"WE THE PEOPLES: THE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY" PRESENTED TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

3 April 2000
GA/9704

"WE THE PEOPLES: THE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY" PRESENTED TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

3 April 2000


Press Release
GA/9704


‘WE THE PEOPLES: THE ROLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE 21ST CENTURY’ PRESENTED TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY BY SECRETARY-GENERAL

20000403

Report Will Be Considered at Millennium Summit 6 to 8 September; Outlines Plan for Addressing Challenges Facing International Community

The United Nations mattered only to the extent that it could make a useful contribution to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks presented to it, stated the Secretary-General this morning, as he presented his Millennium Report to the General Assembly. “If we lose sight of that point, the United Nations would have little or no role to play at all in the twenty-first century.”

The Secretary-General’s report -- “We the peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century”, will be considered by a special Millennium Summit from 6 to 8 September, a rare meeting of heads of State and government from around the world, scheduled on the eve of the first General Assembly of the new millennium. In it, he attempts to identify the main challenges facing the international community as it enters the twenty-first century and sketches out an action plan for addressing them.

If one word encapsulated all the changes the world was living through, it was globalization, the Secretary-General continued. Among its problems was that its opportunities were far from equally distributed. How could it be said that the half of the human race, which had yet to make or receive a telephone call, let alone use a computer, was taking part in globalization? Also, even where the global market did reach, it was not yet underpinned by rules based on shared social objectives. The overarching challenge today was to make globalization mean more than bigger markets.

The Secretary-General grouped the global issues on which States needed to work together under three headings, each of which related to a fundamental human freedom -– freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on the planet.

On freedom from want, he said that much depended on developing countries themselves adopting the right policies. At the same time, the industrialized world, too, had a vital part to play. It was vital to form new partnerships to make the most of new technology, such as the network, announced in the report, of 10,000 on-line sites to provide hospitals and clinics in developing countries with the up-to-date health information and resources they needed.

General Assembly Plenary - 2 - Press Release GA/9704 94th Meeting (AM) 3 April 2000

With regard to freedom from fear, he said that present threats required thinking of security less in terms of merely defending territory, and more in terms of protecting people. That meant tackling the threat of deadly conflict at every stage in the process. The best way to prevent conflicts from occurring at all was to promote political arrangements in which all groups were fairly represented, combined with human rights, minority rights and broad-based economic development.

Continuing, he said that better ways must be found to enforce humanitarian and human rights law, and to ensure that gross violations did not go unpunished. National sovereignty offered vital protection to small and weak States, but it should not be a shield for crimes against humanity. Sanctions, he added, which too often failed to impress delinquent rulers, while causing much unnecessary suffering to innocent people, must be better targeted.

The third fundamental freedom -- that of future generations to sustain their lives on the planet-- was not clearly identified in the Charter, because in 1945 the founders could scarcely imagine that it would ever be threatened, he said. “If I could sum it up in one sentence, I should say we are plundering our children’s heritage to pay for our present unsustainable practices.” In short, what was needed was a new ethic of stewardship, and a vital first step was implementing the Kyoto Protocol.

The report is the most comprehensive presentation of the mission of the United Nations in its 55-year history, containing numerous specific goals and programme initiatives the Secretary-General will ask world leaders attending the Summit to consider.

Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this morning to hear Secretary-General Kofi Annan launch his Millennium Report. The report sets the stage for the Millennium Summit, which will be held from 6 to 8 September, and is expected to be the largest ever gathering of heads of State or government, as well as the Millennium Assembly that follows.

In his report (document A/54/2000), the Secretary-General calls for a moral recommitment to the principles in the United Nations Charter and for a new political momentum for international cooperation. The report contains concrete proposals on five key areas and six shared values that must be addressed to put people at the centre of everything undertaken by the international community. The six shared values -– drawn from the United Nations Charter -- are freedom, equity and solidarity, tolerance, non-violence, respect for nature and shared responsibility. The Millennium Summit will be urged to adopt a series of resolutions, drawn from the body of the report, as an expression of its will to act on these values.

The first key area it addresses is globalization and governance. Mr. Annan notes that the benefits of globalization are obvious –- faster growth, higher living standards, and new opportunities -– and few oppose it outright. However, there has clearly been a backlash against globalization. What is being protested, the report notes, is not the process, but its disparities. Thus far, its benefits and opportunities remain highly concentrated among a small number of countries and are spread unevenly within those countries. In addition, successful efforts have been made to craft strong well-enforced rules for the expansion of global markets, but support for equally valid objectives like labour standards, poverty reduction and human rights have lagged behind. For many people, globalization has come to mean greater vulnerability to unfamiliar and unpredictable forces that can bring economic instability and social dislocation at lightning speed. There is mounting anxiety that the integrity of cultures and the sovereignty of States may be at stake.

The Secretary-General identifies a single powerful message underneath the diverse concerns in his report. Globalization must mean more than creating bigger markets. To survive and thrive, a global economy must have a more solid foundation in shared values and institutional practices. It must advance broader and more inclusive social purposes. To achieve these ends, it must be better governed.

Better governance does not mean weak States or world government, the report states. Weak States are an impediment to good governance, and centralization is an anachronism. Successfully managing globalization requires States to act consistently within their dual role of responsibility towards its own society and responsibility as custodians of life on the planet. International decision-making structures must reflect the broad realities of today. The composition of the United Nations Security Council and those of some major economic forums do not fully represent the character and the needs of the globalized world. Better governance means greater participation, he states. For the United Nations, success means meeting the needs of people.

The Secretary-General cites the largest-ever public opinion survey, which found that people valued good health and a happy family life more than anything else. Jobs were stressed where economic performance was poor, and peace where people lived in conflict. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the level of respect for human rights, and discrimination by race and gender were commonly expressed concerns. Two thirds believed their government had not done enough to redress environmental problems. The survey also showed that people believe the protection of human rights to be the most important task for the United Nations, while peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance were also stressed.

To address the second key area –- freedom from want –- the Secretary- General calls for action to reduce extreme poverty by half, in every part of the world, by 2015. Priority areas include achieving sustained growth, including ensuring that people in developing countries can benefit from globalization. Opportunities must be created for the young. Mr. Annan seeks efforts to ensure that, by 2015, all children can and do receive at least a primary education, with equal opportunities at all levels for both genders. Health research must be redirected at the problems that beset 90 per cent of the world's population, he reports, and he calls for a 25 per cent reduction in HIV/AIDS infections rates in young people by 2015. Support must be given to the "Cities without Slums" action plan, which aims to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Among other priorities in the fight against want, the Secretary-General's report challenges experts and philanthropic foundations to tackle low agricultural productivity in Africa, and he urges African governments to give higher priority to reducing poverty. He calls for efforts to maximize access to new information systems, as new technology offers an unprecedented chance for developing countries to leapfrog early stages of development. Finally, as a demonstration of global solidarity, rich countries must further open their markets to poor countries, must provide faster and more debt relief, and must give more and better focused development assistance. Ridding the world of poverty was a challenge for all, and one that must be met, he states.

The third key area is freedom from fear, according to the Secretary- General's report. A key way to prevent conflicts, which often takes place in poor and ill-governed countries, is to promote healthy and balanced economic development combined with inclusive political systems and respect for human rights. Attention must be given to illicit transfers of weapons, natural resources and money.

The Secretary-General proposes the international community find better ways to enforce international and human rights laws, including ensuring gross violations are punished, to protect the vulnerable. National sovereignty must not be used as a shield for violations of people's rights, and the Security Council should consider armed intervention in cases of mass murder. The Millennium Summit will be asked to consider recommendations from a high-level panel established to review all aspects of peacekeeping operations. New research on ways to make sanctions smarter should be used when the Security Council designs and applies sanctions regimes in the future, the report states, and States are urged to control small arms transfers more vigorously and recommit to reducing the nuclear threat.

Under the fourth key area, sustaining our future, the Secretary-General advocates that States revive the environmental debate, and take decisive action on a number of neglected areas before 2002. These actions might include promoting energy efficiency and relying more on renewable energy sources. Implementing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change would be a first step. Endorsement of the World Water Forum Ministerial Conference's targets of cutting the number of people without access to safe water by half by 2015 is also urged. Noting that biotechnology may offer the best hope to feed a growing world population, but that its safety and environmental impact are disputed, the report announces that the Secretary-General will convene a global policy network to resolve the controversies and thereby ensure the poor do not lose out. Also, governments and the private sector must work together to support conservation of forests, fisheries and biodiversity.

The Secretary-General recommends four priorities for this area, aimed at building a new ethic of stewardship: educating the public; developing green accounting to integrate the environment into economic policy; creating regulations and incentives; and gathering more accurate scientific data. He also notes that people, as well as governments, must commit to the new ethic.

The fifth and final key area is renewing the United Nations, states the report, because without a strong United Nations the other challenges would be harder to meet. That would require the effort and willingness of Member States, and especially their willingness to work with the private sector, non- governmental organizations and multilateral institutions. The Secretary-General recommends that the core strengths of the United Nations be identified, which derive not from power but from the values it represents. Those strengths must be built on by insisting on the importance of the rule of law, reforming the Security Council so it will enjoy unquestioned legitimacy, and expanding the Organization's relationship with civil society.

Formal institutions must be supplemented with informal policy networks across all sectors, the report notes. New information technology can make the United Nations more efficient interactive, but a change-resistant culture must be overcome. The Secretary-General asks the information technology industry to assist that change. Real structural reform is also needed with a clearer consensus from Member States and less intrusive oversight of day-to-day management. Decisions on matters, like the inclusion of "sunset provisions" in mandates and results-based budgeting, are needed by the General Assembly.

Secretary-General’s Statement

Introducing his report, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN said that the report’s objective was to provide a basic document for the Summit to work from. In it, he attempted to identify the main challenges facing the international community as it entered the twenty-first century and to sketch out an action plan for addressing them. If one word encapsulated all the changes the world was living through, it was globalization. The world was more interconnected than ever before. Groups and individuals interacted more and more directly across State frontiers, often without involving the State at all.

One problem of globalization was that presently its opportunities were far from equally distributed, he said. How could it be said that the half of the human race which had yet to make or receive a telephone call, let alone use a computer, was taking part in globalization? A second problem was that, even where the global market did reach, it was not yet underpinned, as national markets were, by rules based on shared social objectives.

The overarching challenge today, he said, was to make globalization mean more than just bigger markets. “To make a success of this great upheaval, we must learn how to govern better and, above all, how to govern better together”, he said. “We need to make our States stronger and more effective at the national level. And we need to get them working together on global issues -– all pulling their weight and all having their say.” He grouped those global issues under three headings, each of which related to a fundamental human freedom –- freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on the planet.

On freedom from want, he said that much depended on developing countries themselves adopting the right policies. At the same time, the industrialized world, too, had a vital part to play. It must open its markets to products from developing countries, provide much faster and deeper debt relief, and give more and better focused development assistance. The role of the private sector was also crucial. It was vital to form new partnerships to make the most of new technology. Among the new examples announced in his report was a network of 10,000 on-line sites to provide hospitals and clinics in developing countries with the up-to-date health information and resources they needed.

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With regard to freedom from fear, present threats required thinking of security less in terms of merely defending territory, and more in terms of protecting people, he continued. That meant tackling the threat of deadly conflict at every stage in the process. More must be done to prevent conflicts from happening at all. The best way to do that was to promote political arrangements in which all groups were fairly represented, combined with human rights, minority rights and broad-based economic development. Also, illicit transfers of weapons, money or natural resources must be forced into the limelight, so they could be better controlled.

Continuing, he said that better ways must be found to enforce humanitarian and human rights law, and to ensure that gross violations did not go unpunished. National sovereignty offered vital protection to small and weak States, but it should not be a shield for crimes against humanity. When, in extreme cases, the clash of those two principles presented a real dilemma, the Security Council might have a moral duty to act on behalf of the international community. Sanctions, which too often failed to impress delinquent rulers, while causing much unnecessary suffering to innocent people, must be better targeted.

Also, the disarmament agenda must be pursued more vigorously, he said. Since 1995, it had lost momentum in an alarming way. The Review Conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty was likely to be a depressing affair, unless there were clear signals that all parties, including the nuclear-weapon States, were ready for a real effort. He suggested that a broader-based international conference, to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers of all kinds, now be seriously considered.

The third fundamental freedom -- that of future generations to sustain their lives on the planet -- was not clearly identified in the Charter, because in 1945 the founders could scarcely imagine that it would ever be threatened, he said. “If I could sum it up in one sentence, I should say we are plundering our children’s heritage to pay for our present unsustainable practices.” Implementing the Kyoto Protocol was a vital first step.

In the face of a steadily shrinking surface of cultivable land, at a time when every year brought many millions of new mouths to feed, biotechnology might offer the best hope, but only if the controversies could be resolved and the fears surrounding it allayed. He was convening a global policy network to consider those issues urgently, so that the poor and hungry did not lose out. In short, he said, what was needed was a new ethic of stewardship and a much better informed public. Also, environmental costs and benefits must be fully taken into account in economic policy decisions. Regulations and incentives were needed to discourage pollution and over-consumption of non-renewable resources, and to encourage environment-friendly practices. More accurate scientific data was also necessary.

In conclusion, he said that the United Nations mattered only to the extent that it could make a useful contribution to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks just outlined. Those were the problems and the tasks which affected the everyday lives of people. It was on how the Organization handled them that the utility of the United Nations would be judged. If that point was lost sight of, the United Nations would have little or no role to play at all in the twenty-first century.

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For information media. Not an official record.