12 December 1997


12 December 1997

Press Release


19971212 ADVANCE TEXT Following is a statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to be delivered at the University of Kuwait on 13 December:

I am delighted to be among so many young people here today. And I am so pleased to see the nation and people of Kuwait thriving. It is now nearly seven years ago that your country was at the centre of Desert Storm. The successful outcome of that operation is manifest in your presence here, in your opportunity to study at this seat of learning, in your freedom to grow as individuals.

I know that you will make the most of that freedom. As young people, you form the majority of your country's population. As those who will shape tomorrow's society, you are also the future of your country.

And there are many new challenges ahead. I'd like to discuss some of them with you today.

Today, a new storm is sweeping the world. It is very different to the winds of war -- it is the storm of global change. The universal nature of the upheavals experienced by humankind in the past few years is unprecedented in human history. Its impact on human life and institutions is comprehensive and overwhelming.

Environmental degradation, organized crime, terrorism, drug-smuggling, the effects of globalization -- as seen most recently in the contagion of the financial shocks in the Far East -- these are just some examples of the issues facing nations today. And they are issues that no government, however powerful, can take on alone.

New technology and access to information have made the world a smaller place. No country is immune any more from the actions taken or not taken in another country. The problems that face one nation face them all. They are problems without passports.

I believe there are two conditions for confronting successfully the challenges this changing world throws at us -- we must be prepared to meet them multilaterally, working as a community of nations, and we must base our actions on the will of the people.

The will of the people is the foundation on which human society must build the basic pillars of good governance, respect for the rule of law and full observance of human rights. Without it, these concepts become mere words, written in sand. The United Nations has been working in all these areas to build democracy around the world. United Nations legal officers are helping nations erect sound and transparent legal frameworks, and fair and reliable judicial systems.

United Nations police experts, often as part of peacekeeping operations, are training police forces in the basics of police work and ethics. Our field operations are helping to build institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. The United Nations has provided electoral assistance to dozens of countries.

Good governance is an essential component of our work for peace. It equips societies with sound structures for economic and social development. It provides a framework for post-conflict reconciliation.

Kuwait, through the reopening of its National Assembly, has taken an important step towards building such structures, towards erecting such a framework. I applaud this achievement.

It also follows that the changes sweeping the world today require women to play an effective role in society. I am delighted to see so many ladies here today. Increasingly, Kuwaiti women are taking up positions in the service of their country, in education, in the professions. I hope that you will continue to build on this development.

Kuwait is a small country. But it is a country that matters. The economic power of Kuwait, emanating from its natural resources, belies the size of its population and the area defined by its borders.

Through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, your country has shown generosity towards poorer fellow Arab nations.

The rights of small nations is a concern that goes back to the founding principles of the United Nations. At the heart of its purpose lies the duty to ensure that the voice of any State, regardless of size, population, wealth, or weapons arsenal, is properly heard.

At the next summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council later this month, Kuwait will assume the chairmanship of the group. You know all too well the crucial importance of cooperation to enhance the stability of the Gulf region. The rest of the world knows it too. There is never a shortage of reminders of the sensitive nature and strategic importance of the area around this waterway.

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/6421 12 December 1997

Regional organizations such as the Gulf Corporation Council are some of the United Nations most important partners and allies. They serve to both complement and support the Organization's work. The role of regional organizations is outlined in the United Nations Charter. Many such groupings have assumed observer status with the United Nations General Assembly. Should the Gulf Cooperation Council decide to join them, it would be more than welcome.

At a time when multilateral approaches are called for on all fronts, the partnership between the United Nations and regional organizations has never been more crucial than it is today. The global changes that I outlined at the outset require nations to act in concert to confront them. It is only by working together that nations can fight drug-trafficking and organized crime.

It is only by working together that they can explore ways to manage the effects of globalization.

It is only by working together that they can take measures to prevent environmental catastrophe, a subject on which this nation still harbours harrowing memories.

But development, peace and democracy are no longer the exclusive responsibility of governments, global organizations or intergovernmental bodies. In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of non- governmental organizations and other actors in civil society who are strengthening democratic institutions, who are raising awareness, who are mounting campaigns for a better world. Take the example of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner -- Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Starting from scratch, 1,000 non-governmental organizations in 60 countries came together to persuade governments to agree to a ban on these abominable weapons.

It was an example of a citizens' movement taking the lead when governments did not initially respond to their calls. It is also an example of what can be achieved through the will of the people. It was democratic, it was global, and it worked.

It worked largely because one of its main tools was education. The movement enlightened the world about the millions of innocent women and children killed or maimed by mines, long after the ceasefire has been signed -- about the cost to countries seeking to rebuild their societies long after the war is over.

Today, I wish to applaud what Kuwait has done to educate its citizenry.

- 4 - Press Release SG/SM/6421 12 December 1997

For countries in this region, defence is a constant preoccupation and a leading item of government expense, and understandably so. But I would submit today that education is one of the most effective forms of defence spending there is.

Why? Because it is an investment in an informed citizenry. And an informed citizenry is a country's greatest defender of freedom.

Whether you be man or woman, an educated individual is an individual who makes choices. And whether your country be big or small, an enlightened society is a society that determines its own fate.

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the original drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, once said something I have always found a source of great strength. I'd like to leave you students with those words today: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." It does not matter what your age, your gender, your size, your colour, your bank balance is -- do not consent to being made inferior. Think about it, act on it, live by it. You are the captains of your lives. The United Nations is there to help you reach your goals.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.