Press Releases

    DSG/SM/226
                                                                                                                     8 June 2004

    Deputy Secretary-General Describes Fundamental Changes in Thinking, Approach to UN Security, in New York Address

    NEW YORK, 7 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to the eighth United Nations Senior Management Seminar (UNSMAS) in New York, 7 June:

    It is a pleasure to join you for this seminar. It has become an important annual event on the United Nations calendar, and a real help to us in managing multidimensional peace operations and complex humanitarian emergencies. I would like to thank the Government and Permanent Mission of Norway for putting together this year’s programme, and for giving me an opportunity to address a theme of over-arching significance for that work -– the security of UN personnel and our close partners in the humanitarian community.

    The horrendous attack last 19 August in Baghdad began a new chapter for the United Nations’ efforts to carry out its global mission. Until last August, the Organization had reason to believe that, for the most part, we were protected by our flag and all that it symbolizes. Of course, the United Nations family did, over the years, mourn the loss of many colleagues, as did humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins sans frontières and others. Most of those deaths were the result of isolated acts, or happened just because people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, there were enough cases involving deliberate targeting of the United Nations and other humanitarian actors to make this a growing concern.

    The United Nations, for its part, took a wide range of measures, from updating procedures and technology to strengthening the Security Coordinator’s Office and appointing the Organization’s first full-time Security Coordinator. But the prevailing view at the United Nations and in the wider humanitarian community was that security systems were, by and large, sufficient.

    The attack in Baghdad has prompted fundamental changes in our thinking and our approach to security. Today the United Nations is being targeted -– in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere -- because it is the United Nations. The attacks may not be isolated events, but rather part of a deliberate strategy. Whatever the aim of those assaulting us -- to sow chaos, to undermine our political efforts, to retaliate for a perceived grievance, or something else –- we have in some places become a primary target. This implies a quantum, rather than incremental, increase in the strain on our security systems.

    Our response has been multifaceted.

     Even before the Baghdad attack, had initiated an assessment the changes brought to our security systems in 1999 and 2000. After 19 August, we realized at once that those reforms were not sufficient for the new climate in which we and our partners work. So we went back to the drawing board.

    Our reforms are, therefore, guided not only by the evaluation of UN security arrangements carried out by independent group of experts, sent to Baghdad, but also by the initial internal investigation into the events of 19 August by the report of the independent panel led by Mr. Ahtisaari, as well as the results of the account panel led by Gerald Walter. These analyses all called for more personnel, better minimum operating security standards, more reliable information and risk analysis, and improved structures. They all stressed the need to integrate all elements of our security activities into a transformed, professional security system. In April, the Secretary-General submitted a series of proposals to the Member States addressing urgently required new measures at UN Headquarters and field locations. He asked for $92 million to cover a first phase of action. This fall, he will present a comprehensive report for building a strengthened and unified security system.

    But this is only one of two strands. We are also taking a more fundamental look at how we deliver our programmes. Over the years, the United Nations has tended to be “heavy on the ground”, with large numbers of international personnel. Today, in highly dangerous environments, such an approach is inadvisable and unsustainable. Therefore, we are thinking more radically about how to do our work with a lighter footprint, how to integrate the various parts of the UN system into more agile teams, and how to work more effectively with non-UN partners.

    Our approach to Iraq is a good example of this new way of thinking. Agencies, programmes and funds have been regrouped around thematic areas, for which they pool staff. Similarly, we are also looking at pooling administrative support, not only among agencies, programmes and funds, but also with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. These and other such steps will not be easy. Funding, accountability and other parts of our work have traditionally been organized along departmental lines. But extraordinary times demand extraordinary changes.

    Indeed, this is an era in which there are more humanitarian and development personnel in conflict zones than ever before. The so-called “humanitarian space” for those activities is under unprecedented stress. Emblems such as UN blue, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, become high-value targets in efforts to drive them out or deny their role as protectors and providers. Conflicts are often followed by a security gap, or a rule-of-law vacuum, in which order breaks down, and looting and lawlessness prevail, disrupting or even preventing our work. In some places, security risks are heightened by the illegal exploitation of natural resources. Elsewhere, access to suffering populations is deliberately denied or some authorities or non-State actors show little regard for international humanitarian law, even as we need to engage in dialogue with them.

    The involvement of the military also raises its own set of concerns, mostly the relationship between the military and an impartial humanitarian presence. Yet, the military can play an essential role in restoring order, delivering humanitarian assistance, protecting humanitarian workers, and, in some cases, maintaining the security of refugee camps.

    All of this has made our attitude to security far more robust and realistic than it was a year ago. We recognize the need for better information and analysis. We are also acutely aware of the links between the security of our personnel and a range of wider issues such as civilian policing, demobilization and disarmament of combatants, post-conflict justice and reconciliation, and the legal protections offered by international humanitarian law and institutions such as the International Criminal Court, which defines attacks on peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel as war crimes.

    But, as we move ahead, the United Nations will have to be careful not to succumb to a “siege mentality”. People around the world have high expectations of the United Nations and its partners. Our collective raison d’être is to be there: We must be present in the lives of peoples and their communities -- to understand their needs and aspirations. We must work with them to nurture hope, peace and better standards of living. You can’t fulfil that mission from inside a bunker. And while we believe in empowering local staff, we cannot dispense with the presence of international personnel. This is, in part, because donors expect hands-on involvement in the efforts they are funding. But also, mostly because the face of the United Nations is, by definition, diverse and multicultural. After all, we are talking about the face of international solidarity and moral responsibility to our fellow human beings. To undermine this credo would cast doubt on our credibility. To withdraw from this approach would put at risk the essence of the United Nations as an agent of change and support like no other.

    UN managers are grappling with these new realities. We are all torn between wanting not to expose people unnecessarily, and making sure that the United Nations does as much as possible to uphold our mission and carry out the mandates that the Member States gave us. We need our managers in the field to be able to carry out their missions. They must be committed to the highest levels of security, but without becoming “risk averse”. We also need Member States to be understanding and supportive. This requires not only that they provide the essential resources. But also, that they do not give unwise or impracticable mandates to the United Nations. And we need to forge closer partnerships with our non-governmental colleagues. We must work together more closely than ever in areas such as communications, security planning and information sharing, not just with respect to day-to-day conditions in this or that theatre of operation, but also on the broader analysis of the trends and factors affecting our work.

    These are difficult, thorny issues. The atmosphere in this house and in the field remains charged with fear, uncertainty and the knowledge that our work will never be the same. The Secretary-General, for his part, has said that the decision on disciplinary measures for the failings in Iraq were among the most difficult he has had to take. And yet, we must all carry on –- for there is a world of need out there, in conflict zones, where disaster has struck, where the daily struggle for development and dignity is fought. I look forward to your thoughts on how best we can address these issues, and enable the United Nations and its indispensable partners to continue providing vital services to all who seek them.

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