The Annual Lectures were started by Action for UN Renewal part of Uniting for Peace in 1997. The 2012 will be the 16th Annual Erskine Childers lecture
The lectures were started after the untimely death of Erskine Childers, who was a long-standing, distinguished, UN diplomat and a staunch supporter of the organisation and its ideals, and wrote extensively for its reform.
Erskine Childers (1929-1996)
Erskine Childers was one of the radical thinkers and activist of the UN. Before joining the UN in 1967, he had a career as an independent writer and broadcaster on international political and development affairs,specialising in UN issues, serving for a while as a periodic consultant,including on a special mission to the Congo for the then UN SecretaryGeneral U Thant. In 1967, he joined the UN, working with many of the UN organisations at all levels and in all regions, including nine years in Asia and many positions with UNDP. He had a particular interest in problems of co-ordination, development and humanitarian operations and public communication and constituency-building.
He formally retired from the UN in 1989, after 22 years of service. But his lively interest continued, touring widely and lecturing and writing on UN matters as well as taking on a number of consultancies. In 1996, he became Secretary General of WFUNA, the World Federation of the United Nation Associations, dying suddenly five months later, shortly after giving a speech at its 50th anniversary Congress in Luxembourg. [Read more...]
2015 - Clare Short
I am honored to have been invited to deliver the Erskine Childers lecture for 2015 . Erskine
Childers devotion to the UN and commitment to reform to take forward the opportunities presented
by the end of the Cold War, is an inspiration to us all,. We should dedicate ourselves to follow in
his footsteps, to defend the principles on which the UN is built and to ensure that they are
implemented in reality.
2014 - Alfred de Zayas
The Human Right: To Peace- Foundation for a just International Order
I am honoured to deliver the Erskine Lecture 2014 in my capacity as Professor of International Law,
retired senior lawyer with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, former
Secretary of the UN Human Rights Committee, human rights consultant and decades-long ngo
activist. Please note that I do not deliver the lecture in my official capacity as UN Independent
Expert. For my official pronouncements as Special Procedures mandate-holder, I refer you to my
The topic of tonight’s lecture is dear to all of us, notably to our host Vijay Mehta, whose important book The Economics of Killing should be studied in every university. Highly praised by my friend Professor Richard Falk, this book reveals the links between business and war, between the militaryindustrial complex and the erosion of democratic governance. Indeed, when the interventionists say “human rights”, they actually mean money, the money that comes from the arms trade and the money that comes from obtaining contracts and concessions for the subsequent reconstruction of devastated lands; when they pretend that they want to bring freedom to other countries, they mean that exporting freedom will generate profit; when they claim that democracy must be protected by force, they again mean money; when they invoke the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, they mean money. Indeed, Modern Realpolitik has learned how to instrumentalize human rights rhetoric to pursue traditional geopolitics and economic imperialism. [Read more...]
2013 - Lecture was cancelled
2012 - Jan Pronk
"Peacekeeping: Acting as a Good Tailor When the Need Arises"
In his essay on UN peacekeeping, published shortly before his untimely death in 1996, Erskine Childers quoted United Nations Secretary-General Da Hammarskjöld, who had warned against a straight jacket approach (1). According to Hammarskjöld the UN ‘cannot afford, or usefully have, a wardrobe sufficiently rich and varied to be able to pick out just the right suit as the situation arises. It is much better to have the cloth and go into action as a good tailor quickly when the need arises’ (2). With ‘the cloth’ Hammarskjöld did not refer to the resources which the UN needed for peacekeeping, but to the UN mandate. Once country members had agreed on principles and procedures of decision making, each new peace-keeping operation could be cut to specific circumstances, while the Secretary-General would act as ‘good tailor’. [Read more...]
2011 - Henning Melber
"In a Time of Peace Which is No Peace"
It was D-Day exactly 67 years ago, when the allied forces landed at the shores of the Normandy. The offensive marked a turning point in the raging Second World War. On the ashes of Europe and Japan the founding fathers - with hardly any mothers, apart from Eleanor Roosevelt - established the following year in San Francisco the United Nations. The UN Charter was signed on 26 June 1945. Article 1.1. declares as its first purpose: “To maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the [Read more...]
2010 - Professor Sir Richard Jolly
"Inequality and the MDG's"
Erskine Childers made his mark in many places and many situations. He had a reputation for telling it as it is - with frankness, wit and humour, usually disrespectful humour. He made many contributions to UNDP and to the UN more generally. In the UN, in his beloved Ireland and in the world, he went where his professional skills and journalistic nose told him there was a story to be followed up, issues to be brought forward, mistakes to be exposed and errors to be put right. After that, he did not hold back - but told it as it is. Tonight, I want to try to do the same, ignoring the handicaps I have as an economist and a professor. I want to avoid the economist’s two handed approach to complexity and the professor’s tendency to take an hour to say the obvious. I want to tell it as I see it and feel it. [Read more...]
2009 - Mairead Maguire
"Saving Succeeding Generations from the Scourge of War"
Erskine Childers, UN diplomat and the son of the 4th President of Ireland in l993 in London, gave a lecture on ‘Strengthening the UN’ in which he said ‘the UN must become root-cause directed, not merely responsive’. I feel this is a challenge not only to the UN, but to each of us. It seems we spend a great deal of our time responding to one crisis after another. This is important as when people need help, be it a natural catastrophe or human-made one, it is necessary they receive it. The UN deserves congratulations in many instances as its many Humanitarian bodies undertake and provide excellent help in many situations. However, the UN is a global non-partisan organization of 192 member states, whose Charter’s preamble states that war shall be abolished, and it is mandated to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. [Read more...]
2008 - Lord Hannay of Chiswick
"Who Rules the World? Global Challenges and the Role of the UN in Peacekeeping, Human Rights and International Law"
It is a great privilege to be invited to give Action for UN Renewal’s Erskine Childers Memorial Lecture. One reason for that is personal. I was present in Luxembourg when Erskine Childers, who had just taken over as Secretary-General of the World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA), was struck down; and his life ended in such an untimely way. He was a man who did much for the cause of UN renewal and reform, both in partnership with Brian Urquhart and on his own. They brought forward, for example, the idea that the UN Secretary-General should be appointed for a single, seven-year, non-renewable term, a proposal which I still believe would be worth pursuing. He quickly grasped the fact that the end of the Cold War presented the UN with a massive opportunity, but one for which it was not well-equipped or well-organised to take advantage. So it is fitting that we should pay tribute to him in this way; and that we should discuss a range of subjects to which he would have made a much more effective contribution that I can hope to do. [Read more...]
2007 - Kate Allen
"The Growth and Importance of Individual Action and its Increasing Influence in the Field of Human Rights and United Nations Reform"
2006 - Professor Philippe Sands QC
"The United Nations, Justice and the Rule of Law"
Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured by this invitation from Action for UN Renewal to deliver this lecture. My subject is a broad one, and I intend to address it by focusing in on one particular aspect in which the rules established by the United Nations have come to play an important role. The concept of ‘extraordinary rendition’ does not exist as a term of art in international law. You will not find it referred to to in any treaty or international instrument of which I am aware. Although not limited to the period since 9/11 (instances date back to 1998 at least), it has emerged [Read more]
2005 - Sam Daws
2004 - Jenny Tonge
"After Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq- What is the future for the UN?"
2003 - Caroline Lucas
"Crisis in the UN, NATO and the EU"
I am very honoured to have received the invitation to deliver the 2003 Erskine Childers lecture on Crisis in the UN, NATO and the EU – an ambitious title if ever there was one. And what better time to be delivering such a speech - despite the end of the Cold War we still live in a hugely dangerous and insecure world. Launching Amnesty International’s 2003 Annual Report, its Secretary General, Irene Khan, said that the American government's response to the 11 September 2001 attacks ‘far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights and undermining the rule of international law’.1 One of the key critiques of the Iraq war was that it would make global terrorism more likely, not less, and recent developments seem to be bearing out that verdict. [Read more..]
2002 - Denis J. Halliday
"The United Nations: the Embarrassment of International Law"
The United Nations should be working towards an international community living in peace under the aegis of international law. Although progress was made in its early years, notably in de-colonisation, with its membership increased from 50 to 189, major inequalities remain between its nations and their peoples. The Security Council, and in particular its five permanent members, has been guilty of double standards in enforcing international law. Investment should create prosperity and not increase demand for arms. Independent oversight of the UN, and particularly the SC, by civil society is needed. If the legitimacy of the UN is to be restored, the SC should become more representative, the power of the General Assembly restored, and the role of the International Court of Justice increased. All members of the UN, especially the P5, must respect international law as enshrined in the UN Charter and Conventions. [Read more...]
2001 - Paul Rogers
"The United Nations and the Promotion of Peace"
Despite the end of the Cold War, many other conflicts persisted in the 1990s. The hope that a peace dividend would help to alleviate poverty was replaced by doubts regarding the effects of free market globalisation and environmental constraints. Future concerns include the continuing aftermath of the Cold War, the increased destructiveness of modern warfare despite, the increased sophistication of modern weaponry, the widening poverty gap between a wealthy elite and the majority of the world’s population, and developing global economic and environmental threats. The response to all this should be economic co-operation for sustainable development, including trade reform, and radical change in the environmental impact of the industrialised countries. Yet it appears that the response of the US, and to a lesser extent Europe, is to maintain the status quo in its own interests by military means, an attitude that seems to have been reinforced by the events of 11 September 2001. Nevertheless, these developments are opposed by citizen groups in the developed world and by analysts in the South. The United Nations and its agencies have been at the forefront of analysis and proposals for action in many of these fields. Its role is likely to increase in the next thirty years, and it must be made as effective a global body as possible. [Read more...]
2000 - Margaret Anstee
1999 - Rosalyn Higgins
"To Save Succeeding Generations from the Scourge of War: The Role of the International Court of Justice"
The International Court of Justice is the judicial arm of the United Nations. It is the institution to which certain organs of the United Nations and certain specialised agencies may turn to seek legal advice. And it is the tribunal to which States may (indeed, according to Article 36 of the Charter, should) refer their legal disputes for resolution. The Court - which is the successor to the old Permanent Court of International Justice, functioning at the time of the League of Nations - has its seat in The Hague, in the remarkable Peace Palace. The provenance of the Court is both interesting and not widely known. In 1893 the Czar of Russia had proposed, against a background of deteriorating international relations, a Conference on Peace and Disarmament. The invitations went out [Read more...]
1998 - Patricia McKenna
"Who Rules? The United Nations: Democratic and Representative?"
The United Nations as presently constituted is undemocratic, unrepresentative and under-funded, and reform is urgently needed. All countries, not least the United States which owes half the UN debt, must pay their dues, but other sources of funding such as a levy on currency trading should be explored. Reform of the Security Council, though important, will be difficult to achieve, and the immediate priority must be to tackle the social and economic problems and abuses of human rights that underlie most conflict. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank must be returned to UN control and the influence of transnational corporations curbed. The increasing role of Non Governmental Organisations is welcome, and a People’s Assembly parallel to the General Assembly should be encouraged. [Read more...]
1997 - Razali Ismail
"The United Nations in the Twenty-First Century: Prospects for Reform"
The United Nations is in urgent need of reform, but there is no agreement on what should be done or how this can be achieved, particularly between the developed and developing countries, but also within the UN itself. In particular, the five permanent members and the developing countries differ over the future of the Security Council and the role of the veto. UN peacekeeping is over-stretched, and the member states need to reassess what it can and cannot be expected to do. The UN must work more closely with non- governmental organisations, as in the eradication of poverty and achieving sustainability. [Read more...]