we want semi-permanent seats. They have to find a compromise to move forward.

Before I left New York, I had discussions with a group of very permanent ambassadors, and the message I gave them is that their choice is clear: you are all concerned about the distribution of power in the Organization, and most of you believe that the power in the Organization is too narrowly focused on five members, and the situation is not realistic and does not reflect the geopolitical realities of today. I agree. But we have not been able to reform the Council in a long time and the choices that you, as ambassadors, have, are three. Do nothing, which I don't think is an option. Two, find a way to reach a compromise to get you to the Council table and, from there, you continue your search for the permanent solution. Third, you can hold on to your intransigent position and continue to seek your perfect solution, which may take generations, or may never happen. I hope they are reflecting on this, because it ought to be possible to be at the table, to have an input in major decisions affecting all of us, while seeking your perfect solution. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We need to have a good democratic and representative Council. We needed it now. Not 10 years from now. Not 20 years from now. That is my position.

So the whole reform proposal is a set of measures to keep the promise of the United Nations. To make the UN more proactive, engage with the rest of the world and deliver on its promise and to tackle the issues that we need to do.

In addition to these reform proposals, we are of course engaged in Iraq, Sudan, East Timor, Afghanistan, the Congo, North Korea, the Middle East and Iran, and the world community faces unique and daunting challenges that we all need to help contain.

The United Nations is not the only forum to deal with the crises. Some of the problems are better settled closer to the site or elsewhere. But, the UN does play a very essential part in the settlement of these disputes. For many, it is indispensable organ and I hope, with your support, we will be able to carry out our tasks.

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