“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief. it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens, 1859
Our purpose in preparing this Report was principally to rescue hope from the dismal, complex and increasingly confusing environment in which we live. We do not wish to be prophets of gloom and doom because we do not believe it is desirable or justified. Nor do we wish to be unduly optimistic because that would be wrong and misleading. There is no easily available panacea for the ills that afflict contemporary society. In the humanitarian field, as complex as it is neglected, there can be no short-cuts, no quick-fixes, no ready-made blueprints for global action. Reaffirming faith in the basic human impulses which have ensured our survival and progress is, however, essential. Hope is one of those impulses. And humankind needs to nurture and strengthen it in this age more than ever before in its history.
Addressing humanitarian problems is a challenge to the mind as well as to the heart. We recognize the limitations of our endeavour. We realize also that feelings and thoughts in themselves are not a substitute for action. But that is where action begins. As we analysed the humanitarian issues on our agenda, one after the other, we realized more and more that, within the limited time frame of our Commission, we would be able to do no more than scratch the surface of the humanitarian paradigm. We also realized that no declarations, resolutions or reports would help in the humanitarian field unless and until individuals and nations alike decide to help themselves in making their social environment more humane. High-minded intentions are not enough and are no substitute for a meaningful programme of action.
Being humanitarian is a responsibility which human-beings are finding increasingly difficult to assume in the present social, economic and political environment. But if people, whether paralysed by poverty or dazzled by abundance, would allow themselves to be humane, many of their problems would become easier to solve. We see humanitarianism as the bridge between ethics and human rights, both of which are needed to make global society healthy and secure for the present and future generations.
By choosing to concentrate on some specific humanitarian issues of direct and daily relevance to human well-being, we have attempted to demonstrate the practical side of humanitarianism. Even if our effort serves only as a catalyst for further work on issues we have dealt with and others equally deserving of attention, it will riot have been in vain.
That humankind today has within its power the capacity to annihilate all forms of life just as much as it has the means to lead global society to a prosperity unprecedented in history, is for us a sign of hope, not despair. For we believe that, in the end, only those human impulses which ensure survival and well-being will prevail. It is on faith in human nature that we have built the hope which is the message of this Report.
To strengthen hope, the foremost task for peoples and nations is to nurture multilateralism. Recent years have witnessed its steady retreat before the short-term benefits that unilateralism and bilateralism bring. We consider multilateralism, of which the United Nations and other international institutions are the building blocks, essential to man’s future. More than ever before, the choices faced by people throughout the world are being determined by the actions of others in far distant places. The decisions we take as to what we buy, eat, wear or how we live, the environmental consequences of the energy we consume or how we dispose of waste, have ramifications not just for our immediate family, neighbours and national society, but for the global community as a whole as well as future generations. It is no longer possible to pretend that people can live in isolation from each other.
It is, of course, easy for the rich and the powerful few to dismiss lightly or disregard the notion of a global community. For the poor and the weak, the majority of humankind it is a reality which adds a new dimension to their vulnerability. Despite widespread poverty and hunger, resources are squandered without thought of their renewal, and huge sums are invested in weapons of mass destruction. The weak are sacrificed as pawns in the games of the powerful, but their increasing numbers and rising discontent threaten the very foundations of the global social structure.
The fact that the failure to address a given conflict could have global repercussions compels recognition of the need to resolve international conflicts through negotiation and compromise. Time and again, it has proven futile to rely on unilateral solutions when contemporary problems demand a multilateral approach.
The present framework for the conduct of international relations on a multilateral basis was established in the Charter of the United Nations. Those who created the Charter were optimistic that ‘We the Peoples’ could co-operate to ensure economic and social justice, equal rights, and peace through collective security for all. At various levels progress has been substantial. The United Nations has been instrumental in the process of decolonization; it has fostered development programmes and economic growth; its peace-keeping efforts, though not as frequent or extensive as envisaged in the Charter, have helped stabilize some troubled areas; and it has expanded or strengthened international law concerning a wide range of global concerns.
Humanitarian issues have been identified and addressed. Efforts have been made to enhance international co-operation to improve the environment, eliminate racial discrimination, enhance the status of women, regulate population growth and afford greater protection for children, minorities, refugees, displaced persons and others at risk. A complex institutional network has evolved to facilitate international co-operation on these issues. However, the benefits to people throughout the world have fallen far short of the recommendations, resolutions and rhetoric of internationalism. It has proved immensely difficult to move beyond idealistic commitments and the invocation of universal values to apply them in an imperfect world.
Governments, increasingly conscious of their limitations, have tended to react defensively, decrying the failure of multilateralism, threatening and sometimes implementing drastic reductions in their funding of multilateral organizations. However unjustified, such items are understandable. International institutions commonly suffer from bureaucratic expansion, which produces overlapping responsibilities and confusion about organizational objectives and priorities. Nor is there always a willingness among bureaucrats in different agencies to co-operate to ensure prompt and trenchant action in crisis situations. International institutions are inclined to adopt a paternalistic approach to humanitarian problems, and pass over local knowledge in favour of sterile, textbook solutions or outside ‘experts’, often at great expense and with unsatisfactory results.
Institutional efforts tend to fall short of their potential, thus encouraging a “we can do better” attitude on the part of individual governments, which then use this as a pretext to opt out of multilateral arrangements. The fault, however, does not lie entirely with the failure of international institutions. There has been a tendency to expect too much from them and to ignore the inherent scope and limits of their policies and actions.
The problems faced by multilateralism are multiple. The establishment of an international community based upon freely negotiated agreement between sovereign States is recent history. Formerly, international arrangements were the result of strong States imposing their will on weaker States. Following the demise of the League of Nations and the terrible devastation wrought by the Second World War, the founders of the United Nations realized the need to create a new world order based on humanitarian principles and international law.
Disagreements about what were to be the guiding aims of the United Nations were initially minimal. The resulting consensus, however, inevitably excluded wider sources of influence. Problems which were to accompany the emergence of newly independent States on the global political stage, requiring a whole redefinition of mutual understanding and co-operation, had not yet materialized.
As the United Nations Organization grew from its original 5I members to include some 160 States, many of which had little experience of global politics, the consensus on which it was based began to erode. Some argue that this consensus was always illusory, because the concept of world order envisaged in the UN Charter was that of a community of nations perceived to be equal irrespective of their size and influence, when the international reality is one of inequality of wealth, power and levels of development. Given the success of various multilateral undertakings which have evolved out of this consensus, such arguments are perhaps too extreme. Nevertheless, the failure to take into account deep-seated differences among member States has led to certain incongruities.
The United Nations is a forum where all countries, regardless of their size, can voice opinions and take part in international decision-making. Within this framework, small States can unite on a certain position and thereby influence the development of events and the attitude of powerful States. However, the real influence of smaller States has been minimal. Although voting at the UN may go one way, decisions of consequence are likely to go another, with the result that humanitarian principles and international law are sometimes only selectively observed and applied.
Governments have sought to confine humanitarian concerns to the periphery of international relations, thus precluding interaction and dialogue on issues of fundamental relevance to humankind. The tendency to do this reflects a continuing attachment to the State as the basic unit in the mosaic of global networks, and a reluctance to examine the ambiguities, complexities and dangers inherent in contemporary global society.
National and regional leanings coupled with the existence of ideological blocs readily lend themselves to oversimplified conceptions of the world. Locating issues in the context of adversarial relations inhibits co-operation for the purpose of accommodating differences and solving pressing humanitarian problems. The latitude for compassion is rigidly constricted by the longitude of political or ideological competition.
Although the changing times call for a modification in the traditional concept of the State, it is unrealistic to expect that it will not remain the basic unit of international relations in the near future. Even the UN Charter specifically recognizes the concept of state sovereignty and discourages intervention in States’ internal affairs. It is in the common interest of all States to uphold the UN system, but that will not always impel them to an unlimited acceptance of common interests if these conflict with particular ones. Sometimes the interests of participating States are marginal, if not actually contradictory to multilateral objectives. In such cases, States often behave hypocritically and, in the absence of effective sanctions, do so with impunity. However, sovereignty need not conflict with humanitarian concerns if States can be brought to define their interests beyond the short term. Trimming the edges of sovereignty to allow for effective multilateralism does not imply undermining or superseding the State. The interests of common humanity which transcend national boundaries are not a menace to the vital interests of States.
In the multilateral institutions which have evolved over the last four decades, we can already see a framework which is destined both to subsume and satisfy the nationalisms of the past. Presently there are serious problems with the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. But it is worth remembering that multilateralism, like diversity, can be a source of enrichment rather than a constraint. Existing institutions should be seen not as the end but the beginning of a global process. Truly effective mechanisms for the accommodation of diverse interests can only come into being after extended prior experience. It takes time and effort to develop equitable problem-solving procedures and a consensus which can serve as the cornerstone of international decision-making.
We are convinced of the need for global consensus-building and for strengthening multilateralism. We realize that powerful and privileged States with a vested interest in preserving the status quo are less likely to gain immediate benefits from multilateral arrangements. It is therefore to be expected that, in the absence of far-sighted policies, their consent or acquiescence in the initiatives of a weaker majority may tend to be reluctant and minimal. Weaker States, on the other hand, may well be suspicious of the motives of the major powers. Nonetheless, there are ways of encouraging the evolution of a genuine multilateral consensus.
In order to reconcile conflicts of interest among nations, individuals must be engaged in collective action at all levels, not only formally as members of international bodies such as the UN, but as actual participants in the consensus upon which multilateralism relies. Persons are unlikely to observe norms set by the international community until they believe themselves to be active subjects rather than passive objects of international laws and practices.
Unless due regard is demonstrated for persons and for the things they care most about, they will have little motivation for participating in collective arrangements to promote human welfare. The more their self-esteem is strengthened by institutions, the more they will be motivated to support those institutions for the sake of their own advantage, and the more likely it is that they will respect one another.
The classic approach to building a consensus out of diversity is to educate citizens throughout the world in the meaning , value and advantage of adhering to humanitarian principles and international law. Textbooks for school children, accessible literature for adults and popular media projects could all be used to strengthen respect for international norms and principles. General awareness of these principles and the knowledge that rational persons are prepared to act on them will enhance understanding and the support of the public. Widely disseminated humanitarian values can also provide a common basis for considering different points of view and evaluating them impartially in order to make more informed decisions and avoid costly errors.
The construction of a more effective framework for the management of global problems demands a greater degree of flexibility and innovation on the part of multilateral institutions. For it is not only necessary to devise and agree upon possible solutions, but to apply those solutions in the proper context. Too often, the pluralist nature of the world community is not given due consideration. Instead there is an unfortunate tendency to espouse a misconceived globalism according to which uniform, theoretical solutions are preferred over local, practical ones. The reluctance to abandon established approaches to multilateral problems is understandable, particularly when it is difficult and time-consuming to persuade concerned parties to agree upon innovative solutions. However, there are at least two senses in which uniform global solutions are inappropriate.
In the first place, people live in communities within nations and each has its own characteristics and possibilities. When they are beset by large-scale problems, it is often necessary to appeal to the international community as a whole for assistance. But if that assistance is to be effective in enabling the full realization of human needs, differences in historical, cultural, religious and ethnic background, geographical circumstance and levels of development must be taken into account.
Moreover, not all large-scale problems are best addressed by appeals to the entire international community. Many successful multilateral activities have occurred at a regional rather than global level. Admittedly, regional efforts complement but cannot substitute for the multilateral network of the United Nations. Multilateralism is synonymous not with uniform global solutions, but with many-sided participation in problem solving. International, regional and local communities must work together to complement and reinforce efforts to promote human welfare.
To arrest the erosion of faith in multilateralism, the policy makers within international institutions must evaluate the consequences of their policies in the widest possible sense. In the past, inadequate attention was paid to the context of multilateral projects, their suitability, the claims of competing values and the humanitarian impact of recommended measures, with the result that progress, particularly in social terms, was seldom cost-effective. Given the budgetary constraints within which governments must operate, it is unlikely that sufficient funding for the United Nations and other multilateral agencies will be restored unless international institutions demonstrate to the community of nations that their donations are well spent. In some cases, this will require fundamental reforms in institutions, including the necessary structural changes to adapt to new problems, improved management and leadership at all levels, and strategies to ensure that conferences and meetings are well-planned and necessary.
Additional attempts must be made to distribute the financial burden of supporting international institutions more equitably. When only a few of the many countries belonging to an organization provide a disproportionate share of its funding, there is a propensity for those countries to exercise undue influence over the direction of its affairs. If multilateralism is not to be used as a front for the powerful, present arrangements relating to financial responsibility must be reviewed.
International institutions would do well to launch a public relations campaign to document the valuable role they play in world affairs. Conceivably such a campaign could help adjust governments’ expectations to a more realistic level and marshall grassroots support for multilateral undertakings. Governments and private individuals can be made to realize that the painstakingly slow progress in formulating multilateral solutions to global problems is reason for hope rather than despair.
The deficiencies in contemporary multilateral mechanisms cannot be denied, but neither can the compelling need for multilateral forums where nations and other international actors can address common problems. The imperfections of multilateralism recall us to our duty of improvement and advancement, which is no more than self-improvement and self-advancement. For multilateral institutions are not abstract entities, but a larger reflection of ourselves and the state of our relations with others.
In the preceding chapters of this Report, we have made a series of recommendations relating to the humanitarian issues we examined. Our Sectoral Reports , which have been published separately, contain greater details for those who may be interested in any of the specific issues. It is our hope that governments, as well as inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, will take them into consideration in their policy-making processes and build upon them through further research and reflection.
In concluding this Report, we wish, however, to make some general recommendations which, in our view, would help improve the overall human condition:
- With regard to our own work, we feel that an active follow-up is called for. We have decided, for this purpose, to establish for a limited period An Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues. Its task will be to complete the publication of the Sectoral Reports on the subjects we examined and to undertake their dissemination, particularly in the developing countries where humanitarian problems are most acute. The Bureau will also undertake appropriate follow-up activities with governments, international and regional organizations and non-governmental agencies so that tangible results are achieved in terms of humanitarian policies and practices.
- We are convinced that it would be useful for countries to establish Independent National Commissions to look into those humanitarian issues which have remained neglected within a national context . A beginning could be made by taking up relevant issues which we have dealt with in a global Such Commissions, which could take the form of legal nongovernmental, non-profit-making humanitarian entities, could have a collective impact on the efforts worldwide to improve the human condition. If established in all regions, they could together form the nucleus of a humanitarian movement that would complement the existing bodies and on-going efforts in the humanitarian field by promoting issues which are inadequately addressed and by filling the gaps in the existing body of humanitarian law and practice.
- With regard to official action, we recommend that governments consider the possibility of establishing, at the policy-making level within the official infrastructure, an entity with adequate power and authority, to be responsible for humanitarian issues. Ideally, it would be desirable to create A Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs or a special department attached to the office of the Head of State or Government. Such a ministry or department would be responsible for analysing, in a rigorous and systematic manner, the implications for human-beings of proposed policies iri the social, economic, security and other fields. At present, humanitarian issues are variously the concern of the Ministries of Interior, Social Welfare, Justice, and Foreign Affairs.
- Compartmentalization puts such issues at a disadvantage vis-a vis other matters which have their specific advocates within the cabinet. The proposed entity would bring cohesion into the complex and diverse humanitarian networks and ensure that humanitarianism becomes a factor in the national policy making process on a par with other factors which currently play a decisive role in policy formulation. It would also serve as the focal point for effective co-ordination within the governmental structure of concerted responses to humanitarian problems. It would have a holistic multi-disciplinary approach, taking fully into account the inter-linkages. It would thus play an important role in articulating a cohesive response to the demands and pressures of specific humanitarian lobbies represented by various humanitarian inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. One benefit of such an approach would be a more equitable and appropriate distribution of scarce financial resources allocated to the resolution of diverse humanitarian problems.
- We recognize that most humanitarian problems would become less acute if fundamental human rights were Although the field of human rights has its own specificity and has been only indirectly a part of our work, we consider it of utmost importance to strengthen human rights at the national , regional and international level. The United Nations Charter recognizes human rights as one of its major concerns. It would be helpful if a much higher level of human and financial resources were allocated to the protection and promotion of human rights.
- At the same time, the United Nations should consider the possibility of establishing a UN Central Office for Humanitarian Issues, close to the Secretary-General, just as has been done for economic and development issues. Such an office, small but effective with functions distinct from human rights, would be helpful in co-ordinating policies and programmes of the United Nations system maximizing their impact, and in monitoring as well as providing policy guidance in regard to specific humanitarian issues including in particular those which are not adequately covered by existing agencies. Those specialized agencies whose work has a direct relevance to humanitarian issues should have within their structures designated departments or officials whose duties should include continuous liaison with the proposed central office. The latter could also serve as the principal interlocutor vis-a-vis governments in cases of humanitarian emergencies particularly in areas uncovered or inadequately covered by existing bodies.
- In the case of humanitarian assistance we note that a relatively high proportion of it is devoted to relief activities and temporary measures as compared to permanent solutions of humanitarian problems. We urge international organizations and governments to pay greater attention to root causes and structural changes which would help eliminate them. We are firmly of the view that international efforts should be concentrated, in the first place, on prevention rather than cure. We have pleaded for this approach in all of the specific humanitarian issues we examined and which are subjects of special Sectoral Reports mentioned earlier.
- In situations of emergency, we firmly believe that humanitarian priorities should prevail over political considerations. Much too often, relief aid and human suffering are used to promote certain political objectives. This is an aberration against which the international community should collectively act whenever and wherever it occurs. While respecting the sovereign prerogatives of States, we believe that these should make room for humanitarian concerns in situations of emergency. Adequate measures should be taken to enable victims to have access to humanitarian aid, whatever their social or political affiliation. In situations of armed conflict, humanitarian organizations should be granted mercy corridors in order to reach the victims speedily. Special measures should be taken to protect children, women and the aged. In order to systematize the wide-ranging field of humanitarian emergencies and the aid provided, we recommend that States consider the articulation of A Right to Humanitarian Assistance which should have adequate, mutually agreed, legally binding content as to the principles and practices that should govern action in situations of humanitarian emergencies.
- With regard to international humanitarian law which received our special attention, we note that at present it is directed essentially to humanizing While commending the noble and essential activities undertaken in the context of the Red Cross movement and, in particular, the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we feel that the concept of international humanitarian law should be broadened to include The Law of Peace relating to human welfare in situations constituting a serious threat to human life, dignity and welfare. Already in the existing body of law, problems such as refugees, missing persons and the disappeared are included. This trend should be encouraged in order to broaden its scope. The linkage between international humanitarian law and the law of human rights should be highlighted and further articulated. As a first step, it would be useful to elaborate A declaration containing the minimum humanitarian principles, based on universally accepted values common to world cultures, movements and religions. The identification of such points of convergence in the human family would be a positive step towards strengthening the human solidarity which humanitarian issues call for. It will also serve as a cornerstone for the promotion of confidence-building measures in the humanitarian field and contribute to an improvement in the global social climate.
- In the case of international financial institutions, we are of the opinion that their policies and programmes should include social development among their top priorities. They should also show greater sensitivity to the special needs of vulnerable groups, including those we have referred to in this Report, and influence governments accordingly. We note that the World Bank’s policies are already evolving in this direction and commend them to other related bodies as well as regional development banks. We recommend that these should undertake social and environmental studies before approving grants and loans and should ensure the fullest co-operation of the local, affected populations.
- At present, in the field of advanced research, a disproportionately high percentage of government funds and grants from the private sector are devoted to the natural rather than the social sciences. No wonder man’s knowledge of himself has lagged behind his knowledge of matter. We recommend that more human and financial resources be allocated to research in the social sciences and humanities, including particularly those fields related to humanitarian issues which have practical implications for the social and political well-being of countries.
- The education systems of most countries are likewise geared to the natural sciences. While we recognize the importance of learning subjects which relate directly to the requirements of the labour market, we feel it is important for governments and educational institutions to review syllabuses in order to provide more space for humanitarian issues. At school and university in particular, it would be useful to introduce them as subjects of study.
- We also recommend that the United Nations, with the technical assistance of its Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), should develop in consultation with educationalists of member States a special subject of study in national school curricula. Its purpose should be to promote greater understanding of international institutions, of humanitarian issues and human rights, and to stress the need for a multilateral and multicultural approach to global problems. At the same time, in view of the importance of developing greater understanding between peoples, we believe that international organizations and governments should support the exchange among countries of scholars, professionals, artists and others. In particular, we wish to encourage countries of the South to increase such exchanges of such people among themselves.
- The importance of the media in influencing policies cannot be over-emphasized. We urge them to include humanitarian issues as an important part of their activities. Newspapers as well as television and radio programmes should carry special sections devoted to these issues. In practical terms, we recommend allocations by the media of more human and financial resources to humanitarian issues. Public media networks should have on their executive boards one or more members chosen for demonstrated commitment to or expertise in humanitarian affairs.
- The non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) have a particularly important role to play in the promotion of humanitarian issues and in filling the gaps that exist in the international policies and actions. We commend them for the valuable role they play, particularly at the grassroots level, and urge them to intensify further the activities which contribute to raising public awareness of humanitarian issues and to encouraging action. NGOs are often the voice of the powerless as well as an expression of world public opinion. Their strength lies in their diversity and their concentration on single. We note with satisfaction their growth in size, income and influence in recent years. We are convinced of the need to develop strong and effective NGOs in the South. The more affluent NGOs of the North can and should play a more vigorous role in this regard. Likewise, there is a need, in our view, for more efficient networking and co-ordination of activities both in sectoral and geographic terms. Co-operation within and among countries through NGO networks at regional and international level can be a vital factor for the promotion and strengthening of multilateralism as well as international understanding.
- In the general context of NGO work, we also recommend that the young develop more effective lobbying organizations. We believe that they should be granted a greater say in local, national and international affairs because of their numerical importance and because of their vigour, optimism and longer time perspective. We recommend that children’s organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, develop a real dialogue between young people and the international organizations with a view to promoting their rights and ‘improving their conditions. Consultations to this end should take place on a regular basis, in different regions, and efforts should be made to involve young people outside the mainstream.
- Finally, we emphasize the need to build upon the existing structure of human rights and humanitarian principles by identifying and promoting those human values and norms which are common to all cultures and creeds in all It will be appropriate in celebrating, in I988, the fortieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to begin a new process which, while strengthening the existing instruments, looks to the future in the light of primary considerations to which we referred at the beginning of this Report, such as respect for life, inter-generational responsibility, protection of the human habitat and altruism.
In concluding this Report, we wish to reaffirm our faith in the ability of humankind to overcome the colossal challenges facing it. Our plea for progress in the humanitarian field is not intended to downplay the need for progress in other areas – economic, political and global security. Indeed, we recognize that progress in these fields is essential for promoting the causes we espouse. But somehow, somewhere, the vicious circle of confrontation and conflict has to be broken. We believe humanitarianism can and must play that role. In our view, it is a fold in which ideological differences, North-South problems and East-West rivalries can be transcended. The recognition of the fundamental worth of the human person and the ethical values shared by all societies must be the sustaining force behind common action for common good.