12 July 2005


Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at the Security Council debate on the role of the Security Council in humanitarian crises, in New York, 12 July:

Let me thank you for convening this thematic debate.  The topic you have chosen is particularly timely, since in these days we are marking the tenth anniversary of a dark moment in the history of the United Nations.

On 11 July 1995, Srebrenica -- a place which this Council had proclaimed a “safe area”, and which was manned by United Nations peacekeeping forces -- fell to the attacking Serb forces.  On 13 July, the systematic killing of Muslim men and boys began.  As we reflect on those shameful events, we are reminded that, whenever the Security Council takes responsibility for protecting civilians, it must craft an unambiguous mandate, and provide adequate resources to do the job properly, and everyone involved -- from the Council itself, the broader membership of the Organization and the Secretariat here in New York to our personnel on the ground -- must fully understand the expectations they have aroused among people desperate for protection in the face of grave danger.

But the truth is, your theme could be taken as encompassing almost the whole of the Council’s current agenda, since almost every crisis that the Council has to deal with includes a humanitarian dimension.  Indeed, it is often the sheer scale of human suffering, more than anything else, that impels the international community to intervene.

Our task should be to prevent such suffering.  All too often we fail to do so, because we do not recognize the gravity of the threat until too late.

That is why I believe Member States should recognize that, whenever a particular State is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens against extreme violence, there is a collective responsibility of all States to do so -– a responsibility which must be assumed by this Council. 

Debate tends to focus on the extreme cases where only forceful intervention can halt the bloodshed.  Yet the earlier we tackle the crisis by other means, the better our chance of preventing it from reaching that point.

I therefore join you, Mr. President, in stressing the importance of helping to prevent future conflicts, by addressing their root causes. 

The Council has already adopted important resolutions on this subject, and I have devoted several reports to it.  In a few days’ time, a major civil society conference on prevention will be held here at United Nations Headquarters.  In the light of that conference’s deliberations, I hope the Council will return to it in the near future, focusing especially on the practical modalities.

Meanwhile, the Council has a heavy caseload of countries already affected by conflict, or tentatively emerging from it.  The most frustrating cases are countries which relapse into conflict only a few years after the international community has helped them emerge from it.  We have learnt from bitter experience that peacebuilding, in order to be successful, needs to be sustained over a period of years, and to include a broad range of tasks.  These include reintegrating and rehabilitating demobilized combatants; helping societies and markets to recover their vitality; and -- most crucially of all -- strengthening the capacity of State and social institutions to provide security and justice, based on the rule of law.

In a moment, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations will speak in more detail about the problems of providing genuine security in a post-conflict situation.

For my part, I wish briefly to stress the importance of the rule of law.  This is something that cannot be imposed from outside.  Local actors must genuinely understand that only confidence in the rule of law will ensure lasting security, by enabling people of different factions or communities to rely on the forces of the State, rather than factional militias, for protection.  And for this to happen, courts and other institutions must be based not on an imported model, but on the culture and traditions of the local society.

The role of the international community is to galvanize and provide technical assistance to this process, while making sure that all national actors are included in it.  And it must do so in a coordinated fashion.  Different parts of the United Nations system, including the international financial institutions, need to cooperate closely both with each other and with bilateral donors and troop contributors.  Ensuring this coordination is one of the roles I hope to see filled by the new Peacebuilding Commission, which I hope Member States will agree to create at the World Summit in September.

That Commission should help to sustain the international focus on peacebuilding tasks in countries which, thanks to the cessation of active hostilities, are no longer intensively covered in the news media.  And, by bringing together the different international and regional actors involved in such countries, it should harmonize peacebuilding activity across the multilateral system. 

As an advisory body, the Commission would neither encroach on the authority, nor dilute the responsibility, of this Council.  No matter how effective the Commission may be, you in this Council will continue to bear the responsibility of devising and adopting the mandates under which the United Nations operates in war-torn countries.  And therefore you will still have the responsibility of ensuring that those mandates are both broad and long enough to give the affected countries a real chance of developing the institutions and attitudes needed to sustain the rule of law.  Only when that is achieved can a country hope to break decisively with the cycle of violence.

For information media. Not an official record.