General Assembly

17 December 1996

Statement to the General Assembly by Secretary-General designate, Kofi Annan, 17 December 1996

Kofi Annan

Mr. President, respected Secretary-General, distinguished Ambassadors:

Thank you all for your kind words. I am deeply moved by the good wishes of so accomplished a group of speakers.

Mr. President, I have long admired the imagination and determination you have brought to the difficult challenges of multilateral diplomacy, and I should like to express my appreciation of the leadership you have demonstrated in taking this session of the General Assembly through its demanding schedule to an efficient and productive conclusion.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have done me a great honour and at the same time bestowed a great responsibility in electing me the seventh Secretary- General of the United Nations. As a son of Africa and as a lifetime international civil servant, I pledge to you that I will do everything within my power to be worthy of your trust.

(Speaking in French) I wish to pay tribute to the vision and energy of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an extraordinary statesman who led the United Nations through a turbulent period of transition from the cold war to a new, still emerging era. All of us recognize, and history will record with gratitude, his important contribution.

The United Nations is now at the centre of an era of change. For forty- five years, the super-Power rivalry permeated this Organization's very existence and largely shaped its agenda. With the passing of the cold war, the Member States, as they redefine their relationships with each other, must agree on what kind of United Nations they are prepared to support.

(Resuming English) The time to choose is now. For this Organization, along with the rest of the world, must change. Let every Member State welcome this change, not resist it. Let us make change our ally, not our enemy; seize it as an opportunity, not a threat; recognize it as a necessity, not an imposition.

If all of us in this hall together with the participation of all nations, large and small, east and west, north and south, can make this Organization leaner, more efficient and more effective, more responsive to the wishes and needs of its Members and more realistic in its goals and commitments, then and only then will we serve both this Organization's high purpose and the planet's best interests.

There is no lack of blueprints for a new, post-cold war United Nations. There is no lack of ideas or debate. What we need is consensus and commitment. Our task now is to find common ground, to shape together the changes that will move this Organization forward.

All the old problems -- particularly peace and security among nations and social justice for their peoples -- still confront us. But the old approaches to these problems must be broadened. A new understanding of peace and security must emerge. The world is beginning to recognize the many roots of conflict, the economic base of stability, and the grim truth that intolerance, injustice and oppression -- and their consequences -- respect no national frontiers.

Similarly, we now know more than ever that sustainable economic development is not merely a matter of projects and statistics. It is above all a matter of people -- real people with basic needs: food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Let us ensure that the resources and facilities of the United Nations system are effectively channelled towards those who need them most, those whom globalization has left behind. And let us ensure that the voice of the United Nations in economic matters is heard by those Member States with the greatest capacity to give.

These and other challenges are not the Secretary-General's alone, not the Security Council's alone, not the Economic and Social Council's alone. The role of the General Assembly will become still more important as we seek to perfect the triangle of development, freedom and peace.

In this common effort, I shall neither overstep nor minimize my role as head of one of the six principle organs of this Organization. I intend to present my independent views to Member States for their consideration. I intend to offer my services and good offices as mediator and intermediary whenever and wherever I feel it can be helpful. I intend to lead an international civil service that will be honest, efficient, independent and proud of its honourable contribution to the improvement of life on this planet. Finally, I intend to stress not only our legal obligations, not only our fiscal limitations, not only our political and diplomatic considerations, but above all, the moral dimension of our work in this Organization.

In that spirit, let us embark on a time of healing: a healing of fractures and frictions between Member States and this Organization, which cannot function without their political and material support; and a healing of wounded morale and ideals within the Secretariat, whose dedicated staff deserves our thanks and encouragement.

To the nations and peoples of the world whose representatives are assembled here today, I say simply this: the United Nations is your instrument for peace and justice. Use it; respect it; defend it. It can be no wiser, no more competent and no more efficient than those Member States that now comprise and guide it. But those of us who serve you here pledge our every effort and energy to the causes set forth in the Charter. No nation needs to face or fight alone the threats which this Organization was established to defuse. But we cannot succeed without your political, moral, financial and material support and participation. Applaud us when we prevail; correct us when we fail; but, above all, do not let this indispensable, irreplaceable institution wither, languish or perish as a result of Member State indifference, inattention or financial starvation.

Mr. President and Members of the General Assembly: I accept the high post you have entrusted to me, humbled by the formidable challenges that lie ahead, but filled with confidence in the nobility of our common goals, in the determination of our common spirit, and in the success of our common effort. Alone, I can do nothing. Together, we can irreversibly advance the frontiers of peace, dignity and justice for all humankind.