26 June 2000


Press Release
SG/SM/7464



SECRETARY-GENERAL, IN ADDRESS TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION, SAYS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC WELFARE NOT SEPARATE CONCEPTS

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Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the General Assembly special session “World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for All in a Globalizing World” in Geneva on 26 June:

We must all agree that the World Summit for Social Development in 1995 was indeed ahead of its time. Events since then have confirmed its central insight, which I believe can be stated in two closely related propositions:

-- First, economic growth, if it is to be broad-based and sustainable, requires investment in people -- their health, their education and their security; and

-- Secondly, essential though it is, growth will not, by itself, guarantee that most people in a country have the chance to live lives of dignity and fulfilment. A healthy society is one that takes care of all its members and gives them a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

No one must be discriminated against. No one must be obliged to conform to an official culture, or denied the right to associate with others to defend their particular identity or interests.

In short, social and economic welfare are not separate concepts. Without economic prosperity, no country can provide for all the social needs of its citizens. But nor can any country be called truly prosperous so long as many of its citizens are left to fend for themselves against ignorance, hardship and disease.

Nor yet can any country achieve prosperity by subordinating all social concerns to the achievement of a few quantitative benchmarks. What matters in the last resort is the quality of life -- a big part of which is the feeling that you belong freely to your society, and that it also belongs to you.

These conclusions apply to rich and poor countries alike, but they are especially significant for the global debate on development. In that context, they have been advocated for years within the United Nations, but are now much more widely accepted by other multilateral organizations.


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It is surely a sign of the times that this very afternoon I shall be launching a new report, “A Better World For All”, which we have co-signed with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Co- operation and Development. It is the first time ever that the four main international bodies concerned with development have together reviewed progress towards the internationally agreed goals for reducing extreme poverty, and have articulated a common vision of the way forward.

Just ahead of us is the Millennium Summit, which will take place in September at United Nations Headquarters -- the largest gathering of heads of State and government the world has ever seen. If the spirit of Copenhagen can be maintained here in Geneva, I have every hope that it will be further strengthened in New York.

In the Report, which I have presented for consideration by the Summit, I put great emphasis on social objectives. I believe they should not be seen as adjuncts to the struggle against worldwide poverty, but as integral parts of that struggle. If social problems are not tackled the world over, society as a whole will not function properly -- and poverty will not be defeated, either.

Fifteen years from now, will there still be tens of millions of primary school-age children who are not at school?

Will tens of millions of young people of both genders still be searching unsuccessfully for work?

Will small children and pregnant women still be dying every minute from malaria and other preventable diseases?

Will young people still be contracting and spreading the HIV virus because they do not know how you catch it or how to avoid it? And will treatment for AIDS still be priced far beyond the means of those suffering from it in developing countries?

Will whole regions of the world, and large groups even in the richest societies, still be condemned to live on the margins of the global economy?

Will most people throughout the developing world still be left out of the new universe of mobile phones and the Internet, while the industrialized world, with a few enclaves in the South, rushes further and further ahead, using even newer technologies that none of us here has yet heard of?

And will many societies still be polarized along lines of ethnicity, race or class -- prone to outbursts of group hatred and even violence?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, we shall not be able to claim convincingly that we are winning the battle against human misery, even if -- as I firmly hope -- we have succeeded in halving the proportion of people living on one dollar a day or less.


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And that brings me to the question of resources. You are absolutely right, Mr. President, to raise that issue -- an issue which we shall address in its broadest dimensions next year, at the planned global meeting on financing for development.

It is only natural that the poor countries of the world, which have so few resources of their own, should look for help to the rich ones.

Many of those rich countries have acute social problems of their own. But none of them can be indifferent to the social conditions in which so many people in poor countries live. Such extreme squalor is an affront to our common humanity. We are all impoverished if the poor are denied opportunities to make a living. And it is within our power to extend these opportunities to all.

I have said it in my Millennium Report, and I say it again here: the rich countries have an indispensable role to play -- by further opening their markets, by providing deeper and faster debt relief, and by giving more and better-focused development aid.

But those changes are less likely to come, and will bring few real benefits even if they do come, unless the leaders and peoples of developing countries show real determination to mobilize their own resources -- above all, their own human resources -- to deal with their own social problems.

The case for making extra resources available, through debt relief and increased development aid, can be made compellingly when it is clear that those resources will indeed be used to provide social services which benefit the poor. But it is hard indeed to make that case when there is reason to think that extra resources may be used to purchase weapons, or to raise the standards of living of an already privileged elite.

Similarly, Mr. President, more open markets can only benefit countries, which are able to supply those markets, at competitive prices, with goods that people want to buy. That means countries, which, by good governance and sound economic policies, have created a propitious climate for investment, both domestic and foreign. Those, which are racked by conflict, or held back by unnecessary regulations, or plundered by unaccountable officials, will benefit little from economic assistance whatever form it takes.

Let me conclude by saying how glad I am that this session is being held now. There could not be a better time to focus on the real social problems facing the human race, and on the most effective ways of tackling them. I wish you a very serious and productive session. I look forward eagerly to your conclusions. And I hope that they, in their turn, will influence the deliberations of the Millennium Summit in New York this September."

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