Holbrooke following UN Vote on AIDS Resolution

Published: Thu 20 Jul 2000 02:56 PM
U.S. Department of State Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Remarks Following the UN Security Council Vote Approving Resolution 1308, Regarding HIV/AIDS and Peacekeepers New York City, New York, July 17, 2000
Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for making the trip from Jamaica to honor us and to highlight the significance of today's meeting by taking the chair yourself on behalf of Jamaica and on behalf of all of us. Your leadership and that of Ambassador Durrant have made today's event possible.
I want to thank also all of the other countries on the Security Council, who have agreed to make this unprecedented resolution on a health issue--the first in the history of the Security Council--and to look back with you on how far we have come since the beginning of January, when the very question of whether we could discuss this issue in this hall was before us, and in March when we wondered whether we could put preambular language into a resolution--a resolution which, as the previous speaker just said, is of tremendous value in this fight. I also want especially to praise the previous speaker, my friend, one of our leaders, Peter Piot, for his leadership in this field and for returning again to the Security Council today. Without his vision, his creativity, and his leadership, I don't think we would be here today, and I know that he has told me privately how important the Security Council's efforts are in his efforts.
Mr. President, I also want to bring to your attention the fact that we have a very distinguished American delegation here with us today, led by three leaders of our Congress, who have led the fight in the Congress for more funds on AIDS research and AIDS prevention. Carolyn Maloney, in whose congressional district the United Nations is located. To my right in the first row behind me is Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston, Texas, one of the leaders in the great fight who is with us today. And Barbara Lee from Oakland, California, our most tenacious leader and the originator of the Marshall Plan for AIDS, a proposal she put in two years ago, and the person who reinstated the money that some members of Congress tried to cut in last week's debate. I pay tribute to all of them, especially to Barbara Lee for her tenacious and effective efforts in this area, and I thank you for giving us permission for them to join us. We also have here today Reverend Eugene Rivers and Matilda Crim, two of the great leaders in this fight, and many other people, including some from the pharmaceutical industry, who have come to join us today.
Mr. President, I am really honored that you are here because we think that today's resolution is historic for the Security Council. It is certainly not the end of the process in fighting AIDS. The problem continues to get worse, as Dr. Piot has just said, and today's resolution marks only an important benchmark in the process. But it is particularly important for the Security Council. And I want to say at the outset--to my friends who are concerned about the issue of sovereignty and about what the SC should and should not do--that this resolution in no way infringes on sovereignty or the authority of countries, but shows the collective will of the Security Council, the most important body of its sort in the world, and legitimately extends our interest into a field that had previously not been considered. And in no way do we undercut the work of our equally important Economic and Social Council, but rather, we reinforce it. I would also mention that the American Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, will be addressing ECOSOC this afternoon.
Mr. President, as recently as a year ago, as recently as even seven months ago, few would have considered AIDS part of such a discussion in the Security Council. Today, by this action, we show that it is. And the world is paying attention to Durban and to the Security Council. This week's edition of the Economist has AIDS on the cover, another symbol of the importance of this issue to the world.
Since January 10, when we had our new century and new millennium begin in the Security Council with the session on AIDS--chaired by the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore--we began to acknowledge that the HIV/AIDS crisis is a threat not only in a health sense but to the prosperity, to the people and indeed, to the security of the world. In his opening remarks in January, Vice President Gore reminded us that we owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to future generations to fight this disease. He called on all of us to "acknowledge our moral duty and accept our great and grave responsibility to succeed." We are doing so today with this resolution--a historic resolution, as I've said before--because it is the first Security Council resolution ever focused on any health issue at all. And it is appropriate that that issue is HIV/AIDS. I believe that today, July 17, will be marked as a benchmark in the evolution of the Security Council, and it will be a vote that will illustrate our recognition that AIDS is as great a security challenge as we have faced since the founding of the United Nations.
Mr. President, this resolution also serves as an example of one of the primary purposes for which the United Nations was created over a half a century ago--to galvanize international action to meet common threats. AIDS is not just the problem of a single country. It is not just an African problem. It cannot be treated simply as a problem of a single continent. In a world defined by globalization and interdependence--two of the catchwords of the modern era--we can't do triage by countries or continents. And we can't simply focus on economic interdependence. We have to recognize that while interdependence gives economic opportunities, it also can pose global threats. You cannot deny AIDS a visa; you cannot embargo it or quarantine it; you cannot stop it at a border. That's why we must work together.
This resolution covers many things, but it focuses appropriately on the area where the Security Council has the primary responsibility and the most at stake--in particular, in addressing the impact of AIDS on peacekeeping. Let me speak here an unpleasant truth: While peacekeepers of the U.N. perform very admirably and all who contribute to peacekeeping deserve our respect and admiration, it is a fact that without proper training, education and steps toward prevention, peacekeepers may also be spreading AIDS inadvertently. I want to pause here for a moment and pay special tribute to the peacekeepers in the United Nations force in Sierra Leone who so marvelously and bravely battled their way to safety yesterday at Daru, and to express my high sympathy to the Indian peacekeeper, the sergeant, who gave his life in that effort. That is an example of U.N. peacekeeping at its best, but we must also recognize that HIV/AIDS can, ironically, produce the result opposite from that intended.
On a personal note, Mr. President, I first encountered this issue in 1992 when, as a private citizen, I visited Cambodia and visited the UNTAC forces in Phnom Penh and talked at that time to Mr. Akashi and Mr. Carney and other members of the U.N. team. I was deeply impressed by their efforts, but I was disturbed by the fact that the United Nations forces were already spreading AIDS. I was so disturbed, in fact, that on July 27, 1992, as a private citizen, I wrote a letter to Mr. Akashi and Mr. Carney raising this issue with them. I mention this, Mr. President, because this is not, to me, a new issue and there's a sense of grim satisfaction that we have, although much too late, come to this action. On that date, I wrote something which if one changes the name from Cambodia to the words of "certain countries in Africa where peacekeepers are," would be true today. And I hope that this resolution today will go a long way towards ending it.
To be sure, the Security Council and the U.N. cannot require member states to force involuntary testing of their troops. This would violate the United Nations' respect for national sovereignty. But we recommend--and Dr. Piot is correct to draw attention to paragraph 3 of this resolution--and urge that all countries increase their testing and especially of those troops who will be sent overseas. Once those troops become part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission, the U.N. should have an obligation to provide them with education and training, provide condoms as DPKO has now started to do, and to take other actions to prevent the spread of the disease. We must avoid the supreme irony which would occur if in the course of trying to prevent conflicts, U.N. peacekeepers spread a disease even more deadly that the conflicts themselves. In fact, it is equally true that in today's world, one cannot have a truly modern and effective military unless AIDS is taken seriously and troops are tested and educated. It makes as much sense to prepare, arm, train and protect our troops from enemies like AIDS as it does from enemies with guns and mortars. In the United States, incidentally, every troop sent abroad gets tested for AIDS, and if a soldier tests positive, he or she stays home to get treated. I might also add, Mr. President, that last week the Congress, in conference, put 10 million dollars in the Defense Department budget to authorize the Defense Department to participate in working with other governments and the U.N. on this issue with military establishments. I'm pleased this has passed this conference, and I hope this will get the support of the full Congress shortly.
This resolution calls for a number of important measures to address the pandemic on all fronts, on all continents and in all populations affected. It urges the U.N. member states to create effective long-term domestic strategies; it calls on the U.N. to ensure robust training for peacekeepers; it urges member states to institute voluntary and confidential testing of all military personnel, especially peacekeepers; and it asks the Secretary-General to develop the means to track nations' policies in military forces around the world. These are all significant steps.
But while peacekeeping is this resolution's primary focus, the ultimate goal must be to increase international intensity and coordination against HIV/AIDS across the board. The fight against AIDS is not the Security Council's alone. It must be waged at every level in every agency throughout the U.N. system: in ECOSOC, in UNICEF, in UNHCR, in UNDP, in UNCTAD, in UNDPKO, by everyone behind a desk in Geneva and New York, and by every humanitarian worker in the field. The challenge of AIDS far surpasses the abilities of any of us alone. It will require our combined commitment, our cooperation, our creativity and our resources.
So let me stress again, Mr. President, in conclusion, today's action is significant, and it is ground-breaking, but it is only a beginning. We welcome today's meeting, and we hope that you will invite Dr. Piot to return to visit us periodically, and I would draw to your attention the fact that he is here, more or less, on schedule as was suggested in the January meetings by several of the ambassadors here today.
Today's efforts should serve to strengthen our resolve. In the days ahead, we'll have an opportunity to take further action--including at the Millennium Summit and in the upcoming General Assembly. Mr. President, let us commit to bring the same sense of determination and cooperation then as we've shown today. Again, I thank you, Mr. President, for making the trip here today, to Dr. Piot and his team and to all the people who worked so hard on this issue. We in the Security Council are honored to be able to join the fight to highlight the fact that it is more than a health problem and to help accelerate this battle. I want to simply underline my personal view that of all the problems that we face in the world today and there are many--the conflicts we are here to try to prevent or contain; nuclear proliferation, population issues, environmental issues, and social and economic issues--I think that this is the most serious problem we face because of the damage that it can do to everything else.
Mr. President, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in today's meeting.

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