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Amb. Holbrooke Reflects on Africa Month Results

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(Hopes focus will be turning point in Africa, U.N. and U.S. ties)
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U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke hopes the Security Council's month-long focus on Africa in January will mark "a turning point for Africa, the United Nations and the United States relationship with both."

In assessing events in an address to the UNSC on January 31, Holbrooke said a main goal of the month - and a goal he insisted was achieved -- was "to put to rest the canard that Africa doesn't matter; to refute the belief that the international community has one set of rules for Europe or Asia and another for Africa."

The UNSC's second goal, he said, was to show how the disease HIV/AIDS and the growing numbers of refugees are impacting peace and security on the continent. "Because of their direct affect on Africa's stability, its security and the common threat to humanity, we believe strongly that they should be defined henceforth as security threats, and treated as such," he explained.

"The session on threat of HIV/AIDS was historic, as we all agree," he added. "And we understood all of us, that if left unchecked this issue would kill more Africans than all of the conflicts in the region combined, as it has last year. And we reached, I think, a consensus that AIDS is indeed a threat to security."

Regarding refugees, he said " we have to continue to challenge the UNHCR, the WFP and ourselves to reexamine our structures to deal honestly with the fact that over two-thirds of the people in the world who are homeless in the world are classified as something called -- IDPs, a terrible acronym for people who are just as much refugees as those who cross an international border."

The third objective of the month and "the most urgent," he said was to help African's leaders solve the "festering conflicts" that now plague the continent.

"We must accept a basic fact: Africa's political, economic and social transformation flows from its people's ability to maintain peace, stability and a just order," he said. "All that we hope for Africa will not be possible if the conflicts in Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Sudan, Sierra Leone and elsewhere are allowed to continue."

Following is the official transcript of Holbrooke's remarks:

(begin transcript)

USUN Press Release
January 31, 2000
AS DELIVERED

Statement by Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, during the Open Meeting on the Month of Africa, January 31, 2000

I thank you Mr. President, President Chiluba, Foreign Minister Zuma, the OAU representative, and Louise Frechette, representing the Secretary General and herself for all your remarks. And I am profoundly moved by generosity of your comments today and for the unstinting support, which the American delegation has felt from all 14 members of the Security Council over the last month.

As Ambassador Hamer said, there were many attempts to have innovations this month. And the good news was that without exception, the 14 other members of the Security Council responded positively. And I hope that the next few presidents of the Security Council will continue to test the limits of what is possible here. Because our fundamental goal, talking at the organizational level, is to maintain or restore or reaffirm, the central role of the Security Council in dealing with many of the world's problems today. And the best way to do that is to show the flexibility, the creativity, and transparency that Ambassador Hamer used. And I particularly like the fact that he referred to the transparency of our efforts.

This is the last statement I'll make before this body as president. It is my hope that when we look back on January 2000, we will consider it a turning point for Africa, the United Nations, and the United States' relationship with both. Nearly two months ago, during our delegation's eleven-day trip to ten African states, we decided to make January the "month of Africa," and announced this in the speech in Pretoria. What we saw in Africa -- the good and the bad, the stories of inspiration and the horrors that keep you up at night, the things the international community is doing and what it must do better -- convinced us that these issues could not be properly addressed by a single event.

So building on the excellent efforts of Ambassador Greenstock last month, we decided to try to do a sustained, consistent, energetic effort, and set out to use the thirty days of the presidency -- which, in fact was only 21 days because we could only begin three weeks ago today, because of the holiday schedule -- to set forth a U.S. policy of sustained engagement toward that great continent of Africa. We focused on three objectives.

First, and most fundamentally, we aimed to highlight international attention on African issues.

We aimed to put to rest the canard that Africa doesn't matter; to refute the belief that the international community has one set of rules for Europe or Asia and another for Africa. On this objective, I think, so far, we can say, we have succeeded, although as everyone has said, it won't be success, if it ends tomorrow or at any time in the future.

Our second goal was to broaden the paradigm of security; to discuss here in the Security Council -- the international community's premier forum of peace and security -- issues that typically have not been our central focus, AIDS and refugees. Because of their direct affect on Africa's stability, its security and the common threat to humanity, we believe strongly that they should be defined henceforth as security threats, and treated as such.

The session on threat of HIV/AIDS was historic, as we all agree. And we understood all of us, that if left unchecked this issue would kill more Africans than all of the conflicts in the region combined, as it has last year. And we reached, I think, a consensus that AIDS is indeed a threat to security.

And I am delighted with the fact that we are moving towards additional meetings on the subject, the details of which can be worked out. The president of the General Assembly has just spoken his view on this, and I know my successors, as president of the Security Council will wish to address this in consultation with the ambassador from Indonesia, who is the current president of ECOSOC and with other officials.

But we must also match our words with deeds. For the United States' part, Vice President Gore's announcement that we would put an additional $150 million toward fighting AIDS, while it is far from enough to deal with the problem, was, we hope, the beginning of a greater involvement. We welcome the actions of other countries and hope that there will be more action in this regard.

In regard to refugees, and Mrs. Ogata's important participation here this month, I think we have to continue to challenge the UNHCR, the WFP and ourselves to reexamine our structures to deal honestly with the fact that over two-thirds of the people in the world who are homeless in the world are classified as something called -- IDPs, a terrible acronym for people who are just as much refugees as those who cross an international border.

We must expand the definition of a "refugee" -- erode, if not erase, the distinction between a refugee and a person who is internally displaced. This is not just some meaningless bureaucratic distinction. Such definitions have real human consequences, particularly in a place like Angola, where over 90 percent of the homeless are so-called IDPs.

We cannot let this entire category of innocent victims fall through our bureaucratic cracks.

I have already been contacted by head of the WFP to tell me, that I had underestimated the importance of her organization in this field. And that she should have the primary point of pride, I report that to you, for further discussion. But my own view is this should not be a bureaucratic argument between UNHCR and WFP. UNHCR has the infrastructure, it has the experience, it should get support from others, I cannot imagine why in a country like Angola, we would have two organizations dealing with refugees. One, the big one, the UNHCR dealing with the smaller problem, and the other, the WFP, an excellent organization, but not historically equipped for this, trying to put band-aids on 90 percent of the problem.

So, I have invited Madame Bertini to join us here in New York to talk to all of us about her strong views on this issue, because it's an excellent organization and I commend it. But I want to bring to your attention that I've already received a bit of a blow back from my own comments about the UNHCR.

The third objective of the month was unquestionably the most urgent: to help Africa's leaders solve the festering conflicts that are ripping the continent apart. For the United Nations and the United States to meet our objectives in Africa, African societies need peace.

We must accept a basic fact: Africa's political, economic and social transformation flows from its people's ability to maintain peace, stability and a just order. All that we hope for Africa will not be possible if the conflicts in Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Sudan, Sierra Leone and elsewhere are allowed to continue. And I want to point out again, that those conflicts we did not discuss this month were left off the agenda, not because we wanted to leave them off, but because those people dealing directly with them, asked that they be delayed till later in the calendar year. I think specifically of Ethiopia-Eritrea.

In Angola and Burundi, we face humanitarian crises of epic proportions. We heard (and viewed, thanks to Ambassador Fowler's video) evidence that U.N. sanctions on Angola are being flouted. The Security Council established its agenda for Angola: strengthening sanctions; putting a spotlight on UNITA's culpability in evading them and supporting operations for the proposed U.N. office there, and, of course, continuing to address the horrific state of refugees there.

In the Burundi meeting, we heard from President Mandela who shared his vision for strengthening the Arusha peace process. With Resolution 1286, passed 10 days ago, the Security Council has taken an important step in supporting President Mandela.

And on the DRC, our meetings last week with the seven presidents culminated in a clear recognition that the time has come for our next steps.

With the parties' recommitment to Lusaka, which we heard again this morning, and their return next week to the region to follow-up, we can move forward. And with our presidential statement, the Security Council affirmed the international community's commitment to support them. As the president of the Security Council, we have begun consultations with the Congress and with all of you, on the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers. As long as the parties to the conflict prove that they are prepared to live up to the commitments they made for peace, the international community, embodied in this great organization, has a responsibility to be there to support them.

Peace in the Congo, like everything else we've discussed this month, requires our sustained and steadfast commitment. The coming days will answer the question asked by everyone this morning about follow-up. Whether the U.N. can be more than what its critics often call a "talk shop."

I'd like to conclude by mentioning another critical aspect of this month's activities -- the revitalization of the American role in the United Nations. While not directly related to Africa, it is absolutely essential for everything we have discussed today. As all of you know, for the past few years that role has been deeply questioned. After the setbacks earlier in the decade -especially in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda many Americans lost confidence in the United Nations. Some even speculated whether the U.S. should remain a part of it. During the last presidential campaign, you'll recall that the Republican candidate used the U.N. and the Secretary General at that time as targets for much of his campaign rhetoric.

What a difference four years makes. To be sure, many of concerns about the U.N. remain; but Senator Helms, in his unprecedented visit to New York and in his speech in this chamber, on January 20th, made his view absolutely clear. As promised, he gave a frank and open assessment. And I congratulate all of you for the skillful and brilliant way that you addressed his points, welcoming him to the chamber with the graciousness which is a hallmark of the U.N. diplomatic world, but also one by one taking issue with him on substance. I know from my private talks with him that it made a significant impression on him and his colleagues. The view he expressed however, is just one view. As Senator Biden, Senator Warner, Senator Grams, Senator Feingold and other visitors from the Congress made clear, as Secretary Albright and I all pointed out in the last week, most Americans see our role in the world, and our relationship to this organization, in a different light. And President Clinton, I would mention to you, mentioned the U.N. and Africa and AIDS in Africa several times in his State of the Union message last Thursday.

But the very fact that Senator Helms, Senator Biden and his colleagues spent two days here, as well as the fact that Vice President Gore and Secretary Albright chaired sessions of the Security Council, should speak volumes to all of us about the administration's commitment, about our nation's commitment to the United Nations and a recognition, or perhaps a rerecognition, of what it can accomplish.

What the U.N. is doing (and what it needs to do) in Africa illustrates that it is truly, as President Clinton has said, an indispensable organization, despite its flaws. We do not wish to turn a blind-eye to the flaws. In fact, one of the most valuable things we can do is address those flaws, but always within the context of its indispensability to peace, in Africa and around the world.

So at the close of our month as Security Council President, I'm happy to say that at the U.N., America is back. The U.S. begins the 21th century with renewed hopes for the United Nations and renewed commitment to make this vital organization work better. I thank you all. And it is my great pleasure to turn the gavel over to our friend from Argentina in a few hours. Meanwhile, once again, I thank you deeply for all the United States delegation -- including Secretary Albright, Vice President Gore, and by extension, President Clinton, who is well aware of what we've been doing here this month -- for your very gracious support.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)