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Speaker Events - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Eliasson: “Global Test for Multilateralism”

“A global test for multilateralism is taking place,” Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said at an event co-hosted by IPI’s Vienna office and the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna on June 26th.

Speaking in a discussion on the subject “The UN in the 21st Century: Challenges for Peace, Development and Human Rights,” he called for a new spirit of internationalism, and said that, because of the complexity and global nature of contemporary threats and challenges, countries need to realize that multilateral cooperation is in their national interest.

Mr. Eliasson has held a number of senior posts in Sweden and at the UN during his distinguished career, including Swedish Foreign Minister, President of the UN General Assembly, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Swedish Ambassador to the UN, Swedish Ambassador to Washington, as well as UN special envoy and mediator in a number of crisis situations.

In his remarks, he identified a number of major changes that have occurred in the past five years, including the economic and political shift to Asia, the “existential threat” of climate change, a revolution in communications and information, and the “dangerously exposed position” of large numbers of unemployed youth. He described the 21st century as “the century of women,” saying that “we are finally witnessing a break-through for women’s role in the world.”

The Deputy Secretary-General described the situation in Syria as “very somber,” and explained the challenges of organizing peace talks. He also warned of the implications of the humanitarian crisis there on neighboring states, particularly Jordan and Lebanon. On the eve of a mission to Afghanistan, he referred to ongoing attempts to promote dialogue, and stressed that whatever happens in Afghanistan post-2014, the UN would remain engaged.

Referring to the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. Eliasson highlighted in particular the need for poverty eradication and access to clean water, as well as good institutions.

While in Vienna, Mr. Eliasson participated in the 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights. In his remarks at the IPI event, he underlined the importance of the 1993 Vienna Conference and expressed concern that there should be no back-sliding on respect for fundamental human rights. He warned that “we should not become numb” to the steady stream of brutal human rights violations, and he called for a more stringent defense of fundamental rights and freedoms.

In a question-and-answer session co-chaired by Andrea Pfanzelter, Director of IPI in Vienna, and Ambassador Hans Winkler, Director of the Diplomatic Academy, Mr. Eliasson was asked about the withdrawal of Austrian peacekeepers from the Golan Heights. He praised Austria’s long tradition of peacekeeping support, but admitted that it was proving difficult to find a suitable replacement at short notice for the Austrian contingent in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) since not all troop- contributing countries have the necessary winter and mountain skills.

By coincidence, the meeting took place on the anniversary of the June 26, 1945 signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco. Mr. Eliasson produced the copy of the Charter he always carries in his pocket, and said that he felt that better use could be made of Chapter VI (on the Pacific settlement of disputes) and Chapter VIII (on regional arrangements).

Asked if he was optimistic about the world’s situation, and the role of the UN in the 21st century, Mr. Eliasson said, “We have to accept the world as it is, but keep striving for the world as it should be.”

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