"WE MUST DO MUCH BETTER TO BRIDGE GAP BETWEEN RICH
NEW YORK, 26 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of an address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette upon receiving an honorary degree from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, today:
Thank you very much for your warm welcome. I am deeply honoured to receive this degree honoris causa from a university as esteemed as Queen’s. Although when I joined the United Nations nearly four years ago I became a citizen of the world, so to speak, I still feel a special pleasure in being surrounded by my fellow Canadians. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly, and thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon me, which has touched me deeply.
I am here with you today at what I believe is a pivotal moment in history. Had this ceremony taken place before September 11, I would no doubt have talked to you about the persistence of conflict in the post cold war era and how the UN is responding to these mostly internal, inter-ethnic but no less bloody wars.
I would certainly have pointed to the growing gap between rich and poor countries, the unacceptably high level of extreme poverty, the dramatic consequences of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and I would have tried to persuade you that with political will and more financial resources, progress can be achieved and hope restored.
I would have lamented the low priority given to the environment and suggested that delayed action on climate change and other environmental fronts will only mean more costly and drastic solutions down the line.
Finally, I would have talked about the institution itself, how it is changing for the better under the leadership of Kofi Annan and why, despite all its weaknesses, the UN remains an indispensable institution.
All of these issues continue to require our attention. But the events of 11 September are now constantly on our mind -- especially if, like me, you live in New York City. They have put fear into our hearts and shaken our confidence in the future.
I am sure you are asking yourselves: Why has this happened? How should the world respond? What can I do about it? These are the very questions that we in the United Nations are also grappling with.
The starting point is and must be the absolute rejection of terrorism. The Secretary-General has stressed the need for moral clarity in this matter. As he told the General Assembly, and I quote, "There can be no acceptance of those who would seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent civilian life, regardless of cause or grievance".
The international community has reacted with unprecedented speed and unity. In the United Nations, the Security Council and the General Assembly adopted far-reaching decisions, which commit all countries of the world to fight terrorism. The outpouring of sympathy towards the victims, from the poorest villages in Africa to the most affluent communities, has been overwhelming.
We must ensure that our collective response to the threat of terrorism helps to strengthen the bonds that unite communities and nations. Repairing the damage done to the fabric of the international community –- restoring trust among peoples and cultures will not be easy. But it must be our goal.
The lessons of the Second World War were not lost on our ancestors. They built a framework for international relations centred around the United Nations. This framework was based on beliefs and values that must continue to inspire us today.
At the Millennium Summit last year, the assembled leaders of countries all over the world affirmed their commitment to freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility.
These are values that have occupied a central place in the history of this country, Canada. In many ways, they define who we are as a nation and how we relate to each other and to the world. Canada, like other countries, will have to forge its own response to the challenges of terrorism. It will have to tighten security and impose new constraints on our lives that we would prefer not to have.
I am strongly convinced that societies can and must adjust to the new reality without sacrificing the values which are the very source of their strength and vitality. And I have no doubt that open, tolerant, democratic societies will find the right balance between the need to offer better protection to their members and the necessary respect for civil liberties and human rights.
But our obligations do not stop at our borders. If nothing else, the events of September 11 reminded us all how closely connected we are to our fellow human beings around the planet. The wave of human solidarity which the terrorist attacks generated must extend beyond terrorism.
It would be an insult to the poor of this world to suggest that poverty generates terrorism. Poor people usually want only one thing: to be able to live decently and in peace. And the sick minds that have planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have no right to invoke the poor as a justification for their action.
But there is no doubt in my mind that if we reject what the terrorists stand for –- violence, intolerance, fanaticism -– if we want to protect the values that we hold dear -– freedom, tolerance, justice, equality -– then we must do better, much better, to bridge the gap between rich and poor.
It is frankly scandalous that in the midst of unprecedented prosperity, we have witnessed an unprecedented drop in foreign aid. As a percentage of GNP, official development assistance (ODA) is now at its lowest level ever, including in Canada where ODA now stands at a meagre 0.25 per cent while Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all exceed the international target of 0.7 per cent. Barriers and subsidies continue to impede trade in sectors of greatest interest to developing countries, particularly in agriculture. Debt burdens, although reduced in recent years, remain very high in too many developing countries. And arresting the AIDS pandemic will require significant and sustained new resources for many years to come.
In making that point, I am not trying to push the UN’s favourite issues on the back of the terrorism agenda. I’m simply suggesting that we will have a better chance of winning the battle over terrorism if people around the world, especially young people, feel they can hope for a future that is better than that of their parents. This will not happen unless those who have more reach out to those who have less.
I am counting on you, dear graduates of this wonderful university located in this most fortunate of countries, to carry this vision forward. We are already living in a global village. It will be your generation’s challenge to make sure that the village prospers in peace and harmony. And you do not have to work at the UN to make a contribution. You just have to make sure that your decisions as professionals, and as citizens, take account of this new reality.
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* Revised to include text translated from French