12 October 2005 Voicing hope that young people will continue the age-old struggle to strengthen human rights and the rule of law for all, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the recent UN summit achieved a historic breakthrough when the world's political leaders agreed that every government has the responsibility to protect its population.
"For the first time, all Member States expressed their will to act collectively, through the Security Council, when a population is threatened with genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity," he said in address to Portugal's Universidade Nova de Lisboa as he received an honorary law degree yesterday.
"For the first time, a global inter-governmental consensus was recorded, at the level of heads of State and government, declaring that every State has the responsibility to protect its populations," he said. "For the first time, governments spelled out that where national authorities manifestly fail to do so, the international community, acting through the United Nations, is obliged and empowered to act."
Throughout the Summit document, governments validated the principle that the rule of law and human rights form one of the three pillars of the UN through a number of measures, including making commitments to improve the effectiveness of human rights treaty bodies, advocate human rights education at all levels and ensure that anti-terrorism measures comply with international legal obligations, he said.
"Clearly, for all who recognize that the rule of law is the best safeguard against the rule of war, this Summit was not a failure. Rather, it was a milestone in the serious march of humankind towards a world based on right making might," Mr. Annan said.
The Summit did not leave the "responsibility to protect" vague and undefined, he said. It made clear that the government's responsibility included a range of duties: prevention, action against incitement, the establishment of early warning capabilities, and whatever measures were "appropriate and necessary."
Any intervention required would include diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, as well as collective action under Chapter VII of the Charter, Mr. Annan said, referring to the section that allows the Security Council to authorize as remedies, in the last resort, "demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations."
In the document, too, the Summit replaced the "largely dysfunctional Human Rights Commission" with a new Human Rights Council with the responsibility to promote "universal for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind" and to mainstream human rights throughout the UN system, Mr. Annan said.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, with a proposed budget double its present size, would enjoy a closer relationship with the Security Council, he said, adding, "To their credit, governments have thus heeded one of the painful lessons of Rwanda: the mechanisms of the UN human rights programme warned of the coming storm, but in a system that built walls between human rights and security, the warning could not be heard in the halls of the Security Council."
According to an independent, UN-authorized inquiry into the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the forces of key countries, operating under the shadow of peacekeeping failures in Somalia, evacuated their own civilian nationals and showed little or no political will either to stay in Rwanda or to share information on the unfolding tragedy with the UN Force Commander in Rwanda, Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada, before leaving.
Mr. Annan told the university audience that the Summit attracted significant pledges of funding for the new Democracy Fund, launched at the UN earlier this year, and he commended Portugal for being among those countries that pledged.
Before the university appearance, Mr. Annan met with his Special Envoy for elections in Cote d'Ivoire, Antonio Monteiro, then with Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral.
At a press encounter with the Foreign Minister afterward, the Secretary-General was asked about the biggest challenge he had faced during his mandate, and said it was undoubtedly Iraq, particularly the whole issue of disarmament that led to war.
In the afternoon, the Secretary-General visited the Batalha monastery, accompanied by President Jorge Sampaio, to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Later he was scheduled to meet with opposition leader Luis Marques Mendes of the Social Democratic Party and with former President Mario Soares.