Pursuing Peace: Commemorating Dag Hammarskjöld

Vol. XLVIII No. 2 2011

This issue is in commemoration of Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961.

On 26 May 2011, I celebrated my seventy-ninth birthday, and it seemed to me as if only two weeks had passed since I had turned sixteen years old.
But time has indeed flown by, measured by the more than eleven thousand political cartoons that I produced on a daily basis during those "two weeks."

In November 2008, former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, searching for ways to ease a catastrophic crisis in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), came under intense criticism for calling the Congolese general, Laurent Nkunda, "my brother." Nkunda was accused by the DRC Government of war crimes and was under investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. At the time, I led the Great Lakes Team in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York and was responsible for oversight of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB). Nkunda occupied much of my thoughts.

Preventing wars and massive human rights violations, and rebuilding societies in their aftermath, requires an approach that incorporates the perspectives of both human rights advocates and conflict resolution practitioners. This is easier to assert than to achieve. These two groups make different assumptions, apply different methodologies, and have different institutional constraints. As a result, they tend to be wary of one another.

More than a decade has passed since Nelson Mandela, in his capacity as President of the Republic of South Africa, addressed the Heads of State and Government of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU). In his speech, he focused on one of the biggest dilemmas the world had been facing since the end of the Cold War: should outside forces intervene in the internal affairs of a state when the civilian population is suffering massive violations of human rights and the state is unable or unwilling to fulfil its responsibility to protect its own people? Although his message was conveyed to those present in Ouagadougou, its essence can be extended to the entire international community.

The idea of preventive diplomacy has captivated the United Nations ever since it was first articulated by Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld nearly half a century ago. Preventive diplomacy was presaged by Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, which allowed the Secretary-General to bring to the Security Council's attention threats to international peace and security. From the outset of the United Nations, Secretary-General Trygve Lie used the competence under this Article to gather information about situations, to establish contacts with those concerned, to send emissaries to look closely at situations, and to do whatever he could to head off or contain crises of international concern.

Terrorism did not begin on 11 September 2001, but that terrible day did change the world. The attacks on the United States that claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people showed us that terrorism had morphed into a global phenomenon that could cause massive pain and destruction anywhere. The magnitude of the attacks meant that no one could stand on the sidelines anymore. The fight had become global because the impact of terrorism was being felt everywhere.

Last June in Suai, a small town in Timor-Leste, I held an open day with local women and men to mark the tenth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. This resolution recognizes the unique impact of conflict on women's lives and highlights their often overlooked contributions to resolving and preventing conflict. It also calls on the international community to involve women fully in every aspect of our work for peace and security.

The broad manifestations of our epic global interdependence are increasingly better appreciated. Financial engineering in the United States can determine economic growth in every part of the world; carbon dioxide emissions from China can affect crop yields and livelihoods in the Maldives, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, and beyond; an epidemic in Viet Nam or Mexico can constrain public life in the United States; and a nuclear leak in Japan can have a bearing on public health all around the world. The inherent difficulties of devising and implementing solutions to global problems through nation-states have become increasingly apparent.

When Dag Hammarskjöld was appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations on 7 April 1953, there was a full-scale war on the Korean peninsula, the Organization was deeply divided between East and West, and the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council over the refusal of the United Nations to give the now communist Chinese regime a seat on the Council. It was by no means a safe bet that the United Nations was going to be more successful than its predecessor, the League of Nations, in preventing an outbreak of a new world war.

"He went to school. That's why he died. If he wouldn't have studied so many years he'd still be alive, helping me around and raising his children," says Eudochia Motco, his mother. She is eighty-three years old and in about four hours her youngest son, Filaret, a UN staff from Romania, is going to be buried. He was killed when the UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif was attacked on 1 April 2011.

The pursuit of peace has been omnipresent throughout history, and given the omnifarious nature of the concept, the ideas and means for its realization have been as diverse as can be. Some fancied simply subjugating by force; others emphasized the effectiveness of international arbitration or adjudication; some found it useful to establish international organizations, possibly with a collective security system; some even thought of creating a regional integration body so that state sovereignty could be tamed; still others held that guaranteeing human security in order to eradicate abject poverty and other everyday menaces should be the way. Today, some assert that the contemporary imperative is to win the war against transnational terrorism.