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UNHCR (United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees)

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1991

SPEECH BY AMBASSADOR JOSEPH VERNER REED, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON BEHALF OF DR BOUTROS-GHALI, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL

Your Majesty,

Your Royal Highnesses,

President of the Prince of Asturias Foundation,

Distinguished members of the Juries,

Most Honourable Sirs,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is a true pleasure and privilege to be here with you today on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali. I would like to extend a special welcome to the eight representatives of the United Nations Protection Forces –UNPROFOR– serving in the former Yugoslavia, representing the troops, military observers, police and civil staff of what is now the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation.

They represent the true heroes of today’s world. In bestowing this award on them, Spain and the Prince of Asturias Foundation set an example to the world.

Three members of the UNPROFOR Spanish Battalion are here today on behalf of their brave comrades. They evince Spain’s active commitment to peacekeeping, in clear testimony to the strength of this country in International Relations.

The United Nations needs countries like Spain!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Secretary General, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, regrets that the pressure of international events have made it impossible for him to be present here today, when tribute is being paid to the 28,200 military, civilian and police staff that make up the United Nations Protection Forces –UNPROFOR–.

Allow me now to convey to you the UN Secretary General’s message:

The Jury has decided to confer this award on the United Nations Protection Forces in recognition of humanitarian work being undertaken by UNPROFOR troops “within an extremely complex situation, the outcome of which is unpredictable”, and for their “outstanding contribution to achieving a peaceful solution to the military conflict”.

The men and women of UNPROFOR are deeply grateful to the Prince of Asturias for honouring them in this way. As Secretary General of the United Nations, I can say that it is an honour they have well deserved.

  I also know that UN peacekeepers everywhere will be delighted that recognition has been given to their colleagues in this way. All of the United Nations can be proud of the honour you confer on UNPROFOR.

On this day, we should especially remember the 62 members of UNPROFOR and of other humanitarian missions that have lost their lives since the establishment of this mission in February 1992. Our thoughts also go out to the 782 people who have been injured while performing their duty in the former Yugoslavia.

By recognizing the difficulties under which UNPROFOR operates and the extreme complexity of the political situation in the former Yugoslavia, the Prince of Asturias Foundation has sent a clear message of encouragement to everyone involved in the 18 United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide. Now, when the UNO is beginning a second phase in its peacekeeping work, and when the Organization enters new and unfamiliar territory, it is a pleasure for the men and women who risk their lives for others to be recognized in this way.

The upkeep of international peace and security is one of the main objectives of the United Nations. Thirty-five countries are pursuing this goal through their contributions to UNPROFOR. I pay tribute to them all, but the distinguished contribution that the Armed Forces of Spain are making to UNPROFOR is worthy of special mention today. Their role has been highlighted in a special way —and rightly so— by the Jury.

During the past two years, the Security Council has ordered an increasing number of UNPROFOR missions. However, despite this substantial assistance from the international community, the warring parties have as yet failed to resolve their differences.

Due to the lack of cooperation, sometimes even comparable to patent hostility on the part of those involved, UNPROFOR has not been as effective as it might have been. Despite these difficulties, however, both UNPROFOR and the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations do not cease in their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population, whose hopes and livelihoods have been shattered by violence.

The men and women engaged in this work deserve our support and admiration. The winter that is approaching exacerbates to an increasingly tough conflict. In Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, some 2.7 million people are at serious risk. The population is exposed to cold, hunger and disease. In these circumstances, their only hope lies in the arrival of a convoy of humanitarian assistance, which has to makes its way through snow-covered mountain roads and combat zones.

The patience, persistence and diplomatic skill of those who lead and work with these convoys are subject to the ultimate test when they are ruthlessly stopped at checkpoints, erected by one or other of the warring factions, knowing that if they do not persist in their mission the people on the other side of the barricade will face more hunger and despair.

The people of the former Yugoslavia want peace. So I take this opportunity to ask their military and political leaders to exercise their responsibilities to their people and to the international community. Their duty is to act decisively to chart a path that leads to mitigating the horrors of war and which allows the restoration of peace.

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