It gives me great pleasure to send my warmest greetings to everyone who has gathered for this annual ceremony.
Peacekeeping operations and complex crises like the one in Iraq claim the lion's share of the headlines about the work of the United Nations. But our advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities occupies an important position in our global mission of peace, development and human rights.
One of every ten people on earth has some form of mental, physical or sensory impairment, making this a challenge for all countries, regardless of their level of development. How can any society develop and truly flourish without the full and equal participation of so many of its citizens?
The United Nations, since its founding, has been at the centre of global efforts to promote the well-being and rights of people with disabilities. The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights both stress the equal rights of men and women. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, and the UN Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, represent political and moral commitments by Member States to enhance disability prevention, improve rehabilitation and other services, and fight prejudice. And as you know, an ad hoc committee of the UN General Assembly is working on a legally binding –and eagerly awaited -- convention to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
But of course, it takes concerted action to translate goals into real, positive change in peoples' lives. I would like to thank the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for its long-standing commitment to this cause. And I am happy to join in paying tribute to Italy for its achievements in this area.
Italy has long been a leader in the struggle to realize the rights of persons with disabilities. The legislation it has enacted over the years has addressed the full range of concerns, from education to health, and from improving physical access to creating new opportunities for employment and more. Moreover, those efforts have extended well beyond the country's borders. Much of the world is already familiar with Italy's renowned exports, such as clothes, shoes and food. But Italy is also an exporter of expertise, with very active disability programmes that help people in Africa, Asia and Europe. President Ciampi, thank you for your personal engagement on this issue. You and your country richly deserve this recognition. You have set an example for other countries to follow.
And let me say thank you to everyone else here today, for your display of common humanity and for your strong support of the United Nations. Please accept my best wishes for a memorable ceremony.