This volume contains a selection of the contributions to an international conference held on 13-15 July 2011 at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. The conference was devoted to the legacy of Dag Hammarskjöld and the continued relevance of the principles he advocated. His term as the Secretary-General of the United Nations occurred when “the wind of change” was blowing across the African continent, and his approach to global justice, peace and security is widely viewed as exemplary.
The scholars, officials and political office-bearers that have contributed to this volume examine in historical perspective the values and norms Dag Hammarskjöld lived – and died – for. They go on to relate them to the current regional, continental and global policy challenges faced by both the United Nations and regional African organisations in terms of conflict mediation, the rule of law and international collective responsibility.more+/-
It was by no means coincidental that the death of the second Secretary-General of the United Nations half a century earlier was the original point of reference and departure for this event. Dag Hammarskjöld, and with him 15 other members of his entourage and crew, died on the night of 17-18 September 1961 in the wreckage of the DC6 aeroplane that crashed a few miles from the airport while approaching the Northern Rhodesian mining town of Ndola. He was to meet close to the border of the Congo with the leader of the Katangese secessionist movement, Moise Tshombe, in an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to the civil war, after earlier efforts by the United Nations to bring an end to the Katangese secession had failed dismally. The circumstances of the plane crash remain a matter of speculation, despite the findings of several official commissions of inquiry that it was most probably the result of pilot error. Too many questions remain to be answered satisfactorily, so it is no surprise that half a century later they resurface.
The legacy Dag Hammarskjöld created during his lifetime, however, transcends the efforts to reinvestigate the circumstances of his death. His ethics, his concept of solidarity, his sense of fundamental universal values and human rights in combination with his respect for the multitude of identities within the human family have lost none of their value and relevance, and neither have the standards he set in discharging his responsibilities as the world’s highest international civil servant and in playing a global leadership role. In particular, the way he defined and executed his duties with regard to the people of Africa can be confidently characterised as an act of international solidarity of a sort often painfully lacking today.
Hammarskjöld’s steadfastness in navigating the manifold international interests at play in the Congo and in seeking to implement his policies remains exemplary. He resisted all the efforts and pressures from the hegemonic states both in the East and West to give in. When the Soviet government and its allies campaigned for Hammarskjöld’s removal as a lackey of Western imperialism, he delivered his famous speech in the General Assembly in early October 1960, which included the following memorable lines:
It is not the Soviet Union or indeed any other Big Power who needs the United Nations for their protection, but all the others. In this sense, the Organisation is first of all their Organisation, and I deeply believe in the wisdom with which they will be able to use it and guide it. I shall remain in my post during the term of my Office as a servant of the Organisation in the interest of all those other nations, as long as they wish me to do so.
He continued to stay on course in the subsequent debates in the Security Council. On 13 February 1961, he stated in another response in the Security Council to continued demands for his resignation over the policy in the Congo:
For seven or eight months, through efforts far beyond the imagination of those who founded this Organization, it has tried to counter tendencies to introduce the Big-Power conflict into Africa and put the young African countries under the shadow of the cold war. It has done so with great risks and against heavy odds. It has done so at the cost of very great personal sacrifices for a great number of people. In the beginning the effort was successful, and I do not now hesitate to say that on more than one occasion the drift into a war with foreign-power intervention of the Korean or Spanish type was avoided only thanks to the work done by the Organization, basing itself on African solidarity. We effectively countered efforts from all sides to make the Congo a happy hunting ground for national interests. To be a roadblock to such efforts is to make yourself the target of attacks from all those who find their plans thwarted[…]From both sides the main accusation was a lack of objectivity. The historian will undoubtedly find in this balance of accusations the very evidence of that objectivity we were accused of lacking, but also of the fact that very many Member nations have not yet accepted the limits put on their national ambitions by the very existence of the United Nations and by the membership of that Organization.
Another instance of his even-handedness towards the big powers was shared by Sture Linnér (1917-2010) during his presentation of the annual Dag Hammarskjöld lecture in October 2007 in Uppsala. Linnér was at the time of Hammarskjöld’s death Under-Secretary-General in charge of the UN mission in the Congo. In July 1961, President J.F. Kennedy tried to intervene directly. Afraid that Antoine Gizenga, suspected of representing Soviet interests, would come to political power and then campaign for election as prime minister, Kennedy demanded the UN should prevent Gizenga from seizing office. If the UN did not comply, Kennedy intimated, the United States of America and other Western powers might withdraw their support from the UN. Reportedly, Hammarskjöld, in a phone conversation with Linnér, dismissed this unveiled threat with the following words: ‘I do not intend to give way to any pressure, be it from the East or the West; we shall sink or swim. Continue to follow the line you find to be in accordance with the UN Charter.’
Sture Linnér ended his Dag Hammarskjöld lecture with these words:
The Congo crisis could easily have provoked armed conflicts in other parts of Africa, even led to a world war. It was Dag Hammarskjöld and no one else who prevented that. And it is certain that for a suffering people he came to be seen as a model; he brought light into the heart of darkness.
Since then, African peoples, people and states have assumed more ownership over their affairs and achieved further emancipation from colonialism and the direct external influences imposed on their societies through the big powers. Some of the challenges they face today are the reference points for the conference contributions included in this volume. We have, however, also maintained the link to the Hammarskjöld legacy, which was the original intention of the conference. One of the striking features of the deliberations was indeed the extent to which so many of the participants could relate to the values and norms represented by the Secretary-General so long ago. The times have changed, as has the United Nations, but many of the daunting challenges then remain to be tackled today. We trust that the various dimensions and perspectives presented in the contributions to follow testify to the relevance of the United Nations, the legacy of Dag Hammarskjöld and the need for local and regional ownership in responsibly addressing the obstacles on the road to greater justice and equality in our world.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.4