Press Releases

    19 June 2002


    NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at today’s meeting with Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace:

    Let me say how wonderful it is to see all of you in this room -- outstanding men and women from every region, from every faith, concerned about your fellow human being.

    Please forgive me for opening on a sombre note today, but these days, you never know what you’ll wake up to. This morning we learned there had been another desperate act of terror that took innocent lives in Israel, among them, schoolchildren. My sorrow could not be deeper for all the families touched by this tragedy.

    I must, once again, in the strongest possible terms, repeat my condemnation of all such acts of violence. No cause can justify the taking of innocent lives and this should give us one more reason to work harder to bring peace to that tragic region. And I know you are all with me as we search for peace in the Middle East.

    Let me begin, my dear Ambassadors, Messengers and Friends, to say that when I walked into this room, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. I wondered whether it was a combination of the Oscars, the Olympics, the Grammies or the Pulitzers.

    Seriously, it fills me with bewilderment and awe to enter a room filled with such talent and fame -- and what is more, talent and fame that is being used for the betterment of mankind.

    As Harry Belafonte said the last time we held this gathering -- the world is filled with celebrity, but not all celebrity works for the good of humankind.

    So you have good reasons to be proud of yourselves. Let me thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and join us. I know many of you have come from long distances, and you all have come at your own expense, another indication of how seriously you take this commitment.

    This is the second time we have had the honour of welcoming you to the United Nations as ambassadors and messengers of peace here at United Nations Headquarters. The first time was an opportunity for all of us to get to know each other. But not all of you were here then. So let me welcome especially those who are here for the first time today.

    This second session should give us a chance to take a more thorough look at how we can help each other.

    I hope it will help you gain a deeper understanding of the work the United Nations does, and thereby reinforce your ability to act as advocates and spokespersons for the United Nations family.

    But just as important, it will help us learn from you how the United Nations can make its message more effective, and get our story across. We are not very good at that.

    The United Nations may be an association of governments, but its role is to protect the rights and meet the needs of people everywhere. And it is on people as much as on governments that it depends for support -- people far beyond those who work in and visit this building.

    Between you, you can connect with people practically everywhere on earth -- people who may love music or art or reading or great sportsmanship; but who do not necessarily spend time learning about the so-called big issues, or how those issues affect their lives.

    You are here because you want those people to know more about those issues, and because you want to encourage them to do something about them.

    In particular, you can capture the attention and imagination of young people who will carry forward our work later in the century. You can help them understand that today, and more than ever tomorrow, a global outlook is indispensable. That we cannot afford to think in purely local terms and we need to understand that what happens locally has an impact on the global, and what happens globally has an impact in our own respective countries and communities. Without this understanding, I don’t think we are going to be able make the collective progress we are all yearning for.

    You can help instil in young people the values of understanding, solidarity, respect and communication across all cultures -- the very ideals the United Nations stands for -- so that those values come to them naturally for the rest of their lives.

    In the two years since our last gathering, a great deal has happened to bring home the crucial importance of those values in the 21st century.

    The attacks of 11 September provided a painful reminder of the need for the world to work together to address global challenges.

    The General Assembly’s special session on HIV/AIDS showed us that the world is indeed ready to work together in fighting one of the greatest challenges of our age -- the worst epidemic humankind has ever known.

    And the Nobel Peace Prize offered recognition that to achieve such truly global cooperation in the 21st century, the United Nations plays an indispensable role. That role has been amply demonstrated over the past two years by events in East Timor, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia-Eritrea and Myanmar, and the entry into force of the Treaty of the International Criminal Court.

    Your presence here today, representing so many different communities, callings and countries, shows vividly that when it comes to working together for a better world, there is no divide between civilizations. You give life to the role of the United Nations as a common ground to strengthen the bonds of our global community.

    And it shows that the message you will take back to your various audiences and constituencies is truly universal. It can be summed up in the Millennium Declaration, agreed by all the world’s leaders two years ago as a blueprint for improving the lives of peoples in the 21st century.

    In the Millennium Declaration, governments pledged themselves to meeting the needs of their peoples -- to freeing them from abject poverty and disease, from the scourge of war, and from the threat of living on a planet that can no longer sustain its inhabitants.

    That agenda is no less pressing today than it was when it was adopted in September 2000. On the contrary, I believe it has taken on a new urgency.

    The number of people in this world living on one dollar a day or less, in hunger and without safe water, has not decreased.

    The number of people dying of AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other preventable diseases has not decreased.

    The factors that cause the desert to advance, biodiversity to be lost, and the earth’s atmosphere to warm have not decreased.

    And in many parts of the world afflicted by the scourge of war, innocent people have not ceased to be murdered, mutilated, dragged or driven from their homes.

    It was national leaders who adopted the Millennium Declaration. It is up to them, above all, to see to it that it is put into practice, that it is implemented. But governments cannot do it alone. They need nudging. They need to hear the voices of people who insist that their leaders translate those pledges into action.

    That is where you come in. Whenever you put your name to a message, you raise awareness far and wide, among policy makers and among millions of people who elect them. In an age when the media tends to focus on issues they may think of as more immediately accessible to the public, our chances of breaking through the barrier of indifference are vastly improved when we have people like you in our corner and for our cause.

    Just look at the impact Bono has had in arguing the case for debt relief and poverty alleviation in Africa. A TV reporter told me the other day that he was confused about who was the real architect of United States foreign policy -- the Irish musician or the Secretary of the Treasury.

    I am sure all of you are as passionate -- and compassionate -- about your mission as Bono is, even if all of you would adopt quite different approaches to get your message across and will not do it the same way. Please do not hesitate to turn to us for information and advice whenever you need it. But please don’t feel that you have to wait for us to tell you what to do before speaking out on the issues that you care about.

    Many of you have spent many years or even decades learning about the issues you champion. Even some of you who have joined us more recently already have a long-standing commitment to your particular cause. I hope the United Nations family will be able to benefit from your experience and long-time commitment.

    Such commitments reflect your true "star quality"-- not the glitter of celebrity on the outside, but the character of the human being inside -- a human being who cares enough to stick to her mission and to stick his or her neck out for others.

    We will hear some examples of how this is done and how this can be done in a moment. You will hear from others who have traveled across the world, delivering important messages, giving hope, and touching people who are in need of support and encouragement. Sometimes we tend to underestimate the important role of third parties -- someone who shows interest, someone who gets up and says that this is enough, we cannot take it anymore, we cannot allow this to go on. It does give those in difficult situations hope, strength to resist, strength to fight, and they know that someone cares and someone is going to go out and bear witness. I think your role as ambassadors and messengers is extremely important to many, many people around the world and to this Organization.

    Please go out and use your talent to help us make the world a better place. I look forward to hearing about your progress and your views here today.

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