15 January 1996

Press Release


19960115 (Received from the Deputy Spokesman travelling with the Secretary-General.)

Following is the text of a statement made by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at a meeting with OXFAM staff in Oxford, United Kingdom:

When the United Nations was established 50 years ago, its founders defined its principal organs: The Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the World Court and the Secretariat. In ensuing years, the work and activity of each of these organs began to be progressively influenced by another great community -- global civil society and its key actors, in particular non-governmental organizations.

Over 2,300 delegates, representing more than 800 non-governmental organizations, participated in the World Summit for Social Development this year. This eloquently demonstrates the vitality and diversity of peoples' initiatives and the strengthened partnership between the United Nations and the actors in civil society.

OXFAM has been a critical player in this process. It is a source of support and strength not only for immediate humanitarian concerns, but also for long-term development. Non-governmental organizations have been described as "free spirits". They help shape the debate. And they help attain the objective. The United Nations counts on such organizations as implementing partners. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have been particularly assisted in this regard.

OXFAM has been on the ground in virtually every contemporary conflict or case of disaster. You have developed special expertise in emergency humanitarian requirements, particularly in providing water and sanitation. This chapter of OXFAM, for the United Kingdom and Ireland, is working under contract to UNHCR for a number of critical relief operations, most notably for Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Non-governmental organizations have displayed great talent and imagination where governmental breakdown has isolated large populations in distress. This is an OXFAM tradition. During the Second World War you were able to reach humanitarian assistance to blockaded civilians in Greece.

You have also placed emergency action in long-term perspective. In Afghanistan -- where you were the first non-governmental organization to open an office -- you have supported small-scale agricultural, irrigation and health projects. In Angola, your distribution of seeds and tools has wisely targeted women as essential players in national reconstruction and development. In Iraq, you have built essential infrastructure including roads, schools, water projects and health centres. You have encouraged the generation of income in rural areas through the distribution of sheep and beehives. Your support to demobilization efforts in north-west Somalia and with internally displaced persons in Hargeisa has been outstanding.

You have played a key role in the global campaign to eliminate the danger of anti-personnel mines. I have been privileged to discuss this matter with David Bryer on a number of occasions. You know, and I know, that this is one area of potential humanitarian disaster which can be effectively removed. It is a cause to which I personally stand committed and I count on your continuing support.

The world knows, and acknowledges, OXFAM's position at the forefront of international non-governmental activity. This position brings with it important responsibilities. The non-governmental community can be proud of the dedicated professionals who give it guidance and direction. It can be proud of the thousands upon thousands of volunteers whose tireless energy gives realization to their ideals. It can be proud of its relentless advocacy on behalf of marginalized nations, societies, peoples and issues.

But, as in any community, there are contradictory elements. There are inexperienced people who jump to conclusions. There are the media-hungry. There are those who cannot correctly define the line between concern and compassion, on the one hand, and political partisanship on the other. These are dangers. No single community can ever claim to be the solution to a problem or crisis. But non-governmental organizations must be part of that solution. A major part. They cannot afford to be part of the problem.

And it is my hope that organizations like OXFAM, who are synonymous with the good and creative in the non-governmental endeavour, will work towards sharing that spirit with others in the field.

In this effort, as in all else, the United Nations is with you. I have noted your important suggestion that I, along with Member States, evaluate the work of United Nations humanitarian agencies, and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, in the course of 1996. There has also been a

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suggestion that one single agency be responsible for all humanitarian relief activity within the United Nations system. Whether these ideas are workable or whether one agrees with them, the process that produces them is welcome and important. As you are aware, the Economic and Social Council will focus in July on strengthening coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

I should also like to express my appreciation for OXFAM's contribution to the international discussion on the United Nations in its fiftieth anniversary year. The briefing paper prepared by OXFAM affirms the critical link between emergency situations and longer-term political, economic and social concerns. I am grateful for your support on the issue of full and timely payment of contributions by Member States.

I wish you well in our common mandate and mission. Your motto -- "working for a fairer world" -- expresses our commitment to protect and cherish the right to life in its fullest.

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For information media. Not an official record.