‘THE UNITED NATIONS CANNOT STAND STILL, BECAUSE THE THREATS TO HUMANITY DO NOT STAND STILL’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS DAVOS WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

26 January 2006
SG/SM/10325-ECO/103

‘THE UNITED NATIONS CANNOT STAND STILL, BECAUSE THE THREATS TO HUMANITY DO NOT STAND STILL’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS DAVOS WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

26/01/2006
Secretary-General
SG/SM/10325 ECO/103
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘THE UNITED NATIONS CANNOT STAND STILL, BECAUSE THE THREATS TO HUMANITY

DO NOT STAND STILL’, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS DAVOS WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

Following is the address, as delivered today by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the plenary session of the World Economic Forum: A New Mindset for the United Nations, in Davos, Switzerland

Some of you may remember me coming to Davos nine years ago, as a freshly minted Secretary-General.

Since then, I have attended all but three of your annual meetings -- including the memorable one in 2002, when you came to show confidence in New York, after the attack on the World Trade Center.

So I did not hesitate one minute, before accepting, when Klaus kindly invited me to come here once more, at the beginning of my last year in office. And I was also very happy to accept the title he suggested for this session -- “A New Mindset for the United Nations”.

Why? Because it expresses something I have striven to achieve throughout these nine years, and something in which Davos itself has played a part.

In 1999, when I came here and called for a “global compact” between the United Nations and the private sector, many of my colleagues in the Secretariat -- and many representatives of Member States -- would hardly have been more shocked if I had proposed a compact with the Devil.

It is that mindset that I have been seeking to change throughout my time in office -- the mindset that sees international relations as nothing more than relations between States, and the United Nations as little more than a trade union for Governments.

My objective has been to persuade both the Member States and my colleagues in the Secretariat that the United Nations needs to engage, not only with Governments, but with people. Only if it does that, I believe, can it fulfil its vocation and be of use to humanity in the twenty-first century.

That was why, in the year 2000, I used the first words of the UN Charter, “We the Peoples” as the title of my report setting out the agenda for the Millennium Summit, at which political leaders from all over the world came together to assess the challenges of a new century, and adopted a collective response, known as the “Millennium Declaration”.

And that was why last year, in my report called In Larger Freedom, I urged Governments to accept that security and development are interdependent, and that neither can be long sustained without respect for human rights and the rule of law.

That report was intended as the blueprint, not only for a far-reaching reform of the United Nations itself, but also for a series of decisions that would enable humanity to realize the aims of the Millennium Declaration, particularly in the light of new challenges that had arisen since.

How far the blueprint will be translated into reality remains to be seen. But, in the meantime, the United Nations has not stood still. Far from it! This has been a decade of rapid change. Let me give you a few examples.

When I took office there was a widespread perception, based on the tragic events in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda, that UN peacekeeping was a failed experiment, and that, henceforth, this task would have to be handled by regional organizations.

Peacekeepers, especially in countries where conflict is still raging -- where there is literally no peace to keep -- continue to face immense challenges. Even so, today we have 85,000 people serving in 16 UN peacekeeping operations, spread across four continents. Most of these operations are not static observers of a truce, but active participants in the implementation of peace agreements, helping the people of war-torn countries make the transition from war to peace.

Certainly, in many parts of the world, regional organizations play an important role, and so they should. But most often they do so in partnership with the United Nations. The UN has become, in effect, the indispensable mechanism for bringing international help to countries recovering from conflict -- and Member States have now recognized this, by agreeing to set up a Peacebuilding Commission within the UN, to manage this highly complex process.

The last decade has also seen growing use of United Nations economic sanctions. These are now used to influence or restrict the activity, not only of recalcitrant States, but also of non-State actors, such as rebel movements or terrorist groups. At the same time, the Security Council has developed more sophisticated and humane types of sanctions, aimed at individuals rather than whole societies -- travel bans, for instance, and the freezing of bank accounts.

The same philosophy of punishing individuals rather than communities has driven the work of the UN Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia -- one of which was the first international court to convict people of genocide (including a former Prime Minister) and of rape as a war crime, while the other has become the first to indict and try a former Head of State.

This in turn has led to further innovations, including the mixed tribunal in Sierra Leone and, of course, the International Criminal Court. The latter is not an organ of the United Nations, but the UN convened and serviced the conference which adopted its Statute in 1998.

Over 100 States have now ratified the Statute -- which means that the Court’s jurisdiction is now recognized by well over half the UN’s membership.

Another way the UN has changed is the increasing focus on human rights -- which is reflected in the recent decision by Member States to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. That Office is now a dynamic operational entity, which deploys and supports hundreds of human rights workers around the world. And I hope that within the next week or two we may see agreement on a corresponding change at the intergovernmental level, with the establishment of a more authoritative Human Rights Council, to replace the now widely discredited Commission.

One more example of change: the United Nations has responded to the growth of international terrorism. Even before “9/11”, the Security Council had imposed sanctions on Al-Qaida, and set up a special committee to monitor its activities. Immediately after the attack, the Council went much further, with its historic resolution 1373, which imposed stringent obligations on all countries, established a list of terrorist organizations and individuals, and created the Counter-Terrorism Committee to monitor Member States compliance and help them improve their capacity to enact and implement anti-terrorist legislation.

In short, I believe the United Nations is proving itself an increasingly flexible instrument, to which its Member States turn for a wider and wider array of functions.

For instance, within the last five years the UN has been asked:

-- to shepherd Afghanistan’s transition from the anarchic wasteland of the Taliban and the warlords to the nascent democracy -- still struggling, but hopeful -- that it is today;

-- to help establish the Interim Government of Iraq, and to help organize the referendum and elections there and we have supported the Constitution writing -- and we have supported democratic elections in about 120 countries over the last 12 years;

-- and we’ve been asked and we’ve done it, to verify the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and carry out, for the first time ever, a full criminal investigation into the assassination of a former prime minister;

-- to coordinate global relief efforts after the tsunami, and again after the earthquake in Kashmir;

-- and to take the lead in raising global awareness, as well as funds, to protect the world’s peoples against avian flu.

What all these activities have in common is that they involve the United Nations, not simply in relations among its Member States, but also in the lives of their peoples. To carry out such tasks, we must engage, not only with Governments, but with all the new actors on the international scene.

That includes the private sector, but it also includes parliamentarians; voluntary, non-profit organizations; philanthropic foundations; the global media; celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment; and in some cases labour unions, mayors and local administrators. And it includes, I must alas say, less benign actors such as terrorists, warlords, and traffickers in drugs, illicit weapons or -- worst of all -- the lives and bodies of human beings.

That is why I have repeatedly urged all the organs of the United Nations to be more open to civil society, so that their decisions can fully reflect the contribution made by groups and individuals who devote themselves to studying specific problems, or working in specific areas.

It is also why I myself have cultivated contacts with scholars, with parliamentarians, with practitioners of all sorts and with young people -- seeking to learn from their views and also encouraging them, whatever sector they work in, to use their talents for the public good and to keep the global horizon in view.

It is one of the reasons why I have worked constantly to make our Organization more transparent and comprehensible to the public, and thereby more genuinely accountable.

And, of course, it is why I launched the Global Compact, to which the international business community -- including some of you in this audience -- has responded with such enthusiasm that it is now the world's leading corporate citizenship initiative, involving more that 2,400 companies, in nearly 90 countries.

This new mindset must also extend to the domain of international peace and security -- so that we think of security, not only in conventional terms, focusing on prevention of war between States, but also as including the protection of the world’s peoples, against threats which, to many of them today, seem more immediate and more real.

One of those threats is the threat of genocide and other crimes against humanity. I called the General Assembly’s attention to this in 1999, warning that such mass atrocities can never be treated as a purely domestic affair, and Governments should not be allowed to hide behind the shield of sovereignty to brutalize their own people. Being rightly called crimes against humanity, they demand a collective response from humanity, which should be organized and legitimized by the United Nations.

More recently, the High-Level Panel that I appointed in 2003 has identified a broad range of threats, which Member States have more or less accepted, and included:

-- poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation;

-- conflict within States, as well as between them;

-- the spread of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons;

-- terrorism; and

-- transnational crime.

My Larger Freedom report built on this broader definition of global security, drawing it together with the detailed recommendations of the Millennium Project for achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 -- which in itself would rescue many millions of people from the threats of poverty and disease.

But my report also included a third dimension: human rights and the rule of law. Without these, any society, however well-armed, will remain insecure; and its development, however dynamic, will remain precarious.

Member States took the report as their starting-point in negotiating the outcome document of last September's world summit. I won't say that that document fulfils all my hopes. But it does contain many important decisions -- from the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council, through the commitments to advance the Millennium Development Goals, to the acceptance, by all States individually and collectively, of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The United Nations cannot stand still, because the threats to humanity do not stand still. Every day the world presents new challenges, which the founders of the UN 60 years ago could never have anticipated. Whether it is a looming crisis over Iran and its compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, continuing atrocities in Darfur, or the threat of an avian flu pandemic, people all over the world look to the United Nations to play a role in making peace, protecting civilians, improving livelihoods, promoting human rights and upholding international law. I have worked long and hard to transform the United Nations so that when called upon, as we are every day, we will deliver what is asked of us -- effectively, efficiently and equitably. That is the true objective of the changes I have sought to bring about, and it will be the true measure of my success or failure.

And my successor -- since I understand several members of this panel may be interested in the position -- need not worry. Changing the mindset of the United Nations, so that it can both reflect and influence the temper of the times, is a never-ending challenge. There will be plenty more work to do in the years and decades to come.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.