For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/DSG/42
Release Date: 14 August 2000
Deputy Secretary-General Urges First International Model UN Conference
To “Help Bridge the Divides in the Human Family”


NEW YORK, 11 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette's keynote address, delivered this afternoon, to the first United Nations International Model United Nations Conference:

I am very pleased to welcome you all here today.  The presence of so many young people from different countries in the General Assembly chamber is truly heartening.  First, because the United Nations is your United Nations.  It was created more than 50 years ago for the peoples of the world, whose future you represent.  Second, because it is very encouraging to see that so many of you, the leaders of tomorrow, are actively engaged in our work. 

The world we live in today is very different from what it was when I was your age.  Technological advances succeed one another at an unprecedented pace, transforming all aspects of our life.  And for the majority of people in the industrialized countries and those elsewhere who are plugged into globalization, this new era holds great promises.

Already, in the area of medicines and pharmaceuticals, and in biotechnology, tremendous progress has been made in the last decades.  Cures are now available for many diseases and health problems which plagued previous generations.  And the information compiled by researchers deciphering the human genome is now opening opportunities which we could not imagine only a few years ago.

We travel as never before.  Information and communication technology enables people to be connected directly whatever the distance and to communicate instantaneously.

This is also the longest period in the history of modern States without war among the major powers.  And the number of democracies in the world has doubled since the late 1980s.  
Most of us can expect to live longer than our parents, let alone their more remote ancestors.  We are better nourished, enjoy better health, are better educated, and on the whole face more favourable economic prospects.

Yet, there is another reality. 

Nearly half the world's population lives on less than $2 per day.  And some 1.2 billion people -- including 500 million in South Asia and 300 million in Africa -- are struggling on less than $1 a day for food, clothing, shelter, medicine and their children's schooling. 

More than 130 million children in developing countries -- of whom more than half live in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia -- do not enjoy primary education.

Pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, all curable diseases, claim thousands of lives every year.  Malaria alone takes two lives every minute of every day -- mainly children under 5 and pregnant women.  

Of nearly 36 million people now living with AIDS world wide, more than 23 million are in sub-Saharan Africa.  The average child born in Botswana today has a life expectancy of 41 years, when without AIDS it would have been 70 years.  

In the last decade alone, 5 million people world wide have lost their lives in brutal internal wars, kindled by greed and the quest for power, and fueled by abject poverty and lack of hope.  Among them were between 500,000 and 800,000 Rwandese who were massacred during the 1994 genocide.

This is a reality we all know.  Every day we see on television images of these millions of people who are denied their basic human rights and see no hope in their future.  Although democracy and respect for human rights have made undeniable progress in the last decades, still too many are persecuted because of their faith or their political opinion, still too many women are treated as worse than second class citizens, mutilated and unsafe, even in their own homes.

But it is not enough to denounce.  We must act.  Our central challenge is to make sure that all enjoy equal respect, that no one is excluded in our increasingly small planet.  Therefore, we must make globalization work for all, instead of leaving billions of people behind in squalor.  One good reason is that if we don't, in the end it will work for none, because no economic system and no social order can long survive such stunning inequalities.

We hope that the Millennium Summit, which will take place in less than four weeks in this very chamber, will be an opportunity for world leaders to consider new ways and means of addressing this challenge and the problems ahead.  After all, it will be the largest gathering of leaders the world has seen.

To encourage them in their deliberations, the Secretary-General has prepared a Millennium Report, which I hope you will become familiar with in the next few days if you are not already.  This report proposes a number of priorities for Member States to agree on and sets several targets to improve the lives of the peoples of the world.   Reaching these targets requires action by all nations.  

To ensure that developing countries are included in the world market, the Secretary-General urges rich countries to grant free access to their markets for goods produced in poor countries, provide deeper and faster debt relief, and give more and better-focused development assistance.  Of course, developing countries themselves, and especially their leaders, must also make reducing poverty a priority.  

One way of enhancing the economic opportunities of poor countries is to maximize their access to new technologies, especially information technology.  The digital revolution offers an unprecedented chance for developing countries to "leapfrog" some long and painful stages in the development process.  But by the same token, countries where most people do not have access to these technologies are likely to fall further and further behind.

At present, information technology is even more unequally distributed than other forms of wealth.  Bridging the digital divide will not be easy.  There are more computers in the United States than in the rest of the world combined.  There are as many telephones in Tokyo as in all of Africa.

Bridging the gap between rich and poor is everybody's business, and that includes you.  For instance, you and people like you in civil society can forge powerful coalitions committed to the wider world and to turning the concept of common humanity from slogan and aspiration into everyday reality.  Such coalitions can really make things happen, as we have seen with the worldwide movement which led to an international ban on landmines, or the campaign for debt relief for poor countries.

With that kind of help and that of the private sector -- in which I am sure many of you will make your careers -- we can also connect even the remotest corners of the globe to the new economy.  

Let me give you one concrete example of how you can make a difference more directly, as individuals.  In his Millennium report, the Secretary-General announced the creation of a United Nations Information Technology volunteer corps -- UNITeS -- which will train groups in developing countries in how to use and apply information technology.  Perhaps some of you will want to serve as volunteers in UNITeS.  If you are interested, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the United Nations Volunteer Programme.  

As a volunteer or an activist in organizations or coalitions defending human rights or other international causes, you can really help bridge the divides in the human family and be of service to your fellow men and women.

On behalf of the United Nations, I wish you all a most enjoyable and interesting session, and may you live lives of great benefit to others as well as fulfilment to yourselves!

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