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Goff: UN Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

Phil Goff Speech: UN Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

Delivered to the United Nations Association of New Zealand Forum, Royal Society Science House, Wellington 9am, 1 September 2004

I would first like to acknowledge the United Nations Association of New Zealand and thank Mary McGiven and her colleagues for organising this forum, which is very timely.

To the Hon Gareth Evans, welcome to Wellington. It is a great pleasure to have you here. You know New Zealand and New Zealanders well, and our strong support for multilateralism. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to hear from you first-hand about the work of the Secretary General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, of which you are a member. The panel has been charged with looking at today’s global threats and challenges, and providing independent advice and recommendations on how to equip the United Nations to better deal with these threats.

We hope that the panel will be thorough in its deliberations and bold in its recommendations. Much hinges on the ability of the United Nations to come to a new consensus on collective security.

Like any other organisation, the United Nations needs continuous renewal and reform to strengthen its ability to address present-day challenges. It needs to maintain and enhance its effectiveness and credibility. Reform is essential to this.

Some reforms have already been implemented. These include improving effectiveness in the General Assembly and within the United Nations Secretariat; the overhaul of peacekeeping functions following the recommendations of the Brahimi report; the formation of the United Nations Development Group to improve coordination of development policies; closer interaction between the United Nations and international financial institutions to enhance cooperation, and, importantly, the greater engagement of civil society with the United Nations system.

The Panel was established to move the debate forward in other key areas. There has been a fundamental change in the international operating and security environment in recent years to which the United Nations must respond. New pressures are bearing on the founders’ vision of global security and solidarity upon which the United Nations was forged. The challenges include the whole spectrum of security, rights, development, environment, and peace.

Weapons of mass destruction have assumed a new prominence in international debate over the last couple of years due to proliferation and the threat that they could be acquired by terrorists. New Zealand’s position is that only the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of these weapons will give the world security. That obviously is not going to happen overnight. The new intense focus on these weapons is leading to a search for new and innovative ways to control both the existing weapons and their possible proliferation.

The Swedish government has provided funding to set up an independent Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, headed by former IAEA Director General and UNMOVIC head Hans Blix. The Commission’s task is a wide-ranging one: to forge realistic and constructive ideas and proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, including both short-term and long-term approaches, comprising prevention, non-proliferation and disarmament aspects. We understand that the Commission will issue a final report in early 2006.

Gareth, as well as being a member of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel, is also a member of the Blix Commission, and we would welcome any insights he is able to give us into how the work of that Commission is proceeding. New Zealand has already told the Commission that we will assist in whatever way we can.

With our neighbours, New Zealand has been focusing on peace and security in the Pacific. As one of our contributions to the discussions of the High Level Panel, we have submitted a paper on peacekeeping and peace building in the Pacific.

It focuses on the impact of recent security concerns on the regional architecture in the Pacific. Under the Pacific Islands Forum Auckland Declaration (2003), Forum Leaders agreed to a refreshed mandate and vision, including on good governance and security. We suggested scope for stronger links between the Forum and UN agencies on peace building and peacekeeping, and more regular contact between the Forum Secretary General and the UN Secretary General.

New Zealand has also seen reform of the Security Council as a key element in increasing the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations as an organ of collective security.

Today's Security Council membership reflects the political configuration of the world in 1945, not the 21st Century. As long as it omits from its permanent membership countries like Japan, who play a key role in the world, and whole continents like Africa and Latin America, it will not be seen as representative and its authority and credibility will be diminished accordingly. Our other paper to the Panel focuses on the expansion of the Security Council and reconfiguration of the electoral groups.

We have suggested reform along the lines of increasing the overall total of both permanent and non-permanent members, from 15 to 23 or 24. We also suggested that the Panel consider a reconfiguration of regional groupings for the purposes of election to the Security Council, to provide additional and more equitable opportunities to be on the council and better reflect modern-day geopolitical reality. We also reaffirmed New Zealand’s long-held opposition to the veto and to the extension of the veto to any new permanent member. But we remain open and flexible to considering alternative proposals if they will secure meaningful progress on reform and will enhance the Security Council’s credibility and effectiveness. This is but one complex issue for the High Level Panel. Another contentious issue is the Responsibility to Protect. You may know that Gareth is an authority on this. He chaired the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty whose report, The Responsibility to Protect, was launched in 2001. The report recommended that the international community should accept responsibility in those cases where a state was unwilling or unable to protect its own citizens, or was actively persecuting them.

In considering the response of the international community to a grave humanitarian crisis, in its simplest form the debate is about victims and the responsibility the international community has to protect them.

The failure to protect hundreds of thousands of Rwandans from being slaughtered in 1994, while the world stood by, was a damning indictment on the whole international community. As a member of the Security Council at the time, New Zealand advocated for a strong response but was unable to secure backing for it. Such a shameful failure must not be allowed to happen again.

It is vitally important that the international community takes decisive action in responding to the current crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Since the outbreak of fighting there in early 2003, up to 50,000 people are thought to have died and 2.2 million have been left in need of emergency food and medical assistance.

The 30-day deadline for the Government of Sudan to comply with the UN communiqué on Darfur expired two nights ago. If the Secretary General finds that the Government of Sudan has failed to live up to its obligations, then the international community will need to act swiftly to bring an end to gross human rights violations in that part of the country.

Ten years after the genocide in Rwanda, we need to ask ourselves what we have done. In terms of bringing to justice those individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, we have made some achievements – first through the ad hoc tribunals established by the Security Council and now the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

We welcome the commencement of the ICC’s first formal investigation in June of this year into atrocities alleged to have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the international community has been less successful in bringing to justice those responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities and the destruction and death of people in East Timor in 1999.

More effective early warning measures are of course critically important to an improved ability to prevent conflict and protect civilians.

Gareth’s Commission has made an important, comprehensive and thoughtful contribution to our consideration of what more we can do in terms of prevention. There are complex legal and political issues to resolve. There needs to be a balance between the humanitarian imperative and the need for clarity and consistency with the UN Charter recognising the key role of the Security Council in all matters relating to international peace and security. Any principles that might govern an intervention on humanitarian grounds should not be open to abuse. We will follow the proceedings of the High Level Panel with great interest.

I am very pleased that you have found time amongst all your other work, Gareth, to share with us your insights on these important issues. I congratulate the UN Association again for organising this forum and wish you all well for your proceedings.

Thank you.

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