Press Releases

    22 March 2002


    NEW YORK, 21 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Mexican Congress, delivered in Mexico City on 19 March:

    It is a great honour to be invited to address the Mexican Congress -- an honour that I regard as a sign of your strong commitment to the noble ideals of the United Nations and to our common work for peace and progress in the human condition.

    I also see this as an opportunity to build on the historic meeting of parliamentarians held at United Nations Headquarters as part of the Millennium Summit a year-and-a-half ago. There, the presiding officers of 145 national parliaments made an important contribution by setting out their unique vision of peace and progress for the twenty-first century.

    Indeed, you parliamentarians have a key role to play in world affairs. Parliament is a place where some of the country's most important business is carried out. A place where the elected representatives of the Mexican people -- a rich tapestry of views, traditions and beliefs -- come together for dialogue and debate. From this Congress emanate the laws of the land: laws affecting peoples' livelihoods and living conditions; laws that ratify international agreements; laws that turn United Nations ideals and United Nations resolutions into action at home.

    Parliamentarians thus carry tremendous responsibilities. More than anyone else, you must give voice to the Mexican peoples' struggles and aspirations. You must ensure that the concerns of the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable are kept at the forefront of national debate. As a bridge between the State and society, you must set an example -- working democratically, transparently and accountably for the interests of people and country. And since most of today's major problems -- from environmental degradation to drug trafficking -- have an international dimension, you are also a bridge between the local and the global.

    I would like to focus my remarks today on three issues of the utmost importance on which the Mexican Parliament is particularly well placed to contribute: the International Criminal Court; United Nations peacekeeping; and the Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey that has brought so many heads of State, business leaders, civil society groups and others to Mexico this week. And I would like to applaud the leadership of President Fox and the Mexican leadership and the people for the hospitality they have presented to us and the great way they have worked with us.

    Let me begin with the Court.

    The long-held dream of a permanent International Criminal Court is nearing reality. As of today, 139 countries have signed the Statute adopted in Rome in 1998, and 55 countries have ratified or acceded to it -- just five short of the 60 needed for the Statute to enter into force. I am pleased that Mexico has signed the Statute. I know how seriously you are considering the next, decisive step.

    The ICC has been called the missing link in the international legal system. As you know, the International Court of Justice at The Hague handles only civil cases between States. And the two existing international criminal tribunals -- on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia -- are limited to those two situations. Without a permanent international criminal court, acts of genocide and extreme violations of human rights will continue to go unpunished. Indeed, as José Ayala Lasso, the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, once said, "A person stands a better chance of being tried and judged for killing one human being than for killing 100,000".

    The Court will not, as some people have suggested, be a supranational entity, infringing on sovereignty and intruding on domestic legal systems. Rather, it will operate on the principle of complementarity. At present, arch-criminals go unpunished when national criminal justice institutions are unwilling or unable to act. It is in those circumstances -- and only those -- that the ICC will have jurisdiction.

    Our hope is that, by punishing the guilty, the ICC will bring some comfort to their surviving victims and to the communities that have been targeted. More important, we hope it will deter future war criminals, and bring nearer the day when no ruler, no State, no junta and no army anywhere will be able to abuse human rights with impunity.

    I know you share that objective. That is why Mexico played an active role in the process leading to the adoption of the Rome Statute, and in the negotiations since then on how the Court will work. I hope you will now ratify the Statute so that Mexico can be present when the Assembly of States Parties gathers for the first time -- probably by September of this year -- to take decisions on a range of important matters.

    Now let me turn to peacekeeping.

    The ability of the United Nations to contain conflict, and to rebuild peace, is one of the main yardsticks by which we are judged -- and rightly so. We have met some of these challenges with great success; elsewhere, we have had terrible setbacks. None of us have forgotten the tragedies in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Two years ago, I asked a panel of independent personalities to recommend ways for the United Nations to make its peace operations much more effective. The Panel’s report concluded that peacekeeping operations had for too long been used by Member States as a means to be seen as "doing something" in the face of public outcry, especially when the will to do the right thing was lacking, or there was no consensus about what "the right thing" was.

    The report stressed that doing the right thing sometimes means not deploying an operation at all, because the conditions for success simply do not exist -- in other words, there is no peace to keep. This does not mean that the United Nations would simply abdicate any responsibility for a given situation. Quite the opposite; there are many other ways, besides peacekeeping, for the international community to assist populations exposed to conflict.

    But in other cases, doing the right thing means deploying operations that are far better equipped in terms of personnel, equipment, and resources. In essence, the report called for an end to half-measures and wishful thinking. Its far-reaching recommendations covered everything from logistics, contingency planning and rapid deployment to staffing, funding and analysis. Many of the recommendations fall within my purview, and the Secretariat has been working hard to implement them. But many require approval, action or additional resources from Member States, not to mention wider support from governments and peoples.

    That is where you, as parliamentarians, can make a difference. Mexico is currently serving as a member of the Security Council, and I see your Ambassador is here with us this afternoon, and thus can help the Council shape clear mandates. You can also help explain these operations to your constituents, since public understanding and support are crucial ingredients for success.

    As long ago as 1949, Mexico contributed personnel to the United Nations observer group in India and Pakistan. More recently, Mexican police participated in ONUSAL, the operation that helped the peace process bear fruit in El Salvador. I would like to thank you for those contributions, and to express the hope that in the future Mexico will join in more such operations, and be an even bigger part of our efforts to stem the tide of conflict.

    Finally, let me turn to the Monterrey Conference, which has sparked such a lively debate in recent weeks. Indeed, I was pleased to learn that you yourselves are deeply involved in this process, having held a forum on the subject just three days ago here in Mexico City.

    The Monterrey Conference is a crucial part of our efforts to promote new and urgent commitments to our work for economic and social development. At the Millennium Summit, the political leaders of the world agreed that we must use the first 15 years of this new century to begin a major onslaught on poverty, illiteracy and disease. And they set a clear set of targets, by which to measure success or failure: the Millennium Development Goals. But those Goals will not be reached without resources: human resources, natural resources, and also, crucially, financial resources.

    As you know from your own experience, developing countries do not want handouts. They understand that they themselves must adopt the right policies to mobilize private investment, from their own citizens and from abroad. They have to embrace the market, ensure economic stability, fight corruption, uphold the rule of law and protect property rights.

    What they do ask is a fair chance to trade their way out of poverty, without having to face tariffs and quotas or to compete against subsidized products from rich countries. Many want relief from unsustainable debts. And in order to do without handouts, many are asking for a helping hand up, in the form of increased development assistance from wealthier nations.

    Until now, most developed countries have reacted with skepticism to this request -- feeling that too much aid was wasted in previous decades, by corrupt or inefficient governments. But they are also realizing more and more that we live in one world, not two, and that no one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived.

    Already, we have seen important announcements of increased aid by President Bush and the European Union. Perhaps just as important as the sums they pledged is that the argument in favour of aid has now been won. We have won that argument. This is good news for the million upon million of men, women and children, who are eager to improve their own lives, if only they are given the chance.

    As parliamentarians, there is much you can do to ensure that Mexico’s own financial resources -- hard-earned as they are -- are spent sensibly, investing in people. I encourage Mexico to do its part, at home and abroad, as we turn now to implementation of the Monterrey Consensus.

    I know that these challenges -- promoting global justice, peace and development -- fall on receptive ears here in Mexico.

    Mexico is a founding Member of the United Nations and for more than half a century has played a major role in the Organization's mission. It provided crucial support for the Central American peace process. It has joined in making Latin America a nuclear-weapon-free zone and signed landmark conventions banning chemical weapons and anti-personnel mines. United Nations agencies are working closely with their Mexican counterparts to protect the environment and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.

    This partnership is being strengthened by the political and economic transformation that Mexico is now undergoing. I shall leave this great city for Monterrey tomorrow morning secure in the knowledge that you -- the representatives of the people of Mexico -- understand not only the weight of the responsibilities on your shoulders, but the urgency with which, together, we must act.

    Thank you very much. Muchas gracias.

    * *** *