The September 11 terrorist attacks had an immediate impact around the world, and for the world organization responsible for maintaining peace and security, the United Nations.
Within two hours of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the U.N. headquarters was evacuated.
The following day, amid heightened security, the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly proceeded to adopt almost identical resolutions strongly condemning the attacks, and saying nations that harbor terrorists must be held accountable.
At first, it was the hope of the United Nations, as well as the United States, that armed conflict could be avoided. Appeals were issued for the Taleban rulers in Afghanistan to comply with previous U.N. Security Council resolutions and turn over Osama bin Laden. On September 18, Council President Jean Levitte of France made the demand clear. "Today, there is one and only one message the Security Council has for the Taleban," he said. "Implement the resolutions of the Security Council ... immediately and unconditionally."
Ten days later, the Security Council unanimously approved a sweeping anti-terrorism resolution with a major emphasis on eliminating international financial resources for terrorist groups. The council also established a committee to monitor compliance.
The following Monday, the U.N. General Assembly began a week-long debate on terrorism. Every speaker condemned terrorism. But some, especially representatives from Arab nations, said a distinction should be drawn between terrorism and resistance to foreign occupation.
In a break from tradition, the General Assembly session began, not with a speech from a member of the United Nations, but with an appearance by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The mayor's leadership in the weeks following the September 11 attacks had been widely admired, not only in New York and the United States, but around the world. In his speech, Mayor Giuliani said terrorism is at odds with the very reason for the United Nations.
"This organization exists to re-affirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the practice of tolerance and to live together in peace as good neighbors and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security," said Mayor Giuliani. "Indeed, this vicious attack places in jeopardy the whole purpose of the United Nations."
The fact that terrorism had struck so hard in New York City had an emotional impact at the United Nations headquarters. Staff members collected money for victims' families, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan conveyed the message that, although an international organization, the United Nations is a member of the New York community.
To pay tribute to the 343 firefighters who died in the attacks, Mr. Annan and his wife Nane visited a New York firehouse just three blocks from U.N. headquarters.
When military action began against the Taleban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, there was virtually no criticism from U.N. members. Most accepted the U.S. position that it was acting under a provision in the U.N. charter that allows member-nations to act in self defense.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has repeatedly stated that, since terrorism is a global problem, the United Nations is the logical institution to coordinate the fight against terrorism. Meeting with reporters a month after September 11, Mr. Annan said the broad Security Council resolution against terrorism can be a very important tool.
"The fight [against terrorism] can only be won if each member state plays its part," said Mr. Annan. "I think the Security Council has given us a very good basis and a foundation for moving forward toward the coalition we are trying to build."
Mr. Annan said if all nations do what the Security Council has mandated, "we can win" the fight against international terrorism.
Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001