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Secretary-General Kofi Annan's opening address to the fifty-third annual DPI/NGO Conference

I am delighted to be with you today. Let me at the outset thank the particularly distinguished speakers and panelists who are joining us this year. I am also honoured that my friend, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, has agreed to address the closing session of this conference, thus becoming the first serving President to address this annual event.

Let me especially welcome the non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, many of whom have travelled long distances and gone to great expense and made an effort to get here. I am pleased to see that those of you attending from developing countries are growing more numerous with every year.

And special greetings also to those who have made use of the wonders of new technology, to join us by video and webcast from around the world.

The presence of so many members of civil society in the General Assembly Hall is truly heartening. It brings home the fact that the United Nations is your United Nations.

We are meeting at a particularly exciting moment in the history of the Organization. In just over a week, the largest gathering of Heads of States and Government will convene, in this very chamber, for the Millennium Summit. I hope this unprecedented assembly of leaders will also produce an unprecedented level of leadership. This Summit offers an historic opportunity to start working together to improve the lives of all the peoples on this Earth. If ever there was a time for giving real meaning to the concept of political will, it is now, at the beginning of this new millennium. If ever there was an age when we need global partnerships, it is the globalizing age we live in today.

When you NGOs gathered in this Hall last May for the Millennium Forum, you gave us an example of the kind of leadership we need. And you made constructive proposals for action. The result was a Declaration and a Plan of Action which speaks eloquently and movingly about ways to address the biggest challenges of our time, from poverty to peace to the environment

The Forum's Declaration is not only a resounding expression of support for the United Nations from the peoples of the world; it also spells out an agenda very close to the set of objectives I have put forward to world leaders for consideration at the Summit. When it is circulated to the Summit participants as an official United Nations document, I hope they will read it as further encouragement to work for the goals we all want to meet.

This is only the latest example of how civil society, at the beginning of this new millennium, at the beginning of this new century, has grown into a truly global phenomenon. But at the same time, you NGOs are also raising serious concerns about some of globalization's negative aspects. Many of your misgivings are understandable; some of them I share myself.

It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the law of gravity. But that does not mean we should accept a law that allows only heavyweights to survive. On the contrary: we must make globalization an engine that lifts people out of hardship and misery, not a force that holds them down. We must build partnerships strong enough to make sure that the global market is embedded in broadly shared values and practices that reflect global needs, so that globalization can benefit all the world's people.

That means we must engage private corporations, which produce most of the wealth in the world today, in a search for something beyond short-term profit. And that is why last month, I brought together a group of leaders from business, international labour unions and NGOs in a Global Compact, challenging business to embrace and enact a set of core values in the areas of labour standards, human rights and the environment. And I see my good friend Juan Somavia is here from the International Labour Organization (ILO) -- I am sure he will tell you more later.

It also means we must bring on board the entities that exist to help manage the world economy, like the Bretton Woods institutions, in our global mission to reduce poverty. That is why the United Nations welcomes their decision to commit themselves to the targets for poverty reduction which were adopted at United Nations conferences over the past decade.

And it means we must ask all our partners to be transparent, so that the world can see that they are playing their part in full. That is where we look to the vigilance and energy of NGOs; where we need people like you.

We look to you to continue the leadership you displayed during the world conferences of the 90s, when you set the pace on so many issues. We look to your skills in advocacy and in action. We look to your experience in lobbying Governments to adopt policies, and in working with Governments as partners to ensure policies are implemented.

And we look to Governments to work in real partnerships with you. I know that you are not yet always listened to by Governments as much as you should be, either in your own countries or at the global level.

Here at the United Nations Secretariat, we have worked hard in the past few years to give you more information and support -- especially through information technology. That way, NGOs, wherever they may be, who have access to the Internet, would also be able to get the information we keep in this house. We shall continue trying to improve your access, though I know we shall sometimes fall short of your expectations. Ultimately, decisions about your level of participation will be up to Member States. I believe that in time, they will agree that our doors must be open. I will personally keep doing all I can to make this happen. I know you will do your part by cultivating transparency and professionalism in all you do.

But I also know that the relationship between the United Nations and civil society can never be measured merely by the number of NGOs attending global conferences, or participating in meetings at United Nations Headquarters. What matters even more is what happens out there, in the world and on the ground.

Whether your main activity is helping set policy at the global level, or working directly to help people; whether you work primarily in the developed or the developing world; whether your concern is the advancement of women or education, human rights, humanitarian assistance or health-- you have shown, time and again, a courage, a character and a vision that we must all admire. From debt relief to the landmine ban to the international criminal court, you have formed creative coalitions which give new meaning to the phrase "we the peoples".

I believe these global policy networks, capable of bringing together Governments, civil society and the private sector, are the most promising partnerships of our globalizing age. They work for inclusion and reject hierarchy. They help set agendas and frame debates. They develop understanding and disseminate knowledge.

They allow for stronger, broader consensus on new global standards. They help implement and monitor those standards once they are agreed. They raise public consciousness, and speak to our conscience.

The United Nations involvement with such networks has been extensive. We must now move forward, from largely unplanned interaction towards a more systematic approach -- while maintaining the flexibility that is one of civil society's greatest assets.

When NGOs join together in alliances of the like-minded, coalitions of common cause, and speak to us in a united voice, it helps us to help you. It is one of the ways we are learning how Governments, civil society and the private sector can work together most effectively. It is one of the ways we can strengthen the bonds of our global community.

For more than half a century, NGOs have been allies and supporters of the United Nations. As you have developed, so has our relationship grown. Today, you are our partners in every sense of the word, and you should be welcomed and treated as such.

Your voices will be heard, I promise you that. We in the Secretariat will be listening attentively. I am looking forward greatly to hearing about your deliberations and their outcome. Today, I thank you for listening to me, and I wish you a most stimulating and productive conference. Thank you very much.


59th Annual DPI/NGO Conference

26 January 2006 Planning Committee Meeting

Previous Planning Committee Meetings


Form 2006

22-23 Feb. 2006 Annual DPI/NGO Orientation

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