The title of this Report highlights the question our Commission set out to explore. The human race is engaged in a race against time. It is not just the quality of life, but life itself, that is threatened. Modern man is at peace neither with himself nor his environment. And yet never before in history have humans wielded as much power over their destiny and their planet. To avoid becoming victims of their own ingenuity, they must now ensure that wisdom and foresight prevail over knowledge and technological advances.
As this turbulent century draws to its end, humankind is poised at a crossroads: in one direction lies self-annihilation, in the other the possibility of unprecedented prosperity for all. Winning the human race is the challenge faced by contemporary society. It cannot be met in our view without placing human welfare at the centre of national and international policy making.
Our Commission came into being in response to the urgently felt need to bring to humanitarian concerns the same level of experience and expertise as is usually accorded to economic and security matters. There is a growing awareness that economic growth is only worthwhile if it is accompanied by adequate social development. Our purpose was neither to embark upon a philosophical enquiry into the human condition nor to plead for idealism. Rather, it was to identify realistic options for action regarding specific humanitarian problems which, in our opinion, were not being adequately addressed. We wished also to make the poor and the powerless visible and audible, to plead for unity in diversity and to articulate a humanitarian perspective to cope with the vicissitudes of an increasingly complex global society.
We recognized at the outset that in order to encourage action we need to enhance public awareness. Hence this Report and, in deed, the series of sectoral reports on a variety of humanitarian issues which have been published under the auspices of our Commission. In view of the encouraging response from the general public and governments, particularly in the developing countries , these reports have within a short time become available in many editions and languages.
We are fully aware that a report is not, and should not be, an end in itself but just one of the means to encourage appropriate action. During the limited life-span of the Commission, we were able to publish our findings on only a few of the issues we examined. Information on these, and on the series of documentary films which complement the published reports, is contained in an annex to this book. The role of our Commission has therefore been a limited one in comparison to the ever increasing humanitarian problems faced by the international community. We hope and trust that it will nonetheless act as a catalyst in heightening awareness and encouraging actio n.
We are gratified that a number of tangible results have already emerged from our recommendations and suggestions regarding specific issues. Governments and international organizations have taken measures ranging from improvement of early warning systems and disaster management, to action on behalf of vulnerable groups such as street children, displaced and stateless persons and indigenous peoples. Many govern ments have responded to our appeal to adhere to the instruments of international humanitarian law and to alleviate unnecessary suffering caused by armed conflicts. In our view, the process begun four decades ago with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , and built upon by a number of conventions since then ,.ought to be further strengthened by a Declaration of Humanitarian Principles in order to guide policies and actions at global level.
To ensure an active follow-up to our Report, we decided to encourage the establishment of an Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues for a limited period of time. The United Nations General Assembly took note of this in its Resolution 42/120 of 7 December 1987 relating to the work of our Commission. The Bureau will have the task of disseminating the message of the Commission and of serving as a bridge between reflection and action. Building upon the results already obtained, it will help promote global consensus based on common ethical values . Action-oriented and practical in its approach, it will concentrate essentially on specific humanitarian problems which are likely to arise or get worse in the future.
We are deeply appreciative of the assistance and goodwill afforded us by countless individuals and organizations. In particula r, we wish to express our profound gratitude to our fellow Commissioners who generously gave so much of their time and energy to this common endeavour. Their individual contributions as members of various Working Groups of the Commission are acknowledged in the sectoral reports. In the preparation of this Report, we wish to thank our colleagues: Soedjatmoko for his valuable contribution to the first chapter , Shridath Ramphal for chapters two and three and Robert McNamara and David Owen for chapter four. The remaining chapters are a synthesis of our common deliberations in the Working Groups and plenary sessions. Zia Rizvi , in addition to heading the Secretariat of the Commission, acted as the co ordinating editor of the sectoral reports and assumed the overall responsibility for the editing of this Report. To him and his colleagues in the Secretariat , as well as the innumerable experts and consultants from all parts of the world enumerated in one of the annexes to the Report , we wish to record our deepest appreciation and warmest thanks. The active interest taken by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the contributions made by various governmental and non governmental agencies are gratefully acknowledged.
In commending this Report to the attention of the public and policy-makers alike, we wish to reaffirm our faith in human dest iny. Ours is a message of hope. But to nurture it, neither noble intentions nor fine words will suffice. Action inspired by goodwill is called for. In the context of the new humanitarian order which the United Nations is instrumental in promoting, we hope the process begun by us will be sustained and invigorated.
Hassan bin Talal & Sadruddin Aga Khan Co-Chairmen