Security for Peoples, Security for States
U.N. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees
Sergio Vieira de Mello

I was pleased to participate for the second time in the yearly NATO Workshop. I will discuss the issue of security, perhaps from a slightly less usual angle. In the field of humanitarianism there has been at least one positive development in the past several years the growing realization amongst those in key governmental positions as well as those in academic circles and perhaps the public at large that humanitarianism alone can neither resolve existing humanitarian problems nor effectively prevent them. Humanitarian issues are now increasingly being placed by states where they belong, namely, on the political agenda, a situation we have long been calling for.


Why was politicizing humanitarian issues necessary and why do we welcome this belated development? Population displacement, until roughly the 1980s, was by and large the consequence of political persecution, colonial and independence wars, or international conflicts. Recently and increasingly, however, the mass displacement or, indeed, the elimination of people belonging to certain ethnic or cultural communities has become the very cause as well as the ultimate objective of conflict. The internal wars in Iraq, Rwanda, and Burundi; the Azeri Armenian dispute over Nagomo Karabakh; and the conversion of Yugoslavia into a slaughterhouse are all brutal demonstrations of this trend premeditated or not toward ethnic elimination, ethnic purity, and monoethnicity in a given territory.

What all of this means is that the narrow definition of security as it is applied to states is inadequate for present realities and therefore misleading. One must go deeper into the structure, into the ethnological strata, as it were, of states, and broaden the notion of security to include that of people. The security of states and the security of peoples are clearly intertwined, for the insecurity of peoples inexorably leads to the disintegration of states and to regional and international instability.


Let me give you a few recent examples of successful as well as disastrous international responses to the new and ominous syndrome of genocide as an objective of conflict.

The first international acknowledgment that a humanitarian problem was intrinsically part of a political and military equation perhaps its very essence was the Kurdish refugee crisis of April 1991 in Iraq. Security Council Resolution 688 condemned the violation of Kurdish human rights by the Iraqi regime and recognized that the consequent mass displacement of civilian populations threatened international peace and security in the region. As some of you may recall, Operation Provide Comfort took place in response to the presence of a large number of displaced Kurdish people on the border between Turkey and Iraq which, quite apart from the obvious humanitarian consequences, could have led to an aggravation of international and internal tensions and, in all likelihood, to a crisis within the territory of a NATO member. The significance of Resolution 688 was that it enabled a coalition of certain U.N. member-countries (all NATO members) to effectively impose on Baghdad an Exclusion Zone in northern Iraq, which in turn made it possible for the displaced Kurds to remain safely in Iraq, thanks to the combination of the coalition security umbrella and international humanitarian assistance. From a security angle, one can say the international community managed to achieve an acceptable balance between the security of states Turkey, Iran, and the region and the security of the Kurdish people of Iraq. Paradoxically, the effort may even have contributed to preserving Iraq as a unitary state within its recognized borders. But was the operation successful only because Iraq had been defeated militarily a few weeks earlier and how long will this artificial state of affairs remain viable.

In total contrast to the relative success in Iraq is the case of Rwanda. There, the international community failed entirely with the exception of the unilateral French Operation Turquoise to contain the emerging crisis and to preserve the security of the states and of the peoples in the Great Lakes subregion. According to then-Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIRI) General Dallaire, the withdrawal of the U.N. force was a disastrous prelude to the total collapse of civil society and to the genocide in Rwanda, which took at least half a million lives in the spring of 1994. In Zaire, whose integrity and internal stability is of extreme importance to regional stability and security, the arrival of more than one million Hutu refugees represented, and still represents, a major threat to the delicate internal ethnic balance, as well as to the country's economy and environment.

In Tanzania, the standing exemplary asylum policy and practice was reversed when the country was faced with yet another major influx from both Rwanda and Burundi and was disappointed by sparse international support. In Burundi, which is on the verge of following the path Rwanda took two years ago, little action has again been taken by the international community to prevent a major disaster. No concerted international efforts have been made to address the root causes of the problems in the area, apart from some admirable individual initiatives by former Presidents Nyerere of Tanzania and Carter of the United States. It seems we do not feel terribly concerned about the fate of peoples and states in a remote Central African subregion until the crisis begins to haunt our conscience, as it presently does, and to hurt our interests and our purses.

Let me now address NATO's primary geographical area of concern, the former Yugoslavia, which is an extremely complex illustration of my thesis. While a degree of commitment from states to resolve the political and military challenges linked to the problems of the post-communist era, ethnic relations, and economic reforms existed before Dayton, its effectiveness was dismal. Without discrediting the contributions made by UNPROFOR, of which I myself served as head of Civil Affairs, I must say that the model chosen by the international community a cocktail of U.N. peacekeeping and humanitarian action under both Chapter VI and Chapter VII mandates, combined with mild use of NATO air power and the absence of any progress in political negotiations for over three and a half years was a recipe for disaster for the former states of Yugoslavia, for its successor states (with the exception perhaps of Slovenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), and for their peoples, right here at NATO's doorstep. The High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was perhaps the only U.N. organization that was there long before, during, and now after the war, and witnessed the insane logic and scale of displacement and human suffering caused by the collapse of Yugoslavia.

What was successful in Iraq, namely the creation of a security zone to provide civilian populations with security as well as preserve the security of states, was a failure in Bosnia and Herzegovina under Security Resolution 836, which established the so-called safe areas. Broadly speaking, neither the integrity and security of states in the modern, democratic, tolerant, multiethnic sense nor of their constituent peoples survived in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. There is no better example than Bosnia of the need to combine the protection of distinct social communities "nationalities," in the Soviet sense and the security of the subsuming state structure. And we have learned that comprehensive prevention is the most effective strategy for achieving this critical balance between the security of states and peoples. Admittedly, the security of states comes first, as only a strong state configuration can ensure respect for human and minority rights and the rule of law and democratic principles, and hence the identity and security of people.


Comprehensive preventive strategies, therefore, are another name, perhaps the best synonym, of security. In an effort to provide more preventive strategies, an ambitious attempt at learning lessons from the former Yugoslavia and addressing a variety of forms of involuntary population movements as well as preventing their occurrence in and around the territory of the former Soviet Union has been taking place. The process has led to the convening of an international conference in Geneva on the entire gamut of population movements in CIS and neighboring countries. The conference was organized by a joint Secretariat composed of UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), through its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights based here in Warsaw. The conference was attended by all 12 CIS countries, 70 other interested states, 30 international organizations, and 77 international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs). States addressed sensitive problems related to all forms of migratory movements from a humanitarian angle, but also attempted to deal for the first time with the root causes of those problems, which are historical, social, economic, as well as political. In this sense, the approach was comprehensive, with a particular focus on prevention.

One of the major topics of discussion was the CIS countries, where various types of major population movements have taken place during recent years. Population displacements have been caused by conflicts, such as those in Tajikistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and Abkhazia, as well as conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Large numbers of so called Formerly Deported Peoples under Stalin have been returning to their former places of residence, for example, the Crimean Tatars are returning to Ukraine and the Meskhetian Turks are on their way to Georgia from Central Asia. Up to three million Russians have also been moving to the Russian Federation from neighboring countries, due to cultural, economic, or social insecurity and various other reasons. Displacements caused by technological or ecological disasters, such as Chernobyl and the Aral Sea, have been quite serious. In addition, thousands of persons coming from other regions have sought asylum in the CIS countries, and large numbers of illegal migrants have crisscrossed those countries. These movements have often been accompanied by various criminal activities human, drug, and arms trafficking as is chronically the case in Central Asia, largely a result of the never ending war in Afghanistan.

While population movements in the CIS were a focus of the conference, participants understood that there are broader security implications in the region not only within the CIS, but also in the neighboring regions of unmanaged population displacement and migration already known to have involved some nine million people in the CIS countries. The Program of Action adopted by the conference, which is uniquely action oriented, covers a wide range of issues including the return or resettlement of refugees, internally displaced persons or Formerly Deported Peoples, the regulating of illegal migration, the building of legislative and administrative capacities to deal with migratory problems, the establishing of regional cooperation for the monitoring and early warning of migratory movements, and various displacement prevention measures, including promotion of legislation and state behavior that is conducive to balanced cultural rights, citizenship entitlements, and built-in conflict prevention and resolution. The underlying objective of the program is to achieve an agreement among states to improve the lives of displaced people in the CIS region and to reduce tensions that might lead to further displacement. In other words, the program hopes to achieve security for both peoples and states through the resolution of displacement problems, but particularly through their prevention, in a geographical area where lack of such security could have devastating regional and international consequences.

In addition to the Program of Action, the conference had an ancillary benefit. The three organizations UNHCR, IOM, and OSCE that worked so closely together with states, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs will continue to work together following up the conference with a view to implementing the Program of Action. This effort is an excellent new model of cooperation for dealing with the resolution and prevention of region specific humanitarian problems, enhancing the work of the United Nations and functional or regional political organizations.


As I conclude, I want to stress again the need to widen the notion of security. While it has been broadened from a strictly political and military sense to include economic, social, and environmental stability, I believe it should now be further widened to include security of peoples it should take the human dimension into account. In this regard, I welcome the OSCE's inclusion of the problems of forced population displacements among the parameters of the future European Security Architecture.

As we have unfortunately witnessed in the recent past, the mass uprooting of certain populations for ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic reasons has become a predominant cause of war. In today's world, there can be no security for states without ensuring the security of peoples, and vice versa.

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