The Broader View: “We felt it was the end of the cold war”

14 December, 2011
Former OCHA's USG Jan Eliasson
Former OCHA's USG Jan Eliasson

Twenty years ago, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, 46/182, to establish a global humanitarian system. The resolution called for governments and aid agencies around the world to work together to deal with the rising number of crises.  Two decades on, that system is more important than ever.

Jan Eliasson, Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s working group on emergency relief and Vice President of ECOSOC, played a critical role in the negotiations to agree the resolution. It was a heady time in international affairs, as the Cold War drew to a close. He recalls the make-or-break final moment, on the night of 18-19 December, 1991.

I knew that if I hadn’t worked through that night, we would have missed perhaps a year of getting the mandate. And I was thinking of Somalia, I was thinking of the Balkans.

I needed, we needed, that instrument at the UN, so I didn’t give up. We knew this was the absolutely last chance.

It was only at 1.30 or so in the morning that the parties came back, from internal deliberations, for an hour or so. The G77 on the one hand, and the European Union on the other.

They came into the room – and they kept their faces straight. I didn’t know if it was a yes or no. They sat down, and then there was the two yeses.

And once that happened there was a spontaneous applause in the room. And great relief. People hugged each other. We felt in a way that was the end of the cold war. Here we were, finding common ground on the humanitarian imperative.

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