15 MARCH 2010


I am thankful for the occasion to talk in remembrance of Nadia Younes. Nadia was a dear friend, a cherished and able colleague, a generous person that was always ready to extend a helping hand when needed. Back in the sixties of the last century, as young diplomats and/or UN officials we were all full of hope, full of energy to learn and adamant to move on. Nadia was the embodiment of the forward looking young, ambitious UN enthusiast. When she was selected as one of the leading members of the UN mission in Baghdad, Kofi Annan told me that her presence there will mean a lot for the mission and for the UN and its work in that troubled land. He added: thereafter she would go places. He even confided to me that his intention was to appoint her as Assistant Secretary General for General Assembly Affairs. He wouldn't know that, instead, we would soon lose her and that her career was coming to a tragic end.

In a world fraught with conflict, unrest, and bloodshed, an international career is a symbol of commitment, devotion and sacrifice. Nadia Younes along with my dear friend Sergio Vieira de Mello, and several other dedicated men and women all passed away while performing an international duty. An international career is not the luxury or the comfort that some people think. It is often a burden...a burden -- even a mission impossible -- of reconciling conflicting interests, ensuring the implementation of UN resolutions which embody the will of the international community, accommodating ever-contradictory approaches while holding a commitment to fairness, to justice, to the respect of the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to pursue the well-being of the individuals, the peoples and indeed humanity as a whole.

The international career, in our times, has undergone many changes and entailed greater risks. The United Nations of the late 1940s, of Mahmoud Azmy, the veteran Egyptian writer and diplomat, is not the same United Nations of Nadia Younes. In over half of a century, the United Nations has become entirely different. Mahmoud Azmy, who passed away while delivering Egypt's statement before the Security Council, died at a moment when the United Nations was unanimously regarded as the new hope for mankind. Nadia Younes passed away at a moment when the role of the United Nations became controversial and came under constant and severe criticism.

Like Kamal El Din Salah, another Egyptian diplomat who represented the United Nations and was stabbed to death in Somalia, Nadia Younes passed away while acting in the field. Kamal el Din Salah was acting for the independence of Somalia, but what was Nadia Younes acting for? As we all know, Nadia was the chief of staff of the UN mission, which arrived in Iraq shortly after the military intervention by the allied forces, or what was called "the coalition of the willing," took place. Some contested the presence of such a United Nation's mission on the grounds that the intervention was not authorized by the Security Council. The mission was conceived by some as just another arm for the coalition forces led by the United States of America.

At that time, developments on the ground in Iraq revealed that it was not feasible for any force to act solo in that dangerous situation. Then, Security Council resolution 1483 was adopted on the 23rd of May 2003. This resolution reflected that Iraq needs the international community in resolving the mess that was unraveling. It was on such grounds that the UN mission in Iraq was established.

The most fundamental component of that United Nations mission was the humanitarian dimension. For, whatever the causes for a conflict and whether military action was legitimized or not, and at that time it was not, the alleviation of human suffering remained a top priority. The mission was called the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. The goal was for the mission to support the Secretary General in the fulfillment of his mandate and to coordinate UN activities as defined in that resolution. In other words, the goal was to restore the UN role in a situation of war and rebuild the credibility of the United Nations or even the international system, in addition to assessing the needs of the Iraqi people and helping them to go through the tragedy, which was unfolding day after day. They did uphold the humanitarian dimension and perform coordination duties to the best of their ability. That is what Nadia Younes and other United Nations officials in Iraq were commissioned to do. And, certainly, they knew the risks involved, but they never lacked the courage to undertake the commitment. This is what Nadia Younes was working for and this is what Nadia Younes died for.

This brings me to discuss briefly the role of United Nations, the world organization which galvanized the hope for humanity after the Second World War and continues to be the focal point of the collective work of the international community. This United Nations needs to be supported...to be defended. It is not only unfortunate, it is detrimental to world stability to marginalize the UN, especially in maintaining international peace and security as in tackling the multitude of the international crises. We in the Middle East, and in particular in the Arab world, felt and continue to feel, the negative impact of this marginalization especially of the Security Council -- on the possibility to reach a viable solution to the Arab Israeli conflict and a just solution to the Palestinian question.

This is also felt elsewhere when we see that dealing with different and escalating crises is being done outside the United Nations. But what happened in Iraq is a case in point. The Security Council for more than a decade was more active than ever in dealing with the situation in Iraq under Chapter 7, including sanctions and isolation, but when the United Nations effort was badly needed to lead the way towards helping Iraq grapple with the major disasters it has incurred, it was sidelined. I recall the words of my friend Lakhdar Brahimi who stepped down as the UN special representative for Iraq in June 2004. He talked about the huge difficulties and the frustrating experience which he had in Iraq. When someone like Brahimi famous for his perseverance speaks about frustration, that says a lot.

I believed, and I still believe, that the key to stability in Iraq is achieving reconciliation. Unfortunately, not enough steps have been taken in this regard. In November 2004, I presented to the Sharm Elsheikh Conference on Iraq what I considered the pillars of achieving stability in that country:

First: I called for a reconciliation process between all Iraqi sects without discrimination. This is yet to reach fruition.

Second: to determine a time schedule to terminate foreign military presence. This has been achieved through the agreement signed in 2008 between the government of Iraq and the government of the United States.

Third: I called for a role to be performed by the UN, not only to follow up on the political process, but also to encourage national dialogue and to reach a consensus on the new Iraqi constitution.

Fourth: I stated that the UN must help in preserving the unity of Iraq, inviting the UN to work with us. There must be international cooperation to put an end to the sliding into sectarian strife or even civil war.

That is what I proposed in 2004. I will not get into the details about the course of events in Iraq ever since. I will just briefly say that as you see this vision remains largely, or fully, unrealized. We, at the Arab League endeavored to facilitate reconciliation among different Iraqi political forces and factions. We had the United Nations involved. The then UN envoy for Iraq Ashraf Qazi participated in our efforts to achieve national reconciliation. We convened a number of meetings in the Arab League in 2005 and 2006, including a major conferenece in November 2005 in which all the Iraqi leaders representing the various components of the diverse Iraqi soceity particpated. We tried our best. We endeavored to achieve reconciliation. Unfortunately this did not happen. I believe that it was some foreign fingers that did not want an Arab solution for the situation in Iraq.

Today Iraq is more quite compared to a couple of years ago. We do not count the bodies of the dead by the hundreds everyday. However, I can tell that the gates of hell that were opened in 2003 have not been closed yet. Without achieving genuine reconciliation and addressing the grievances of various Iraqi parties, in addition to the precarious situation in the region, the improvements we see in Iraq will be threatened -- seriously threatened.

For two decades Iraq has been the test both for the United Nations, and for us in the Arab System. It still is a test. We support the Iraqi elections. The Arab League will be among those organisations that will monitor the elections in Iraq.

Now, again the UN, I believe that resorting to the UN in such dangerous situations, situations dealing with peace and security, only to contribute to what came to be famously called" crisis management" further curtails the authority and the credibility of the world organization. I shall come to this point later.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me seize the opportunity to briefly turn to some basic aspects of the current -and future- agenda of the United Nations. We shall find issues of major magnitude in the form of:

  • Chronic and increasingly destabilizing crises like the situation in the Middle East or Afghanistan
  • We will find also new issues of extreme influence on the future of humanity and its well-being like climate change or water shortages or food security
  • Deep divisions in relations between cultures. The clash among civilizations is becoming more and more a self fulfilling prophecy.
  • The dangerous financial and economic crises that threaten economic and social developments on the universal scale, in particular, in developing nations.
  • Major initiatives like the Global Zero, which president Obama launched in April, 2009
  • Defending democracy and good governance should be one of the jobs of the UN or one of the major items on its agenda.
  • And finally, Millennium Development Goals and the unsteadiness of their achievement, which would have a negative bearing on global stability and prosperity.

How can the world deal with all such global challenges? Could this be done within the confines of the "Gees"; G7, G8 or G20? Can we bring our act together through such narrow mechanisms? I submit that we cannot do it right for the prosperity of humanity as a whole without the United Nations full involvement.

A few weeks ago, I was invited along with other heads of international organizations, by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to meet in a retreat in Long Island to evaluate the global situation and discuss the role of the United Nations, the regional and security organizations, their situations, their responsibilities in such a changing world. The debate was deep and far-reaching. One aspect of it is worth mentioning in tonight's special occasion. I insisted during the debate on the issue I mentioned minutes ago, namely that pressures on the United Nations to keep managing crises as opposed to resolving problems have to be revisited. I am afraid that the United Nations mission in Baghdad fitted into this category i.e. only managing the Iraqi crisis and that created a lot of frustration.

People in Iraq want to get out of the mess they lived in. They did not need the United Nations to "manage" their crisis and then stay on the sidelines when it comes to its solution. They wanted the United Nations to act as the world organization that has a special responsibility to protect their rights and help them go through the rigors of having to deal with so many challenges, and to top it all an ethnic, religious and sectarian strife that was an existenial threat for Iraq. A challenging task indeed for the Iraqi people in rebuilding their society and country. It is equally a challenging task for the United Nations since it overlaps with serious regional considerations, which continue to haunt the Middle East in its entirety.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Indeed, we are here to pay tribute to Nadia, to remember her and salute her work and sacrifice, but it's for the sake of her soul and the souls of all other courageous persons who sacrificed their lives for a cause -- a just cause -- that we need to contemplate such issues and work together to promote the United Nations' role in leading the work on the international agenda whose main items I have just outlined.

Let me before I conclude briefly address the Arab Israeli conflict in its current phase. This is one of the recurrent themes in many of my speeches and interventions, for this conflict remains the core cause of instability in our region. At this stage, however, there is an additional reason for addressing this conflict. It is the fact that as the days pass by I feel more and more that my generation might not be able to resolve this conflict in a manner that would ensure that peace and stability would prevail in our region. This means that, unfortunately, it will probably be passed to the next generation and you therefore need to know what awaits you and what should be done in this regard.

As the Secretary General of the Arab League, and as an Egyptian politician and diplomat who spent the better part of his life following this issue, I have to admit that we have failed time and again through a continuous management of the crisis until it became chronic and seemed to some as impossible to resolve.

I have seen it all: international conferences from Madrid in 1991 to Annapolis in 2007, we heard the expressions: shuttle diplomacy, proximity talks, indirect negotiations, back channels, track 2, and more. We tried all kinds of approaches Confidence Building Measures, step by step, final status issues, end game and more.

The lack of effective brokership, the marginalization of the United Nations and the immunity granted to one party -- to Israel -- vis a vis the international community, vis a vis the international law, vis a vis the international system contributed, and if it continues it will still contribute, to failure and to chaos.

After the refusal of Israel to freeze all settlement activities in the occupied territories, and when I say settlement activities it has to be clarified -- and I do not think I need to clarify that in such an educated society -- what we mean by settlements is the constant change in the demographic composition and geographic character of the occupied terretories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is what we mean by settlements. That is why it is very difficult to think that we can sit, talk and negotiate while changes in the composition of the territories and geography of the terretories is ongoing. However, now, the United States is proposing a plan to push forward.. to move towards peace. Many of us believe there is a chance, and this has to be within a time framework...it cannot go forever. We have suffered from the open-ended peace process. of us have doubts about this process approach and these doubts are justified. We have to avoid falling again in circles of talks and talks. Next week we will meet to discuss the American offer, to discuss the Palestinian decision about it and see how it will move on. We are eager to move on, I must say, we are eager to establish peace, we want to establish peace, but it will not be at any price. I wish to state here, that some of us, several of us, remain hopeful regarding the intentions and the policy of president Obama and the mission of Senator George Mitchel. The next few months will be crucial. We will either succeed in achieving a breakthrough or we may be forced to face the dire consequences of yet another failed attempt to revive the efforts to achieve the long awaited peace in our region.

As I repeatedly said, the future of the region, peace in the region and stability in the region depend on the way we resolve the Arab Israeli conflict. Such a resolution should be fair and legitimate, or else we could refer the whole issue to the next generation if we couldn't succeed. Perhaps you will be more capable of achieving the peace of the brave. But this referral will have serious implications indeed, as it means we shall continue to face an explosive situation that God only knows how it will unfold.

Ladies and Gentleman,

As much as I am grateful for the Younes Family for asking me to speak on this occasion, giving me this honor to adress this honorable audience, it is really sad that the first time I get a chance to speak about Nadia is on an occasion of remembrance, and during critical regional circumstances.

However, looking at this occasion from a different angle, I feel hopeful when I address the students of this University. A couple of days ago I addressed the American University in Beirut. I consider myself lucky for having the chance to have addressed promising young people twice in a few days time. It is you, students of AUC and AUB, together with many of your colleagues in other universities in Egypt and the Arab world, who represent the hope for a better future. You have tools and opportunities that we, elder generations, envy you for having. As a rising generation you have a chance in making the future better. Never give up on this chance. It is your hope, determination and readiness to stand up to your responsibilities and challenges, which will shortly be put to the test, that makes such a sad occasion bear reasons for hope. It is your presence here today that represent the real tribute to the soul of Nadia Younes.

I thank you and look forward to your questions.