20 October 1997


20 October 1997

Press Release


19971020 Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement, delivered on Saturday, 18 October, to the Communications Conference at the Aspen Institute, Colorado:

I would like to begin by thanking my old friend and partner Olara Otunnu for his generous introduction. He has been a staunch ally of the United Nations for many years. I am particularly grateful that he agreed last week to be my Special Representative for the impact of armed conflict on children. It is a crisis that deserves our greatest attention, and I am confident that it will now receive it.

I am very pleased to join you in Aspen tonight. You have spent two fascinating days in the company of distinguished leaders who all share a commitment to global engagement. Whether addressing the future of international economics, Asian values or the Middle East peace process, they have made clear why the world matters.

The world matters because we no longer imagine that some can prosper indefinitely while others suffer in poverty. The world matters because we no longer doubt that great rewards await those who strive to bring the world together. The world matters because our era's greatest challenges are those no nation can conquer alone.

The United Nations was born from the conviction that one day all the world would seem as one. That day has now arrived. No one understands this better than you in this audience -- men and women whose driving aspiration is to provide the best information for the greatest number of people.

It was, of course, a leader of your industry, my friend Ted Turner, who exemplified this bond by announcing his gift of $1 billion to the United Nations. He also said, by the way, that he would start harassing his friends to follow his example. I hope he has started.

Your work has transformed our world, and this new world has transformed your work. In this, ladies and gentlemen, we share a common fate.

Our era of global opportunity has unleashed a potential for the United Nations that even our founders could not have imagined.

Their vision, forged from the battles of global war and ideological conflict, was embodied in the inspiring hopes of the United Nations Charter.

But during the long stalemate of the cold war, they could not have foreseen a world where peacekeepers from every continent join hands to contain crises; where nations across all boundaries agree on the economic sources of conflict; where development is recognized as the condition for peace; and where democracy and human rights are accepted as the basis of a just society.

That is why the United Nations is at a crossroads today; why we must and will reform our organization; why we need the support and the faith of all peoples to fulfil their highest aspirations and to make the most of our millennial era.

In every part of the world today, the United Nations is engaged in securing the basic conditions for human existence -- peace, development, a safe environment, enough food, adequate shelter, enhanced opportunities. We seek to provide these goods not because we believe all humans are the same, but because we know that all humans need food, need freedom, need a sustainable future.

There is no single model of democracy, or of human rights, or of cultural expression for all the world. But for all the world, there must be democracy, human rights, and free cultural expression. Human ingenuity will ensure that each society, within its own traditions and history, will enshrine and promote these values. I am convinced of that.

That is why I speak in Africa of human rights as "African rights", as rights that must find expression in the language of the people they protect.

It is never the people who complain of human rights as a Western or Northern imposition. It is too often their leaders who do so. But as democracy advances across the globe, those leaders will not always have their way. That is what gives me confidence that, one day, these rights will prevail.

You do not need to explain the meaning of human rights to an Asian mother or an African father whose son or daughter has been tortured or killed. They understand it -- tragically -- far better than we ever will.

What they need, and what we must offer, is a vision of human rights that is foreign to no one and native to all. From within African or Asian or any other culture, we must seek out the traditions of tolerance that I believe are the basis of human rights everywhere.

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/6366 20 October 1997

When we speak of freedom of expression, pluralism, or of the right to a life free of violence, we are speaking of tolerance. Tolerance promoted, protected and enshrined will ensure all freedoms. Without it, we can be certain of none.

Your world, the world of media, information and knowledge, is at the heart of our renewed United Nations and our struggle for tolerance throughout the world.

We at the United Nations are convinced that information has a great liberating power waiting to be harnessed to our global struggle for peace, development and human rights.

We believe this because we are convinced that it is ignorance, not knowledge, that makes enemies of men. It is ignorance, not knowledge, that makes fighters of children. It is ignorance, not knowledge, that leads some to advocate tyranny over democracy.

It is ignorance, not knowledge, that makes some argue that human conflict is inevitable. It is ignorance, not knowledge, that makes others say that there are many worlds, when we know that there is one. Ours.

That one world is a world where threats and opportunities alike know no boundaries, and respect no distinctions of category, class or creed.

When the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assists men and women in flight from conflict in Central Africa, we are helping contain that conflict and providing a sanctuary for its civilian victims.

When the United Nations supplies humanitarian aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, we are also preventing a wider crisis, reducing tensions and forging a path to peaceful reconciliation. When the United Nations clears mines in Cambodia, we are facilitating the return of refugees and the beginning of reconstruction.

When the United Nations trains the police and fosters integration in Bosnia, we are ensuring a just future for the people of Bosnia and stability for the Balkans as a whole.

That is the United Nations I think of when I hear our critics talk only of waste and duplication. That is the United Nations I think of when I feel confident that our new world will need a renewed and reformed United Nations more than ever.

- 4 - Press Release SG/SM/6366 20 October 1997

I would like to conclude by telling you about Leah Melnick -- a young American woman whom I also think of when I listen to those who doubt our intentions or lament our limitations.

Before the age of 30, she had served the United Nations in Cambodia, Croatia and Bosnia, perhaps three of the most tortured places on our earth. She went there to promote human rights and to foster the environment of trust and security that is the condition for lasting peace.

She went selflessly and with the certainty that she was doing her part -- and more -- to show the devastated peoples of distant lands that the world had not forgotten them, that the world cared.

One month ago today, Leah Melnick lost her life on a mountainside in Bosnia. She was travelling with 11 other aid workers and representatives of the United Nations who were also killed when their helicopter crashed into a mountain and burst into flames.

These 12 men and women from four countries and two continents all served the people of Bosnia to honour our humanity and our world -- yours and mine.

They comprised the breadth and depth of our commitment to post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction; to justice in the aftermath of human rights violations; and to development as the foundation of lasting peace.

When we strive to reform our Organization, when we seek a better, wiser, stronger United Nations, we do so to carry on their work; to make the United Nations the most effective, most responsive answer to global needs; to close the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of our common world.

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For information media. Not an official record.