Friday, 23 May 2008

General Assembly President calls for new culture of international relations, with principle of human security at its core, during day-long debate


Sixty-second General Assembly
Thematic Debate on Human Security (AM & PM)

Myanmar , China Crises Underline Need to Bring Human Security to Fore, Even As World Ponders Issues of Responsibility, Sovereignty, Says Jordan’s Prince

Lasting results at the crossroads of security, development and human rights can only be achieved through collaboration –- with Governments, United Nations agencies and civil society working hand in hand –- to protect, engage and empower those in peril, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said today, opening the world body’s first-ever thematic debate on human security.

‘It is my personal view that we need a new culture of international relations –- with the precept of human security at its core,’ declared President Kerim, adding that such a culture, though intrinsically embedded in the ideals of the United Nations, had never truly been enacted in practice. Yet, with our insecurities becoming more interconnected by the day, there was an urgent need to bring people, policies and institutions together in a far more effective and less fragmented way.

The concept of human security went beyond mere ‘State security’ and called for a holistic approach that focused on people, their protection and empowerment, he continued, noting contemporary challenges ranging from hunger and poverty, to armed conflict, global warming, terrorism and human trafficking. Human security sought to protect people from such threats and to promote the goals endorsed by the Assembly’s 2005 World Summit: freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to live in dignity.

‘As the global food crisis illustrates, a well-coordinated and integrated response by the international community is needed to address both the prevention stage as well as the full range of factors that affect people’s well-being,’ he said. Speedy and coherent action was needed to address the human security imperatives following two recent natural catastrophes: Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar earlier this month; and the 7.9 magnitude earthquake, which rocked south-west regions of China just two weeks ago; events that had left untold numbers of people dead, missing and homeless in both countries.

He said such challenges must be tackled in their totality. The concept of human security could ‘provide the link, the glue, to bring our various approaches to these issues into a coherent effort’. There was an urgent need for Member States, international organizations, United Nations agencies, as well as civil society to embrace and enact principles of human security, with international law and multilateral cooperation, human rights, responsibility to protect, as well as environmental protection and sustainable development, he said.

In a wide-ranging keynote address, Prince El-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan passionately challenged the traditional notion of security, urging Governments to view the matter through a wider lens, which captured the full gamut of inter-personal, community-oriented, and culturally-founded relationships that took place between individuals and States. ‘I believe that, together, as a global citizenry, we must now confront the many problems that impact our lives across territorial boundaries, including matters of shared international concerns that Governments and markets are not equipped to address,’ he noted.

Moreover, the scale of the crises of the last few weeks in Myanmar and China had reminded us of our common vulnerability and shared humanity, while emphasizing the need to bring human security from the ‘conceptual to the practical’, even as the world community pondered critical questions of responsibility and sovereignty.

‘It would seem to me obvious that we must now frame the meaning of security within an expanded context, that human security must now contain the imperative of human survivability and resilience,’ he declared, adding that responsibility and authority must shift from Governments downwards to individuals, communities and civil society, and upwards to international organizations, regional mechanisms and networks. Cautioning against overestimating the importance of State and market security to human security, he said that, in his travels, he found that there were few foreign policy or commercial solutions that would ensure the common security of all humanity.

‘Strategic planning and cooperation for the future of the planet are desperately lacking,’ he said, adding that the real issue was that markets and States were not equipped to handle the myriad challenges that transcended national boarders, such as hunger, resource depletion, wealth disparity, global warming, infectious disease and cross-cultural conflicts. He called for a new balance between the common interest of States, markets and people, which was essential to economic and social development, environmental harmony and peace.

Among the more than 40 delegations taking the floor during the interactive debate, many echoed President Kerim’s sentiment that the United Nations, because of its global effort to advance security, development and human rights, was a particularly important nexus in furthering the notion of human security that put ‘positive peace’, and not the mere absence of conflict, at the heart of the understanding of security.

Other speakers emphasized that the concept of human security was not new. Indeed, food, shelter and physical security were ‘as old as humanity’, and the landmark 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights had underscored the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.

But Mongolia’s representative said what was new was globalization –- ‘the extent to which our fates have become so intertwined with those who previously would have remained isolated from us’. So, the concept of human security must encompass ‘borderless’ issues such as economic, food and environmental concerns, as well as balance the rights and responsibilities of States with those of individuals.

‘In the final analysis, human security is a child who didn’t die, a disease that did not spread, a job that wasn’t cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode into violence, a dissident who was not silenced,’ she said, quoting the 1994 Human Development Report.

Turkey’s representative stressed that human security was not only about protection but about empowerment, agreeing that the concept must be broadly interpreted to include protection from disease, hunger, natural disasters and environmental degradation, all of which caused more daily suffering than armed conflicts. He was also among those who said that coming to a broad-based consensus on the definition of human security required determining the ‘ownership of and responsibility for the concept’. Ensuring human security lay with individual States, and the wider global community should help countries build their capacities in the area.

But India’s representative warned delegations to beware of ‘conceptual overstretch’ as they sought to define –- and ultimately, implement -– human security. If the international community tacked ‘security’ onto everything, where was the net added value? Important topics like ‘women in armed conflict’ and ‘environmental degradation’ were being discussed in other forums. Wouldn’t expanding the concept of human security too broadly actually drain it of any real operational applicability? ‘If human security includes everything, then surely it includes nothing,’ he said.

At the same time, however, he understood the inherent dangers in limiting the concept to, say, violence between groups or by ruthless Governments, ‘especially in this climate of totally unreformed international, economic and political governance structures’. Such a narrowing would be so politically contested, that human security would enjoy no consensus and thus would be drained of meaning from another angle. So to him, it appeared that human security was a concept for the future; a time when multilateralism had come into its own and when global political and economic governance had been reformed to the point where it could be limited without danger of it being misused.

Furthering the debate, Brazil’s representative agreed that establishing the ‘basic contours’ of the concept of human security was a major challenge, but said that, while references had been made to rising food prices, gender violence, climate change and the Millennium Development Goals, he was not sure how evolving a concept of human security advanced efforts to tackle those issues. How would it make the United Nations more efficient in tackling those problems from a practical perspective? And while a possible answer could be that those challenges related to the individual as the subject of inalienable rights, that view begged the question of what value the concept of human security could add to the current regime of international human rights treaties.

The representative of Japan, participating as co-chair of the two-year old open-ended forum, Friends of Human Security, said that the panel, which met every six months or so, had realized that, rather than focusing on elaborating a definition of the concept, it was more important to move forward on the basis of a common understanding of human security as contained in the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit. On how the concept differed from the ‘responsibility to protect’, he said that human security was a human centred approach to global issues, consistent with the Charter, in promoting full respect of national sovereignty, and complementary to State security.

The representative of Mexico, the forum’s other co-chair, added that, under the human security approach, individuals would be protected against any threats, regardless the regime. Such protection comprised the rights inherent to every person and the means for their effective fulfilment. Further, human security’s preventive nature provided the added value, as it could keep threats from becoming crises. Highlighting some issues that required a human security approach, he said that both climate change and the current global food crisis required long-term, person centred strategies, allowing States to anticipate or mitigate against such threats and to act before catastrophe struck.

Egypt’s representative said that it was essential for the discussion on human security to include consideration of ensuring long-term development and the promotion and protection of human rights for all. He was also among those urging special attention to the needs of countries undergoing or emerging from conflict, as well as to ending economic blockades and collective punishment of peoples under occupation. ‘We should be careful not to confuse human security with the responsibility to protect to justify intervention into domestic affairs, particularly between Governments and their citizens,’ he said.

National Governments had the primary responsibility to provide security for their people, he said. The international community’s responsibility was to support that role and provide necessary assistance –- if requested and with the consent of the Government concerned –- to build national capacities in order to address immediate or impending challenges and threats. ‘Human security needs to become an arena that unites efforts, not one that becomes a cause for disagreement or conflict of interests,’ he said, adding that it should become a driving force for rebuilding confidence between the north and south.

China’s representative agreed, saying that, while outside forces could provide assistance, such action must respect the national integrity and immediate requirements of the country concerned. Outside actors must also respect the letter and spirit of the Charter. In the wake of the recent devastating earthquake that had struck his country, his Government was working hard to ensure that the victims and other survivors lived free from want and fear. China sincerely thanked all countries that had provided assistance over the past two weeks.

Stressing the 2005 World Summit’s emphasis on the ‘right of people to live in freedom and dignity […] free from poverty and despair,’ the representative of the Republic of Korea, said that it was all the more important that every man, woman and child have clean water, sufficient food, adequate shelter, basic health care, a decent education and protection from violence. ‘We believe that no one can dispute the validity of the basic concept,’ he said. It was time to focus on how to translate the call of ordinary people into reality and to ensure that the United Nations played an effective role in making that happen.

‘What’s in a name,’ said Prince Talal, wrapping up the day-long debate with a call for global solidarity as a way to better integrate the three pillars of security, development and human rights, whether it was called ‘human security’, ‘human solidarity’ or ‘new humanitarian order’. He urged Governments to set aside their own interests and listen to the voices of the ‘millions sitting in the margins of history while poverty, hunger and disease ravage the world’.

As the debate over the definition of human security was bound to continue, he suggested that perhaps regional human rights and social development centres could be established so that the matter could be decided at the community level and then communicated to the United Nations. Even though there were bound to be differences, the goal was for national Governments to propose policies that would improve the lives and livelihoods of their own people.

He added that, while he had wished delegations had talked ‘to’ rather than ‘at’ each other during the debate, and that civic actors had been involved, perhaps, if the ‘art of conversation ever makes a return to these halls […] peace and development can once again become everybody’s business’.

For information media • not an official record

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