8 August 2003


NEW YORK, 7 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the ceremony marking issuance of the United Nations Stamp commemorating Ralph Bunche and the centenary of his birth, in New York on 7 August:

Stamps are among the unsung messengers of international cooperation, with great power, in their journeys across the globe, to communicate, educate, and delight.  The stamps being issued today by the United Nations Postal Administration will tell the world about one of the heroes of my lifetime -- but one who is too little remembered these days:  Ralph Bunche, who would have been 100 years old today.

The stamps admirably portray Bunche’s dignity and humanity.  But, with all due respect to the artist, no tiny, two-dimensional image could fully capture the rich complexity of this towering figure in twentieth-century history.

Ralph Bunche was present at the creation of the United Nations, as one of the co-authors of the Charter and a leading advocate of decolonization.  He laid the foundation for United Nations peacekeeping.  He was intimately involved in every one of the key questions which the United Nations grappled with in its first decades.

As if that was not enough, Bunche was also a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the United States, and an acclaimed and pioneering scholar of political science, especially race relations.

Every United Nations staff member, no matter where he or she toils, and whether or not he or she realizes it, is working in the shadow of Ralph Bunche, who believed passionately in the need for an independent, international civil service. I recall, in my earliest days with the Organization -- towards the end of Bunche’s career -- the awe with which we regarded his long list of accomplishments and how it set a standard for the rest of us.

This centenary is an opportunity to remember Bunche, and to carry his legacy and wisdom forward to new generations.  It is also an occasion to contemplate what he might make of this dramatic moment in human affairs and in the history of the institution to which he dedicated so much of his life.

He would be satisfied, I think, to see what we are doing to improve peacekeeping operations and other responses to conflict.  Yet, he would be deeply dismayed that it has taken us so long to take such modest steps, and truly appalled that it took new acts of genocide to set these changes in motion.

He would be glad to know that the relationships between peace, development and freedom are now more widely recognized, but again frustrated that this, too, has taken so long to happen, at great cost in entrenched poverty and human suffering.

Bunche was, to all outward appearances, a patient man, as befits a meticulous negotiator determined to exhaust every last opportunity to resolve differences through peaceful means.  But inside him burned a blazing urgency and idealism about the many problems facing the human family, especially the oppressed and the dispossessed.

On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950, Bunche gave voice to that keenly felt anxiety about the inability of human beings to live together peacefully.  In a few memorable words, he encapsulated the mission of the United Nations.  The United Nations exists, he said, “not merely to preserve the peace but also to make change -- even radical change -- possible without violent upheaval.  The United Nations has no vested interest in the status quo”.  I think that statement is as applicable today as it was then.

We should all strive try to recapture that spirit today.  As we continue Bunche’s efforts to rouse the world from complacency and indifference, we should do as Bunche did, and ask what each one of us can do to build a safer, better world for all people.  Such daily devotion to peace, coexistence and mutual respect would be the best way to celebrate the force of life, the champion of peace, the inspiration that was Ralph Bunche.

Thank you very much.

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