17 February 2003

United Nations Is Valuable Ally, Instrument in Struggle for Peace, Secretary-General Tells Peace Prize Festival and Forum

NEW YORK, 14 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a message sent by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Eighth Annual Nobel Peace Prize Festival, at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, and to the Fifteenth Annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum, at Concordia College, Moorehead, Maine, delivered by Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury, High Representative of the Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States:

In the century since the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded -- a century of savage bloodshed and loss, but also one of extraordinary progress and vision -- humankind's understanding of peace has grown immeasurably. We have seen deep changes in the nature of conflict and instability, as well as their underlying root causes. That means we have had to adapt our approaches to preventing and resolving conflict, and most of all improve our understanding of what it takes to build and maintain peace.

We have learnt that peace is a constant work in the making, and that peace means far more than the absence of war. We have learnt that peace means freedom from poverty, that it means justice, human rights and education, that it means health and good governance. Peace means giving human beings the opportunity to lead a decent life.

We have also learnt that the work for peace is far too important to be left only to politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats. It is the work of a partnership that must engage everyone. And it depends on all of us sharing the conviction that change for the better is possible, and that each one of us can make a difference.

That is especially true of young people like you, who will take over during this century. I am delighted that you have already started thinking about what you can do to defend, build and promote peace, without waiting for governments to tell you what to do.

However you choose to do it, I hope you will always see the United Nations as a valuable ally in the struggle for peace. This is a crucial time in the life of the world Organization. We start the year with anxiety -- over the prospect of war in Iraq, over nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula, and over what seems like violence without end in the Middle East. Even Côte d'Ivoire, which used to be one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa, is now caught in the downward spiral of conflict.

The threat of global terror hangs over all of us. We don't know where or when it will strike next.

The worldwide AIDS epidemic will claim many more lives this year, and will then go on claiming more and more lives in 2004 and 2005. In southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, as many as 30 million people face the threat of a food crisis this year. And poverty everywhere is condemning mothers and infants to premature deaths, sending them to bed hungry, denying them clean drinking water, keeping them away from school.

Meanwhile, climate change is already here. It is one of the reasons why we have so many storms, floods and droughts, causing more and more humanitarian emergencies and tragedies.

And yet, I am still an optimist. We should not see this only as an age of threats, but as a time that offers many new and exciting opportunities. And the world has instruments that are well-placed to deal with these problems, and foremost amongst them is the United Nations itself. Nations working together can make a difference. Nations upholding the rule of law can advance the cause of a fairer world. And ours is the first generation that can defeat poverty -- if we put our minds to it, and if we hold our leaders to the pledges they made at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

We must pursue with vigour our overriding mission to meet the Millennium Development Goals and work for freedom from fear, freedom from want, and protection of our planet's resources. Our guiding motto must be to put people at the centre of everything we do.

You all have an important part to play -- by making your voices heard; by raising awareness; by showing the will to overcome differences; by building networks of concerned citizens; by holding your governments accountable. Please think of this as your commitment; we need all of you to be involved in this undertaking. In that spirit, I wish you a most inspiring meeting.

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