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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

23 September 1999

The United Nations should deal with crises long before and long after they occurred, creating a continuum, from conflict prevention, through crisis management through rehabilitation and reconstruction, so said Tarja Halonen, Foreign Minister of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, briefing correspondents at United Nations Headquarters today.

The main theme of the fifty-fourth General Assembly session was already clear, she said. In this Assembly session, taking a lead from the Secretary-General’s opening remarks, the international community was attempting to come to terms with what should be done when one of its members was in clear violation of basic standards and rules in its treatment of its own citizens.

The Assembly was trying to find the limit beyond which governments could not assume that their activities were their own business -- discussing what, if anything, was to be done, how and why it was to be done, and by whom, she explained. The positions of many Member States were very well known, but the discussion had been worthwhile, precisely because it had taken place in the context of continuing crises in East Timor and elsewhere. As a consequence, discussion of the sovereignty dilemma had a new urgency.

The urgency was also due to activities of the modern media, the Minister said. When the public knew what was going on in the world, they questioned their politicians, and the questions generated action. The discussion could not remain academic as real people were waiting for answers from Member States individually, and from the United Nations.

She said that the Union hoped that civilian responses could be used more often, in addition to –- and sometimes in place of -– military intervention in crisis situations. Arms were sometimes necessary to stop violence, but it was with civilian activities that peace was really won.

The Union was working to improve its own capabilities for both military and civilian intervention, she continued. The prime responsibility for maintaining international peace and security rested with the United Nations, but regional organizations could also play a key role, in cooperation with the United Nations. The Assembly session was useful not simply in itself, but also as a forum for other networking activities. The Foreign Ministers of the European Union had met with the Secretary of State of the United States and with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. Other meetings were taking place with many regional groups and Member States. Yesterday, some 15 meetings had been held, so taxpayers could not say that their trip to the Assembly had been in vain.

Asked about a meeting with representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ms. Halonen said that the Union supported dialogue with North Korean officials. It was also concerned about the humanitarian situation in that country. Help had been needed and had been given. A high-level diplomatic representative of the Union presidency had met with North Korean representatives. She welcomed improvements in relations between the Democratic People’s Republic and the United States.

Asked how the discussion on the limits to national sovereignty might result in action, the Foreign Minister explained that the Security Council often faced such questions on an ad hoc basis. She hoped that the discussion could lead to the establishment of mechanisms for determining the need and means for action.

Differences still existed among countries and even regions, she continued. It was important that an arrogant approach not be taken to States’ reservations. However, diplomats should now follow up on the statements made by politicians in the General Assembly. The Union wished to continue dialogue and to search for consensus with those who said “yes” and with those who said “no” to international intervention.

In response to a question about Security Council reform, she said she was very aware of the difficulties in reforming the Council. Everyone accepted that the Council –- developed more than 50 years ago –- needed to be updated to better reflect the modern world.

The suggestion by the German Foreign Minister that Member States should be obliged to explain any exercise of the veto was a good one, she said. Actually, votes in the Council –- not just “no” votes –- should be explained. The duty to explain must apply to all Council members. Furthermore, it was important to note that “no action is also action”, she concluded.

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