Amid continuing high-level security and concerns over terrorism, the United Nations General Assembly met to discuss its program of work for the new session. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged nations not to ignore their commitments to fight poverty and other global ills in their effort to mount a coalition against terrorism.
United Nations, 25 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, security remains tight at UN headquarters, the hallways unusually empty and the formal debates dominated by terrorism.
The UN General Assembly was supposed to begin its annual debate among high-ranking government officials yesterday (24 September), but that was postponed, likely until November, because of security concerns in New York. The assembly decided instead to discuss its program of work at the ambassadorial level and was reminded by Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the many pledges made at last year's Millennium Summit.
Annan said the Assembly must remain committed to long-term development issues even while it mounts a collective response to the attacks, believed to have killed almost 7,000 people.
The secretary-general said UN members should work to fulfill pledges to sharply reduce poverty levels, reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, and ensure universal primary education for boys and girls.
"The social and economic evils in our world are all too real -- as is the need to make globalization work for all the peoples of the world by embedding a new global economy in values of solidarity, social justice and human rights. But these things cannot be achieved by violence."
Annan called for a vigorous response to terrorism through the organs of the United Nations. He also urged member states to dispel the notion that the terrorist attacks were linked to an impending "clash of civilizations" described in a book several years ago by U.S. political scientist Samuel Huntington.
"Some commentators have rushed to assert that this confirms the dismal thesis of an inevitable 'clash of civilizations,' according to which we face a century of conflict between people of different faiths and cultures. Let us affirm the opposite. Let us recall that your Assembly has proclaimed this the year of 'Dialogue Among Civilizations.'"
The General Assembly passed a resolution on 12 September calling for urgent action to prevent terrorist attacks. It has scheduled a special debate on the issue for this Monday (1 October), which will include a review of existing conventions on terrorism. UN officials are calling, in particular, for ratification of the treaty on the suppression of financing for terrorism. Just four countries have ratified it so far, and 22 are needed for it to take effect. U.S. President George W. Bush announced his government's support for the treaty yesterday, the same day Washington moved to freeze the assets of groups believed to support terrorists.
The United States continues to seek support, as well, for possible military action in Afghanistan, where top terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden is believed to be taking refuge.
Annan said the international community should take care that its response to terrorism upholds the rule of law. He called for a transparent process "that all can understand and accept."
The two speakers who followed Annan yesterday -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. envoy Cameron Hume -- supported strong UN measures to fight terrorism. Hume called for a united voice against terrorism at next week's scheduled debate in the General Assembly:
"The UN must play an international role in marshalling the international community's long-term efforts to defeat this scourge. These efforts will also require absolute clarity that the international community condemns and rejects any effort to offer false justification for the attack or to protect those who committed it."
U.S. President Bush has been in contact with leaders of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, France, China, and Russia -- on cooperation against terrorism. The council, which has the power to authorize military force, has so far passed one unanimous resolution affirming its readiness to take action against terrorism.
The current council president, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, repeated to reporters yesterday that the resolution affirms Washington's right to act:
"This resolution [adopted on 12 September] can be used by the U.S. government if they feel that they should exercise their right to legitimate defense. That is the view of the 15 heads of state and government of the European Union."
Levitte said the Security Council has asked for weekly briefings by the UN political affairs office on the situation in Afghanistan.