Statement by Minister Cowen to European Parliament on the presentation of 2003 Sakharov Prize to U.N.S.G. Annan
It is a signal honour to take part in this sitting of the European Parliament for the award of the Sakharov Prize 2003 to Secretary-General Annan and the entire UN staff and to commemorate in particular Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello and the many other UN officials who have lost their lives in the performance of their duties.
I can think of no more appropriate designation of a prize for freedom of thought than the name of Andrei Sakharov.
And I can think of no more fitting recipient of this prize than Secretary-General Annan and his colleagues.
The enduring value of the Sakharov Prize is that it evokes continually the memory and example of an outstanding human rights advocate who lived and worked in circumstances where such advocacy was considered an act of dissidence.
This prize in his name sends out every year a clear signal of support from Europe to those who are struggling for peace, and human rights, often in the face of significant hostility and in conditions of personal risk.
I believe therefore that the Parliament has made a wise and kind choice in reflecting on and commemorating the enormous sacrifice made by United Nations personnel in the cause of peace and justice.
Last year, on 19 August, we were all horrified at the appalling attack on the lives of United Nations personnel in the UN Headquarters in Baghdad. Those who carried out this attack struck a violent and cowardly blow at the people best placed and most committed to bringing relief to the Iraqi people. The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello was a cause of particular sadness. In my own country, as in so many others, the outstanding work done by Mr. Vieira de Mello on behalf of the UN, especially in Timor Leste was widely known and enormously regarded. I know that he would have made an enormous contribution as High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN personnel throughout the world perform heroic and often unheralded work. It is in many ways a pity that the prevailing image of the UN derives so much from the moments of vertiginous political drama in and around the chamber of the Security Council.
This image misses the depth of the commitment of many unknown UN officials throughout the world acting as peacekeepers, providing assistance to refugees, developing human rights capacity, coordinating emergency humanitarian assistance and protecting the rights of women. The Millennium Summit Declaration referred to the United Nations as “the common house of the entire human family”. UN staff, in their daily working lives, demonstrate the truth of this description.
We are indebted to Secretary-General Annan on many levels and for many things.
This morning I would draw attention to the courage and clarity with which he has addressed the challenges facing the multilateral system.
At the General Assembly last September, the Secretary-General characterised the position to which the UN had come as “a fork in the road”. As recently as last weekend, at the World Economic Forum, the Secretary-General noted that the conduct of international politics had become less favourable to the maintenance of a stable, equitable and rules-based international order and that the role of the United Nations itself and the system of collective security, were under serious strain.
It is because of the urgency of this threat that the Council has re-committed itself to effective multilateralism. A stronger international society, a rules-based international order and strong international institutions are critically important EU objectives. Central to this is the EU's support for a strengthened United Nations.
Intensified and effective cooperation between the EU and the UN is a central priority for Ireland's Presidency.
It is imperative that the United Nations is given the means to meet successfully the many and varied challenges of today.
As the Secretary-General said in his report last year on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, human rights are universal principles but, inspiring as those principles are, they don't implement themselves.
The multilateral system embodied in the UN Charter is the only way that human rights and humanitarian law can be effectively defended. It provides the only real means of addressing the varied threats of today: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, poverty, hunger and disease together with new, or rather growing challenges, such as migration to which the Secretary-General has made particular reference today. It is only through being multilateralist that effective action can be taken to meet the Millennium Development Goals, for example, so that the glaring inequalities and unremitting human suffering which in turn create and foster so many threats to peace and security are meaningfully addressed.
It is entirely in character that the Secretary-General did not use this occasion to indulge the plaudits that inevitably and rightly come with prestigious prizes such as this. Instead, he has chosen to direct our attention to the challenges of a major pressing issue, that of migration.
This is an issue with which my own country has enduring historical experience accumulated through generations who emigrated from Ireland and made lives for themselves abroad.
It is now an issue of major global significance which needs to be put higher up the international agenda. Globalisation has given rise to an unprecedented movement of people, in turn giving rise to unparalleled challenges. Like the Secretary-General, I welcome the establishment last month of the Global Commission on International Migration. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Lubbers attended the informal meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Dublin on Thursday last, at which there was a constructive discussion of proposed European asylum and migration legislation. This was very useful and we look forward to building on this valuable dialogue with such an important partner, the United Nations Organisation.
In October 1999, the European Council in Tampere agreed on the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union, firmly rooted in our shared commitment to human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law. This freedom is not the exclusive preserve of the Union's own citizens - it must also be available to those whose circumstances lead them justifiably to seek access to our territory.
In its proposals and actions on immigration and asylum, the Union is committed to taking account of both the humanitarian and economic aspects and to ensuring full respect for the human rights-based principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and other international norms.
We must confront this challenge with effective action based on our ambition in 1999 to complete this agenda by the middle of this year.
For the European Union, the United Nations is more than a political affiliation.
As the Nobel Committee stated in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan and the United Nations staff in 2001, it granted the prize “to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations”.
We are deeply grateful therefore to the Secretary-General for his ceaseless work in defending the multilateral system. We wish to record our deep appreciation of the UN staff all over the world serving the cause of peace and justice and human rights and development. And we remember those among the UN staff who have given their lives in this cause. Therefore, Mr. President, let me join you in commending the award of the Sakharov Prize to the United Nations Secretary-General and his staff.