For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2591*
Release Date:   13 June 2000
Kofi Annan Calls for Shared Values of Freedom, Tolerance and 
Non-Violence in Address to Anti-Discrimination Committee

 NEW YORK, 9 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address this evening to the seventeenth National Convention of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Arlington, Virginia:

 It gives me great pleasure to be here for your annual convention and to salute the important work you are doing.

 Organizations such as yours have a vital role to play in today's world.  Over the past decade or so, there has been a revolution in world affairs.  International relations used to be almost exclusively the domain of national governments.  Today, the doors of the United Nations are open as never before to new partners:  private businesses, non-governmental organizations and political pressure groups that are often leading the charge on a range of vital global issues.  An era of new diplomacy has begun.  And the Anti-Discrimination Committee is an essential part of it.

 I am also glad to have this opportunity tonight to say directly to you that there is a close and natural affinity between your cause -- the cause of civil rights -- and the work of the United Nations.

 Diversity is the human face of globalization.  It is what gives humanity its dynamism and its promise.  I firmly believe that differences among human beings -- their views, their cultures, their ways of life -- are a source of strength.  Modern societies are too closely linked together, and modern weaponry is too destructive, for contacts among the world's peoples to be based on anything but tolerance and respect for human dignity.  That is what the United Nations stands for and fights for.  That is what we will continue to do.  It is our basic covenant with the world's people.  All else -- peace, prosperity, justice -- flows from it.

 And yet, as you know well, discrimination continues to take a heavy toll on our world.  It inhibits economic development.  It breeds political violence.  It tears societies apart.

 A major study published last year by the United Nations University based in Tokyo found differences among people to be at the heart of violent conflict -- but not in the way you might think at first, and not in the way such situations are commonly portrayed in the media.

 The authors of the study found that what is especially explosive is what they call "horizontal inequality":  by that they mean when power and resources are unequally distributed between groups that are also differentiated in other ways, for instance by race, religion or language.  So-called "ethnic" conflicts occur when one such group feels it is being discriminated against, or fears losing the privileges it enjoys.  From here on it is often only a short leap to dehumanizing myths cultivated by one group about the other, propagated and amplified by hate media.  And from there, small incidents can ignite and inflame a society and push it into full-scale violence, and entire communities can become gripped by hate and fear.

 The key point is that differences do not in themselves cause conflict.  What matters is how those differences are handled in a larger political, social and economic context.  Too often, they are manipulated and exploited by leaders seeking to build up their own power, or to hold on to power.

 A well-governed country -- a country in which all sectors of society feel a sense of ownership and belonging -- can avoid conflict.  Whatever its causes, discrimination is neither inevitable nor immutable.  Enmities among peoples and nations need not last forever.  Most so-called “ancient hatreds” are in fact newly minted fears and ignorance.

 I hardly need to tell you this, because Arabs, and even Arab-Americans, have suffered their own share of intolerance.  The Arab and Muslim worlds have contributed immeasurably to the world's store of scientific and artistic achievement.  Yet Arab culture and history are too little-known outside the Arab world, and too often misunderstood, particularly in the West.  Arabs and others of Middle Eastern origin have been stereotyped, labelled and typecast.  Arab-Americans have often been the targets of violence.  They have been profiled as threats to airline safety.  Sometimes they have even been denied the right to freely speak their mind.  Such prejudice must always be fought, because it stands in the way of "people-to-people" contacts.  In particular, dialogue between Arabs and their neighbours has been made much more difficult than it need have been.

 Multiply these experiences by other cultures and ethnicities, add in discrimination against half the human race -- women and girls -- and you have a terribly splintered world.  And that is precisely what we cannot afford in an age of interdependence, at a time when we are trying to stitch together a global community of tolerance and shared values so that we can confront global challenges together.

 That is the work you are trying to do, and it is among the core missions of the United Nations, based on the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Next year, a world conference to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia and other intolerance will be held in South Africa.  Next year will also be the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.  I see this dialogue not as one among civilizations in traditional terms; our interdependent world is such that civilizations no longer exist as "separate entities" in the way they once did.  Rather, I see it as a chance for people of different cultures and traditions to get to know each other better, whether they live on opposite sides of the world or in the same street.

 No one, I mean no one, can doubt that intolerance and violations of human rights -- especially the rights of the Palestinians -- have much to do with the long and sad history of violence in your own region of origin, the Middle East.  I know that many Arabs, here and abroad, feel that another form of discrimination is at work in the way the world treats that region's problems.

 There is a perception that international law and human rights are applied selectively, and that some countries are held more rigorously to account by the United Nations Security Council than others are.  This perception itself can, in turn, be a hindrance to the work of the United Nations, in the Middle East and beyond.  It is painful indeed when our credibility, our integrity and our ability to be an honest broker are called into question.

 Since its earliest days, the United Nations has been involved in the Middle East.  Our peacekeeping operations have promoted stability and created space for diplomacy.  United Nations civilian and military officials have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.  And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which this year marks its fiftieth anniversary, has been an essential lifeline for millions of Palestinians.  No other United Nations programme has been so closely linked, for so long, with the history of a single people.

 What links all these efforts is the search for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace throughout the region.  Like each of my predecessors, I have tried to support the peace process, notably by stressing the human rights of all parties.  During my visit to the Middle East two years ago, I witnessed the suffering and deprivation caused by decades of conflict.

 In Gaza, I saw the Palestinian Authority coping with its formidable responsibilities.  There and in Jordan, I met with Palestinian refugees who for generations had known no other life but that in the refugee camps -- men, women and especially children, trying to maintain their dignity under dismal conditions and restrictions.

 In Israel, I saw people yearning for peace and security.  In Lebanon and on the Golan Heights, I heard villagers express hope that their homes and fields would never again become battle zones.  I know we are all glad to see Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. 

 We are working very closely with the countries involved -- the two countries directly involved, the countries in the region and beyond the region -- to make this a success.  I hope in a relatively short time to be able to confirm the total withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese territory.  And I must say what is important is that it is amazingly calm -- all is quiet on the border.  It is quiet on the border because people have shown leadership and are showing restraint and making it possible.  It is my sincere hope that this border will from now on be as quiet as the borders between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan.

 There remains, of course, an urgent need for progress on the Syrian and Palestinian tracks.  We need a comprehensive peace in the region.  I am happy the President [Clinton] is working together with Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak to push the Palestinian track forward.  And I hope we will see some results soon.  I would also hope that the Syrian track will not languish for long.  Because I think the differences that divide the parties are relatively small.

 The parties must push ahead with the push for peace.  All of us here have a responsibility to do all we can to encourage and assist them and to achieve the peace they have sought for so long.  I can assure you that I will continue doing my utmost and will do all that I can to help facilitate the peace process.

 I did talk about Lebanon but I overlooked the need for economic and social development.  This is very much part of the work we are doing with the Government.  We are working with the World Bank and the with the United Nations Development Programme and we expect to organize an international pledging conference to assist the Government of Lebanon with reconstruction.

 Now let me turn to the wider region of the Middle East.  The wider region, too, sorely needs full peace, security and normalization.  The stalemate continues in Iraq, where a sanctions regime has been accused of worsening a humanitarian crisis as its unintended consequence.  What is certain, and tragic, is that it has held back Iraq's development -- economic, social and probably political as well.  My fervent hope is that Iraq will soon decide to comply fully with Security Council resolutions, and thus open a new chapter in its relations with the international community.

 A Middle East that is fully at peace will be able to devote its energies to the more hopeful pursuit of economic and social development.  A Middle East at peace will enjoy greater prosperity and freedom.  It will gain greater influence and respect on the world stage.  These goals have remained terribly elusive for many years, causing considerable despair.  But there exists today a real opportunity to change those fortunes for the better.  I know you share my hope that the leaders and peoples involved will seize that opportunity.  But of course the larger international community also has a responsibility to push for comprehensive peace in the region.

 With every passing day, the peoples of the world are more and more sharing the same space.  The globalization of trade and communications; the global proliferation of weapons and disease; global challenges such as environmental degradation make our dilemma clear.

 We are a global community.  Each community, village, city and nation is held together by shared values.  In this new global community, we need shared values -- such as freedom, tolerance, non-violence and international law, which is the language of the global community -- to help us manage this shared space we inhabit and manage it peacefully.

 You Arab-Americans bring to the table a profound awareness of the importance of global solidarity.  As members of an enterprising and lively diaspora, you know what it means to maintain old roots in one part of the world while putting down new roots in another.  You know what it means to inhabit several identities at once.  That makes me feel close to you, since I, too, am a transplant, living away from my native country of Ghana.  I have had to grow accustomed to places and cultures not my own, but which have enriched me and which, in turn, have helped me work better with others.

 Edward Said recently explored these themes in his moving autobiography, "Out of Place".  But he was not the first Arab-American writer to do so.  Ameen Rihani, one of the earliest, devoted his life to bringing the East and the West together.

 "We are not of the East or the West", he wrote.  "No boundaries exist in our breast: We are free".  The same idea is echoed in the motto of this convention: you are "truly Arab and fully American".

 I would add that you are also truly global citizens and fully respected partners of the United Nations.  The United Nations welcomes your efforts and needs you to be part of the coalitions for change that we are trying to build for the twenty-first century. 


* Reissued as delivered.

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