Press Releases

    DSG/SM/128
    17 April 2001

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL SPEAKS TO SWISS
    PARLIAMENT COMMITTEES ON UNITED NATIONS OF TODAY
    AND OF TOMORROW


    NEW YORK, 12 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is a translation from French of the text of an address given in Bern, Switzerland, on 3 April by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, to joint hearings on membership in the United Nations organized by the foreign policy committees of the Swiss Parliament:

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a great honour for me to open these joint hearings on Swiss membership in the United Nations.

    You invited me to join you in considering the present and future of the United Nations. I take pleasure in doing so, while remaining mindful of the vast scope of the topic.

    It is, indeed, no easy task to describe in a few minutes all the complex aspects of the United Nations, especially as, far from being the fossilized colossus depicted by its critics, the United Nations is constantly changing. Its perennial challenge is to adjust to the political, economic, cultural and social changes determining relations between peoples and States, and to respond to the requirements of the moment. I believe it has managed to do so more successfully than is generally acknowledged, and this will be the focus of my comments.

    I would like to start with the Millennium Summit of last September, the largest ever gathering of heads of State and government. The Declaration adopted at the Summit is, in my opinion, a remarkable document. It represents a new consensus on the principles and values that must be at the basis of any action by the United Nations. These principles faithfully reflect the Charter, a 55-year-old document that could have been drafted yesterday, so closely does it mirror the eternal aspirations of all humanity. But they are also well anchored to the realities of the new twenty-first century, requiring us to focus United Nations action on human beings, respect for their rights and satisfaction of their basic needs.

    What also distinguishes the Millennium Declaration is the clarity of the objectives and priorities it establishes for the United Nations: to overcome poverty, put an end to conflict, meet the needs of Africa, promote democracy and the rule of law, and protect our environment. Seldom has there been such a clear agreement enunciated in such lucid language. We are far from the political cant often characterizing such documents.

    In my opinion, the results of the Millennium Summit reflect the vitality of the United Nations and the political support it continues to enjoy from all its Member States. Which is not to say that concord prevails on all fronts, that consensus is reached without difficulty or that the United Nations machine works like a Swiss watch. But it means that one of the prerequisites for an effective organization —- a common vision of its mission by its Members -— clearly emerged from the Millennium Summit.

    This common vision resulted from the far-reaching changes in the last decade of the twentieth century. The radical transformation of the geopolitical environment at the end of the cold war, the accelerated globalization of the economy, the emergence of new players in international relations such as non-governmental organizations have all had a major impact on the role of the United Nations and the way it operates.

    I know you are familiar with the new type of peace mission that the United Nations has had to conduct over the past decade, for Switzerland has made various contributions to many of them. Being far more complex than the interposition missions of the cold-war era, these missions demand integrated strategies. The establishment of minimum security conditions by military contingents may be accompanied by responsibilities for the holding of elections, the disarming of combatants, the return of refugees or the revival of the economy. In the cases of Kosovo and East Timor, the United Nations is assuming responsibilities similar to those of a Government in the management of those territories.

    When observers discuss this new style of peace mission, they often pause to reflect, and not without good reason, on the tragic examples of Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda. The United Nations has gone through a process of self-criticism in connection with those missions, especially the last two, and the lessons to be drawn from those experiences should be clear to all today.

    But too often people forget that at the same time the United Nations was successfully carrying out complex and innovative missions in Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Eastern Slavonia, to name just a few. If today we are in a position to discharge our responsibilities honourably in Kosovo, in East Timor, in Sierra Leone and perhaps eventually in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is no doubt because of the experience gained over the past decade and because of the improvements we have made in managing these missions.

    The Secretary-General believes, however, that we must and can do better, if Member States resist the temptation to give the United Nations unrealistic mandates and if they are ready to give it the necessary resources. That is why he has asked a panel of experts to make recommendations on ways of enhancing the capacity of the United Nations to manage its peace missions. I know that General Naumann will give you the details a little later this afternoon. I will simply say that the General Assembly has already agreed to make a substantial increase in the resources of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and will resume consideration of the recommendations in the Brahimi report in June.

    I am convinced that the performance of the United Nations will benefit greatly from the implementation of those recommendations. But I am also convinced that, in the final analysis, all Member States must be ready to contribute to the missions if the United Nations is to be successful in maintaining peace.

    The last decade has also been productive for United Nations action in the economic and social areas. The major conferences of the 1990s on the environment, population, human rights, children, the human habitat, social development and women have all served, in their respective domains, to update the legislative framework and formulate strategies that now serve as guidelines for all United Nations activities in those areas. It has not always been easy to find common ground on topics that are often highly sensitive. But there is no doubt in my mind as to the long-term impact of such agreements.

    To take only one example that is dear to me, no one can overestimate how significant those conferences have been in terms of improvements in the legal, political, economic and social status of women across the globe. They have led to open discussion of such taboo subjects as genital mutilation and contraception. They have enabled civil society to become organized and express opinions, while enabling Governments to benefit from the experience of other countries.

    They have created for the women of the world a set of standards and avenues of appeal, the latest being the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This enables women whose rights have been trampled on to seek redress directly from the Committee established under the Convention, once all available domestic appeals have been exhausted. While the struggle for gender equality is far from over, it is continuing in a much more favourable international climate, because of those conferences.

    Today the topics of concern to people across the world are largely related to the phenomenon of globalization, which is making economies and societies more interdependent than ever. The widening gap between rich countries and poor countries, international terrorism, climate change, the AIDS pandemic, illicit trafficking in arms and drugs, population movements -— these are all topics with a direct or indirect impact on the lives of your constituents. They are all on the agenda of the United Nations.

    It is now accepted that such issues cannot be managed by States alone. Increasingly, non-governmental organizations, academics, scientists and business leaders are contributing to the debate; they are often full partners in implementing our programmes. While it is true that we have long been working with non-governmental organizations in providing humanitarian relief and in promoting development, for example, there are new types of partnerships now emerging.

    When the Economic and Social Council decided last year to devote its annual ministerial session to information technologies, it therefore invited a number of representatives from the private sector to participate in its work. An advisory council involving governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations will soon be formed to continue the dialogue with those who are in the best position to predict how those technologies will evolve and how they will be used to serve the development of the poorest countries.

    Likewise, the growing partnership between the private sector and large foundations in the battle against AIDS and other endemic diseases should permit a large volume of necessary resources to come on stream. For example, there is the contribution of over $850 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to finance immunization research.

    And you have probably heard of the famous billion from Mr. Turner. This experience, now in its fourth year, demonstrates how productive cooperation can be established with a private foundation, in full observance of the principles and priorities established by the United Nations.

    Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Global Compact proposed by the Secretary-General in Davos in 1999. This compact invites businesses to respect a number of international standards in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment. Trade unions and non-governmental organizations are also involved in this initiative. I am happy to report that a good number of Swiss companies have already joined the Compact.

    I believe that the driving force behind these new partnerships is recognition of the fact that all players in society must join forces if the majority of today’s problems are to be solved. But another reason is that we are ever more mindful of the following facts: borders are less and less important; one cannot ignore without risk the problems affecting other regions, even the most remote regions; human solidarity is not merely a moral imperative, but serves the long-term interests of all.

    You are obviously entitled to ask whether the United Nations apparatus and the multiple secretariats measure up to this inspiring vision. What is the status of United Nations reform?

    I would say that reform is in good shape. It is still going on, even if it is less talked about than a few years ago. To some extent, it will never be completed, because any dynamic institution must constantly seek to improve itself.

    The first point I would make is that the United Nations has been in a state of zero nominal growth for the past six years, which means that our real resources have decreased year after year. But the mandates from the various organs of the United Nations have continued to increase. The Organization has never experienced such an intense pace of activities. Thanks to the modernization of our management methods, the intensive use of information technologies and a truly considerable amount of work on the part of staff who are for the most part extremely dedicated and competent, we are managing to meet the demands of our Member States.

    It seems to me that our core budget of about $1.2 billion per annum, in other words, half the budget of the city of Zurich, is far from excessive, considering what the United Nations has to accomplish each year. The United Nations Secretariat has only 8,900 staff, 2,000 fewer than the teachers in primary and secondary public schools in the canton of Bern. The peacekeeping budget depends on the number and complexity of ongoing operations: it amounted to $2.1 billion in 2000, a modest amount in relation to the defence budgets of most European countries.

    The reforms launched by the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, have also led to substantial improvements in coordination among the various components of the United Nations system. Every week, the managers of the various Secretariat departments and United Nations funds and programmes — including those based in Geneva, Vienna, Rome and Nairobi, by video conference — meet under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General (or, in his absence, under my chairmanship) to take stock of the issues of the day and coordinate their interventions.

    On the ground, the members of these organizations work hand in hand with a resident coordinator appointed by the Secretary-General. Together they establish a common programming framework, and they are required to harmonize their activities in the countries to where they are accredited.

    In recent years, there have also been substantial improvements in cooperation with the specialized agencies, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Bretton Woods institutions. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, if I am not mistaken, a report by the Secretary-General on the financing of development was prepared with the full participation of the WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

    If the international community were to redesign the United Nations from scratch, I am sure it would give it a less complicated architecture than the one we are familiar with. But since we cannot start from scratch, we are demonstrating that the United Nations system as it stands can enhance its performance if we all do our part.

    The reform of the intergovernmental organs is moving more slowly. Despite more than eight years of intense discussions, the Member States have not yet managed to agree on a formula for the enlargement of the Security Council. On the other hand, entities such as United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Economic Commission for Europe have in recent years made an in-depth review of the thrust of their activities.

    Despite its shortcomings, the United Nations still embodies hopes for a peaceful, more just and more equitable world. It remains the only global institution whose legitimacy is based on its virtually universal membership, the only institution whose mandate covers not only development and security, but also human rights and the environment, the only institution whose influence derives not from the use of power, but from the force of the values it represents.

    Obviously, it is for the citizens of this country to decide whether it is to become a full Member of the United Nations. I hope I have shown that if they say "yes" to the United Nations, they will join a dynamic organization sharply attuned to the realities of the year 2001, and well prepared to meet the challenges before the international community.

    Whatever your decision, we know, as the Secretary-General said in Zurich a few days ago, that we can continue to rely on Switzerland as one of our most loyal friends.

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