7 August 1998


Problems without Passports Need Blueprints without Borders

Following is the text of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement delivered today at the Third World Youth Forum of the United Nations System, Braga, Portugal:

I am very pleased to be with you today. The global outlook that gatherings such as this can inspire is indispensable in today's world. The issues that will confront us in the twenty-first century -- be it the environment, drugs, pandemics, or sustainable development -- are issues that cut across all frontiers. This is the message the United Nations is trying to send to the world. Yet, too many people are still thinking in local terms, constrained by national boundaries.

By being here, all of you have shown that your generation can transcend such narrow confines and think in much broader terms. For that, I wish to offer you my sincere congratulations.

The challenges of our age are problems without passports; to address them, we need blueprints without borders.

Young people will be responsible for those blueprints in the next century. You are the leaders of the 21-st century. I am pleased that you have already started to think about how you will shoulder that responsibility.

President Kennedy once said that "the youth leaders of today are the youth leaders of tomorrow". I suspect that the jibe was unfair even in the days of the cold war. But what I am sure of is that your generation will prove it wrong. Many of you will take up real leadership positions throughout your lives in public service in civil society and in the private sector.

In this changing world of new challenges, we need, more than ever before, dedicated and talented individuals to enter public service. More than ever before, we need people like you sitting here today, to make the choice of service to humankind.

It is not an easy choice to make. Some of you may be put off by the perceived weakness of public institutions of our day; some of you may be tempted by the immediate gains offered by the private sector.

To the first, I would say: joining a winning team is an easy option.

It is precisely when an institution, a cause, is struggling to find its way that it needs the support of the best and most courageous people.

To the second, I would say: the reward of working in the service of humanity goes far beyond material gain; it is the reward of knowing that one person -- you -- can truly make a difference.

My friends, you have already shown that rather than waiting for the future, youth organizations have an important task in working with governments in addressing the challenges of today's world.

You are, in fact, showing what it means to intervene to change the world for the better.

When we think of intervention, we tend to think of armies, alliances and organizations. But intervention can mean many things. Yes, a military alliance can intervene when instability threatens a region.

But there is also a more civic, peaceful, form of intervention.

Sceptics may say, what difference can young people like you make in the face of giant corporations, ecological threats and organized conflict?

I know that you can make a big difference. Take the International Campaign to Ban Landmines -- the driving force behind last year's treaty to ban the production, stockpile, export and use of these abominable weapons. The Campaign demonstrated that there are no limits to what civil society can achieve in partnership with governments.

A growing awareness among ordinary people, many of them young like yourselves -- a grass-roots movement of conviction matched by courage -- made governments acknowledge that the cost of landmines far outweighed the need to use them.

Propelled by the demands of citizens everywhere, promoted tirelessly by regional and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the elimination of landmines became truly a global cause.

How did they do it? One thousand NGOs in 60 countries were linked together by one unbending conviction and one weapon that would ultimately prove more powerful than the landmine: E-mail.

Or more recently, look at the role of civil society in advocating the establishment of an effective and just International Criminal Court. The NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court brought together a network of hundreds of NGOs and international law experts to develop strategies and foster awareness. Their efforts paid off when we witnessed the signature of the ICC statute in Rome three weeks ago. Again, a key to their network was e-mail and the World Wide Web.

Thus, the information revolution has transformed civil society beyond all recognition. It has empowered it to be a true guardian of democracy and good governance everywhere. Oppressors cannot hide behind their borders any longer.

A strong civil society, bound together across all borders with the help of modern communications, will not let dictators hide -- a civil society that is driven by the subnational forces and bound together by supranational forces.

Young people, who have the skills to master the technology of the future and the energy to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, are the spearhead of that new civil society.

It stands to reason that the relationship between the United Nations and civil society has also had to change beyond all recognition. Under the reforms that I introduced last year, all substantive departments of the United Nations have designated NGO liaison officers to facilitate access to the Organization, thus bringing the UN closer to the people and the young.

At the country level, where appropriate, the United Nations system is creating more opportunities for tripartite cooperation with civil society.

Young people's voices will be heard. I promise you that. The General Assembly earlier this year adopted a resolution urging Member States to consider including youth representatives in their delegations to relevant meetings at the United Nations. I am pleased that the Action Plan you have adopted during this Forum will be presented to the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon tomorrow.

At the General Assembly special session to combat illegal drugs last June, I made the point that young people hold the key.

I was presented with an action plan by a group of young people who work on the front lines of the fight against drug abuse. At their request, I circulated the document to the heads of all Member States of the UN.

In this fiftieth anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations equally depends on you, the young. Ensure those rights, which know no distinctions of race, nationality, creed, gender -- or, I might add, age these are truly the rights of all people.

Friends, the challenges seem endless. But so are the opportunities ahead of us. How to seize them has little to do with our origins; but it speaks volumes for our character.

I ask you to act on your ideals; explore new frontiers where older, wiser, more cautious people might not. Failure is part of success; if you don't fail now and then, it probably means you are not pushing hard enough.

Courage does not mean lack of fear, for only the foolish are fearless; it means doing things in spite of your fear. Confront those fears, take risks for what you believe, for it is only then you will find what you are capable of; you will discover that even though your opponents may try to hurt you, they can never break you. Go out and make your difference to the world. Boa sorte.

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