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17 May 2005
16 May 2005
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To be checked against delivered speech

Speech by Vaira Vike–Freiberga, Special Representative of Secretary General of the United Nations, President of Latvia

I send my greetings to the Heads of State and Government of the 46 member states of the Council of Europe. I join you in celebrating the unity of this continent and the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law that your governments and people share, and which the Council of Europe seeks to promote. The United Nations seeks to promote those same values throughout the world, which is why our two great organizations work closely together, as envisaged in Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter. In 2005, we have both the opportunity and, I believe, the obligation to strengthen the United Nations, and to ensure that it is responsive to the concerns of all countries and all regions.

That is why I hope that each of you, along with leaders from every region of the world, will make the September 2005 Summit a priority, and that you will come ready to take far-reaching decisions. I have put before all Member States, for their consideration and decision in September, a set of proposed reforms, designed to ensure that more and more people live in what the Charter calls “larger freedom”, and that the United Nations is in the forefront of efforts to achieve development, security and human rights for all.

One of the reforms I have proposed is to transform the Commission on Human Rights into a standing Human Rights Council. The Council would build on the strengths of the Commission, but improve on its weaknesses. It would reflect the priority of human rights within the UN system, and be better equipped to deal with emerging crises. Many of you have strongly supported this proposal. I appeal to you to work with colleagues from other continents to reach agreement to establish it, in principle, by the September Summit.

I also believe that, if we are to take human rights seriously, we must embrace the concept of the “responsibility to protect”, as a basis for collective action to prevent and stop instances of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This is not meant as a way to bypass sovereignty, since each State remains first and foremost responsible for protecting its citizens. But when national authorities are unwilling or unable to do so, the international community, through the Security Council, should be able to act, and must be ready to do so. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi extermination camps, let us recommit ourselves to stopping mass human suffering and preventing it in the future.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 enunciated the essentials of democracy, and has contributed greatly to the acceptance of democracy as a universal value. Five years ago, more than 100 countries met here in Warsaw to convene the Community of Democracies, which held its third meeting in Santiago last month. Regional organizations such as yours have also made democracy promotion a core component of their work. The Democracy Fund that I have proposed for the United Nations would support States in their efforts to strengthen democracy at home and assist efforts abroad, and I know I can count on your support.

As we work to promote democracy and human rights, let us also remember that poverty and misery destroys freedom. We must make a reality of the global partnership for development to which the Member States of the United Nations committed themselves, five years ago, in the Millennium Development Goals. In that effort, I am glad to say, many European countries are pointing the way. The five donors that have exceeded the internationally agreed target for official development assistance of 0.7% are European countries. Many of you are major contributors and others have recently joined the ranks of donors. I am heartened by the recent European Commission proposal of a timetable for member countries to meet the 0.7% target by 2015, and I hope concrete commitments will be made by September. Debt relief and debt sustainability are also vital, as is urgent progress towards a truly free and fair global trading system.

It is equally important that we act to free people from fear. A high priority is to ensure that we have a strong and effective regime to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by States or non-state actors. The Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is currently underway in New York. I have appealed to the participants to recognize that disarmament, non-proliferation, and the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy are all vital, that they all impose obligations on all States, and that action is required on a number of fronts to ensure the future integrity of the treaty. I hope you will direct your representatives accordingly. And I also hope that Heads of State and Government will, in September, help to break the longstanding deadlock that has thwarted progress on a number of issues. In particular, I hope that you will help to reconcile the right to peaceful uses of nuclear technology with the imperative of non-proliferation, and that you will provide impetus to commence negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.

I am heartened by the strong endorsement of European representatives for the comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy which I presented in March in Madrid. To translate that strategy into action, we need sustained efforts, including from capitals, to secure international agreement on a definition of terrorism leading to the adoption of a comprehensive counter-terrorism convention. We must also work together to assist States in developing their capacity to fight terrorism.

The United Nations, like all institutions, needs to be adjusted to the changing requirements of the times. I have put forward an ambitious set of institutional reforms, including making the Security Council more representative, and therefore more legitimate. I am aware of deliberations among European countries on this issue, and I hope that consensus can be achieved. But I also believe that the search for consensus should not delay action indefinitely. I believe, equally strongly, that no issue, not even this one, should overshadow the debate and detract from the rest of the reform agenda.

I am asking Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern of Ireland to brief you on where we stand on some of these key issues around the world. He and Dr. Vike-Freiberga are two of five Envoys who are traveling around the world to brief on the Summit agenda and to keep me updated on reactions to it. So far, I am heartened by the reaction - but we have a long way to go to ensure a positive outcome in September. I therefore hope I can count on you to work with your colleagues from developed and developing countries to help bring North and South closer, so that, four months from now, we can chart a new and hopeful course for the United Nations in the 21st century.