Top UN officials tell world leaders it is time for action in fight against global woes

General Assembly President addresses press conference

12 November 2008 – The General Assembly President today told global leaders the world is facing its most difficult period since the founding of the United Nations and urged them to use their “moral strength” in finding solutions to the problems plaguing the Earth, such as global hunger, poverty and climate change.

Speaking to over 70 heads of State and high-level officials at the “Culture of Peace” gathering, Miguel D’Escoto said that the world must choose between the values of consumerism and greed, or social responsibility and ethical behaviour, including the economic and political spheres.

“The United Nations has very appropriately elaborated a complex agenda for making the world a better place,” Mr. D’Escoto said in his opening remarks to the two-day meeting in New York.

“But progress is too slow. We are running out of time, and do not seem to have the energy and conviction required to move any faster,” he added.

The Assembly plenary meeting at UN Headquarters – attended by heads of State and senior officials from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan, the United States, Bahrain, the United Kingdom and dozens of other countries – is an initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, aimed at hastening action on some of the most urgent challenges facing the world.

Mr. D’Escoto said that one of the most burning problems today is that half the world’s population suffers levels of poverty, malnutrition and hunger that violate their human rights and basic dignity despite humankind having the collective knowledge and the financial and technological resources to cure these afflictions.

“This is not only shameful, it is – to use religious terminology – downright sinful,” Mr. D’Escoto told delegates.

“We know that nothing short of heroic decisions and actions can awake us from our moral coma,” he added.

Mr. D’Escoto noted that social responsibility is a basic law in each of the world’s religions and in all ethical and philosophical traditions, but said that the dominant culture is guided by the spirit of selfishness and individualism.

Economic and political activity in this culture has no place for ethics and morals and the concepts of justice and fairness have no place within it, he said, adding that “the business of business is business.”

“This is the reason why wealthy nations have not been able to muster the political will to comply with even the minimal commitment to give 0.7 per cent of their GDP [gross domestic product] to help eradicate hunger and poverty from the world,” Mr. D’Escoto said.

The high-level conference in Doha, Qatar, on financing for development later this month is an opportunity to “translate these values into action,” Mr. D’Escoto noted, highlighting issues such as the goal of decent work for all and the need for inclusive financial sectors and microfinance structures.

He also underscored the need to improve international cooperation in tax matters, noting that billions of dollars that could be used for development are lost annually because individuals and corporations fail to pay their taxes. He also called on the Doha meeting to take steps in the effort to combat corruption, promote the rule of law, human rights, inclusive democracy and good governance.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting that as economies merge and boundaries disappear as a result of globalization, extremist ideologies are on the rise, societies are more polarized, anti-Semitism persists and Islamophobia has emerged.

“One of the great challenges of our time must now surely be to ensure that our rich cultural diversity makes us more secure, not less,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks to the meeting promoting inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace.

Mr. Ban outlined various UN initiatives aimed at promoting tolerance, understanding and cooperation among different peoples in an effort for greater global harmony, such as the UN Alliance of Civilizations, established at the initiative of Spain and Turkey.

Quoting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ralph Bunche, the Secretary-General said: “I have a deep-seated bias against hate and intolerance. I have a bias against racial and religious bigotry. I have a bias against war and a bias for peace. I have a bias that leads me to believe in the essential goodness of my fellow men, which leads me to believe that no problem of human relations is ever insoluble.”

Mr. Ban added his own words, saying “that is the only bias we can tolerate.”

President Shimon Peres of Israel, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Jordan's King Abdullah are among the dignitaries speaking to the Assembly today. President George W. Bush of the US and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown are among more than 30 high-level officials slated to speak tomorrow.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

General Assembly President voices hope that global meeting on values will spur action

Related Stories





More videos »


In-depth Interviews