Deputy Permanent Representative of Belarus to the UN, Zoya Kolontai, speaks of the country’s important international initiatives
Ms. Kolontai! Given that our conversation is taking place on the eve of International Women’s Day, on March 8th, let’s start with a gender-related topic. What place do ‘women’s issues’ occupy on the UN’s agenda? Are all issues related to women’s rights and their active participation in social and political life settled? What Belarusian initiatives dealing with the protection of women’s rights have been promoted and approved at the international level?
The gender theme occupies a central place within the UN. The issue of the expansion of opportunities for women, including their participation in political decision making, is a priority for the UN Secretary General. He is particularly concerned with ending violence against women. As part of his initiative (UNiTE to End Violence against Women), a UN database has been established to hold information on national efforts by member-states to prevent violence against women; member-states states will be able to exchange information via this database.
The answer to the question of whether all problems related to women’s rights and their active participation in global social and political life are settled is evident — of course, no. The international community needs to do much more, in particular, to ensure equal access to education and full employment for girls and boys, men and women. Moreover, worthwhile jobs for women are needed, as well as the elimination of sexual, domestic violence against them and trafficking in girls and women, which infringe their human rights and prevent them from realising their full potential. Other issues are also being targeted.
Readers of your magazines probably know that, in 2010, the UN established a new structure aimed at improving the condition of women in the world — UN Women. Member states are pinning their hopes on it to solve current gender problems. This is the first active programme within the UN dealing with women’s rights; it will also render assistance in the promotion of women’s interests locally.
Regarding Belarus’ initiatives on the protection of women’s rights (which were promoted and adopted at the global level), I recall in particular our initiative on strengthening the co-ordination of efforts to fight human trafficking, which our President described at the UN Summit in 2005. The initiative has resulted in the formation of a global partnership to counter the trade in people; this has taken the form of the UN Global Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly last summer and its major feature is protection of the rights of victims of human trafficking — including thousands of women and girls from all over the world.
In your speech at the high-level session of the UN General Assembly — dedicated to the launch of the UN Global Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, you called upon the global community to jointly counteract poverty, inequality and lack of education which make people vulne-rable to slave traders. The adoption of the Global Action Plan, initiated by Belarus, is an important first step. What other steps should the international community take to protect victims’ rights?
As mentioned above, Belarus was one of the originators of the Global Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. One of its most important tasks is to unite efforts in the fight against this evil by all interested parties: states, international organisations, civil society, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. The role of mass media is also vital here.
One of the most important practical results of the Global Action Plan has been the establishment of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking (aimed especially at women and children). This will focus exclusively on the interests of victims of human trafficking. Belarus has already contributed to the Fund: the President decided that our country would be among the first states to make a voluntary contribution to its activities.
The next stage in efforts to protect victims of human trafficking will be the enactment of the provisions of the Global Action Plan, which include efforts by the international community to make its provisions universally legally binding,
When delivering a speech at the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in 2010, Belarus’ Foreign Minister called upon those present to hold a session of the General Assembly devoted to the protection of young people against social degradation. This is a new idea from the Belarusian delegation in the context of the topic of global partnerships aimed at supporting talented youth and protecting young people against social degradation. I think women from all over the globe will support this initiative, and thank the Head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry for advancing this idea. Please tell us about it in more detail.
I’m convinced that not only will women support it, but men too. Both parents are interested in the happiness and health — including social health — of their children. This is a universal value, instilled by nature into the human psyche. We all want our children to be successful and able fully to realise their potential. It’s not easy to achieve these aspirations under modern conditions. This is very much due to interrelated social problems and new global challenges.
It’s evident that only co-ordinated efforts by interested parties at different levels can solve the problem of social degradation. Individuals acting alone would be incapable of eliminating the systemic causes of social degradation among the young.
During the 2010 Summit (devoted to reviewing the progress made in the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000), Belarus proposed a new initiative aimed at helping future generations to flourish. This idea is directly connected to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and is rooted in the establishment of a new global partnership to protect the interests of the young and to solve the problems that are common to young people all over the world. Belarus is convinced that the needs of young people should be a priority of the Millennium
Young people represent society’s potential and investing wisely in them now could be the driving force required for future generations to flourish. We must enhance this potential by supporting talented youngsters in particular. The formation of a socially aware generation of young people, imbued with values that are free from violence and bad habits (such as alcoholism and drug addiction), would contribute to the successful development of our society.
As a preliminary to enacting Belarus’ initiative in this area, the UN General Assembly will hold discussions on the experience of all nations in this sphere.
In recent times, the idea of involving the CSTO in UN peacekeeping operations has been discussed quite often. As far as I know, the Belarusian military already participate in UN peacekeeping operations. How do you evaluate this Belarus-UN co-operation? Has the UN acknowledged the CSTO as an important regional organisation?
There is no doubt that the CSTO is an acknowledged regional organisation. Its charter was registered with the UN. We have already witnessed significant success in UN-CSTO relations. In particular, the UN Secretary General and the CSTO Secretary General have signed a memorandum of understanding and, in 2010, a UN General Assembly resolution was adopted envisaging co-operation between the UN and the CSTO. These two documents stress the necessity of increasing interaction between the two bodies in many spheres, including in peace keeping activities.
Employing the CSTO in UN peacekeeping operations was an initiative proposed by the Belarusian President at the start of our country’s chairmanship of the CSTO. In this respect, our permanent representation in New York is taking steps to co-ordinate with other CSTO member—states in developing and strengthening the UN-CSTO relationship.
Belarus participated in UN peacekeeping operations not long ago. The establishment of a corresponding legal base in our country was a major step forward, as well as the UN Secretary General’s request that Belarus participate in peacekeeping operations. Afterwards, the President of Belarus made a decision to send our military to participate in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
The development of UN-Belarus co-operation in the field of peacekeeping looks very promising.
Which initiatives of Belarus in the UN do you consider to have been most successful and productive?
Belarus has introduced many such initiatives. I’ll talk about some of them. The initiative on the co-ordination of efforts in the counteraction of human trafficking is well known now. Looking back, after WWII the Belarusian initiative calling for the punishment of war criminals was welcomed by the global community. In 1946, the resolution On Extradition and Punishment of War Criminals was adopted at the UN General Assembly’s 1st session, at the BSSR delegation’s initiative. Its provisions were further reflected in the UN Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.
Belarus also launched the UN’s Chernobyl-related activities by initiating the development of the UN General Assembly’s resolution on the strengthening of international co-operation to minimise the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. Some time later, the UN ‘Chernobyl’ Secretariat was formed, while the work of the steering group across the UN’s 11 bodies was defined.
Belarus has introduced a range of important initiatives in recent years. At the 60th session of the General Assembly, in 2005, the President of Belarus proposed another idea (in addition to counteracting human trafficking). He called upon the international community to acknowledge as a value of human civilisation the diversity in the paths taken by states in their development.
This initiative of Belarus from 2009 has more support today. Belarus also proposed the idea of global partnerships for the UN. This is an efficient mechanism for the management of international relations, based on general mutual understanding. Every year, this policy justifies itself to a greater degree. A good example of this is the Global Partnership Against Slavery and Trafficking in Human Beings which was initiated by Belarus five years ago and is still proving to be successful. In the economic sphere, Belarus is consistently advocating the creation of a global mechanism which would ensure access for all states to new and renewable energy technologies, as well as advocating interaction between UN bodies and middle-income countries in order to ensure favourable conditions for their development.
The ideas promoted by Belarus receive a lively response from other UN member-states. The number of initiatives introduced by Belarus and the insistence with which it supports them contributes to strengthening Belarus’ authority in the international arena as a pragmatic and constructive participant in international dialogue.
Thank you for talking to us!
By Nina Romanova
Millennium Development Goals to be achieved jointly
[b]Deputy Permanent Representative of Belarus to the UN, Zoya Kolontai, speaks of the country’s important international initiatives [/b][b]Ms. Kolontai! Given that our conversation is taking place on the eve of International Women’s Day, on March 8th, let’s start with a gender-related topic. What place do ‘women’s issues’ occupy on the UN’s agenda? Are all issues related to women’s rights and their active participation in social and political life settled? What Belarusian initiatives dealing with the protection of women’s rights have been promoted and approved at the international level? [/b]The gender theme occupies a central place within the UN. The issue of the expansion of opportunities for women, including their participation in political decision making, is a priority for the UN Secretary General. He is particularly concerned with ending violence against women.