8 October 2003


NEW YORK, 7 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered to the luncheon of African-American civil society leaders, held at Headquarters today:  

Let me start by thanking all of you for coming this afternoon, coming to join us at the United Nations.  Nane and I, and all my colleagues, are very pleased to welcome you here and are thrilled to have you with us. 

I want to thank all of you who helped to put this together, including Robin Chandler-Duke, a strong supporter of the United Nations, Buzz Palmer and Alice Palmer, and all at the Better World Fund, as well as Shashi Tharoor and my other hard-working colleagues in the Department of Public Information.  I’m honoured that Reverend Butts is here and will respond to my remarks.

In his last speech in Memphis, the night before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King said that if he could have chosen to live in any time in history, he would not choose the great ages of Moses or Plato, or the Roman Empire, or the Renaissance or the Reformation, or the era of Lincoln or Roosevelt.

He said he would choose the day he was living in -- the time when billions were on the move, yearning to be free.

My friends, our time is the same.

The world is on the move.  Billions of people all over the world are yearning to be truly secure -- free from fear and free from want, and able to live in peace and in dignity.

In the Millennium Declaration, world leaders committed themselves to work hand in hand for that aim -- to address common threats collectively and promote human rights and democracy.

They also committed themselves to a global partnership for development to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And they set key targets to be met by 2015.  These targets, which are of particular importance to Africa, include halving the numbers living in extreme poverty; ensuring that all children, girls as well as boys, finish primary school; drastically reducing the rates of child mortality and deaths in childbirth; and halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS -- a pandemic which I know some of you work so hard to fight.

But just three years later, it is clear that we are not pulling in the same direction, that the consensus that we achieved three years ago is shaky.

We don’t seem to agree on the best way to deal with threats, or even on what the most urgent dangers are.

Some say we should devote all our efforts to fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.  Others say it is more urgent to tackle poverty, disease, climate change, and the spread of small arms.

I say this is a false choice.  I say we must confront all these threats and all these challenges at once.

The house of man will never be secure while billions live in the basement; while a few live in the penthouse and do as they please.


If individual nations discount the legitimacy provided by the United Nations, and feel that they can and must use force unilaterally and pre-emptively, the world will become even more dangerous.

But it is no good simply denouncing unilateralism and declaring our faith in the United Nations.  We must also face up to the concerns that make some nations feel uniquely vulnerable, and that drive them to act unilaterally. 

We must show that those concerns really can be dealt with collectively and through multilateral action.

That’s why, two weeks ago, I urged world leaders to think seriously about our system -- how it works, how it sometimes fails to work, and how we can make it work better.  To help them, I am appointing a panel of wise men and women to make suggestions.


But I see many wise men and women here today.  And I ask you to play your part too.

The United Nations and the African-American community share a history of solidarity and many great names -- among them Ralph Bunche, whose centenary year we celebrate this year.

And we share common challenges for the future.

I am convinced that it is in America’s interest today to work through the United Nations -- just as it was in the era of Roosevelt and Truman.  And at that time, the United States led the way in establishing the United Nations.


Ralph Bunche and other African-Americans played vital roles in drafting the Charter and creating the multilateral framework.

The new threats of our age -- an age of problems without passports -- make that framework even more crucial for everyone today. 

People who believe in collective action to meet today’s problems, and who believe in the rule of law and in the aims of the United Nations, need to raise their voices.

All of you -- whether you are a religious leader, educator, businessman or woman, members of local authorities or leaders in other fields -- can help lead the way.

Your great heritage shows that the power of non-violent collective action, that is based on a commitment to justice, equality, and empowerment for all, is a powerful force.

You also have a history of standing up and being counted when it matters.

My friends, it matters now.  The world is on the move.  We have to make sure it moves in the right way, in the right direction.  And I hope and believe that we can do that.

The choice is not between multilateralism and unilateralism.  It’s between cooperation and catastrophe.

I ask you to keep the faith.

And I ask for your help and your support -- in defending the United Nations; in advancing its work to fight poverty, AIDS and other causes of human suffering, particularly in Africa; and in contributing to the great project of making our precious Organization work better.

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