Sunday, March 20, 2005

[Global Poverty] Annan calls for deal by world leaders

In a new report released today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward a comprehensive deal for tackling poverty, security threats and human rights abuses while overhauling the United Nations through a set of recommendations slated for action by national leaders when they gather to mark the world body's sixtieth anniversary later this year.

Taking its name from a phrase in the UN Charter the report, In Larger Freedom marks the culmination of a process Mr. Annan has initiated to realign the world body in this milestone year so that it can better respond to today's pressing challenges.

If acted on, the proposals – ranging from a nine-member increase in the Security Council's membership to the establishment of a new Human Rights Council – would mark the most dramatic change in the UN's functioning ever achieved at once.

The report, the full text of which can be accessed at, argues that this seismic shift is warranted by the interrelated imperatives at stake. “[W]e will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights,” Mr. Annan warns. “We can and must act together.”

The report's first main section, “Freedom from want,” deals with the deadly toll of poverty, which currently plagues more than a billion people in a world beset by growing inequality. “A single bite from a malaria-bearing mosquito is enough to end a child's life for want of a bed net or $1 treatment,” the Secretary-General points out. He adds that while this sad reality has long been viewed as an inescapable aspect of the human condition, that view is now “intellectually and morally indefensible.”

In order to achieve the far-reaching Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of anti-poverty targets agreed to by world leaders at a 2000 UN summit – he proposes that all developed States allocate 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to official development assistance by no later than 2015, with significant increases by 2006.

Calling climate change “one of the greatest environmental and developmental challenges of the twenty-first century,” Mr. Annan notes that the Kyoto Protocol, a pact that contains binding targets for the emissions that cause climate change, only extends until 2012. He calls for developing a more inclusive framework beyond that date with broader participation by all major emitters and both developed and developing countries.

In the second main section, “Freedom from fear,” the Secretary-General endorses a report he commissioned by a high-level panel on threats, challenges and change. “I fully embrace the broad vision that the report articulates and its case for a more comprehensive concept of collective security: one that tackles new threats and old and that addresses the security concerns of all States.”

Specifically, he backs the panel's definition of terrorism – an issue so divisive agreement on it has long eluded the international community – stating unequivocally that “any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

This proposal has “clear moral force,” he says, urging world leaders to back it and conclude a comprehensive terrorism treaty during the next General Assembly session.

The report's other security proposals include a call for a fissile material cut-off treaty aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation, and the creation of a UN Peacebuilding Council to help countries emerging from conflict.

The report's third main section, “Freedom to live in dignity,” deals with human rights and democracy. The Secretary-General recommends replacing the current Commission on Human Rights with a standing Human Rights Council whose members are elected directly by the General Assembly and who “undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards.”

He also calls for the creation of a democracy fund to help countries in need and pledges to galvanize UN efforts in this field.

The last main section deals with strengthening the UN and sets out measures to improve its workings, including reforming the Security Council. Here again, Mr. Annan backs the high-level panel, which outlined two possible models for increasing the Council's membership in order to make it more representative and inclusive.

Model A provides for six new permanent seats, with no veto, and three new two-year term, non-permanent seats, divided among the major regional areas. Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year, renewable-term seats and one new two-year, non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat, divided among the major regional areas.

Although Security Council reform has been discussed at the UN for decades, the issue is so complex and politically sensitive that agreement has been impossible. Seeking to break the deadlock, Mr. Annan urges realistic action. “It would be preferable for Member States to take this vital decision by consensus,” he says, “but if they are unable to reach consensus this must not become an excuse for postponing action.”

The report also contains a number of proposals for improving the UN Secretariat. “Today's United Nations staff must be: (a) aligned with the new substantive challenges of the twenty-first century; (b) empowered to manage complex global operations; and (c) held accountable,” the Secretary-General declares.

In order to foster progress on this front, Mr. Annan requests that the General Assembly give him the authority and resources to offer a one-time buyout for UN personnel “so as to refresh and realign the staff to meet current needs.”

Urging countries to act on the deal offered in the report, he says it is both necessary and achievable. “What I have called for here is possible,” he says. “From pragmatic beginnings could emerge a visionary change of direction in our world.”

March 20, 2005 - UN News Centre