7 October 2003


NEW YORK, 6 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the global resident representatives meeting in Tarrytown, New York, on 6 October:

It is hard to believe that it has been almost four years since the last global meeting of resident representatives.

My hair is certainly a lot grayer than it was in February 2000, and not just because of age.  Mark, I’m afraid yours is, too, and not just because you have a new baby around the house.  Actually, it’s a wonder that you and I have any hair left at all, given how difficult it can be for the United Nations and its programmes to change course.  Still, as aggravating as those efforts can be at times, today the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has a great deal to show for them, and all of you should be very proud.

When Mark first took the helm, he was something of a stranger to most of you, and the UNDP was embarking on a new strategy.  By now you have got to know him much better.  You have experienced his leadership skills, his strengths as an advocate of development, and his ability to articulate a vision for the UNDP.  You have also got to know each other better.  You have worked hard to make the resident coordinator system more coherent and responsive; you have gained a deeper appreciation for what it means to be some of the United Nations’s leading front-line actors; and you have amassed a wealth of experience in the UNDP’s new way of serving the world’s peoples.

The results are gratifyingly clear.  In-house surveys show that you and your staff are more motivated, and have both a clearer sense of your mission and greater confidence in management.  Your key partners seem to agree that the UNDP is moving in the right direction.  Independent surveys of governments, donors and civil society groups give you broadly positive ratings.  Your message is getting through.  Your work, from governance to crisis prevention, is respected and in demand.

These are impressive achievements.  But of course, as I’m sure you yourselves would be the first to stress, there remains ample room for improvement.  The world is not standing still.  And there are far more important barometers of change than gray hair or colourful new flow charts.  Indeed, if one were to catalogue some of the dramatic developments that have occurred since our last meeting, that session seems truly a world away.

In February 2000, the Millennium Declaration had yet to be adopted, or even drafted.

What we now know as the Millennium Development Goals consisted of a disparate set of good ideas and targets scattered among a plethora of plans of action and conference outcomes.

There was no Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Doha, Monterrey, Johannesburg were just names on the near horizon, not yet the rallying cries for fair trade, development partnerships and sustainability that they went on to become.

Terrorists, though an ever-present threat, had yet to shock the world with the horror of 9/11, of Bali and Mombasa, of Casablanca and Riyadh.

Israelis and Palestinians were still, despite hitches, on the path to peace they began together at Oslo.

And the Iraq situation festered on, its people suffering mightily.

One almost has to rub one’s eyes in disbelief at the distance travelled since then, and at the brutal contradictions of today.  So many hopeful steps, so much newly minted despair; so many unprecedented agreements, so much deep discord.  We are in a much-transformed environment.

Any discussion of the new environment in which we are carrying out our work must begin with the Baghdad bombing and its implications.  First, let me reiterate the overarching importance I attach to the safety and security of all staff.  These are times of wrenching sadness over the loss of some of our most talented colleagues.  There is also palpable fear about where and when the next attack could occur.  Given our presence -- your presence -- in so many volatile regions, and our work on so many sensitive issues, the United Nations is suddenly, and uniquely, exposed.  Moreover, it does not take much for malevolent people in one place to get ideas from those in another.

As I have told the Member States, in future, not only in Iraq but wherever the United Nations is engaged, we must take more effective measures to protect the security of our staff.  The United Nations Security Coordinator will brief you later this week on what is being done, especially in high-risk duty stations, and what may have to change in the days and weeks ahead.  While the United Nations cannot be a fortress, neither can we be reckless.  And while we have a profound responsibility to help those in need, we have a paramount responsibility to the helpers, our staff.  That conundrum has always been with us, but it has been raised to new levels by the tragedy in Baghdad.  There are no easy answers.  I encourage you to come forward with your own suggestions and concerns as we continue a global review of security conditions and practices.

The war in Iraq and its aftermath have also brought the United Nations and the international community face to face with a host of fundamental questions of principle and practice, and upset the consensus that was so solidly behind the Millennium Declaration.

Some countries see terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, transnational criminal networks and the ways in which these may be coming together to reinforce each other as self-evidently the dominant threats to peace and security.  These countries worry that the international architecture is not up to meeting them.

But if one were to do a poll in the regions where you work, other threats would surely register higher:  civil wars and other armed conflicts fought with conventional, even low-tech, weapons; AIDS and other diseases, poverty and environmental degradation, oppression and violations of human rights.  For many, perhaps even most, people, these are the everyday issues that really destabilize their lives.  The people of developing countries worry that their voices are not being heard, and that the will to act can be found for the former set of issues, but not the latter, despite promises and pledges made at world conferences.  Last month’s setback in the trade talks at Cancún is the latest, but by no means the only, example showing how the priorities of the developing world can be brushed aside when northern governments have powerful producer lobbies to placate.

Our central challenge is to ensure we have the rules, instruments and institutions to deal with all these threats and issues.  After all, they are linked.  A world not advancing towards the Millennium Development Goals will not be at peace.  And a world awash in violence will have little chance of achieving the goals.

That is what led me to tell the General Assembly that the United Nations had come to something of a fork in the road:  with one path leading towards greater effectiveness, and the other towards an abandonment of principles that have helped preserve us from another world war since 1945.

That is why I am appointing a high-level panel to examine current challenges to peace and security and to recommend ways of strengthening the United Nations.  I hope you won’t mistake this for a mere continuation of the reform process that I set in motion upon taking office.  That effort, still one of my chief priorities, continues, and I am grateful for your contributions to it.  But the new panel, whose chairman and members I will announce shortly, will look much more broadly at the intergovernmental machinery, and it will do so in the context of the major challenges the world faces in the twenty-first century.  I hope it will start by defining the problems we face, then look for collective solutions, and, only after that, assess how the United Nations may need to be changed in order to play its part in those solutions.

The United Nations, more than ever, needs a strong, coherent development voice.

That means truly operationalizing the Millennium Development Goals.  The goals are not just wishful thinking.  Rather, they are definitely achievable.  And they have unprecedented political support -– from governments and people alike. 

This is a genuine opportunity for progress, if we seize it and ensure the United Nations system does its part.

We must also continue to promote national ownership of the development process -- not just going along with what governments say and want, but doing our part to ensure wide participation in decision-making by civil society, the private sector and others.  Some country offices are very good at this kind of engagement; they are real “extroverts”; others are less so, and need to guard against being too isolated from the people.

And there is no room for easing up in our internal efforts to improve management, coherence and coordination.  I know that one of the things you are focusing on this week is how to make the resident coordinator system work better.  I know it can be deeply frustrating to forge unity out of so many voices, mandates and concerns.  I understand that it is especially difficult at those times when you feel you lack the full authority to do so.  So I hope you will tell us what tools we need to give you that will enable you to get the job done, and to lead country teams that genuinely act together and deliver a coherent, effective United Nations programme.

Coherence also means working effectively with partners such as non-governmental organizations and the Bretton Woods institutions.  I am delighted that Jim Wolfensohn will be with you tomorrow to discuss this vital partnership.

Ultimately it is you and your international and national staff who are the face of our Organization to the global public -- the men and women who appear in clinics and in classrooms, in homes and in halls of government, with assistance and with advice.  I count on all of you to be agents of change.  I expect your offices to serve as platforms for coalition-building.

It is a pleasure indeed to see you all here in New York.  By the same token, I hope you know how much I treasure the visits I make to the countries where you work, and hear first-hand from the country teams about the extraordinary work you are doing.  Those sessions, more so even than most meetings with government officials, are truly inspirational.  And I appreciate the enormous effort that each of you put into supporting those trips.

That is the spirit we need for these difficult times.  We see challenges to peace and security, possible reversals of gains in democracy and human rights, and at best a weak determination to implement the agreed development agenda.  It is our enduring role to bring all these agendas together as an integrated whole.

The high risks we face also mean we have to be rigorous with ourselves.  We must be disciplined and determined, present a united face to the world, and prove to poor people that the United Nations is on their side.  We must, in short, make a difference.  I look forward to working with you to ensure that every office does just that.

Thank you very much.  The floor is now open for your questions and comments.


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