I send my greetings to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to Secretary-General McKinnon, and to President Obasanjo and the other Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth who have gathered in Abuja.
The Commonwealth and the United Nations share a long-standing commitment to strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting the rule of law and fundamental human rights, and supporting sustainable development. All of these are vital to preventing conflict and ensuring stability.
Nowhere do these challenges loom larger than in Africa. African leaders have launched a new partnership –NEPAD –to promote economic development and good governance. African leaders are acting with greater determination to resolve their own problems, and African civil society is becoming more active and vocal. Both the United Nations and the Commonwealth are strongly committed to supporting these efforts and initiatives.
The Commonwealth is a strong supporter of the Millennium Development Goals. I commend the active role it is playing in helping member states to fight extreme poverty, hunger, death, disease, and illiteracy. All these goals are important. But as you meet in Africa, so soon after World AIDS day, the challenge of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS warrants special emphasis. This scourge is claiming many more lives in Africa than are being lost in conflicts. In other parts of the world, it is spreading at an alarming rate. The disease is a terrible threat, not just to human life, but to good governance and sustainable development. We must spare no effort in fighting it.
The United Nations is working in partnership with the Commonwealth in conflict resolution and peace-building efforts in many parts of the world, including in electoral assistance. This work has helped to improve security, social cohesion and governance in a number of states, from Sierra Leone to Swaziland, and from Guyana to countries of the Pacific region. The United Nations stands ready, in cooperation with the Commonwealth, to continue its support of these countries in their efforts to build democracy and strengthen the rule of law.
I know you will be discussing the question of Zimbabwe and its future participation in the proceedings of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has been contributing to efforts to encourage the Government of President Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to engage in talks with a view to promoting national reconciliation. It is vital for dialogue to resume without delay in Zimbabwe, and for tangible progress to be made. Zimbabwe, after all, was the place that the Commonwealth's blueprint for promoting good governance and human rights –the Harare Declaration –was adopted.
As part of your active support for the United Nations, I look to the members of the Commonwealth for strong support in the effort that is under way to reshape the United Nations. I have recently appointed a High-Level Panel of eminent persons to help us develop a shared analysis of current and future threats to peace and security; to prepare a rigorous assessment of the contribution which collective action can make in meeting these threats; and to recommend the changes needed to make the United Nations a legitimate and effective instrument for a collective response. The work of the panel –and the deliberations and decisions that must follow once it produces its report –require the active engagement of all committed to multilateralism.
I have no doubt that the Commonwealth will contribute to these and other efforts. Indeed, the Commonwealth is a vital partner of the United Nations. Our Secretariats are in close contact and work together on issues of common concern. I am sure they will continue to be so.
I wish you all the best for a successful meeting.