1 August 2001


It Must Help Heal Old Wounds without Reopening Them

NEW YORK, 31 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the National Urban League Conference in Washington, D.C., on 30 July:

Thank you for that very generous introduction. It is a real pleasure for me to join you today, and to have the opportunity to address an organization of such distinction and dignity, such purpose and progressive sense, and such a record of achievement on behalf of African Americans for almost a hundred years.

I feel truly among friends and allies, knowing that our struggle is one and the same -- for human dignity, for equality of opportunity, and for economic development as the cornerstone of global progress. President Price, to paraphrase your words -- economic power is the next global civil rights frontier.

Today, I want to speak to you about three of the most critical challenges facing the United Nations in the battle for human dignity -– the future of Africa, the fight against AIDS, and next month’s World Conference on Racism in South Africa.

We all now recognize that to succeed in any of these global endeavours, we need to build new coalitions, bringing together governments, civil society, foundations, the private sector and organizations such as the Urban League. I am grateful for your support.

The beginning of the twenty-first century presents Africa with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Rapid technological change and the globalization of trade, investment and financial markets are making dramatic progress possible.

Globalization has brought opportunities for expansion into new products and new markets, as well as a new focus on competition and efficiency. Of course, this is not to imply that the experience with globalization has been universally positive.

Indeed, important and pressing questions are being asked about the process of globalization, about how its benefits are being shared, and in particular whether it is widening rather than narrowing the gap between rich and poor, within and among countries. And as we have seen in Seattle and, most recently, in Genoa, the concern about global inequality is spreading.

What was equally important, however, about Genoa was that the G-8 made an unprecedented commitment to helping Africa escape the cycle of poverty and violence.

Africa’s sustainable development will be secured when Africans have the capital, the markets, the safety of property, and the technology to increase their productivity. In addition, development partners must increase the volume and quality of official development assistance (ODA), and ensure that it complements and encourages private investment.

To provide an enabling environment for foreign investment and to increase their competitiveness, African countries have made remarkable progress in regional integration. But we all know that no private investors -- not the most far-sighted multinational corporation, nor the most patriotic African -- are going to risk their hard-won capital in a chronically insecure neighbourhood. Without political stability and a predictable environment, neither private investment nor development assistance can take root or make a lasting difference.

For too long, conflict and poverty in Africa have been seen as inevitable or intractable, or both. They are neither. Conflict and poverty in Africa can be defeated -- with imagination, persistence, patience and, above all, will. Africa’s extraordinary human and material resources, the resilience and humanity of its peoples, the increased education of its youth and its growing appreciation for the rule of law -- offer a solid basis for African development.

And I believe Africa’s leaders are beginning to tackle these challenges with the will to make a difference. The decision at the most recent meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to launch the African Union holds great promise. With leadership and courage, the African Union has the potential to do for Africa what the European Union has done for Europe -- to rebuild, as Europe did, after a series of devastating wars, uniting across old divisions to build a continent characterized by peace, cooperation, economic progress, and the rule of law.

To seize this opportunity, Africa needs its partnership with America and African-Americans to be as profound in its consequences as it is admirable in its aspiration. The challenges facing Africa’s peoples at the beginning of the century are considerable. Some are the product of geography or of a history stretching back over centuries. And today, the continent faces a new one: a deadly disease that haunts its peoples, and threatens to rob it of its most precious resource –- its youth. Fortunately, the impact and threat of HIV/AIDS is finally becoming apparent to every leader in every society.

In the fight against AIDS, there is no us and them, no developed and developing countries, no rich and poor -- only a common enemy that knows no frontiers and threatens all peoples.

Over the last year, there has been a remarkable global process of awareness, engagement and mobilization on the issue of HIV/AIDS. For the first time, we are seeing the emergence of a response to this deadly disease that begins to match the scale of the epidemic itself.

Governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector and civil society are all engaged in an unprecedented effort to defeat an epidemic that to date has infected an estimated 36 million people and claimed 22 million lives.

At the Abuja Summit in April, African leaders made clear their commitment to the fight against AIDS. And at the United Nations General Assembly special session in June, the world came together to set common targets for reducing the spread of AIDS and alleviating its impact.

The priorities should be clear: First, to ensure that people everywhere -– particularly the young –- know what to do to avoid infection. Second, to stop perhaps the most tragic form of HIV transmission –- from mother to child. Third, to provide treatment for all those infected. Fourth, to redouble the search for a vaccine, as well as a cure. Fifth, to care for all whose lives have been devastated by AIDS, particularly the orphans. There are 13 million of them today –- and their numbers are growing.

The battle against AIDS will not be won without the necessary resources. We need to mobilize an additional seven to ten billion dollars a year to fight this disease worldwide. Part of these funds will be found in increased domestic budgets in countries in every part of the world. In Africa, leaders are rising to the challenge, and African governments have pledged to increase their health budgets significantly. This is laudable, but it is not enough.

African and other developing countries will need substantial assistance to meet the needs of their peoples.

That is why the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the establishment of a Global AIDS and Health Fund, which all sides now agree must become operational by the end of this year. The Fund has to date received $1.4 billion in contributions and pledges -– from governments, foundations, businesses and private citizens. This is a very good beginning. But much, much more is needed. I, therefore, call on governments, civil society, foundations and individuals and community leaders like you in this hall to contribute to the fight against AIDS in any way you can.

We shall not defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague Africa until we have also won the battle for basic health care, safe drinking water, and sanitation. We shall not defeat them until we have also defeated malnutrition, and overcome the ignorance of basic precautions which leaves so many poor people exposed to infection. And we shall not defeat these ills until we have secured a sustainable process of economic growth and development.

Such a future is within our reach, I am convinced. But only on one condition: that we end Africa’s conflicts -- and fortunately, African leaders are coming together to do just that, as we saw at the OAU Summit in Lusaka.

At the root of these conflicts are often prejudices and hatreds tied to ethnic and racial differences, which are exploited by leaders for destructive political or lucrative ends. From the genocide in Rwanda to the conflict in the Sudan to the tensions in Burundi, the continent is living with the most devastating consequences of division and intolerance.

Intolerance around the world is as widespread as it is pernicious. Its victims are diverse, and include women, migrant workers, refugees, indigenous people, minorities and those whose political views or sexual orientation are deemed objectionable for one reason or another.

Its manifestations are equally varied: we see prejudice in the workplace and sports arenas; in textbooks and mass media; in identity-based politics; and the provision of government services. Intolerance has also drawn inadvertent sustenance from globalization, with increased contacts and competition among peoples creating new tensions and suspicion.

But if the malady is clear, the remedy is less so. Our real challenge is not just to diagnose the disease, but to treat it. We cannot dismiss discrimination as human nature, since we know that people are taught to hate.

We must not tolerate intolerance as a predictable by-product of poverty, injustice or poor governance; if these are among the conditions that pit man against man, it is well within our power to change them. And it is not just words that we are worried about: hostile rhetoric is a precursor to hostile acts, and hostile acts have a way of escalating into violence and conflict.

The battle against intolerance is not a job for one group or one organization; it calls for a combination of actions by a coalition of actors.

It begins, of course, with the responsibility of each of us to treat our fellow men and women with dignity and respect. Governments and leaders can also play a powerful role. It is their responsibility to ensure that constitutional, legislative and administrative guarantees are in place. They are also best placed to tackle the problems that fuel intolerance, such as unemployment, and to lead the national dialogue on these issues.

Education is of central importance to defeating racism. But education is not just a matter for schools.

Some countries have taken special measures to integrate immigrant journalists into national and regional broadcasting enterprises. The business community can raise public awareness through its hiring and other practices, as called for in my Global Compact. And the Urban League -– and other groups like yours -- can continue to build on your extraordinary record of breaking down barriers and creating equal opportunity regardless of race or colour.

There is a clear international dimension to this effort. United Nations treaties often serve as the basis for national laws. Our development work, peacekeeping operations, human rights programmes and all our assistance have the principle of equality at their core.

Some of the most important work at the moment is being done by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. With recent convictions for genocide, rape, war crimes and crimes against humanity, we are witnessing important steps for accountability and against impunity.

The presence of former President Milosevic in The Hague is giving practical effect to the principle, elucidated so memorably at the Nuremberg trials, that all individuals in a government hierarchy or military chain of command, without exception, from rulers to private soldiers, must answer for their actions.

No country is immune from the costs inflicted by prejudice and intolerance. But that does not mean we will find one-size-fits-all solutions. What works in one place will not necessarily work somewhere else.

That is why it is essential that nations of the world come together to exchange experiences in their local struggles against a global enemy.

Next month in Durban, South Africa, will host a United Nations World Conference aimed at uprooting these evils throughout the world. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance will aim to produce a Declaration and a Programme of Action with specific, forward-looking, and practical recommendations on how governments and civil society can make the new century free of the scourge of racism.

We need a Conference and a Declaration that will look unflinchingly at every society in the world, and at those flaws which exacerbate, rather than eliminate, conflicts rooted in race and ethnicity. We need to acknowledge the tragedies of the past, but not become captive to them. We need a Declaration that all people can recognize as their own -– one that inspires all peoples, not just governments, to do their part, to understand the past and build a better future.

The months leading up to the Conference have opened up deep fissures on a number of sensitive issues, such as the legacy of slavery and colonialism, and the situation in the Middle East.

If this Conference is to succeed, there is an acute need for common ground. The Conference must help heal old wounds without reopening them; it must confront the past, but most importantly it must help set a new course against racism in the future.

I have drawn your attention to these three priorities of the United Nations because I believe they concern us all -– Africans, African-Americans, citizens of the world who cannot stand by idly and witness the destruction caused by the scourge of AIDS or the evil of racism.

We are united by our common humanity –- men and women, black and white, the Urban League and the United Nations -– and I am confident that the world can be the better for it. I thank you for your service and dedication to the goals of equality and human dignity, and I wish you a successful conference.

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