Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks at the MacArthur Foundation International Justice Award dinner

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, New York (USA), 20 March 2008

[As prepared for delivery] I am proud to join you this evening in honouring my friend, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

There is so much that can and should be said of my predecessor. Kofi Annan excelled at what I think I can now confirm is the most demanding -- and impossible -- job on earth. As Secretary-General, he set high goals for himself and for the United Nations, and inspired the world with his courage and vision. He led the Organization through highly challenging times and helped it come through with its head held high. He gave the United Nations new relevance to the lives of people around the world.

In his decade at the helm, he stood particularly tall for his contributions to international justice -- fighting to end impunity, to advance the rule of law, to protect the weak and vulnerable. We owe him a debt of gratitude that his efforts culminated in the establishment the International Criminal Court and the landmark acceptance of the principle of the responsibility to protect. These accomplishments make Kofi Annan an inspired choice for the inaugural MacArthur Foundation International Justice Award.

For me, they make him a hard act to follow. How can one succeed when one is succeeding Kofi Annan? Even before assuming office I feared his shoes would be too big to fill. And I wondered whether, one day, the United Nations ideals may come to be associated with me much as they are with him.

Yet, it is only now, having walked the proverbial mile in his steps, that I have come to appreciate the full measure of the man -- or, rather, having flown the 215,000 miles in my first year in office.

Kofi Annan gave the United Nations not only his term as Secretary-General, but a lifetime of service that remains without precedent. His grace and gravitas have become the stuff of legend. And his exceptional courage and imagination remains a font of inspiration to friends and former colleagues alike.

That is why, even today, the United Nations and the international community continue to turn to him. And he, of course, continues to deliver. As all of us prayed for a way to heal the divide among the people of Kenya; he made it happen. In doing so, he demonstrated that he needs no trappings of office to deliver on the work of the Secretary-General.

In fact, as I realize that the Secretary-General of the United Nations is constantly in demand in all places around the world, I sometimes feel I need an alter ego to stand in for me. On that score, I personally thank Mr. Annan for the time and effort he devoted to the negotiation in Kenya.

And this man makes it all seem easy -- admonishing dictators by day, charming Heads of States and royalty by night, putting out a crisis in the morning, receiving an award by evening. Indeed, Kofi Annan seems to attract honours the way Tiger Woods collects trophies -- the Nobel Peace Prize, the Soul Peace Award, the Fulbright Prize, the Zayed International Prize for the Environment and now the International Justice Award. He is unstoppable.

I can only hope that he will be kind enough to leave a few for the rest of us!

Kofi Annan is one of a kind and no one can replace him. What is more, it is not only his shoes that are impossible to fill, but his suits too. In bringing sartorial flair to the 38th floor, he proved that doing good and looking good are not mutually exclusive.

Secretary-General Annan, since I cannot compete with you on personal dress style, I am focusing on the bricks and mortar of the United Nations building instead. The project to renovate our entire Secretariat Building keeps me awake at night. One thing that keeps me going is the thought of how proud I will be to show you the new Headquarters complex when they are ready.

The United Nations buildings may change, but the Organization’s gratitude towards Kofi Annan will always stay constant. Please join me in a toast: to a man who succeeded in the most impossible job on earth, and who made it appear effortless at the same time.