With call for action, not more words, Annan outlines plan for radical UN reform

Kofi Annan addresses General Assembly

21 March 2005 – Calling for action, not more words, to fulfil pledges already made, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today laid before the General Assembly his plan for United Nations reform, ranging from greater investment in developing countries to steps to fight catastrophic terrorism and collective action against genocide and ethnic cleansing.

“I make no apology for the detailed, matter-of-fact nature of this presentation. As far as detail goes, I assure you it is merely the tip of the iceberg,” he told the 191-member body, stressing that the proposals in his report – “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” – were a package and not an a la carte menu from which nations could choose only those aspects they fancy.

“As for being matter-of-fact, I have deliberately spared you any flights of rhetoric. This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come. We know what the problems are, and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations, but action to fulfil the promises already made,” he added.

Mr. Annan described the report, released yesterday as a five-year update on the Millennium Declaration in which world leaders pledged to build a better and safer planet for the next century through collective security and a global partnership for development, as comprehensive strategy.

“It gives equal weight and attention to the three great purposes of this Organization: development, security and human rights all of which must be underpinned by the rule of law,” he declared.

“You may or many not find my argument convincing. But please remember, in any event, that if you need the help of other states to achieve your objectives, you must also be willing to help them achieve their objectives. That is why I urge you to treat my proposals as a single package,” he added.

Outlining the three pillars, he stressed that the first element – “Freedom from Want” – called on developing countries to improve their governance, combat corruption and adopt an inclusive approach to development to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to halve extreme poverty and hunger, slash maternal and infant mortality and increase access to education and health care by 2015.

At the same time developed countries must increase the amount they spend on development and debt relief, give immediate duty-free and quota-free market access to all exports from least developed countries and commit themselves to spending 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product on official development assistance by 2015.

The second part of the report, entitled “Freedom from Fear” calls on all states to agree on a new security consensus, “by which they commit themselves to treat any threat to one of them as a threat to all, and to work together to prevent catastrophic terrorism, stop proliferation of deadly weapons, end civil wars and build lasting peace in war-torn countries,” he said.

“Among my specific proposals in this area, I ask all states to complete, sign and implement the comprehensive convention on terrorism, based on a clear and agreed definition, as well as the convention on nuclear terrorism and the fissile material cut-off treaty,” he added.

The report backs the definition of terrorism – an issue so divisive agreement on it has long eluded the world community – as any action “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

On the third pillar – “Freedom to Live in Dignity” – Mr. Annan stressed the need for the international community to embrace the principle of the “Responsibility to Protect” as “a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crime against humanity – recognizing that this responsibility lies first and foremost with each individual state, but also that, if national authorities are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, the responsibility then shift to the international community.”

In the last resort, the Security Council may take enforcement action according to the UN Charter, he added.

Mr. Annan also noted his proposals for strengthening the UN system itself by revitalizing the General Assembly, expanding the membership of the Security Council to 24 members from the current 15, and establishing a new Human Rights Council, elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, to replace the current Commission on Human Rights, “whose capacity to perform its tasks has been undermined by its declining credibility and professionalism.”

Video of Assembly meeting [27mins]

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