28 October 2003


NEW YORK, 27 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks at the opening of the Ralph Bunche Centenary Exhibition, delivered in New York on 24 October:

Good evening, and it’s wonderful to see so many of you here today.

My dear friends, let me first welcome you to the United Nations, on this day, the United Nations Day.

I am glad to see so many friends here as we open an exhibition devoted to a great champion of peace and one of the finest servants of the United Nations -- Ralph Bunche.

Ralph left a legacy of achievement in which many share -- his family, his colleagues, the United Nations, the United States, African-Americans, Africans, the people of the Middle East, and indeed all who believe in the cause of human rights and world peace. 

During this year in which we mark the centennial of his birth, the Ralph Bunche Centenary Commemoration Committee is raising awareness of this man’s life, and of its importance to our world today, and as you heard from Tom Weiss, is as present and as relevant today as he was in the early years of the United Nations.

We at the United Nations are glad to be partners with those who have made this commemoration possible, and I want to thank the members of the Committee for their efforts, as I thank all who have put together this fine exhibition.

Ralph Bunche’s record of achievement emerges clearly from these displays:   a leading scholar of race relations; a key player in shaping the process of decolonization, particularly in Africa; a driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a fighter for civil rights in his own country; a master international mediator who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for the agreement he negotiated in the Middle East; and a father of United Nations peacekeeping.

But something else emerges from this exhibit that we are about to see -- something even more compelling.

We observe Ralph Bunche’s dignity and determination in the face of bigotry and harassment.  We see the sacrifices he and his family made as he served the cause of peace.  We learn of his belief in the essential goodness of people and in the possibility of progress -- beliefs tempered by realism and matched by a determination to see things through.  We are uplifted by his moral commitment to a world in which every person has, in his own magnificent words, “the right to walk in dignity on the world’s great boulevards”.

So as we look at these images of Ralph Bunche, he looks back at us -- reminding us that one person, even against the odds, can make an enormous difference; shaming us out of our ignorance and indifference; urging us towards understanding and action.

Ralph Bunche was, and remains, an inspiration.  It is a great pleasure for me to declare this exhibition open, but let me say that I have cheated.  My wife Nane saw it earlier and she said “you have to come and see it, it is so wonderful”, so she brought me here and we both enjoyed it very much.  But I will look at it again this evening with you.  Thank you very much.

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