27 June 2001


NEW YORK, 26 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the reception to present the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights on 25 June:

Thank you very much, Mark [Malloch Brown]. Not long ago you all heard Djibril [Diallo] our friend say that we are very happy the Secretary-General had joined us. He was wrong. I am the one who should thank you for joining us, who should thank you for joining this battle. Without you we would have no troops for this incredible war that we are taking on. So I want to thank all of you for being here and for joining this fight. It is a fight we are determined to win, and can win. Let me also thank Mark Malloch Brown, for those kind words. And indeed I will follow his example, and be brief so you can all rush off to dinner. It has been a long day, and I don't want to keep you here a minute longer.

Let me start by saying that I have just been downstairs in the lobby to look at some exhibitions of exceptionally moving photos and pictures, which are sponsored by some of our hosts tonight. They include works by the world-renowned war photographer Don McCullin, and "Positive Lives", a project put together by the Network photographers' group and the Terrence Higgins Trust.

I urge you all to take the time to see these inspiring images, which illustrate the impact of AIDS on individuals, and those individuals' responses to it. We can all learn from them about the courage it takes to face up to this epidemic.

Let me also express my warmest thanks to Drew Altman and the Kaiser Family Foundation, and to John Demsey and the MAC AIDS Fund, for their leadership, vision and generosity in our common fight against HIV/AIDS. Your participation is a model of the sort of public-private partnership we need to win this fight. Only by bringing everyone together can we mount an effective response to the pandemic. The United Nations family looks forward to building further on that partnership as we step up our struggle from now on.

Over the past year, we have seen a turning point in that struggle. Twenty years ago, few of us had even heard of AIDS. Ten years ago, few of us had any notion of the scale of the disaster. Even two years ago, most people in Western countries still thought of AIDS as a mainly domestic problem, and believed they were getting it under control. But now, for much of the international community, the magnitude of the crisis is beginning to sink in. As I told delegates at the special session of the General Assembly this morning, we must seize the moment and mount a truly universal response.

Tonight, however, we are here to honour someone who has been a hero of the struggle for a long time: Dr. Peter Piot. Peter, your leadership of UNAIDS for the past six years, and your work with the World Health Organization before that, has been characterized by courage that matches your conviction, and energy that equals your expertise.

You have devoted much of your professional life to the fight against infectious diseases in Africa, and you have brought to the United Nations family a blend of authority and dedication that can only come from long and hard first-hand experience.

You have been a source of strength and support to me personally as I have made the fight against AIDS my personal priority. You have rightly pointed out that half measures do not work against this epidemic, and you are a living example of the kind of whole-hearted commitment we need -- a commitment to the belief that living free of AIDS should be a universal human right.

Today, you are the rightful recipient of an award named for another hero in breaking the silence on AIDS, Nelson Mandela. And so, Peter, I am proud to ask you now to come up and join me, and accept the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. It is richly deserved.

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