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UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson
UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW:

MARY ROBINSON UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER OCTOBER 14TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST:

For those of you just joining us now at just after nine o'clock, we did start early this morning at 8.30 and that was because of the golf later on this morning on BBC1, that's the explanation of that. Now the war on terrorism is impacting on many lives around the world but none more so perhaps than the people of Afghanistan. Winter's just around the corner, those that choose to stay face famine, the dangers of a combat zone, those that flee could end up living in ramshackle refugee camps. The question is are the countries that make up the Alliance doing all they can to ensure adequate aid will reach them in time. Joining me now from Geneva, live from Geneva is the United Nations High Commissioner, charged with overseeing the organisation's policy on Human Rights, that's Mary Robinson, Mary good morning.

MARY ROBINSON:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

There was a story, as you know I'm sure, there was a story that you had said that there needed to be a pause, or a halt in the bombing in order to get more aid into Afghanistan and Clare Short responded angrily that that wasn't your business, or whatever, did you in fact say that Mary?

MARY ROBINSON:

I was speaking in the context of having heard that President Bush was offering the Taliban a second chance to hand over Osama bin Laden, I'd heard that on the early CNN news and I thought that that implied that there would be a pause and so what I said was that that would be very welcome because there is an urgent need to provide huge humanitarian relief, the world's food programme calculate that it's necessary to get something like 56,000 tonnes of food into Afghanistan. Now there are a few convoys getting in, the World Food Programme yesterday got a convoy in, I just heard that Unicef got a convoy into Kandahore and into the north but these are very little in the context of, as you said, winter closing in on about the 15th or 16th of November. It is a very, very urgent situation.

DAVID FROST:

But you didn't say you wanted a pause in the bombing?

MARY ROBINSON:

Well I would be very pleased if there were to be a pause because that would allow the kind of very urgent and widespread humanitarian relief to go in and to all parts of Afghanistan and particularly to the centre. It had been thought that a lot of refugees would come across the borders to Pakistan and Iran but the borders are closed so you have millions of people, they say up to seven million at risk, it's almost like a Rwanda-style problem. Are we going to preside over deaths from starvation of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people this winter because we didn't use the window of opportunity before winter closes, that's, that's the problem.

DAVID FROST:

Clare Short was quoted as saying that the aim is to deliver 1,000 metric tonnes a day for the next five weeks and if the aid operation meets this target she says there will be enough food to store in the warehouses to help people get through the winter, do you think that's true?

MARY ROBINSON:

I sincerely hope she's right, I only know that there is huge concern of the humanitarian agencies, I had two colleagues in Islamabad last week, they've just returned, they were looking at the human rights dimension but then, you know the right to food, the right to shelter are basic human rights, they're part of securing the right to life and there is great concern. It's very hard to get convoys of food in when there is a military campaign, some of the roads are necessarily being damaged. I hope, I mean I know that Clare Short has a great, in both knowledge and commitment in this area and I admire the work that she does and that it does, we're not on different sides but I am very concerned and I have to be in a position of exercising my responsibility. The human rights dimension is to the fore, also any military strategy must be proportionate, it must focus on military targets and it must also be proportionate to the needs and indeed the rights to life of the civilian population and part of that right to life is to secure food before the winter closes in and we do have very little time, we have, you know a month before harsh snows fall. I know that Unicef yesterday got clothes and blankets in for children but they, they know that this is not nearly enough.

DAVID FROST:

And what about, in terms of getting, getting food and help in, if there were ground troops as well, that would make it yet more difficult presumably?

MARY ROBINSON:

Yes it's very complex, you have the forces of the Northern Alliance which is an Alliance roughly of four ethnic groups which are not of the Pushtan majority population. There is a great fear also for the civilian population, if for example the Northern Alliance were to take Kabul at the moment the history of changes of territory in Afghanistan has been a history of massacres, the special rapporteur on Afghanistan, Dr Kamal Hossein will be reporting to the General Assembly about a massacre by the Taliban in January but before that there was a massacre by the Northern Alliance in various parts, we've been mapping out for the last few years, we've been making a road map of the massacres of civilians. So I think it's urgent that the United States and other forces that have big influence now in relation to this military campaign make it clear on behalf of the civilian population of Afghanistan that there would be no impunity in the future for massacres, that nobody should be massacred if there is a change in the power structure in Kabul. Obviously what everybody wants is to have a proper system of governance and I know that the UN is deeply involved in discussion about how to bring this about under the Secretary General's Special Representative Ambassador Brahimi.

DAVID FROST:

And could, could there be a UN protectorate, is that one way, one way you might solve things, because it's going to be very tough to take a country like Afghanistan straight to democracy isn't it?

MARY ROBINSON:

Absolutely and I know that President Bush has indicated that potentially there is a role for the United Nations and obviously the United Nations will have to take that responsibility. The important thing for the civilian population would be to have a broad-based inclusive structure, the former King, King Zahir Shah in Rome has announced that there will be a, a high level council with 120 members, this may be a broad-based structure but in the meantime the humanitarian urgency is there. I was the first, I think, to say publicly about the events in the United States on the 11th September, particularly in New York, but that amounts to a crime against humanity, an appalling killing of more than 6,000 innocent civilians, I went to ground zero, I, I met some of the families, I saw the kinds of support and the spirit and I start a whole sense of human rights from victims but I do not want to see a civilian population in Afghanistan as indirect victims of what happened on the 11th September. There's, there've been three years of famine in Afghanistan, there has been military conflict internally, now there is this military assault and I understand the reasons but we have to have as a priority the civilian population and their need to be secured for the coming winter and their need for food and shelter in particular, and medical supplies because they, they have more injured now, what's happening to them?

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much indeed, what indeed. Mary thank you very much, we're coming back to the studio to continue talking about Afghanistan here, but thank you very much for joining us and we hope to see you here soon.

END


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