H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan


New York, 10 November 2001

(check against delivery)

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me welcome all who have come to New York for this General Debate - and especially the President of our host country.

We meet nearly seven weeks later than we intended - and we all know why.

No words can express our revulsion and sorrow at the senseless loss of life on 11 September. We share in the pain and grief of our host country and host city.

Like them, we are determined to overcome the forces that inflicted this ordeal upon us.

The United Nations is indeed "the indispensable common house of the entire human family", as our Heads of State and Government declared last year. And seldom has the need for it been more widely understood.

When a family is under attack, it is in their common house that its members gather, to decide what to do.


From the very day after the tragedy, while you took action in your own countries and regions, your representatives here have been at work - first expressing their condemnation and resolve, then working out in detail how the world can protect itself.

The United Nations has also been straining every nerve to bring relief to the suffering people of Afghanistan, and to help them reach agreement on a broad-based government.

One is tempted to say that we must now focus all our energies on the struggle against terrorism, and on directly related issues.

Yet if we did so we should give the terrorists a kind of victory.

Let us remember that none of the issues that faced us on September 10th has become less urgent.

The number of people living on less than one dollar a day has not decreased.

The numbers dying of AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other preventable diseases have not decreased.

The factors that cause the desert to advance, biodiversity to be lost, and the earth's atmosphere to warm, have not decreased.

And in the many parts of the world afflicted by the scourge of war, innocent people have not ceased being murdered or mutilated, dragged or driven from their homes.

In short, my friends, the agenda of peace, development and human rights set for us in the Millennium Declaration is no less pressing.

If anything, it has taken on new urgency.

Seldom have the danger of division within the human family, and the need to resist that danger, been more clearly understood.

We face two possible futures: a mutually destructive clash between so-called "civilisations" based on the exaggeration of religious and cultural differences; or a global community, respecting diversity and rooted in universal values.

The latter must be our choice - but we can achieve it only if we bring real hope to the billions now trapped in poverty, conflict and disease.

That is why the current meeting of the World Trade Organisation is so important. Never was agreement among nations rich and poor on the rules of the international trading system so vitally needed.

But even more decisive' will be the use that Member States make of this Organisation, in the years ahead.

Let me recall some fundamental principles, by which I believe all our work must be guided.

First, the United Nations must always stand for the rule of law, in international and domestic affairs.

Secondly, we must cherish our multilateral institutions and procedures, and use them to full effect.

Thirdly, the United Nations must place people at the centre of everything it does - enabling them to meet their needs and realise their full potential.

That can only be achieved in a world of effective, accountable States, which use sovereignty as a means to ensure the security of their peoples, and to uphold, not violate, their rights.

Fourthly, all the actors in the international system must work together in pursuit of common goals.

The United Nations should concentrate on those areas where it has a comparative advantage. Where others have greater expertise and resources, it must seek to ensure that they apply them to the common needs of humanity. In other words, it must reach out to the widest possible range of partners.

Finally, what the United Nations does do, it must do well. We must continue improving our ability to give all our members the service they expect, and to fulfill the priorities you have identified.

Let me now mention four burning issues, on which our performance will be decisive.

First, the eradication of extreme poverty.

In the Millennium Declaration, Heads of State and Government resolved to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than one dollar a day, who suffer from hunger, and who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.

Achieving this objective is a shared responsibility. Much must be done by developing countries. But, to reach the point where they can really benefit from market opportunities, they need generous help from developed countries. I will do my utmost to make sure this fundamental issue is addressed.

Secondly, I shall intensify my commitment to the struggle against HIV/AIDS - the spread of which our Heads of State and Government pledged to halt, and begin to reverse, by 2015.

To have any hope of redeeming that pledge, we must all make it a genuine priority for years to come.

Thirdly, I shall maintain and strengthen the focus of our work on preventing deadly conflict.

We must not wait passively for crises to erupt, but tackle the root causes of political violence.

We need systems of governance that promote free expression and social justice, while protecting civil liberties and minority rights. And we must attack the gross inequality of opportunity, which so deeply divides people in different parts of the world - and sometimes different parts of a single country.

Fourthly, I take very seriously the pledge given, in the Millennium Declaration, to spare "our children and grandchildren from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, and whose resources would no longer be sufficient for their needs".

We must put the issue of sustainability where it belongs, in the center of the policymaking process.

The common thread connecting all these issues is the need to respect fundamental human rights; and Africa is the region where all of them present the greatest challenge.

I am determined to integrate human rights even more fully into every aspect of our work.

And, taking my cue from the Millennium Declaration, I intend to ensure that the United Nations fully supports the priorities established by African leaders themselves, in the New Partnership for African Development.

Inevitably, we shall be dealing with all these issues over the next five years, day in and day out. But there are two events next year that I want especially to bring to your attention: the Conference on Financing for Development in March, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September.

Those meetings, if properly prepared and managed, can mark a real turning point in our struggle to eradicate poverty and achieve genuinely sustainable development. I shall do everything in my power to ensure their success. Let me entreat all of you to do the same.

And now let me return to the last of my fundamental principles: the principle that what this Organisation does, it must do well.

During my first term I have worked with you to improve the efficiency and coordination of the Secretariat, and to bring greater coherence to the United Nations family.

Have we achieved something?
Yes, we have.

Our Organisation is better and more effective than it was five years ago. And its financial situation has at last improved - thanks to full payment of dues by many Member States, and significant arrearage payments from a few. In future, let us keep it on a firm financial footing.

But have we yet succeeded in giving the world's peoples the effective instrument they need?
No, we have not.

We need to sit together and think afresh about the way we work, and whether our system is adequate for its tasks.

For instance, are we really devoting our resources and energies to the priorities you have given us?

How can the contribution of civil society - including the private sector - be better organized?

How can the United Nations function more effectively as a single entity, in each country where it works?

And how can we ensure, not only that we attract the best possible staff, but that staff at all levels are encouraged to think and act creatively?

Mr. President,

This may seem a prosaic note to end on. But the world's peoples will judge us by our ability to perform specific tasks. Not by the resounding speeches we make, or the number of decisions we reach, but by the quality of those decisions, and of the service we provide.

For the sake of all those whom we hope to save - whether from terrorism, from war, from poverty, from disease, or from environmental degradation - let us resolve that only the best is good enough.

And let us equip ourselves so that, in future, the best is what we give.

Thank you very much.