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A Conversation with Asha-Rose Migiro

Speaker: Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations
Presider: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
March 11, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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ISOBEL COLEMAN:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Thank you for joining us here today.  I know this is not the usual Council time for a meeting, so it is wonderful that we have such a large turnout.

It is with great pleasure that we have Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro here with us today.  And before I start, I just want to mention that this is a special event which is being supported by ExxonMobil and their initiative on women and girls.  And it's a terrific organization that their foundation is really focused on.  This is a major initiative which they launched I think in 2005.  We have Laurie Jackson (sp) here on the other side of the room who is the -- the drive behind that initiative.  And so it is with great pleasure that we have their support for this.

I'd also like to mention that this meeting is being webcast live on cfr.org, and it can be found and replayed from that.

About almost a year ago Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro became the third deputy secretary general of the U.N.  So you've been in that role for about a year now.  And prior to taking on that position she was a noted leader in her own country of Tanzania.  She served as the minister of foreign affairs and in several other positions in her government; and prior to that was an academic as Dar es Salaam University.   And she has two daughters, and has been very active on a whole range of issues in the U.N. over the past year, primarily I think looking on the development agenda for the U.N.

And we're going to have about a 30-minute question and answer conversation here, and then we'll open it to questions from the audience.

The first thing I'd like to start out with, we're about midway now through the Millennium Development Goals process.  The Millennium Development Goals were announced in 2000.  They were a commitment by the world's government to -- world's governments to address a range of issues, of development issues, inspirationally, to eradicate hunger, to really reduce maternal mortality, get more children in school, achieve universal education, make progress on HIV -- a whole range of issues.

And we are as I said about halfway through that process now, and I wonder if you could just tell us from your perspective and your vantage point, how are we doing?

ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO:  Maybe before I go into that, I should also like to join you thanking ExxonMobil for this excellent opportunity.  I personally value it very much, and I'm impressed that the private sector is in this.

And I'd also like to thank you, members of the Council, for inviting me to talk to you.

About the MDGs, as you have rightly said, the MDGs are what we may call a development blueprint which was endorsed by world leaders in 2000.  We are now midway to 2015 when we thought we would have reached much progress if not full progress on all the eight goals.

But right now we see there is some sort of an uneven pattern of success.  In some countries, particularly those of Latin America, there has been satisfactory progress.  In some parts of Asia there has been some progress.

But Africa is the continent that lags terribly behind.  And even in these other countries that I have mentioned there is progress on many of the goals but there are still pockets of lagging behind.

But coming particularly to Africa where the attention of the secretary-general has been and mine as well with colleagues in the U.N. system, we find that the challenges are daunting.  As we speak right now there will be few countries who will make progress on maybe three, four goals.  There will be others who will make progress maybe on one or two.  So there is a big gap there, and the goals that we have particularly a problem with are goal number one, which is about eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

And then we have also serious gaps in the other important three goals, goal number three, four and five.  Number three is about gender equality and women's empowerment.  Number four is about child mortality.  And five is about maternal health and the sixth is on HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

So these are critical.  They are critical in their own standing because they go to the core of the ordinary lives of men and women in Africa and children.  But they also have a multiplier effect if any progress was to be made.

So this is where we are.  And we are in need of urgent intervention in order to scale up the implementation, both in terms of programs and in terms of resources.

So this is where I can say we stand at the moment.  This is the global picture, if you like.

COLEMAN:  When you talk about that urgent intervention, what are some of the interventions that you would  desire to see on the table and implemented over the next couple of years?

MIGIRO:  Yes.  First and foremost is to have a, as you say, an intense mainstreaming of MDGs in national planning because there are countries that are working in the same areas as the Millennium Development Goals, but without targeting these as the ultimate outcome of the development programs.

So alignment with national plans, but secondly resources.  And resources of course could be human and financial.  But human again you come to the same circle of people who are poor, who are hungry, afflicted by diseases.  So the question of resources is also important -- internal resources as well as external resources.

When we're talking of internal resources, it's about mobilization at the domestic level, putting to good use their resources that are there.  But at the international level, at the global level, you have commitments that have been made by the developing or development partners.

So these are some of the interventions that have to -- have to be made.  And in that regard, I may just quickly share with you that there are a number of initiatives.  There are world leaders who have dedicated efforts towards maybe one or two goals.  You have bodies that have looked at these goals, but these efforts have been here and there.  Now we need to coordinate this, and the United Nations is taking a central role in that.

So these are the interventions that I'm talking about.

COLEMAN:  I guess one might somewhat skeptically ask, why -- why now is that coordination happening, and you know we're halfway through the process here.  And how will the coordination be different than it has been up to this point?

MIGIRO:  Why now is because we are halfway, and the progress we have made is not all that satisfactory, so that makes the whole question very urgent.

But how would these coordinations be different, at least from the point of view of the United Nations.  For the first time we have been able to fit together the United Nations systems -- system and the other systems like the World Bank, the IMF and other financial institutions, the African Development Bank.

As we're speaking right now, it's only yesterday that we had a meeting of what is called a steering group -- it's called MDG Africa Steering Group.  This is a group that is chaired by the secretary-general of the United Nations.  But it has on board president of the World Bank, of the IMF, Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, EU, OECD -- (inaudible) -- and the African Union.

So this is the first time that that you have this type of collaboration.  The U.N. system on the one hand, and the IFI, international financial institutions, on the other, with the major stakeholders like the African Union and the European Union.  So this is the first time that we have been able to come together to look at this agenda and to agree that concerted efforts needs to be taken, needs to be done now; and have a vision of which type of intervention should be made.

Five critical areas have been identified: agriculture and food security; infrastructure and trade facilitation; health, education; national statistics; and collaboration at the country level.

So as I say this is the first time this is happening, and it is because of the situation on the ground, and the need to ensure that development is not only given support by way of highlighting what is to be done, but also by taking concrete action as to what should be done.

COLEMAN:  You have written that decent productive work is really the critical lever for getting out of poverty.  And the recognition of the importance of the labor markets as a way to transmit the benefits of economic growth, the MDG-1 on eliminating poverty has even stressed that as a sub-goal.  And this new target of promoting decent work.

Can you talk a little bit about how that's actually translating into actions on the ground?

MIGIRO:  When one talks of decent work one also presumes that there have been conditions for making somebody acquire this decent work -- education, health.  So we are saying that if you have programs that would enable men, women, access health facilities, access education, then what happens -- what should they do with the skills that they get?  That links up with the whole question of decent work.

But when we are talking of decent work, we also assume that other productive sectors are also alive, and give these opportunities, which means one is calling for investment in agriculture, one is calling for investment in industry, in trade.  These are the areas which will open up opportunity for decent work.

And when we talk of decent work, we mean work that can be first of all obtained legally; work that takes into account standards that are worldwide that are accepted, right -- right wage, right environment, opportunities -- this is what we are talking about.

And we think this will contribute immensely to poverty eradication as well as addressing the whole question of hunger because you cannot have a productive labor if you do not have plans to ensure that people get adequate food and nutritious food.

So we think this is interlinked, and once that is -- that is one way actually of attacking extreme poverty, and it links up with all other plans that a nation should put in place so that its people or her people, some people would call it, get this opportunity to work and to earn a decent life.

COLEMAN:  When we started out today, you mentioned the importance of having the private sector involved.  Are you working with particular actors in the private sector?  Are you trying to draw them in for any of these initiatives that you've discussed so far?

MIGIRO:  Actually, we identify the private sector as a key partner in development, especially in the context of the various areas that we have even identified that should be addressed squarely right now, as we are at the midpoint.  If you're talking of infrastructure the private sector is very important in that.  If you're talking about health, education, and they are doing so.  Within the context of the United Nations we have an office that deals with relations with the private sector working together.  We have the office of -- how do you call it?  UNSIS?  United Nations -- (off mike consultation) --partnership -- no, no, United Nations Office for Partnerships.  We are so much used to acronyms, we don't know how to put it.  But we have an office that deals with private partnerships.

And here -- and -- and then we also have a compact, global compact, for private investment, for private partnerships.  All these are mechanisms that are intended to enlist the support, the contribution of the private sector, but also to work with them on areas which we have also highlighted as our priority areas.  And we do this deriving from the interests of member states, deriving from the charter of the United Nations, but also looking at the various areas that the private sector is already contributing.

So this is -- it's very, very critical.  And we take it to be not only a source of skills and -- and -- a source of skills but also a source of finance because you have now corporate social responsibility, and we would like to work together with the private sector to ensure that they invest also in areas that will make us make progress.

And right now we also have private sector address in particular MDGs.

COLEMAN:  You've also warned that violence against women undermines our ability to achieve the MDGs -- all of the MDGs.  And I know that last month the secretary-general launched a very high profile U.N. campaign to end violence against women.

This is clearly a very difficult and sensitive subject because so much of violence against women is actually within the home and within the family, and touches upon a lot of very sensitive cultural issues.

And -- so I just wonder what do you see as the prospects for actually making progress on this front, how were you envisioning it?  And how does it relate to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals?

MIGIRO:  Actually, women are sort of the center -- they are at the heart of the MDGs, because we know very well given the division of labor that exists in many societies, where you have a woman empowered, then you have the opportunity of also empowering communities and imparting the skills, the education, that will form the foundation for equality and dignity in communities.

So talking of violence against women, and linking it with the campaign of the secretary-general, it is a question that is well known that a society that is full of violence does not give opportunity to its members to contribute to the social and economic life of those societies.

So we thought -- and this will not be the first time that the United Nations has occupied itself with the question of violence -- but in this particular case the secretary-general is for the first time carrying the banner as a person who would spearhead campaign against violence.

But we have seen violence also contributing very, very negatively to development.  We have seen countries that have not gone through conflict, but there women in particular and children have been exposed to violence and therefore curtailing the possibility of contributing to national development.

But of late violence has become a weapon of war so to speak.  So you have many countries where violence has been taken as a means not only to subdue women but as a way of ethnic cleansing; as a way of putting a particular section of the community under constant domination.  So this really points to the urgency of dealing with violence against women.

What is it that the secretary-general intends to do?  He intends to enlist the support of private citizens, the support of governments, but in particular the support of men.  He intends to create a network of men to address the question of  violence because it links up with all the MDGs.

If we are talking of HIV and AIDS, which has to a great extent affected not only the health but so to speak the human resource as a basic resource for development.  If you do not -- if you do not address violence in countries where HIV and AIDS is so rampant, it means that all efforts that are being put in place will not bear any fruit.

Violence has something to do also with the fundamentals of the society and the principles that the charter of the United Nations stands for.  So it's something that we have to deal with.

But talking of sensitivity, it is not that sensitive, because -- I mean this is just a way of like, diverting the attention -- don't touch this thing.  Because it is about culture.  It is about tradition.  But if one goes down to tradition, it will be very clear that violence has no basis.  It's just a concept that has -- has set in society given the division of labor, given changes in socioeconomic relations.  But it has no solid foundation, although it has been taken to be very, very sacred.

Now what we want to do is really to attack the heart of the causes of violence.  And in that regard, I don't believe there will be any tradition, any custom that will be spared.  And this is why the secretary-general is taking it up, and we are ready to work with the private sector.  We are ready to work with think tanks like yourselves, and, you know, all other progressive forces to address the question of violence against women and against women and children.

And at this point in time, we also have to look at violence in post-conflict areas because where there has been a problem, there has been war or ethnic clashes.  And if violence is not -- is not addressed, it simply adds to the perpetuation of the broader -- so if you like the broader framework of violence which brings societies, one against the other.

So we would like to look at violence in its own merit, but also as an aspect that has to do with the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals as well.

COLEMAN:  The -- just sticking on this issue of violence against women, I mean there are many drivers and reasons for it.  But I know that some of the U.N. system like Louise Arbour, who is the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, has talked about inadequate legal frameworks.  And until that's changed, the culture of violence against women will never really be addressed.

Is that something that is being looked at in relationship to the Millennium Development Goals, as sort of part and parcel actually addressing some of the weaker legal systems?

MIGIRO:  Yes.  First of all I must pay tribute to Ms. Louise Arbour.  She's been doing a wonderful work as high commissioner for human rights.  And I do agree entirely with her that if one is to address violence we have to look at the legal and institutional mechanisms that are in place.  And the question of empowering women also touches a legal framework that their rights have to be grounded in laws and constitutions.

And this also links up with the MDGs because you cannot really talk of women's -- women's empowerment, you cannot talk of women's rights, without also addressing some aspects of the MDGs.  If you're talking about eradicating extreme poverty you have to look at how resources are owned, to what extent women access natural resources or how women access credit.

If you're talking of improving maternal health or reducing child mortality, there are legal instruments which have to address -- when a child for instance is born, what happens, can the child be registered because then registration also gives foundation for many other rights that pertain to this child when they grow up.

So it has -- it has a relationship with the implementation of the -- of the MDGs, and we think it is one of the key areas which have to be addressed in dealing with women's empowerment, women's rights, but -- as well as economic development.

COLEMAN:  When you look back to your days -- former days as a private citizen in Tanzania, and also as a minister in Tanzania working on some of these same development issues but from a very different angle, how did you view the U.N. and the constructive role that the U.N. could play?  I mean, I'm sure it has evolved and changed with your own changing position, but I just wonder how -- how you viewed it from the very, you know, on-the-ground perspective that you had.

MIGIRO:  This is a very interesting question indeed because right now we are faced with the challenge of explaining what the United Nations is doing.  In some countries or in some continents, so to speak, the role of the United Nations may not be very, very clear.  But coming from Africa and coming from a country that is very poor, I knew the United Nations as an organization that stood for development, working with the government, working with the civil society to address development challenges, be they socioeconomic or political.

This is how I knew the United Nations.  And now that I have come to work in this organization here in New York, my belief has been more than affirmed.  In many African countries, including my own, Tanzania, the United Nations has stood to look at problems of refugees, to help in humanitarian work, to help in economic planning, to help in democratic and governance processes.

This is what the United Nations has been doing, and what it's considered to be doing.  In Tanzania, like in many African countries, you have tremendous work being done by such other entities like the UNFPA, the ILO, so it is an organization that stands for certain universal values that contribute to development.  This is how I have seen the United Nations.

But right now, I see the United Nations going beyond that.  Whereas in some of the poor countries like the country that I come from, we see the U.N. as helping in -- maybe in humanitarian work or in development, right now we see also the United Nations here as one of those multilateral institutions that can be used to address more than the basic or the conventional development objective.

The U.N. stands for issues like climate change, issues relating to terrorism.  You know, looking at problems which go beyond borders, and problems which are not necessarily country specific but do impact different countries.  This is what I see the United Nations standing for, and I think it is one of those institutions that can be a real example and a real platform for multilateralism.

COLEMAN:  There was a lot of emphasis in recent years on the need for U.N. reform to make it a more viable and more useful institution for the 21st century.  And I know that when you became deputy secretary-general a year ago, one of the things that you promised to really press for was U.N. reform.  And there was a lot of hope that, coming from Africa, that you would help bridge the -- the divide that has emerged on this reform issue between the G-77 and -- and the -- and wealthier countries led by the United States who were pushing for reform.  There's a lot of concern on the part of the G-77 that, in fact, reform is just code for -- for consolidating control and doing things that may not be in G-77's interest.

Maybe as a last question you can just talk a little bit about the state of U.N. reform and the role that you might be playing as a bridge in those conversations.

MIGIRO:  Thank you.  U.N. reform has been going on I think for the last 20, 30 years.

COLEMAN:  Yes, a constant process.  Indeed.  Indeed.

MIGIRO:  Yes, yes, a constant process.  But I think in the last few years, it has become particularly important because one of the nature of problems that confront the international community or humanity in general, as I say, we have seen -- we have seen conflicts.  We have seen disasters.  We have seen humanitarian needs arising out of climate change and so on.

These are challenges that have come to the fore in the last, say, seven to 10 years, and this has necessitated that the United Nations looks at itself and see how it can better deliver on some of these challenges.

But there is the question of clientele, so to speak.  The United Nations, particularly the Secretariat, has the membership as its client.  Are they satisfied with what we are doing?  And the last five, six years have shown that there have been gaps here and there.  You will all recall oil for food scandal.  You will all recall sexual abuse cases.  And this has necessitated that we look at how we do business; we look at our institutions to see whether we are performing the way we're expected to perform.

But they should always -- with an institution like the United Nations, there should always be an aspiration to do more.  And there is more that is requested of the U.N. than there has been before in terms of peacekeeping, in terms of humanitarian challenges, in terms of development.  So this has been necessary.

But then these tasks also come with expenses, and we have member states who are contributing.  So it is important that member states see that the resources that they are putting at the disposal -- how do you say? -- you know English is my bad language -- (laughter) -- so at the disposal of all the -- disposal -- at the disposal of the -- of the member states, that the monies are put to good use.

And it's not only monies, also human resources.  We  have excellent people within the United Nations.  They have been serving their -- their nations in various capacities.  Now they come to work to the United Nations.

So the secretariat has the challenge of putting in place an environment where the -- how do they call -- how do I call it -- where the potential of these people can be exploited.  But more so of the resources.

We have assessed contributions which members states give, but we also have voluntary contributions, and these have to be put to good use.  And this means that reforms in the area of accountability, in the area of transparency, have to be there.  And this is what we are working on.

You have talked of the -- should I say differences -- or the push and pull with the G-77.  The G-77 do have concerns.  Concerns may not necessarily have to do with the reform, but they have concerns in the area particularly of development.  At times, they do feel that development is not given the same weight as other areas, which are peace and security, human rights.

But from the point of view of the secretariat, these three pillars go together.  You cannot have development if you do not have peace and vice versa.  In order for there to be peace there has to be development.  Member states -- I mean, nationals or people of countries have to feel that they can also benefit from resources that are there, but the development is even; that -- you know, say if you have a country north and south, you do not have that much difference.

So at times they do feel that we're not paying too much attention.  So instead of maybe attacking us directly on that, they may use some of these things as a tradeoff that look -- look, in order for you to get these reforms assure us that you will also pay attention to development.  And the secretary-general and I, together with colleagues in the secretariat, have always emphasized the interlink between the various pillars of the United Nations.

And right now, I should say we're getting slightly better.  As we're speaking the secretary-general has just presented his report on -- on development.  And in the morning today he addressed informally the general assembly to present his report of what he wants to do in the area of development to strengthen the department of economic and social, to -- to strengthen regional commissions and other entities within the United Nations which deal with development.

And the sense we get is that there is more support, and we expect that will be the way.  This was an informal briefing, but we do hope that in the course of time, they will be able to support this.

So we are getting to a place where we're understanding each other more, that is the secretariat and the membership, particularly the G-77, by addressing now the concerns.  And when we do so, it is not only to satisfy the complaints, if you like, of the G-77, but also it is to live up to the charter of the organization because the charter talks of development, of peace, security, and we think that all these need to be at a different footing.  The only question will be how do we sequence these, and how much resources we -- we give to these.  And the question of resources has a lot to do also with membership.  So this is what I can say as far as reform is concerned.

But if I may also touch one aspect of reform is also how we do our work.  There has been a concern that our work is a little bit fragmented.  We lack complementarity.  And these are the things that we have to look at.  We're talking of coherence, looking at what the various entities, what the funds, agencies and programs are doing, so that we complement each other, and we pull the synergy in order to reach the objectives for which members have put us in the positions in which we are.  Thank you.

COLEMAN:  Thank you.

Let's take some questions now from the audience.  If you wouldn't mind just stating your name and affiliation, and I will take questions in the order that I see them.  We're also -- because this is webcast, we do have a question from one of our viewers of the webcast which I'll insert into the -- into the queue here.

Patricia.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, Patricia Ellis, Women's Foreign Policy Group.  I'm just wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about how you and your colleagues are working on trying to improve the image of the U.N. at this time, because you do so much, and yet there still is this issue of getting the message out.  And I'm wondering since the U.N. has taken a real lead on climate change, how much is this being used as part of your efforts to get the message out.

MIGIRO:  Yeah, I do agree with you that we have the problem of image -- image in the context of what we are doing, and in the context of what we are not doing but are supposed to do.

Now in terms of what we are supposed to do, we are trying as much as possible to interact.  Of course, we do take stock of what we're doing in the development area, in peace and security, and in human rights.  But we also try to engage a lot to get a feedback from the people we work with, from the member states.

But in terms of the good message, if you like, we have been sort of blamed that probably we do not talk much about what we are doing -- the good that we're doing.  We're not marketing the public goods if you like.

And in this case we -- we have the department of public information, we have communications units.  We're trying to do this, but also by interacting with people like you, if we get an invitation to go someplace to speak to tell what the United Nations is doing.  But even if we are not invited, to take the initiative on our own.  But on the other hand to be inclusive in what we are doing.  And a good example is what you have mentioned, the climate change.

When we were preparing for U.N.'s leadership, if you, like and U.N.'s contribution in the area of climate change, we heard a lot.  We had a lot of intellectuals with us.  We had the private sector.  We had governments.  We have individuals of high standing.  And this was one way of giving visibility to what we are doing.

And we do also count on good ambassadors like yourselves.  It's such a pleasure to see you again, and to see that you're also interested, your study group on the U.N.  So this is also one area where we can market, so to speak, the work that the United Nations is doing.

QUESTIONER:  Jeff Laurenti at the Century Foundation.  Madame Deputy Secretary-General, I was intrigued by one line in your written statement that you disseminated here.

COLEMAN:  I'm sorry, just let me mention, there is a written statement out at the front if -- if -- for anybody who might not have seen it.  You can take it on your way out.

QUESTIONER:  Women have been helped by social movements including those against globalization and for human rights.  So allow me to pose a question with regard to each of those two, globalization and human rights.

What are the evils that you see that social movements and democratic governments need to resist in globalization?  And how should international organizations, U.N., Bretton Woods, WTO, maybe ILO, act to contain those evils?

And on the human rights side, what's your view on the debate, particularly in the Human Rights Council, on the question of naming and shaming, singling out the worst violators or the most laggard and egregious abusers.  And what do you think about publicly spotlighting, for example, those governments that do the very least to protect women against violence, or do the very least within their power -- that would be within their power -- to help promote the Millennium Development Goals?  Are there countries that spring to your mind from your experience, both before coming to the U.N. and now, that really have been total nonperformers and folks should know about it in hopes of goading them so that they won't be singled out -- they become part of the herd rather than the worst outliers.

MIGIRO:  Well, when I was going through my script, initially I thought I was going to give an address, and then I was advised not, which is fine.  I looked at this word.  You know, at times, you prepare something and you come and read it.  This word, against globalization.  And I personally singled that out, and I'm glad that you noticed.  Really, what we meant here is our organizational movement working around the theme of globalization because globalization is not a bad thing so far as I know, because globalization is about interacting, it's about travel, it's about sharing skills, it's about technology transfer.  Of course, in due course, there could be the downsides of it.  But that doesn't mean that globalization is something not to embrace.

And in my own country when we were talking of globalization, when the leaders there were explaining what globalization is about, they said globalization -- maybe the novelty lies in the word globalization.  But globalization has always been there in terms of people's migration.  You have countries where people move from south to north and so on.  So these are some sort of globalization maybe at a micro level.

So here it's movements working around or on globalization.  And these movements have been addressing various aspects of globalization, and not everything that comes out of globalization is bad, and -- that people should -- I mean countries should close their doors to.  So that is one, how do I call, correction that I would like to make.

But how they -- how -- how have they been helped?  They have been helped by looking at the positive aspects of globalization, if we talk about knowledge, if we talk about skills.  Nobody can close their doors to skills.  Nobody can close their doors to cultural interaction.

And if we're talking of peace and security, we have to talk of the different cultures that there are, the different beliefs, and how human beings should learn to live with one another.  So this is one way that also contributes to peace, contributes to stability and, therefore, creates the conditions for development.  So this is a good thing.

Human rights: there has been sensitization.  There has been NGOs dealing with human rights.  There has been civil societies dealing with that.  But also like the Human Rights Commission, and I want to make a distinction between the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Council.  The Human Rights Commission is one of the organs of the United Nations in the same -- I mean, in the context of the institutions; whereas the Human Rights council is, but is something that is determined by member states.  And I do know that there has been concerns about the way certain things have been done or are being looked at by the Human Rights Council.

But from the point of view of the secretariat we can say that the Human Rights Council has been established now.  This is an important framework.  But it's methods of working have still to be worked on.  The -- the fundaments also have to be looked at and this lies in the -- in the hands of the member states.  This is what I'd like to say.

But again whatever -- whatever the human rights -- the Human Rights Council does, it has the potential of being used as a viable -- viable instrument for dialogue between member states, and as an institution that can build foundations for a culture of tolerance in terms of understanding the different dynamics provided they are situated within the various instruments that deal with human rights.  So this is what I can say.

COLEMAN:  Let me just interject a question here from one of our webcast viewers, Joseph Cerami, who's at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, who's viewing this live.

The question is, how can the U.S. and the U.N. improve their coordination to be more effective in assisting development efforts in failing states, as well as those undergoing post-conflict reconstruction?

MIGIRO:  The U.S. is one of the important partners of the United Nations for many, many reasons.  The U.N. started in this great country.  The U.N. is hosted by this country.  And the U.S. is a great contributor also to the -- to the work of the -- of the United Nations.  So given this central position of the U.S. it has a big potential to work with the United Nations and it is doing so.

If you are talking of -- of peacekeeping for instance the U.S. is a significant contributor to peacekeeping.  But fragile states -- did you talk of fragile states or failed states?

COLEMAN:  Failing states.

MIGIRO:  Failing states, this is an area where the U.S. can also contribute given its own -- its own history in democracy and governance.  And we are working together with the United States in that area.  So it has a big potential, and it is one of the, should I say, close allies of the -- of the -- of the United Nations.  And we have very good working relations really.

QUESTIONER: Good afternoon, and thank you so much for joining us today.

My name's Elisa Basnight.  I'm an attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton where I've had the opportunity to work on helping develop and examine legislative reforms for countries in Africa -- in terms of promoting economic development.

My question is, in talking with investors who really want to go into developing countries, is  that -- they're really being challenged in terms of not seeing the human capital, and having the human capital that they need in their companies to develop some of the, African nation-states.

And so what I-- continue to struggle with, is that there are so many great initiatives and efforts that are going on today, but we're still running into the perpetual problem  that the human capital is not available to actually work, and as you talked about earlier, providing people with decent productive work..

People want to come in to invest. But, we're still challenged around the issues of having an educated workforce, a healthy workforce.  And so I'm wondering if perhaps there shouldn't be more focus on fewer of the MDGs so as to really focus on developing the human capital -- instead of focusing on all eight, which are all still important.  I don't know if people have thought about it; it's a little radical.  But I'm just wondering if we're going to get to 2015 and still be in the same spot where we are today.

 

MIGIRO:  I do agree with you that the human capital is critical in -- in whatever formation of development.  But particularly talking of Africa and linking it with MDGs, it is important that the human capital is there, if we are talking of decent work, and if we want to get the private sector also to come and invest, you have to have human capital.

But again, we are within the same circle, that if you have few people who can access education, you cannot build a human capital -- you cannot build human capital on an uneducated population; that is important; or a population that has no access to health.

So what the private sector can do is actually -- maybe first and foremost to assist also in the whole question of capacity building.  For some time in some of the countries we have had the private sector come in, say, wanting to do construction, or hotel industry and so on.  All these need -- need human capital.  But there has been very, should I say, should I say few, there has been not adequate investment in health, in education, in agriculture.

If I may just take the example of my own country, we have had yes investors, but a good number of them have been in hotel industry for instance, which is not bad at all.  But you need educated people there.  You need skilled people there.

So now we have the private sector also being ready to invest in education, in health.  And this is very much welcome, and has been very, very helpful.  And even through corporate social responsibility, that has been one way of investing in human capital, and we will welcome it.  And that is the only way that you can really ensure sustainability in -- in having real people accessing decent work.

In order for them to get decent work they have to be educated.  They have to be healthy.  They have to have enough food.

And so it is some sort of a chain that the private sector may wish to look into.  But I think they have a big potential in building capacity.

COLEMAN:  Marlene?

QUESTIONER:  I'm wondering if you might comment on what you think the U.N. might be able to do to protect women against the horrendous sexual violence that is happening in Kenya and in other failing states?

MIGIRO:  Could you do that again?  I didn't get the first part.

QUESTIONER:  I'm wondering if you might comment on what you think it might be possible for the U.N. or some U.N. agencies to do to help protect women against the horrendous sexual violence against them in Kenya and other failing states?

COLEMAN:  We're a little low on time.  Can we take a couple of questions at the same time?

MIGIRO:  Okay, so sexual violence.

QUESTIONER:  Susan Nitze, International Women's Health Coalition.  We've talked a lot about women, and I'm wondering in the U.N. if you could comment on progress in any kind of gender parity in some of the decision-making jobs, especially in those like UNIFEM that deal with women's issues.

COLEMAN:  And one more, Alice.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Alice Deere (sp), A.M. Deere & Associates (ph).  I'm a former U.S. executive director at the African Development Bank.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Washington for IFC, celebration of international women's day.  And their theme was the importance and profitability of financing women businesses.  And they had a couple of examples of institutions they were -- they were supporting.  And three of the institutions brought their own clients.  And all of the women talked about the same challenge, the lack of land tenure inheritance laws being an impediment in having collateral to get loans.

You mentioned the inadequate legal and institutional framework, and how resources are owned, and how women access them as being a continued problem, and of course capacity building.

I got back in time to attend an NYU event where the president of the African Development Bank was speaking --

MIGIRO:  Oh, yeah -- yeah.

QUESTIONER:  -- and we talked about this again.  So I appreciate that it's a steering committee for MDGs that brought

MIGIRO:  Yes, it was very interesting, yeah.  Sure.

QUESTIONER:  -- people together.

I wonder to what extent, since it's clearly a large problem, to what extent do U.N. agencies and U.N. partners all focus in their conversations with government at different levels, whether you talk at UNDP, talking at one level, or UNITA talking about industrial development, talk about that same issue as being necessary, the legal framework being in place before you can really have significant investment, and that you could continue to empower local business people.

COLEMAN:  Okay, why don't we take those three.

MIGIRO:  Okay.  Sexual violence, and what the United Nations is doing.  The United Nations has been working with governments through its entities.  You have mentioned, somebody has mentioned, the UNIFEM is one of those.  But even UNSPA, UNDP, all these do have programs that address violence against women in different situations.

There are countries that are not at war, they are not at conflict, but still there is sexual abuse.  And here you have UNIFEM, UNDP, who have been working on the ground with member states.  But in the context of conflict and post-conflict countries through peacekeeping there are plans -- there have been programs to address this question.

You have talked about Kenya in particular, which is a recent case, but we have DRC, we have Sudan, we have Cote d'Ivoire, all these have been affected.  And as I say, there has been an attempt through the peacekeeping missions.  There is a particular program that addresses sexual violence.  But for Kenya in particular the U.N. has been working through the United Nations country team and humanitarian agencies to address the question of violence against women.

But we take this to be a very serious problem.  And it is some sort of, should I say, something like a chronic malaise, which you see.  In recent years, it has taken very high -- high proportions, particularly in the context of conflict.  But this is something that we have put our heads together to work on.

And the -- as I say, the campaign of the secretary-general is one of these attempts to highlight this problem, and to call for action around this.  But this is something that the U.N. has to do closely within the system, but also working together with a civil society, and empowering the communities.  I shouldn't say empowering women alone because the violence takes men and women, and we have to do that.

But we do also have a program to see how we can work on a more sustainable basis through what we call rule of law activities, so that you have issues of the laws being addressed, but institutions like -- like the judiciary, the police and so on, so that there is some sort of an all-around dealing with the question of violence against women.

And this is violence, generally, but violence, sexual violence against women and children.  And this is being coordinated within the United Nations system.

The progress on gender parity, this is an area where we are really critically challenged, because statistics have shown that the higher you go, the lesser the -- the fewer the women that there are.  And we have right now been instructed by what we call the policy committee, actually the Office of the Deputy Secretary-General, to work around a strategy that would ensure that we reach the goals.

The goals are there.  The resolutions are there.  The challenge is in really taking concrete action to ensure that we -- we have women there, and we will retain -- we retain them, and to put in place a mechanism which would nurture -- because you have to have women going up the ladder.  We do have women coming, those who are a few maybe appointed by the secretary-general, but we think a more sustainable way is to have conditions that would ensure first of all some sort of equality to opportunities.  You link it up with training, and to create an environment which will retain women in those positions.

And we are doing very well in the area of gender parity.  We have it up to a certain level.  But I think from the position of Director 1 -- D1 -- upwards, the numbers are not very good.

The secretary-general has been taking concrete action in this area, and particularly for field appointments.  But we haven't made much progress there.  It is something that we are working on, and I really wish we could do better.  But recently, when the secretary-general signed the compact with managers, he has this system of having a compact where managers would pledge what they would do within a certain period of time.  And one of the parameters that was put in the compact was to ensure gender equality and gender balance.

Even that will not be the panacea.  Many other things have to be done as I say in the area of training and in harmonizing conditions of service, so that both men and women are attracted, but more so women because of the challenging nature of some of the work that is being done by the U.N. personnel.

The area of legal framework, this is important.  You have talked of land, and in many -- in many countries, women do not have access to land, which is the major form of property ownership.  And it's a source of funding as well, because you can mortgage a piece of land or you can mortgage immovable property.  But the legal framework is critical in this in ensuring ownership.  But the question of this property being turned into guarantees or into collateral.  And through as I say this program of rule of law activities, this is an area that will be looked at.

We have various entities of the U.N. having their own legal activities in the area of rule of law.  Now we need to coordinate this so we have a systemwide set of rule of law activities which would look at issues of property ownership, in particular, women's rights, human rights and so on.  And we think that will help.

But we do know also that there have been -- there have been other initiatives to look at -- at the question of legal framework with a view to using it as a means of empowering.  There have been -- which is the commission which worked on this -- commission on -- (off mike consultation) -- yeah, there has been a commission -- is it a commission? -- yeah, there has been a commission of the legal empowerment of the poor that we intend to work together with.  It is not part of the United Nations, but they have been briefing us of their work, and we think we are developing interest in that area, because we think legal empowerment will contribute a lot to even fulfilling MDG-1, which is about eradication of poverty and reduction of hunger.

COLEMAN:  Any last questions here?  Just one last question.

QUESTIONER:  I'll try to make it short.  My name is Bill Butler.  I'm chairman emeritus of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, Switzerland.  And we're very happy to have you here today.  The founder of your country was a very close friend of mine, and -- when he was a school teacher, before he even went into the country, to teach the Bantus how to perform under international law.

MIGIRO:  Oh, when was that?

QUESTIONER:  This was a long time ago.  (Laughter)  But at any rate --

COLEMAN:  A quick question, thank you.

QUESTIONER:  -- maybe this question should be posed to you, Madame Chairman, because I came here today because I thought we were going to talk about U.S. foreign policy and the United Nations, and I've heard very, very little about that while I'm here.  But a quick summation in about two or three seconds is that we have serious problems with the United Nations vis-a-vis U.S. foreign policy.  This whole issue of the reform of the U.N. by changing from the Human Rights Commission to the Human Rights Council is giving us a lot of trouble in the international community.  And as you well know, the United States has chosen not to join the Human Rights Council.

And not only that but it has refused to support the International Criminal Court Treaty, it's violated its obligations under international law to support these kind of treaties, and has entered into bilateral agreements with states to -- under the threat of economic sanctions.

COLEMAN:  We're almost out of time, so just the quick question.

QUESTIONER:  Well -- I don't know.  But I think -- I think you shouldn't avoid these issues of U.S. foreign policy.  That's why we're here at the Council for 45 years or 50 years; we're talking about U.S. foreign policy here.  And then --

COLEMAN:  But let's get --

QUESTIONER:  -- and then the whole issue of the social, economic and cultural rights that does not get the support of the United States.  All of these things, I think, cripple the ability of the United Nations to function, and I'd like your view on that including the doctrine of universality.

MIGIRO:  Well, he said that he was addressing the question to you. (Laughter.)

COLEMAN:  That is a good diplomat.  I think the reason we didn't focus on U.S. foreign policy here is because Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro doesn't make U.S. foreign policy.  Yes -- I mean, I think you're right, the U.S. has decided to not work closely, cooperatively, on a lot of international issues.  And we have an election in November, and that is one of our big electoral issues.  And we'll see if things change.

I think that you have some ideological issues that may be tempered, but you also have some underlying fundamental issues that will not.  And in the next administration, some of these very same issues will continue.

But let us thank Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro so much for giving your views here on the U.N., on the Millennium Development Goals, and on the many development challenges that -- that we face here.  So thank you. (Applause.)

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