Global Policy Forum

Statement by Kofi Annan on Kosovo Crisis

Press Release SG/SM/6997
May 18, 1999

Following is the text of an address on "The Effectiveness of the International Rule of Law in Maintaining International Peace and Security", delivered today in The Hague by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on the occasion of the centennial of the first International Peace Conference:

I am privileged to join you today for a historic commemoration. We meet at a time of war to reflect on the price of peace. We meet to pay tribute to visionary men and women who sought to make the twentieth century more peaceful than the preceding one. We meet to honour the power of hope over human experience. It is, however, not only hope, but fear, too, that has brought us together today -- fear of repeating this century's horrors of war and genocide, horrors that no member of The Hague Conference of 1899 could have ever imagined.

We know that their cause -- today, a hundred years later -- is only more relevant, more necessary, more urgent. We know this because we are meeting in the shadow of a war that recalls the very worst of our century -- crimes against humanity, mass killings, and the wholesale expulsion of an entire people simply for who they are. It is hard -- in the presence of such terrors -- not to lose faith in humanity altogether. After all that this century has endured, if Europe at its end can still witness the crimes of Kosovo, can we be justified in speaking at all of human progress? How can we say that conferences such as The Hague have pulled us back from the brink of disaster, when the abyss is revealed before us on our television screens every hour of every day?

Today, I wish to offer an answer that may give some hope for the future, but also reveal how far we are from realizing the vision of those we honour today. When they gathered in this city 100 years ago, their purpose was not to end a war, but to prevent a future one. They were pioneers of conflict- prevention. Seeking to elaborate instruments for the pacific settlement of

crises, the prevention of wars and the codification of rules of warfare, they aimed to introduce basic principles of humanity into the most inhuman aspect of existence. All their efforts were inspired, in the words of the Preamble, by the "desire to diminish the evils of war, so far as military requirements permit". These words may well capture the achievement and the limitations of The Hague Conferences.

Failing chiefly in the area of restriction of armaments, they were successful with respect to the peaceful settlement of international disputes. In defining the nature of arbitration and in codifying the rules of arbitral procedure, they resulted in many cases of successful international arbitration. They gave birth to the idea of a permanent international court which led to the establishment of the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1922, predecessor of the International Court of Justice. In a larger sense, the spirit and ideas behind The Hague Conference prepared the ground for the creation of the United Nations itself. A legal regime of international peace and security was institutionalized through the Charter of the United Nations, obligating signatory States to a wide range of limitations on the use of force.

What is clear not only from the state of international law -- but also from the reality of conflict today -- is that this is a dynamic effort requiring ceaseless determination on the part of all those who seek peaceful coexistence among nations. Since 1996, we have seen the adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear- Test-Ban Treaty, the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the entry into force of the Landmines Convention, and, above all, the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court, in my view, represents the greatest recent single act of progress for justice, human rights and the rule of law. The adoption of the Statute was a giant step towards universalizing the fight against impunity to include every country, every leader, and every militia guilty of crimes against our common humanity. However, the rule of law in relations between States cannot be limited to lawmaking alone. Respect for international legal obligations is an indispensable core of the system we seek. That is why a renewal of the effectiveness and relevance of the Security Council must become a cornerstone of our efforts to promote international peace and security in the next century.

Since the end of the cold war, the world has witnessed important instances in which the Council rose to the challenge and legitimized both peacekeeping operations and the use of force when they were just and necessary. Central America and the reversal of the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait are prime examples of the Security Council playing the role envisioned for it by its founders.

However, more recently, there has been a regrettable tendency for the Security Council not to be involved in efforts to maintain international peace and security. The case of Kosovo has cast into sharp relief the fact that Member States and regional organizations sometimes take enforcement action without Security Council authorization.

A parallel trend has been the flouting of international sanctions imposed by the Security Council by individual Member States, and even regional organizations. In addition, States have failed to cooperate with the Security Council in a variety of areas, from disarmament and non-proliferation to cooperation with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and with United Nations investigative human rights missions.

Of course, national interest has a great and permanent role to play in the occasional choice of States to choose alternatives to collective security. In addition, the proliferation of regional and subregional arrangements, the preference for so-called "coalitions of the willing", the increasingly divergent views within the Council, and the emergence of the single super- Power and new regional Powers have all contributed to the present situation.

What has been most worrying, in my view, has been the inability of States to reconcile national interests when skilful and visionary diplomacy would make unity possible. National interest is a permanent feature of international relations and of the life and work of the Security Council. But as the world has changed in profound ways since the end of the cold war, I believe our conceptions of national interest have failed to follow suit, and it must change.

A new, more broadly defined, more widely conceived definition of national interest in the new century would, I am convinced, induce States to find far- greater unity in the pursuit of such basic Charter values as democracy, pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.

I say this not least because I believe we are presented with just such a case in Kosovo.

As you will recall, my reaction to the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to take enforcement action without seeking explicit Security Council authorization was twofold: I identified the Security Council as having the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. With equal emphasis, I also stated that it was the rejection of a political settlement by the Yugoslav authorities which made this action necessary, and that, indeed, there "are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace".

My regret then -- and now -- is that the Council was unable to unify these two equally compelling interests -- and two equally compelling priorities -- of the international community. For this much is clear: unless the Security Council is restored to its preeminent position as the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force, we are on a dangerous path to anarchy. But equally importantly, unless the Security Council can unite around the aim of confronting massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity on the scale of Kosovo, then we will betray the very ideals that inspired the founding of the United Nations.

This is the core challenge of the Security Council and the United Nations as a whole in the next century: to unite behind the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights conducted against an entire people cannot be allowed to stand. For in a world where globalization has limited the ability of States to control their economies, regulate their financial policies, and isolate themselves from environmental damage and human migration, the last right of States cannot and must not be the right to enslave, persecute or torture their own citizens.

The choice, in other words, must not be between Council unity and inaction in the face of genocide -- as in the case of Rwanda, on the one hand; or Council division, and regional action, as in the case of Kosovo, on the other. In both cases, the Member States of the United Nations should have been able to find common ground in upholding the principles of the Charter, and find unity in defence of our common humanity.

On the eve of a new millennium, it is this United Nations we seek -- responsive to a dynamic and changing world, respectful of the sovereignty of States, and resilient in its determination to advance the rights and freedoms of the peoples of the world.

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