ACTIVITIES OF SECRETARY-GENERAL IN SWITZERLAND, 8 – 11 DECEMBER
Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Geneva on Monday morning, 8 December.
His first meeting was with a teenager who had won an arts competition for the United Nations International Year of Freshwater. Fourteen-year-old Billy Driver, on behalf of the winners of the British-Swiss competition, presented the Secretary-General and Nane Annan with a book featuring their art work and poetry.
The Secretary-General then prepared for the World Summit on the Information Society and the World Electronic Media Forum. He received a briefing on the Summit and the Forum by the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, Yoshio Utsumi, and by other United Nationsofficials dealing with the Summit. He held other internal meetings, including with Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Peter Piot, his former Special Representative for Kosovo Bernard Kouchnerand Mohamed Sahnoun, his Special Adviser on Africa.
The Secretary-General began his day on Tuesday by participating in a high-level dialogue co-chaired by Swiss President Pascal Couchepin and Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum, on “Taking Responsibility in the Information Age”.
He then visited the new headquarters of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva before going to the Palais des Nations.
At the Palais, he gave end-of-the-year remarks to hundreds of United Nationsstaff members gathered in the Assembly Hall on issues ranging from staff security and United Nations reform to the importance of addressing the so-called “soft targets” such as poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation and infectious disease. He also took questions from the floor and mingled with staffers as he made his way out of the Hall.
He addressed the launch of the independent Global Commission on International Migration. “Our approach to migration will be an important test of our commitment to universal values, and of our capacity, as an international community, to cooperate for mutual advantage”, he said.
“The Commission’s work is, therefore, vital –- to countries of origin, countries of transit, countries of destination and the migrants themselves”, he said.
He added that he hoped that the Commission “will also point the way to a better institutional framework for handling migration at the global level”. (See Press Release SG/SM/9064.)
The Secretary-General had addressed the issue of migration in the Emma Lazarus Lecture on International Flows of Humanity given at Columbia University on 21 November 2003 (see Press Release SG/SM/9027).
The Secretary-General then had a brief tête-à-tête meeting with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.
The opening ceremony of the World Electronic Forum at the Palexpo Convention Centre was the first item on his afternoon agenda. He told the opening ceremony that “the digital divide is not just digital; it reflects wide disparities in freedom, in wealth, in power, and ultimately in hope for a better future”. He stressed the need for “an information society -– open and inclusive -– in which knowledge empowers all people and serves the cause of improving the human condition”. He added, “All over the developing world, as antennas and satellite dishes sprout across the landscape -– some of them placed there in defiance of the authorities –- we can see the immense thirst for connection. Let us show that we are listening, and that we are going to help them fulfill their dreams”. (See Press Release SG/SM/9062.)
A series of bilateral meetings were also held that day with Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan and El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon. Mr. Annan also met with Maurice Strong, Special Adviser and Rector of the University of Peace, and Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace.
On Tuesday evening, the Secretary-General attended the Official Welcome Ceremony of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) hosted by Swiss President Couchepin. He also attended a dinner held in his honour by the World Electronic Media Forum. In his remarks at the welcoming ceremony, Mr. Annan told participants that “if there is a single word, one overriding idea, that sums up why we are here, it is connections”. (See Press Release SG/SM/9068.)
As world leaders gathered on Wednesday to discuss how they can make sure that communication and information technologies benefit everyone, the Secretary-General started his day at the site of the World Summit on the Information Society by sending an e-mail message to children in more than 80 countries on the original World Wide Web server. The computer he used was the one that Time Berner-Lee, the inventor of the programmes that sparked off the World Wide Web, used to write the software in 1990.
“At that time, no one … could have dreamt that within a few years the Internet would connect millions of people all over the world in a blink of an eye”, he wrote in the message.
It went on to say “it’s good that on this day, the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you are exercising your right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas though any media and regardless of frontiers”.
“May this World Summit help us to see the world as a domain we all share”, the message concluded. (See Press Release SG/SM/9069.)
He then met with the Mayor of Lyon, Gerard Colomb, walked through the Summit-related exhibition at the Palexpo site, and met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before hosting a luncheon for the heads of State and government participating in the Summit.
At the Summit opening following the luncheon, the Secretary-General told the participants that it was “up to all of us to build an information society”.
Citing the “digital divide”, which he described as various gaps in information and communication technologies separating the world including a “technological divide”, a “content” divide, a “gender” divide and a “commercial” divide, he said, “We cannot assume that such gaps will disappear on their own…”.
“An open, inclusive information society that benefits all people will not emerge without sustained commitment and investment”, he went on to say.
“We look to you, the leaders assembled here, to produce those acts of political will”, he said, addressing the business community, civil society groups and media organizations.
He also reminded leaders that “even as we talk about the power of technology, let us remember who is in charge. While technology shapes the future, it is people who shape technology, and decide what it can and should be used for”.
“So let us embrace these technologies”, he concluded. “But let us recognize that we are embarked on an endeavour that transcends technology. Building an open, empowering information society is a social, economic and ultimately political challenge”. (See Press Release SG/SM/9070.)
The first of his bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Summit was one with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Following that meeting, the Secretary-General, together with Mubarak and the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Yoshio Utsumi, signed and transmitted an e-mail message inviting governments, business sectors, non-governmental organizations and the international community at large to support African development through their active participation in ITU “Telecom Africa 2004” to be held in Cairo in May 2004.
Other bilateral meetings held on Wednesday included those with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Ghanaian President John Kufuor and Romanian President Ion Iliescu.
At 6 p.m., a press encounter at the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations was held following the Secretary-General’s meeting with United Nations Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain, who had been named that day as acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq.
In answer to a question on the United States decision to exclude countries that did not support the invasion of Iraq from bidding for contracts, the Secretary-General stated his hope that unifying steps would be taken, “that bring us together to tackle the important issues in Iraq”. “Stability of Iraq is everyone’s business”, he said, “and we should pool our efforts and avoid steps and decisions that are divisive”.
Wednesday evening, he met with Enrique Cardoso, his Special Adviser and Chairman of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United NationsRelations with Civil Society.
On that same afternoon, Nane Annan cut a symbolic electronic ribbon to launch a Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), a joint venture of the United Nations, Ireland, Sweden and Canada.
“We need”, she said, “to ensure that men and women can participate fully in society, empowered with choices and opportunities. And having met so many young ones, their eyes glittering with hopes and dreams, I feel we have to do everything we can to help them turn those dreams into reality”.
On Thursday, 11 December, before departing to Germany, the Secretary-General met with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
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