9 September 2003



NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the speech of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the fifty-sixth Annual DPI/NGO Conference in New York, 8 September:

Good morning to all of you, and let me extend a very warm welcome to the United Nations.  I am very glad to see so many of you here today.  You are really very good friends of the United Nations and your support is very much appreciated.

We meet at a solemn time for the United Nations, as we mourn the loss of the 22 people who were brutally killed last month in the attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.  We are also praying for the recovery of the many others who were injured, some very gravely.  Among the victims were both UN staff and members of distinguished NGOs, who had been working side by side to help the Iraqi people.

The Secretary-General and I, and all our colleagues, greatly appreciate your gesture of dedicating this conference to the memory of those who were lost.  Let us remember not only those killed on August 19, but indeed all UN and humanitarian workers who have given their lives in the service of humanity.

I ask you to stand and join me in remembering them during a minute of silence.

Thank you.

This is a crucial period in human affairs.  The United Nations has perhaps never been more sorely needed.  At this time, we must reaffirm our commitment to multilateral cooperation, broad-based action, and tolerance and understanding.

This was the vision to which world leaders committed themselves three years ago in the Millennium Declaration.

But since then, the world has been shocked by violence and beset by division.  Terrorism has struck many lands and targets, violently challenging the fundamental values of freedom and tolerance that underlay the Millennium Declaration.

And the consensus around other values -- solidarity, respect for nature, and a commitment to multilateralism -- has also been called into question.


That is why the theme of your conference -- “Human Security and Dignity:  Fulfilling the promise of the United Nations” -- is most timely.

It reminds us of our collective responsibility to all the world’s people.  It reminds us of the commitment of world leaders to strengthen the United Nations, and to advance the cause of peace, development, protection of the environment and respect for human rights.  And it reminds us that security is not merely a matter of protecting States from military danger.

As the recent report of the Commission on Human Security emphasizes, real security can only be built by reducing, and ultimately removing, the insecurities that plague individual human lives.  I am glad that the Co-Chair of the Commission, Sadako Ogata, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will speak at your closing session.

In this new millennium, we must shape globalization so that it is a positive force for all the world’s people.  The vision of the United Nations must be the security and dignity of each and every human being on our planet.  We must aim at nothing less than a world where every man, woman, and child has clean water, enough food to eat, adequate shelter, good health care, a decent education, protection from the violence of man or nature, and a government by popular consent under law.

This vision will not be achieved this year, or maybe even in this decade.  But we must bring it measurably closer -- day-by-day, year-by-year.

The Millennium Development Goals, as articulated in the Millennium Declaration, are benchmarks for progress in this effort.  They bind countries to do more to join forces and fight poverty, illiteracy, hunger, lack of education, inequality, child and maternal mortality, disease and environmental degradation.

Meeting the eight Goals is a matter of life and death for millions.  It is as important as dealing with any military danger -– as some simple statistics show.  Today, over a billion people survive on less than a dollar a day, 800 million are undernourished, and over 150 million children under five are underweight.  The people of sub-Saharan Africa are particularly afflicted by extreme poverty and hunger.

A billion people lack regular access to safe drinking water.  More than double that number lack access to adequate sanitation.  In the time that I speak to you this morning, over 100 children will die from water-related diseases.

Twenty-two million people have already died of HIV/AIDS.  Forty-two million are infected with this terrible disease.  In parts of Africa, one in three adults is infected.  And as we look into the future, we fear that the pandemic will grow.  Even in a moderate scenario, two hundred million people could be infected in China, India and the Russian Federation by 2025.

Today, millions of children are not in school.  The majority of these are girls.  Of the 900 million illiterate people worldwide, two thirds are women.

Unlike some of the threats which dominate the headlines, we do not have to paint “what if” scenarios when it comes to poverty, hunger, unclean water, disease or illiteracy.  We do not have to speculate on the terrible death and devastation that they might cause.  Because they already do.  We do not have simply to hope that addressing these problems would build greater human security.  We know it would.

We also know that these issues are linked.  For example, if we can halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation services by 2015, we will lower child mortality, combat malaria, reduce extreme poverty and hunger, empower women, and improve the lives of slum dwellers.

And let us remember that deprivation and injustice can breed desperation and division.  Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will not only contribute to human development.  It will also be an important contribution to conflict prevention.

We therefore must review what progress has been made in achieving the Goals, and what remains to be done.  The Secretary-General is today issuing a report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, including in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The message of the Secretary-General’s report is clear:  while ambitious, the Goals are achievable.  But more must be done if they are to be met.  Progress has been made -- in some regions, in some areas.

For instance, eastern and south-eastern Asia are on track to meet the goal of halving the proportion of people who live in extreme poverty, and south-central Asia is making good progress.  In some regions, progress has been made in reducing child mortality. There have been advances in many parts of the world in securing access to clean water in rural areas. There has been some progress in most regions in eliminating gender disparities in education.

But in many regions, in many areas, there has been little or no progress -- or even steps backwards.

In western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased since 1990, and there has been stagnation in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Only two countries have managed to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS once it reached crisis proportions, and some others have succeeded in stopping its spread early, but overall there has been an alarming lack of progress in stemming the spread of the disease.  In urban areas, access to safe water has generally gotten worse -- and countless countries will face acute water shortages if urgent action is not taken.  There are few signs of real progress in reducing maternal mortality.

If stagnation and regression is to turn into progress, and if slow progress is to turn into quick advance, more attention must be given to top priority and high priority countries, and to those countries which, even while making progress, retain areas of deep deprivation.

The Secretary-General’s report encourages poor countries to make bold reforms.  But it particularly underscores the need for rich countries to fulfil their side of the bargain.  Indeed, the eighth Goal -- the building of a global partnership for development -- is crucial to achieving the other seven.  Rich countries must deliver more aid more effectively, relieve more debt more quickly, reduce their subsidies, open their markets, and share their technologies.  And they should adopt time-bound targets for fulfilling these tasks.

The growing political and financial support over the past year for key priorities, particularly the fight against HIV/AIDS, clearly shows that resources can be mobilized very rapidly to meet specific challenges, if the political will is there.

And the meeting later this week of world trade ministers in Cancun, Mexico, is an opportunity for rich countries to give life and meaning to the global partnership for development, by at last agreeing to reduce agricultural subsidies that prevent poor countries trading their way out of poverty.

You, as NGOs, whether from the South or from the North, also have vital roles to play in the massive global effort that is needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

You can make an enormous contribution in helping to translate these global goals into concrete gains for people at the local level.  You can also be instrumental in bringing local concerns and realities to the attention of decision-makers, both at the national and global level.  No one is better placed than you to rally people around the Goals, stimulate debate, and push governments to make the achievement of the Goals a top priority.

Of course, the Millennium Development Goals are grounded in the broader framework of the Millennium Declaration -- a framework which encompasses a range of issues from conflict prevention and promoting democracy to protection of refugees and advancing human rights.  As civil society increases its engagement with the Goals, I am confident you will remain active on these broader issues.

The importance of NGOs in international affairs continues to grow.  If we are to realize the vision of the Millennium Declaration, we must build on the progress already made in strengthening the relationship between the United Nations and civil society.

To this end, earlier this year, the Secretary-General asked former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil to chair a panel of eminent persons on UN relations with civil society.  I am glad that he will be addressing you today.

The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the work of this panel.  It is in its early stages, and consultation with NGOs and other interested parties will be central to its deliberations.

The world needs the United Nations now as never before -- not only to meet threats to international peace and security in the narrow sense, but to meet the threats to human security that are all too real; not only to be a forum of discussion and debate, but to be a vehicle for consensus, decision and action; not to preserve the status quo, but to change it radically.

The world also needs active and committed NGOs, and a strong civil society.  And we need each other.  In that spirit, I wish you all the best for a successful conference.

* *** *