Press Releases

     

    NGO/517
    PI/1499

    10 September 2003

                                                                                                                                                 

    FIFTY-SIXTH ANNUAL DPI/NGO CONFERENCE OPENS AT
    HEADQUARTERS, DEDICATED TO MEMORY OF THOSE
    LOST IN BAGHDAD ATTACK

    NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- It was necessary to build on the progress already made in strengthening the relationship between the United Nations and civil society, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said this morning, as she opened the fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference, which has been dedicated to the memory of those lost in the  19 August attack at United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.

    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could make an enormous contribution in helping to translate the Millennium Development Goals into concrete gains for people at the local level and in bringing local concerns to the attention of decision-makers, the Deputy Secretary-General said.  As civil society increased its engagement with the Millennium Goals, the NGOs would remain active on the broader issues involved -- from conflict prevention and promoting democracy to protection of refuges and the advancement of human rights. 

    She told participants, who are meeting under the theme “Human Security and Dignity:  Fulfilling the Promise of the United Nations", that meeting the eight Millennium Goals was a matter of life and death for millions.  When addressing poverty, hunger, unclean water, disease or illiteracy, “We do not have simply to hope that addressing those problems would build greater human security -- we know it would.”

    In welcoming remarks, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, said more than 3,000 NGOs had direct ties with the United Nations Secretariat and thousands more had joined partnership with the Organization around the world.  The Department of Public Information (DPI), realizing how much it needed the help of NGOs, had recently established a civil society service to tap into their enormous energy.  In addition, a series of initiatives launched today and workshops throughout the Conference period would examine tangible challenges and represent venues for NGOs and governments to exchange ideas.

    Noting that the Conference was being held only weeks after the attack on the United Nations headquarters in Iraq, he described it as a bitter blow to the Organization and its efforts to promote a better world.  The attack, however, had not deterred the United Nations or its partners from pursuing the common goal of peace.  It had also been an important reminder of the Conference’s main theme.  Its second half could be read both as an admission that the Organization’s promise had not been met, and as a clarion call.  Fulfilling that promise meant making Organization more effective, he said.  It also meant that the promise was the responsibility of all people.

    Renate Bloem, President of the Conference of the Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), said the Baghdad attack had targeted the very institution that gave CONGO its mandate and mission.  The CONGO believed in the human rights approach to security and in the full realization of the millennium goals.  Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative who died in the attack, had believed that the United Nations was in Iraq to help the local people -- to protect and empower them by providing human security, rather than relying solely on military force.

     

    Fanny Munlin, Chairperson of the fifty-sixth Annual DPI/NGO Conference, dedicated the Conference to the United Nations staff who had come under attack in Baghdad and elsewhere.  NGO members, working hand in hand with United Nations staff in assisting humanitarian efforts and development programmes, would neither be deterred nor let the United Nations be deterred in their mutual quest for better lives for all people, she stressed.

    Also addressing the opening session of the Conference were Jan Kavan, President the General Assembly; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Chairman of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations; and Joan Levy, Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee.

    During a panel discussion this afternoon, panellists addressed the psychological complexities of human security and dignity, focusing on mental health, spirituality, prejudice and tolerance.  They examined people’s perceptions of security and dignity, as well as ways in which they recovered from trauma and disruption resulting from violence and chaos.

    The panellists were Anwarul Chowdhury, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; Joerg Bose of the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology; Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of the University of Cape Town, South Africa; Nila Kapor-Stanulovic of the University of Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro; and Afaf Mahfouz of the Committee of the United Nations, International Psychoanalytical Association.

    Giandomenico Picco, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations and Chief Executive Officer of GDP Associates Inc., moderated the panel discussion.

    The DPI/NGO Conference will resume at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 9 September 2003.

    Background

    The fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference, meeting in its opening session this morning, was expected to hear keynote addresses on the theme of the Conference, “Human Security and Dignity:  Fulfilling the Promise of the United Nations”.

    Statements

    The Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, SHASHI THAROOR, welcomed participants to the Conference, in particular, those who had travelled great distances to attend.  Videoconferencing would allow many participants unable to attend the Conference to participate, as well.  The Conference came only weeks after the heinous attacks on the United Nations Headquarters in Iraq that killed 22 people.  While it had been a bitter blow to the United Nations and its efforts to promote a better world, it had not deterred the United Nations or its partners from pursuing the common goal of peace.  It had also been an important reminder of the Conference’s main theme.  There were two ways to read the second half of the Conference’s theme, both as an admission the promise had not been met, and as a clarion call. 

    The United Nations had made a difference in many areas, but its promise to improve the lives of all had not yet been met for all, he said.  Fulfilling the United Nations promise meant making the Organization more effective.  It also meant that the promise was the responsibility of all people.  Success would only be possible if everyone engaged fully and together.  He recalled the words of Sergio Vieira de Mello at last year’s conference that his experience had left him with a deep appreciation of the contribution of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to human rights and human development issues. 

    More than 3,000 NGOs had direct ties with the United Nations Secretariat, he said.  Thousands more had joined partnership with the United Nations family around the world.  The Department of Public Information (DPI) realized how much it needed the help of NGOs that it had recently established a civil society service to tap into the enormous energy NGOs represented.  A series of initiatives would be launched today to coincide with the Conference.  Workshops throughout the Conference would examine tangible challenges and represent venues for NGOs and governments to exchange ideas.  He concluded by acknowledging the presence of the United Nations first volunteer, Mrs. Nane Annan.

    Deputy Secretary-General LOUISE FRECHETTE said that the support of the NGOs to the United Nations was greatly appreciated.  The meeting was taking place as the Organization was mourning the loss of 22 people brutally killed last month in the attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and praying for the recovery of many others injured.  She greatly appreciated the fact that the Conference had been dedicated to the memory of those lost.

    Characterizing today’s crucial period in human affairs, she said that the United Nations had perhaps never been more sorely needed.  Now it was necessary to reaffirm its commitment to multilateral cooperation, broad-based action, tolerance and understanding.  That was the vision to which world leaders had committed themselves three years ago in the Millennium Declaration.  Since then, however, the world had been shocked by violence and beset by division.  Terrorism had struck many lands and targets, challenging the fundamental values of freedom and tolerance.  The consensus around other values -- solidarity, respect for nature and commitment to multilateralism -- had also been called into question.  That was why the theme of the Conference -- human security and dignity:  fulfilling the promise of the United Nations -- was timely.

    Continuing, she emphasized that security was not merely a matter of protecting States from military danger.  Real security could only be built by reducing and ultimately removing the insecurities that plagued individual human lives.  In the new millennium, it was necessary to shape globalization, so that it became a positive force for all the world’s people.  It was necessary to aim at nothing less than a world where every man, woman and child had clean water, enough food to eat, adequate shelter, good health care, a decent education, protection from violence and a government by popular consent under law.  That vision would not be achieved this year, or this decade, but it was necessary to bring it measurably closer -- day by day, year by year.  The Millennium Development Goals, as articulated in the Millennium Declaration, were benchmarks for progress in that effort.

    Meeting the eight Goals was a matter of life and death for millions, she continued.  When addressing poverty, hunger, unclean water, disease or illiteracy, “We do not have simply to hope that addressing those problems would build greater human security -- we know it would.”  Those issues were linked.  For example, by halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, it would be possible to lower child mortality, combat malaria, reduce extreme poverty and hunger, empower women, and improve the lives of slum dwellers.  Also, deprivation and injustice could breed desperation and division.  Goals could not only contribute to human development -- they were also an important contribution to conflict prevention.

    Now, it was necessary to review what progress had been made in achieving the Goals and what remained to be done, she said.  The Secretary-General was today issuing a report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, including in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  The message of that report was clear:  while ambitious, the Goals were achievable.  But, more must be done if they were to be met.  Progress had been made -- in some regions, in some areas.  For instance, eastern and south-eastern Asia were on track to meet the goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and south-central Asia was making good progress.  But, in many areas, there had been little or no progress, and even steps backwards.  In western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty had actually increased since 1990, and there had been stagnation in Latin America and the Caribbean.  If stagnation and regression were to turn into progress, and if slow progress was to turn into quick advance, more attention should be given to top priority and high priority countries, as well as to those countries that, even while making progress, retained areas of deep deprivation.

    In his report, the Secretary-General encouraged poor countries to make bold reforms, she said, particularly underscoring the need for rich countries to fulfil their side of the bargain.  Indeed, the eighth goal –- the building of global partnership for development -- was crucial to achieving the other seven.  Rich countries must deliver more aid more effectively, relieve more debt more quickly, reduce their subsidies, open their markets and share their technologies.  And they should adopt time-bound targets for fulfilling those tasks.

    The NGOs, whether from the South or the North, also had vital roles to play in the massive global effort to meet the Goals, she continued.  They could make an enormous contribution in helping to translate those global goals into concrete gains for people at the local level and in bringing local concerns to the attention of decision-makers.  As civil society increased its engagement with the Goals, she was confident the NGOs would remain active on the broader issues involved -- from conflict prevention and promoting democracy to protection refuges and advancement of human rights. 

    She went on to say that the importance of NGOs in international affairs continued to grow, and it was necessary to build on the progress already made in strengthening the relationship between the United Nations and civil society.  To that end, earlier this year, the Secretary-General had asked the former President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to chair a panel of eminent persons on United Nations relations with civil society. 

    JAN KAVAN (Czech Republic), President of the General Assembly, said he had long been convinced of the great relevance of the invaluable work of NGOs.  The Conference provided an excellent forum for civil society and the United Nations to highlight the link between human security and living in dignity.  Human security could only be achieved by building on people’s strengths to create strong civil society and institutions.  Non-governmental organizations had participated in the work of the United Nations almost since its inception.  Its participation had expanded dramatically during the series of international conferences throughout the 1990s. 

    Partnership in humanitarian and development areas had long enriched the outcome of many intergovernmental deliberations, he said.  More than 3,500 NGOs had been accredited to the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives had also addressed General Assembly special sessions.  Many United Nations treaty bodies now considered NGO reports alongside official government reports. At the field level, partnership had been the rule for decades.  He supported the Secretary-General’s initiative of forming a panel of eminent persons on United Nations-civil society relations.  The panel was charged with the task of reviewing the relationship between United Nations and civil society.  He believed in the role of an active civil society, NGO participation and increased dialogue.  The efforts of civil society were bringing together those who still believed in the noble ideas of the United Nations.

    Only a few years ago, when world leaders met at the Millennium Summit, they had expressed their firm commitment to the work of the United Nations, he said.  The Millennium Summit had ended with the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals.  The successful and timely implementation of the Millennium Development Goals would not only be a great United Nations contribution to the struggle against extreme poverty, but also target the main courses of tensions and armed conflict, as well as intolerance and terrorism.  “If we are successful, the world would be that much safer, saner and peaceful.”

    He said the United Nations had a vast array of functions to implement its mandate. The Organization was needed as the only legitimate forum to resolve transnational problems that could not be solved by individual States. Recognizing the support of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict, he had convened an open meeting last week to explore how best to link the work of civil society with the work of governments and the United Nations.  The initiative was intended to pursue practices that fostered a climate of peace. The global community more than ever needed to work together intensively to build a secure, rule based world in which human security and private enterprise could flourish. The quality of international order, good will and the responsibility of all nations, particularly the most powerful, was essential. 

    FERNANDO HENRIQUE CARDOSO, Chairman of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations, expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the Baghdad attack.  As a Brazilian, he wanted to pay special homage to Sergio Vieira de Mello.

    Turning to the work of the Panel, he said that its mission was to review guidelines and practices for enhancing the Organization’s interaction with the civil society. Today, more than ever, it was relevant to take a fresh look at the ways to engage with civil society, as today’s problems cut across national jurisdictions, becoming global issues.

    Continuing, he said that in the 1990s the United Nations had made full use of its power and moral leadership.  A series of global conferences had enabled civil society to come together with the international organizations in tackling important issues.  In recent years, however, unilateralism had become a serious challenge, and the global debate had become polarized, with a strong protest movement taking to the streets.  There were no solutions possible to problems of great complexity without revitalizing the United Nations and international governance.

    As most crises did, however, the new one was producing new visions and opportunities, he said.  The civil society was a great promoter of multilateralism.  It was necessary to better evaluate the situation and consider new ways of cooperation.  It was essential to demonstrate the effectiveness of joint efforts and build consensus for productive collaboration in the future. The immense value of respect -- listening to civil society -- should be emphasized.

    Turning to his national experience, he said that Brazil had some of the best programmes to fight AIDS, demonstrating that the disease was not an insurmountable problem.  A big part of the country’s success was the interplay of citizen initiatives and public policies.  Associations of people living with AIDS had been the first to break the silence and denial that bred despair.  In response, the Government had established a coordinating committee to implement a comprehensive strategy to fight AIDS.  With the support of the World Bank, important partnerships had been established with NGOS, stressing prevention and care.  Local authorities were encouraged to set coordination structures.  While there was disagreement on some issues, it was possible to pool together the efforts of various actors to achieve common goals, including the objective of lowering the prices of drugs.  Civil society had helped to link the global concerns with local ones in dealing with the global health emergency.

    Emphasizing the importance of the influence of public opinion, he stressed the timeliness of the Secretary-General’s decision to take a fresh look at cooperation with civil society.  The role of all actors -- State and non-State -- was changing, and it was important to attune the United Nations to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.  The Secretary-General encouraged the Panel to be bold and pragmatic in its approach.  There were many positive trends and innovations in the United Nations system, and new forms of interaction needed to be extended.  It was necessary to ensure high standards on all parts, providing for greater transparency and accountability.

    In conclusion, he said that the report of the Panel was to be finalized in April 2004, and this week’s discussion would be very useful in formulating its recommendations.

    JOAN LEVY, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee, said the Conference met at a time of terrible tragedy, senseless killings and tremendous personal loss to the United Nations family.  That so many had chosen to attend was a clear indication that NGOs would not be deterred in their partnerships with the United Nations.  For NGOs associated with the United Nations, the Conference was the premier event of the year. 

    The Conference was one of the few opportunities when NGOs and civil society came together to compare notes, she said.  While the NGO/DPI Executive Committee was a full partner with the DPI for the annual conference, it was only one of the several activities in which it was involved.  Through weekly NGO briefings, the Committee was able to interact on a regular basis and identify ways to communicate information on the work of the United Nations to its constituencies.  The Executive Committee and DPI also organized daylong NGO communication workshops.  Recent workshops emphasized more extensive applications of information technologies for outreach.

    She also announced the major redesign of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee Web site, which was now a far more informative tool for NGOs.  For the first time, NGOs who could not attend in person would have access through Internet webcast.  NGO representatives around the world could submit questions, make comments and dialogue with each other.  That platform was a means for discussion and feedback while the Conference was in progress.  The lack of technology for many around the world was still a concern for both NGOs and the United Nations.  Members of the Outreach Committee had developed pilot programmes in other parts of the world.  The theme of the mini-seminars had mirrored that of the Conference.  A new brochure, detailing current and future projects, would be available later in the fall.

    RENATE BLOEM, President of the Conference of the Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), noted that the Conference was taking place in the wake of the most shattering events in the history of the United Nations:  the terrorist attack on the Organization’s Baghdad headquarters.

    The attack had targeted the very institution that gave CONGO its mandate and mission, she said.  Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative who died in the attack, had believed the United Nations was in the country to help the Iraqi people -- to protect and empower them by providing human security rather than relying solely on military force.  During the upcoming debates, participants would have the opportunity to discuss the relatively new concept of human security as espoused by Mr. Vieira de Mello.

    Looking ahead, she said that CONGO’s upcoming general assembly, scheduled for Geneva in December, would assess the events of the last 10 years and see how human rights would fare in the information society.  The CONGO believed in the human rights approach to security and in the full realization of the Millennium Development Goals, she added.

    FANNY MUNLIN, Chairperson of the fifty-sixth annual DPI/NGO Conference, noted that some people believed humankind would never overcome its tendency towards violence, oppression, bigotry and poverty.  However, non-governmental organizations were committed to becoming agents of change through the sharing of information and the development of partnerships.  They were also resolved to combine their efforts with those of governments, the private sector and other civil society partners to help promote the social advancement of all people.

    She said that the more than 3,000 representatives registered for the Conference demonstrated the remarkable solidarity of NGOs worldwide.  For them, the calls for human security and dignity were not mere words, but real flesh and blood aspirations held by people everywhere.  On behalf of the NGO Executive Committee, she dedicated the Conference to the United Nations staff who had come under attack in Baghdad and elsewhere.  Members of NGOs, working hand in hand with United Nations staff in assisting humanitarian efforts and development programmes, would not be deterred and would not let the United Nations be deterred in their mutual quest for better lives for all people, she stressed.

    Afternoon Session

    The afternoon plenary was devoted to the topic “Psychological Aspects of Human Security and Dignity”.

    ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said the absence of human security presented various psychological manifestations.  Human security could no longer be understood in military terms, but must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.  Upheaval was more likely when people lacked basic necessities.

    Human security as a positive attribute was difficult to measure, he said, and was often more apparent in situations where it was lacking.  The core of human insecurity was extreme vulnerability.  The central focus of ensuring human security was the protection of those who were most vulnerable.  The absence of human security had serious psychological impacts for both individuals and communities.  Nothing was more degrading than poverty and unemployment.  The trauma suffered by women and children and refugees as a result of war and violence caused life-long scars and wounds.  War and civil conflicts left them in a state of post-traumatic stress and separation anxiety.

    States had the primary responsibility to implement a protective infrastructure, he said.  When people were protected, they could exercise choices, and when they were empowered, they could make better choices and mitigate the impact of insecurities.  Public opinion and civil society organizations played an increasingly important role in the prevention of violent conflicts, as well as the eradication of poverty, thus, contributing to human security.

    JOERG BOSE, Director of the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology, said that western culture thought about dignity as an attribute of the individual, but the origin of dignity in terms of social experience made it vulnerable, easily lost, or destroyed.  Today, people could be both victims and perpetrators, and the process of regaining dignity was very complex.  The experience of trauma convinced victims of their own worthlessness, their very identity became destroyed.  The victims lived in a globalized climate of shame, and that disillusionment was almost impossible to overcome.

    The challenge for the victims of trauma was to come up with a new sense of wholeness, he continued.  However, the victims needed the help of others to reach that new sense of self-worth.  When humiliated, human beings lost the capacity to reflect and to feel, and there was an almost wilful surrender in order to forget the pain that had been experienced.  Recovering dignity depended on owning all of one’s life and history, and that meant acceptance of what one’s life had been, no matter how terrible or humiliating.  Moving forward required reconciliation and a lack of blame.

    PUMLA GOBODO-MADIKIZELA, a representative of the University of Cape Town, highlighted the brutal forms of violence that persisted in South African society.  Trauma, she said, was passed on intergenerationaly, through silences, fear and psychological scars that were often left unacknowledged.  The language of violence was etched in the memory of many South Africans, and the perpetrators of violence in South Africa today were following a script that had been enacted during the years of apartheid.  What was of great concern in South Africa was the brutal form that acts of violence had taken over the past few years.

    There was no longer any doubt about the link between violent aggression and past experiences of trauma, she continued.  When the trauma was experienced collectively, as in ongoing political conflict, the cycles of violence often repeated themselves.  The tools that were used to restore normality and to address the roots of violence needed to transcend ordinary methods that relied mainly on the criminal justice system.  Communities that were vulnerable to repeating past traumas needed to be helped to regain control over their current lives.  Measures for quelling violence, such as improved policing, were important.  But, far more vital in the long term were effective strategies of dialogue about the past, and government initiatives to bring about real transformation in people’s lives. 

    NILA KAPOR-STANULOVIC, Professor of Human Development and Mental Health at the University of Novi Sad, in Serbia and Montenegro, referred to her experiences during nine wars, saying she had learned from her personal history that restoring and preserving human development by rising above the disadvantages of a given situation could act as a powerful driving force.  It strengthened coping mechanisms and made adversity more bearable. 

    Children were no exception, she said, noting that adults often failed to perceive them as independent individuals whose unique reactions to situations and unique feelings must be respected.  Children in post-conflict situations, forgotten by humanitarian agencies just because another conflict had started elsewhere, were especially vulnerable, she added.

    Children trapped in chronic, degrading situations of poverty, deprivation of opportunities, repression, prolonged political or racial conflicts or those exposed to years of trauma were at risk of developing a “syndrome of nobodiness”, she said.  Stressing the importance of replacing that syndrome with a “feeling of somebodiness”, she said children must be considered first before, during and after disasters; in needs assessment missions; and in the implementation of projects.

    AFAF MAHFOUZ, Chair of the Committee on the United Nations International Psychoanalytical Association, said that the international community still needed to learn why efforts to reach sustainable development were not enough and efforts to address human development were not successful.  Some societies still accepted the violation of the rights of men, women and children, and the world was still witnessing humiliation inflicted on individuals, groups, countries or regions. Without human dignity for all, human security could not be achieved.

    It was clear that confronting poverty, not simply financial, but emotional, required a new approach, she said.  The international community needed to discover new ways of understanding, learning and doing.  She believed that a multidisciplinary approach to development was necessary, and called for the integration of psychoanalytical knowledge in every project of socio-economic development, in particular, with regard to health and education.

    Humiliation and trauma did not belong to one country, culture or religion, she continued, and was not only confined to so–called underdeveloped countries.  Actions against human dignity, for example, occurred on a daily basis in the United States.  What was needed to combat such humiliation and trauma was a strong United Nations where the member States would work together to strengthen the institution.  The United Nations should become the “good enough father” and the NGO community needed to become the “good enough mother”.

    During the question-and-answer session, Mr. CHOWDHURY, responding to questions about human security, emphasized the need for the United Nations to recognize human security as a major element of its work.  Non-governmental organizations should work with the Organization to that end in addition to working with individual governments to highlight and reduce the gaps in human security.

     

    He and the other panellists also discussed questions relating to such subjects as the training of professionals working in mental health programmes; prevention of trauma re-enactment; the situation in Iraq; the role of dialogue in national reconciliation; dealing with traumatized children; culture and identity; and the fear of diversity.

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