6 June 1997


6 June 1997

Press Release


19970606 Secretary-General Stresses 'Our Enemy Is Indifference', Belief That There Are Many Worlds 'And That Only One We Need To Care about Is Our Own'

Following are remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, in Boston, Massachusetts, today:

I am very pleased to join you today in this magnificent library. It is a marvellous testament to the legacy of President Kennedy. You can take great pride in your work of educating young and old about the meaning of the Kennedy era.

There are, of course, those among us who still remember those days. Sometimes we all wish that our children could have felt the energy and optimism of his message.

I say this as an African for whom Kennedy meant something equally important as he did for Americans: the promise of a world order based on equality within and among States.

I recall the sense of promise and excitement I felt on the day of John Kennedy's election. I was in my graduating year of college at Macalaster College in Minnesota.

On the day of his inauguration, I remember feeling that President Kennedy may have been speaking to America, but that he was speaking for the world. His courage, his boldness, his youth and his energy made us all a part of his endeavour.

John Kennedy was no stranger to the world. He fought in the Pacific and he travelled widely, exhibiting a spirit of curiosity and concern about the world.

That spirit guides all that we do at the United Nations, and all that we seek for a peaceful, more prosperous world. For with curiosity comes concern, and with concern comes the desire to right the wrongs of oppression and reverse the tide of poverty throughout the world.

I am often asked what I seek for my time as Secretary-General and why I am so committed to reforming our United Nations. My reply is that I am conscious that this is a time of change and uncertainty. Yet I am also convinced of the lasting value of our mission.

The ends for which we strive -- peace, justice, development, a human security that encompasses all aspects of existence -- are self-evident. They need no explaining, no justification.

Your Declaration of Independence speaks of truths that are self-evident, among them that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights.

The United Nations Charter speaks of the struggle to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and reaffirms our faith in human rights.

Our aims are one and the same. Our friends, liberty and prosperity. Our foes, poverty and war.

John Kennedy understood this. He spoke of a United Nations that was the "measure and the vehicle of man's most generous impulses". He called for a United Nations that would be "developed into a genuine world security system".

John Kennedy also knew that a constantly evolving and reforming United Nations was necessary in order to keep up with global changes. That is why we are reforming. That is why we are revising structures, integrating departments and reviewing our financial and personnel policy.

The result will be a more effective and efficient United Nations, a United Nations that is prepared for the twenty-first century and capable of meeting its challenges.

Our challenges do not cease, and so we cannot rest. Member States ask the United Nations to act in areas of peace and security, as well as in development, democracy, human rights, humanitarian and refugee assistance, environmental action and population policy.

But we need the means to do the job. That is why Member States must pay their dues in full and on time. Those means will enable us not only to do the job, but to reform successfully in order to do the job better.

In July, I will present my complete reform plan and then look to Member States to take steps under their authority to hasten progress in this vital endeavour. Together, the Member States and the Organization can ensure that reform will be real, that it will be lasting.

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As President Kennedy himself said: "The effort to improve the conditions of man is not a task for the few. It is the task of all nations -- acting alone, acting in groups, acting in the United Nations. For plague and pestilence and plunder and pollution, the hazards of nature and the hunger of children are the foes of every nation."

That is the message that we must hear today. That is the message that I took to Africa last week. All the leaders of the African continent were gathered in Zimbabwe to ensure that the new wind that is blowing across Africa may be a wind of peace and progress.

We at the United Nations will do all that is in our power to assist them in their struggle.

We will do so because I am convinced that we are living through a global age of opportunity.

We have the means to pursue our highest aims. We have the knowledge, the wealth, the tools and the talent. Our great challenge is to summon the will of the world.

I know it can be done. It has been done before in far poorer conditions with far greater obstacles.

Our enemy now is indifference, the belief that there are many worlds, and that the only one we need to care about is our own.

That belief is false. It is a delusion. There is one world, one humanity. And human security -- genuine, equitable and lasting -- is indivisible. That is our reality. The reality that calls for our very best in order to achieve our very highest.

John Kennedy is most often recalled for his global leadership as President. But as you who are gathered here today know well, he was a citizen of the world and a symbol of courage even before he was elected to the Presidency.

I have heard the story of how a band of African freedom fighters, deep in the desert, huddled in their camps during a long and vicious war of independence, were listening to the radio for news from the world.

The news came that Kennedy had been elected President of the United States. They erupted in cheers.

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I treasure this story because it reminds us all that freedom knows no borders, that a fiery voice of liberty in one country can raise the spirits of another far away. John Kennedy was that voice for his time, and we still struggle to fill the silence he left.

Let me conclude by going back to John Kennedy's inaugural address and his vision for the United Nations. Let me read you those words in my voice and let them ring as universal words of hope for the United Nations. And I quote:

"To that world assembly of sovereign States, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age when the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective -- to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak -- and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run."

May his vision -- our vision -- come true.

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For information media. Not an official record.