UN is common home for all

[b]Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, Mikhail Khvostov, speaks of Belarusian initiatives within the UN[/b][i]Mr. Khvostov, our country is part of the UN history, being among its founders. Is this major world organisation managing to preserve its relevance and effectiveness — as originally intended? Which avenues of the UN activity are successful and which require reform?[/i]


Mr. Khvostov, our country is part of the UN history, being among its founders. Is this major world organisation managing to preserve its relevance and effectiveness — as originally intended? Which avenues of the UN activity are successful and which require reform?

The participation of Belarus in the UN establishment and its membership as a founder are among the brightest pages in our country’s recent history, demonstrating clear international recognition of Belarus’ role in defeating Fascism. Belarus has been and remains a responsible member of the UN, strongly sharing its principles of foundation: support for international peace and security; the development of friendly relations with other states; and co-operation in settling international economic, social and cultural problems. The UN is the centre of co-ordinated actions to achieve these goals. Everything is simple and clear.
However, the world is always changing, as is political geography; states’ military doctrines change and new regional unions emerge. The UN needs to react to these challenges to remain effective, while making decisions in line with its Charter. It must not lose sight of its major task of supporting international peace and security.
To the UN’s huge merit, the world has avoided global war on the scale of the last two; however, the scale of local armed conflict and civil unrest is tremendous. The UN has failed to tackle this but, what is the UN? It is us — its member states. Our collective responsibility and collective obligation is to preserve its effectiveness. If the UN is failing to prevent or settle conflict, a different approach is clearly required. The UN’s major functions seem to have taken second place to regional unions and military-political blocks. A certain group of states are positioning themselves as the UN’s most responsible and democratic forces yet they pursue their own goals within the organisation. It’s a worrying trend, which is reducing the UN’s effectiveness as a central peacekeeping structure, with transparent support of humanitarian issues.
The UN needs a reform and we are discussing the matter but this reform should be functional rather than structural, ensuring action remains at the heart of this organisation which represents the global community. It should remain a ‘common home’ for all humankind, where nobody feels uncomfortable.

Is this behind your recent announcement that Minsk won’t co-operate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklуs Haraszti?

This refers to the policy of a group of states within the UN — as I’ve mentioned before. The European Union has introduced the post of Special Rapporteur on Belarus, adopted via the Council for Human Rights. It has aroused indignation among Council members, many of whom refused to participate in this ‘comedy’. We’ve openly said that Mr. Haraszti — being appointed by Brussels — lacks the ability to be objective.
Regardless of its official line, the EU is using the role as a mechanism to pry into Belarus’ internal affairs under the mask of protecting human rights. Why should we support a decision forced on the UN Human Rights Council by the EU, which can only lead to chaos and disorder? We are not obliged to do so, especially as our Constitution commands us to take every possible measure to ensure civic order. As yet, no UN law-protecting organ has detected that human rights are worse in Belarus than elsewhere or that those in the EU states are better than in ours.
Brussels needs to stop criticising Belarus and start solving its own problems. As regards our proposals, our Head of State — Alexander Lukashenko — clearly commented on them at his recent press conference with the Russian media, saying, “We do not wish to argue with the EU; we wish to live as friends.”
As regards the post of Special Rapporteur on Belarus, it’s irrelevant and discredits the UN Human Rights Council. It’s discriminatory towards a country which, according to the UN, is among those states boasting a high Human Development Index (65th place globally, ahead of 128 UN member states).

How are human rights problems manifested in our modern world and what proposals does Belarus offer to tackle such violations?

Our western colleagues associate human rights with civil and political rights but economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development, significantly influence the wellbeing of ordinary citizens. With this in mind, Belarus consistently advocates the equal promotion of all human rights.
The most serious problems relating to human rights are observed in times of conflict, where the fundamental right — to life — is violated. Ordinary people, including children, are killed as a result of civil war or from terrorist attack — as we’ve seen in Libya and in Syria recently. We watched anxiously and cannot say that the decisions taken by the UN Human Rights Council were unambiguous. In my view, politics has been prevailing over protection of the law.
As regards our initiatives to prevent human rights violations, at the September sitting of the UN Human Rights Council, Belarus proposed the setting up of a monitoring mechanism for human rights within the EU. We noted that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had failed in its mandate regarding the EU. We also regularly focus the attention of the UN Human Rights Council on particular violations: the US authorities’ pursuit of Australian journalist Julian Assange; the cruel suppression (using rubber bullets and full water jets) of peaceful protests in EU states; and the participation of Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and other states in CIA secret arrests.

At the 63rd session of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Belarusian delegation called upon the organisation to pay closer attention to refugees in EU states. What inspired our interest in this issue and is it really a topical problem for Europe?

At the October session of the UNHCR Executive Committee, the Belarusian delegation called on the UN High Commissioner to re-consider the situation regarding refugees in the EU. After the well-known events in Libya and the current events in Syria, millions of people have become refugees or have been internally displaced, with dozens of thousands attempting to find shelter in Europe. The EU has not welcomed these people. Many sources have reported that their conditions of accommodation at distribution centres fail to meet international standards. In addition, serious problems have been observed regarding social integration and protection of rights. Some awful situations have been observed (covered by the media). Emergency assistance was denied to refugees whose ship was sinking in the Mediterranean; hundreds drowned — as witnessed by border guards. The UNHCF Executive Committee has failed to study these problems thoroughly, with numerous migrants facing similar problems in the EU.
It’s probably easier for the European Union to talk about human rights in general but problems exist regarding the rights of refugees and migrants; the UNHCR should not keep them secret.
Europe has another sensitive point: the revision of WWII history. Some European states have erected monuments to those who aided Fascism — such as the Latvian SS-Legion. You’ve called this ‘an outrage on the part of the Latvian authorities to the memory of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who were killed by the Nazis and cynical ignorance of the results of the Nuremberg Process and WWII’. It was a cutting statement...
We’ve severely condemned the Latvian authorities’ action, without hesitation. There are sacred values which we would protect by all possible political-diplomatic means. The Soviet people paid a high price for their victory in WWII. The countries which Soviet people liberated from the Nazis have no moral right to call those who helped the Fascists ‘heroes’ or revise historical facts. The Nuremberg tribunal ruled that the Latvian SS-Legion was a criminal group consisting of those who officially joined the SS.
Belarus shall act similarly severely towards any action by states who doubt the reality of WWII; in doing so, they attempt to revive the ideology of an ‘over-world’ establishing its own order.
The facts of WWII victory and the verdict of the Nuremberg tribunal are covered by the UN General Assembly’s 66/143 Resolution on the fight against neo-fascism. It was adopted in 2005 and is supported by most UN member states. The EU and the USA voted against or abstained, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps Belarusian diplomats should remind others of our nation’s tragedy during WWII; our tragic experience should inspire us to prevent others from enduring any manifestation of racial or religious intolerance. Does the Belarusian delegation actively defend such principles at the UN?

I think countries should be able to recall the tragic lessons of WWII independently, without external encouragement. If some forget — as we’ve noticed in Latvia — we immediately remind them. Most EU member states support us.
WWII resulted in the establishment of the UN, with Belarus among its founders. It still advocates the strengthening of its central role in the support of peace, security and development of friendly relations between states.

Another serious problem has been highlighted by our Foreign Minister, Vladimir Makei. Sadly, attempts are made to influence people through emotive slogans: ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and ‘wise management’. What can be done to ensure that the law remains absolute?

The supremacy of law in international affairs needs to come from political agreements fixed in legally binding documents such as the UN Charter. As I’ve already said, this is a collective obligation. Certain countries (and their political associations) have neglected the UN Charter and international law in forcing their will onto other countries.

In signing the UN Charter, nations agreed to condemn ‘conditions of pernicious anarchy or total mayhem’. Is the organisation able to keep global states within legal frameworks? Isn’t the situation in Syria a test of the UN’s ability to act as the world’s major arbiter? Will ‘humanitarian intervention’ undermine the sovereignty of states?

The UN remains a universal international organisation able to keep states within the law. Looking at the situation in Syria, how many attempts have been made by western states to realise a military scenario there? The UN Security Council cannot afford for this to happen and our Russian colleagues on the Security Council have worked hard to avoid bloody conflict similar to that observed in Libya. Humanitarian intervention can threaten states’ sovereignty — whose preservation is guaranteed by the UN Charter. However, it’s impossible to realise humanitarian intervention without the UN so I repeat that the UN has a role to play in our modern times; it can ensure international order. There is no alternative.

Your view is backed up by the fact that some new problems have appeared on the UN agenda, whose solution is only possible via joint effort. The UN General Assembly, presided over by the Belarusian Foreign Minister, has arranged a ministerial meeting of the Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking. What is Belarus’ contribution to this initiative?

Our Foreign Ministry is giving its attention to this problem, trying to tackle modern slavery. All such issues promoted at international level proceed from the initiative of the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko. He voiced his concerns at the UN Summit in 2005, stressing the need for international efforts to fight human trafficking. Belarus has initiated several resolutions at the UN, forming the basis for an inter-agency co-ordination mechanism and a fund to support victims of human trafficking. Following our country’s initiative, the UN has, for the first time, approved a complex strategy to battle modern slavery: the UN Global Action Plan. Belarus is at the centre of the Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking.

The President of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, recently expressed confidence that Belarus’ priorities in such major spheres as sustainable development, energy and the sharing of energy technologies with states in need of them would find support among UN member states. What has inspired such appreciation of Belarusian initiatives?

The sustainable development concept comprises three parts: ecological, social and economic. The international community’s plan for the systematic solution of related tasks is known as ‘The Agenda for the 21st Century’ — adopted in 1992 by the UN Conference on Environment and Development. The Millennium Summit — held in New York in 2000 — adopted the Millennium Declaration, which envisages eight international development goals. UN member states have agreed to achieve them by 2015. In addition, the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development approved ‘The Future We Want’ document, according to which the Sustainable Development Goals are to be ready by 2015.
On meeting Mr. Jeremic, our Foreign Minister stressed that Belarus is ready to constructively liaise with all UN member states in developing the Sustainable Development Goals. We can share our experience with the international community in realising the Millennium Declaration. We’ve already fulfilled its eight development goals, having developed a national strategy for the country’s sustainable development until 2020. We really have much to share with the international community.
As regards sharing energy efficiency expertise with other states, we’re convinced that energy saving technologies should be promoted via international interaction. We’re insistently promoting this approach across all UN structures which focus on matters of sustainable development. Back in 2007, Belarus voiced an initiative at the UN to establish a global mechanism for the sharing of energy technologies with countries in need of them. We want to see efforts united by all international structures involved in energy issues, creating a single mechanism to ensure access to new technologies in this area.

My last question for you is about security, since this requires joint action with our European partners. Belarus, being at the centre, must be crucial to this strategy. What are our prospects for co-operating with Europe?

Belarus is consistent in its intention to co-operate with the European Union, voicing readiness to collaborate at all levels. However, we demand to be treated equally, without preliminary conditions or pressure. Discriminatory decisions lead us down a blind alley, without prospects. Our European partners should reject stereotypes from the Cold War. Our common European history is too complicated and tragic to doubt the necessity of co-operation. The fifty year history of the UN is a good example, as it aims to create a common home; we are its builders.

by Nina Romanova
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