8 August 1998

'A SOCIETY THAT CUTS ITSELF OFF FROM ITS YOUTH
SEVERS ITS LIFELINE',
SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS WORLD CONFERENCE

Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annanīs statement to be delivered today at the opening of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth:

Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Thank you, Mr. President, for your important message. It is a privilege for me to open this important gathering. The responsibility of ministers for youth is a heavy one, for it is you who are charged with preparing young people and future leaders for the challenges of the next century. Even more important, you have a duty to make them look at their future not as dark and ominous, but as rich in exciting opportunities.

You have a mission to open up for them a maximum of perspectives and possibilities, for it is young peopleīs hope and energy, their enthusiasm and willingness to experiment, that makes society move forward.

The topics you will be addressing at this Conference lie at the heart of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond, adopted by the United Nations in 1995. Education, employment, health, the fight against drug abuse -- they are fundamental aspects of human security that will determine the ability of young people to live and strive in this world.

All young people, wherever they may live, whatever the stage of development of their society, aspire to lead full and productive lives.

But a growing number of them face unemployment, insecure livelihoods, homelessness, social exclusion and ethnic prejudice.

These scourges of the modern age are the enablers of uncivil society. They constitute an all too fertile breeding ground for drug abuse, violence, common and organized crime.

Our best defence is education and training -- not only in the indispensable "three R's", but also the nowadays equally indispensable skills of information technology, and the indispensable tools of a global outlook. These are crucial to their professional lives, but also to their personal well-being.

Every generation has a sacred mission to prepare its children to play their role as citizens. You are at the front line of that mission.

My many years of service at the United Nation have convinced me that the first ingredient of political stability is an informed citizen; that the first ingredient of economic progress is a skilled worker; and that the first ingredient of social justice is an enlightened human being.

We are witnessing the emergence of an ever more active and vociferous global civil society, empowered and bound together by the tools of modern information technology. This is changing the very nature of government.

Good governance is a concern not only for the developing nations and emerging democracies. It presents all nations with the challenge of ensuring communication and interaction between the governing and the governed. It has to be a two-way street. We all have a duty to ensure that "reasons of State" -- so often used in the past as a euphemism for arbitrary power -- become true reasons -- reasonable answers to the questions and needs of civil society.

In that interaction, the voices of young people must be heard loud and clear. At the United Nations, we are trying to ensure that they are. The General Assembly earlier this year adopted a resolution urging Member States to consider including youth representatives in their delegations to relevant meetings of the United Nations.

Yesterday I attended the World Youth Forum -- a splendid example of young people coming together to work out their own agenda, without waiting for governments to tell them what to do. They have produced an Action Plan, which will be presented to you here. I hope you will consider very seriously the items and suggestions it contains.

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

There, too, 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. And at their request, I circulated the document to the heads of all Member States of the United Nations.

My friends, no one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.

You are the guardians of that lifeline. Nurture it; develop it; give it strength. I hope your exchanges here will inspire you to new and imaginative approaches. I thank you all.

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