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Thoughts on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of UN-OHRLLS

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, first Under-Secretary-General and High Representative, UN-OHRLLS (2002-2007)

Fifteen years have gone by since OHRLLS came into existence as an entity of the UN family! To me it seems like the other day when Secretary General Kofi Annan asked me to head this new Office created by the mandate of the General Assembly in December 2001. Though the Office came into existence formally on 1 January 2002, in reality its physical existence began taking shape when I joined in March of that year as its first formally recruited staff. Thereafter, it was my endeavour to put the structure together, articulate its agenda and mission with needed specificity and build partnerships.

Though the Office came out basically of the efforts of the Group of 77 and China at the Third LDCs conference in Brussels, the General Assembly added the landlocked developing countries and small island developing states to its mandate making it the champion of the most vulnerable countries of the world. Though the budget and staff size was miniscule compared to the mandate of the Office, I was teased as having the longest title in the UN system. Keeping in mind the origin of the idea for the Office, the acronym OHRLDC started getting circulation. But from the outset my objective was to give the three groups of countries in especially difficult situations equal prominence and attention – that way, LLS was thought of to represent the three groups. To give a visual identity to the Office, its original logo with three overlapping globes representing three groups was my design.

I continue to believe strongly that the work of the OHRLLS needs to profile the cause of the three groups with equal emphasis. As head of OHRLLS, I was the Secretary-General of the two global conferences which adopted the Almaty Programme of Action for the LLDCs and the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation for SIDS, in addition to the five-year midterm review of the Brussels Programme of Action for LDCs.
The role OHRLLS could play became evident when in the second month of my joining in April 2002 when I could intervene to put the special needs of the three groups in the MDGs targets launched for the UN system though everything was already agreed upon beforehand. This lesson became my driving force to make tactical interventions at the right time and place with the full knowledge of the UN system functionality to achieve worthwhile profile for our mandate. I call this operational capacity as “doing more with less”. Now of course things have changed in a big way with increase in the budget and staff – but simultaneously, expectations of the Office has also expanded. My successors Ambassador Diarra of Mali and Ambassador Acharya of Nepal have pursued its agenda with energy and enthusiasm.

I believe three major focus of OHRLLS should be:

– to consider its mandate as a “mission”, not as a “job description” – each staff member led by the High Representative should internalize real sensitivity to the cause they are championing rather than endlessly repeating mere statistics;

– to find ways to overcome the system-wide, particularly at the senior management levels, inexplicable apathy which still pervades for these most vulnerable countries; and

– to put women at the center of its advocacy agenda as that will yield best results for sustainable human development of these countries.

With nearly 90 countries – 40% of the UN membership – under OHRLLS mandate, its 15th anniversary should make all of us proud of the opportunity to speak up for cause of the world’s most vulnerable and be the voice for the voiceless millions!

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