PRESS BRIEFING ON SECRETARY-GENERAL'S REPORT 'IN LARGER FREEDOM'
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
20 March 2005
Secretary-General Kofi Annan is set to present to the world’s nations, a crucial report that will urge political leaders to act boldly -- and together -- in 2005, to make people everywhere more secure, more prosperous and better able to enjoy their fundamental human rights, correspondents were told today at two Headquarters press briefings.
Mr. Annan will introduce the draft report -- “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” -- to the General Assembly tomorrow morning. It draws on two wide-ranging surveys of today’s global challenges -- one from his 16-member panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, and the other from the 250 experts working on the Millennium Project, which required them to produce a plan of action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The new report sets the stage for the Assembly’s mid-term review of the Goals, this coming September.
In the report, Mr. Annan urges world leaders to aim for the “perfect triangle of development, freedom and peace,” and to “find common ground and sustain collective action” in the face of what might appear to be a “daunting” task. He presents a package of proposals that he believes are “both needed and achievable in 2005”, including establishing new rules for the use of military force, adopting an anti-terrorism treaty, and reforming key United Nations organs and institutions, such as the Security Council and the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights.
At today’s briefings, Mark Malloch Brown, the Secretary-General’s Chief of Staff, expressed frustration that the report had been leaked in the wider press ahead of an off-the-record briefing that had been scheduled for later in the day. A leak of this kind created an “uneven playing field” for both MemberStates and journalists, he said. But most disappointing was that the leak threatened to dilute the ownership of the report. The Organization had wished tomorrow’s meeting in the Assembly to be the first public discussion of the document.
“If any report has Kofi Annan’s own name all over it, it’s this one,” Mr. Malloch Brown said, noting that the proposals had been long in the works, drawn from the Secretary-General’s eight years experience, as well as Millennium Project and High-Level Panel reviews. “This is not -- as we’ve seen in some of the other reporting -- some panicked response to the current crises affecting the United Nations,” he said. “The timing is highly propitious, because it allows us to lay out an ambitious agenda for the future, and allows us to move the debate to a constructive discussion about renewing and strengthening the United Nations.”
“This is a carefully crafted deal that the Secretary-General is offering the world,” based on hours of listening to discussions in the General Assembly in the wake of the release of the previous two surveys. “This has distilled those discussions down to an actionable plan for 2005 -- the ones that we felt were the ‘big push’ that the world was ready to adopt.”
While some of the High-Level Panel’s 101 recommendations were adapted in the Secretary-General’s report with minor changes, others were greatly expanded, particularly his ambitious plan to reform the United Nations human rights machinery. Mr. Malloch Brown said that the Secretary-General recommends raising human rights to the same level as security and economic and social affairs of the organization, by creating a third “council”, whose members would be directly elected by the General Assembly. That proposal would also have members to that newly-proposed council held to certain standards for membership.
Other recommendations remained “bravely the same” as they had been presented by the High-Level Panel, he added. Contrary to some earlier reports, Mr. Annan had stood by the tough language the panel had suggested for defining terrorism and crafting an anti-terror convention, “despite the fact there had been huge pressure by some against that”. He had also stuck to the proposal that donor countries keep to the 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) formula for official development assistance (ODA). That would no doubt infuriate a different set of nations, Mr. Malloch Brown predicted. But even though that issue had been a lightening rod for some years, the United Nations was beginning to detect a real momentum in favour of it building across Europe.
The report would go on to argue that this was also the type of standard that should be examined when discussions on Security Council reform began in earnest -- not just what contributions particular countries had made to the military ledger, but to the development ledger, as well. “Like any deal, we hope [the report] has got something in it for everybody, but we’re aware that it will, as well, have some things that everybody will be mad about,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.
And while there would obviously be negotiations, the Secretary-General would stress that this was not an “a la cart” package; it was not meant to be picked apart, with elements added or abandoned to address the concerns of particular nations. “We believe the whole thing has to hold together, if that ‘something in it for everybody’ criterion is to be met.” To earlier reports that had cast the report as a concession to the United States, Mr. Malloch Brown said: “tell that to Americans when they see the 0.7 per cent requirement for ODA, and the insistence still, on standards being set for conditions for the Security Council to authorize military action.” According to the report, that decision would rest with the Council, not with the wider United Nations membership, he added.
At the same time, he was sure Washington would be pleased to see that the proposals on terrorism remained strong, and that proposals on the Commission on Human Rights had turned out to be more ambitious than anyone would have expected. In all this, he hoped developing countries would also see that the proposal for creating a peace-building commission was not just about security for rich countries. It was about security for the poor, for failing states, and for the victims of humanitarian disasters and catastrophes. That proposal included the creation of a large fund to ensure quick humanitarian response following disasters, he added.
He hoped that Member States, in the Assembly tomorrow, would look at what was in it for them, not what was in it for others. “We believe that this is a document that everybody can be excited about,” he said, adding that he hoped the conceptual functionality of the document would also be clear: a renewed United Nations with stronger and reformed main organs -- Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Commission on Human Rights -- backed by a more efficient and effective Secretariat and system.
Also present were Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, and Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information. Mr. Orr provided specific details on the report, which he said was the Secretary-General’s vision of policy commitment and institutional reforms, bringing together security, development and human rights in one indivisible package. The report was divided into four parts: “freedom from want”; “freedom from fear”; “freedom to live in dignity”; and “strengthening the United Nations”.
The report provides recommendations on, among others, creating national strategies to help poor countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals, redefining debt sustainability -- including debt cancellation for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) -- agreeing on the way forward after the Kyoto protocol’s 2012 end date, defining terrorism, the creation of a peace-building commission, Security Council reform, and promoting and protecting fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
One of the major non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives was the recommendation for a commitment on agreeing to alternatives to acquisition of domestic uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities. It also calls for a dramatic strengthening of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the creation of a “democracy fund” that would give nations technical support as they struggled to build their own democracies.
Responding to several questions, including how the Secretary-General would avoid having his package of proposals “picked to death”, Mr. Malloch Brown said he did not expect every sentence in the report to go forward completely unchanged in the six months ahead of the Assembly’s Summit in September. The hope was that States would recognize that the basic planks of the report must hold together -- that a strengthened, enlarged Security Council gave that fifteen-member institution greater legitimacy. That, in turn, would perhaps make it easier to strengthen the Economic and Social Council and to create a human rights council.
On how Member States could ever reach agreements on these ambitious plans -- particularly restructuring the Security Council -- by September, Mr. Malloch Brown said that one of the things that a Secretary-General could use, was the leverage of 191 world leaders coming to meet on a specific date, to force the membership to act. Mr. Annan felt it enormously important not to miss the momentum of the coming Millennium review and let the decades-old issue of Council reform issue slip away without a concrete decision.
Mr. Orr added that contrary to reports, the Secretary-General had not taken sides on that issue. But, Mr. Annan had firmly stood by the September deadline, feeling it would be detrimental to the Organization to let the issue continue indefinitely. The options put forward by the High-Level panel had been seriously considered, and would serve as the basis of the Assembly’s decisions. To another question, he said that if a Human Rights Council were to be created, the current Commission on Human Rights would be dis-established.
One reporter wondered, with such an ambitious programme ahead that would perhaps involve some revisions of the United Nations Charter, if the Secretary-General should have perhaps waited until the release of the next report on the oil-for-food investigation, before embarking on it. Mr. Malloch Brown said that everyone hoped and expected that the upcoming report would exonerate Mr. Annan and his son, and that that shadow could be put behind him. At the same time, Member States had informed him that their own negotiations and discussions, on United Nations reform and other issues included in the report issued today, had reached a point where they needed a set of “deadlock-breaking proposals” to move their processes forward.
“So I would look at it as the Secretary-General refusing to be distracted by the important Volcker investigation, and making sure that the business of this great Organization continued on its proper schedule and with it proper energy and priority,” he said. He added that the Secretary-General believed that there was huge support for a “bold, but practical” deal of this kind. “I hope that this will come roaring out on the front pages of your papers tomorrow, in a way which gives it real momentum.”
On the fact that that the report had been leaked to the press, Mr. Malloch Brown reiterated that his frustration was not with journalists, but with the governments, which had gotten hold of the document and distributed it to just a few media outlets. Mr. Orr added that Member States were about to enter a “very intense” process over the next six months, and that this was no time for misunderstandings. The Secretary-General had been very concerned that not all Member States had copies of the report, so the timing of the briefing was moved up, and it was made public, and the report was issued ahead of time in an attempt to “level the playing field” for all governments.
Mr. Malloch Brown stressed that the proposed peace-building commission was aimed at countries like Sudan, to prevent conflict and to also repair them once conflict had broken out. Situations like the crisis in Darfur and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, happened “when the UN was weak”, or when governments did not have confidence in the organization. The report was an effort to address that.
“Darfur is a rebuke to us all, to the UN, to governments which had not used the Security Council to act, and to civil society and the media, which had failed to force governments and, therefore, give the Council no way out,” he said. When examining the report, “we must not take our eye off Darfur”, he said, stressing that there were elements in the report that could be used to create a United Nations that could stop situations like Darfur from occurring.
Mr. Orr added that the report also called for enhanced United Nations cooperation with regional organizations, such as the African Union, as well as the creation of a peacekeeping reserve force. That was not the long-talked about standing army. It was a series of agreements to enable countries that had the capacity to deploy units quickly.
Responding to another question, he said that curbing the use of the veto in the Security Council was not an issue that had been driving the ongoing negotiations. The Secretary-General had felt that it was important to “take the sense of the house” on this issue, and there were other questions regarding expansion that States cared about and needed to be addressed, particularly the creation of a more representative Council, based on today’s realities.
Mr. Orr echoed the report’s statement that the decision on this matter need not be taken by consensus. “If you go through any kind of major debate in this Organization, consensus often means 191,” he said, referring to the number of UN members. “If you wait for all 191 to agree to something, you can be waiting an awfully long time.”
“We're not starting with agreement -- we hope to end with agreement,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.
On what one reporter called the very real possibility that the Assembly would not come to an agreement on any of these issues, Mr. Malloch Brown acknowledged that the package was indeed a gamble, “but a very well prepared one”. Still, there had been enough debate around all the issues, inside the United Nations and in the wider international community. So, this was an ambitious effort to ensure that States seized the moment. “But it is a risk.”
Now that the report was out, Mr. Malloch Brown said, discussions would begin again in earnest here at the United Nations. Further, the Secretary-General would begin calling heads of State and Government tomorrow, and he would also address elements of the report in his travels over the next few months. Mr. Orr added that the Secretary-General firmly believed that the status quo was no longer acceptable.
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