12 November 2003


NEW YORK, 11 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address to the National Congress of Ecuador in Quito, 10 November:

I am moved and grateful to receive this decoration from you today.  Above all, I am honoured to be addressing this Congress.

I arrived in your country only two days ago, but I am already full of impressions from this land so rich in nature, heritage, history and diversity.  From the old district of Quito to the cultural marvels of Cuenca and the soaring skyscrapers of Guayaquil; from the jungle and volcanoes of the mainland to the breathtaking haven of the Galapagos -- Ecuador is truly a treasure-chest of discoveries for the foreign visitors who come here.  I feel truly fortunate to be among them.

I have also seen at first hand some of the challenges you face.  They are challenges you are confronting with serious attention -- from improving governance and fighting poverty to protecting the environment; from ensuring the empowerment of your indigenous peoples to humanitarian and refugee concerns; from work for regional peace and security to the battle for social justice and the fair administration of justice.

As I stand before you today, I also see in this chamber living proof of the efforts Ecuador is making to consolidate democracy.

Your work in this house reflects the fact that true democracy requires far more than holding elections.  Democratic governance depends on strong institutions and requires participation and accountability, with a free and vigorous public debate on the issues of the day, among an educated and enlightened electorate who have meaningful choices placed before them. It also requires adherence to the principle of the rule of law, which is essential for any society to function fully.

Ecuador is not alone in the governance challenges it faces. Today, in many countries around the world, democracy is being rendered fragile in new ways. Many people feel that the decisions which affect their well-being are out of their hands, and even beyond the control of their elected representatives.  Growing numbers of people feel they lack a say in the economic, environmental and even political processes that affect their everyday lives. And so there are ever stronger feelings of exclusion and marginalization.


That sense of unease is a powerful reminder that, for democracy to prosper, it needs sustained and effective attention.  It requires elected representatives like you to be accountable to your constituents.  It requires you to provide an effective forum for forging social consensus so that reforms needed for progress, social justice, stability and prosperity can win popular support.  And it requires a dynamic and vigilant civil society to underpin the formal institutions of democratic government.  The active debate and enlightened electorate that democracy thrives on require people to organize themselves freely, independent of the State, around ideals, issues and causes that are important to them.

In a country as diverse as Ecuador, it is particularly important to encourage and nurture such a participatory approach.  Your indigenous peoples contribute to the rich cultural diversity of your society.  Participation is their priority in all matters that affect them -- not only to ensure that their own special issues are included, but also to ensure that they can contribute positively to the many national and global issues that you, and we, have to address.

Equally, the work for democracy is inextricably linked with the work for development.  Democracy is much stronger when everyone can see that poverty is being reduced, that society is becoming more just, and that these gains can be sustained over time.

I know that Ecuador is a deeply committed partner of the United Nations in our shared mission to meet the Millennium Development Goals, agreed as a blueprint by all the world’s governments to build better lives for people in the twenty-first century.

These eight commitments, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education -- all by the target date of 2015 -- represent a set of simple but powerful objectives that every man and woman in the street, from New York to New Delhi, from Accra to Ambato, can easily support and understand.  They are people-centred, time-bound and measurable, they enjoy unprecedented political support, and -- most important -- they are achievable.

But there is no time to lose.  Translating the Goals into reality depends on a number of factors.  At the national level, Ecuador must take the lead by implementing the policies and changes essential to establishing a sound basis for translating the Goals into reality.  That is a task that will require unity and persistence among all Ecuadorians -- and I trust this Chamber will do its part as it discusses and approves the nation’s budget.  But equally, considerable international support is needed, through a true, comprehensive partnership between Ecuador and the international community.

I know I can count on your support in that endeavour.  You and your neighbours in the region appreciate the value of multilateral institutions, and the importance of seeking collective solutions to common problems across the range of the United Nations agenda.

To take just one example, Latin America’s achievement in maintaining a nuclear-free zone, through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, is widely admired and has been emulated in other parts of the world.

Today, as champions of multilateralism, you probably share the concern felt by many Members of the United Nations about recent events in the Middle East, especially the war in Iraq earlier this year.  These events may be a long way away geographically, but their implications affect the whole world.

The military action taken in Iraq without Security Council authorization has raised doubts in many quarters about the effectiveness of our collective security system -- doubts which I myself have voiced in my latest report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, and in my speech to the General Assembly on 23 September.

Up to now, there has been a general understanding that States have an inherent right to defend themselves if an armed attack occurs, as it says in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.  But when there is a broader threat to international peace and security this should be dealt with collectively, by a decision of the Security Council.

Now, however, some people are telling us that this doctrine is too restrictive.  They argue that States cannot be expected to wait until they are attacked, for instance, by a clandestine group armed with a weapon of mass destruction, before defending themselves, and that in such cases they are entitled to take action pre-emptively.

My view is that, if States feel entitled to act unilaterally in this way, without prior approval by the Security Council, without respect of established practice, it will make the world not safer but more dangerous.  In fact, it would take us back to the kind of world that existed before the United Nations was founded, and from which the founders of the United Nations hoped to save humanity.

At the same time, I think it is not enough to denounce unilateralism unless we also understand the concerns that make some States feel uniquely vulnerable -- the concerns that drive them to take unilateral action.  We must be able to convince them that these concerns can and will be dealt with effectively by our system of collective security.

And, of course, we must also be able to deal with other threats, which to many of you in this part of the world may seem more immediate and real than weapons of mass destruction -- the threat of civil conflict, or the so-called “soft threats” such as extreme poverty, wide disparity of income within and between societies, the spread of infectious diseases, or climate change and environmental degradation.  These are also serious.

Fortunately, we do not have to choose.  The United Nations must confront all these threats and challenges -- new and old, “hard” and “soft”.  All these struggles are linked.  A world in which many millions of people continue to endure brutal oppression and extreme misery will never be fully secure, even for its most privileged inhabitants.

It is with that in mind that I have called for a radical review of the international system, to see how it might need to be adapted to cope with the threats and challenges of the new century.  And I have said that that review must encompass the principal organs of the United Nations -- the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, perhaps even the Trusteeship Council, which has fulfilled its historic function but could perhaps have a new role to play in the light of new responsibilities that Member States have assigned to the United Nations in recent years.

To assist in the process, I have just appointed a panel of eminent persons, whom I have asked to examine current challenges to peace and security, the contribution that collective action can make in addressing these challenges, and the functioning of the major organs of the United Nations.

The Panel will focus primarily on threats to peace and security.  But it will also need to examine other global challenges, in so far as these may influence or connect with those threats.  And I hope it will recommend ways of strengthening the United Nations, through reform of its institutions and processes -- and perhaps even suggest radical reforms.

I have asked the Panel to report in time for me to make recommendations to the next session of the General Assembly.  But the ultimate decisions -- decisions to modify the rules of the system, or the institutions that manage it -- can be taken only by the Member States.

That means not only governments but also you, the parliamentarians. Even if the changes decided do not require formal parliamentary ratification, they should be the result of wide-ranging discussion within States, as well as between them.  The peoples of the world, in whose name the United Nations was founded, must feel fully represented in the decision-making process.  So it is clear that national parliaments like this one have a vital role to play.

On issues in the national and international arena, you play a pivotal role.  It is in parliaments that the dynamism of civil society meets the responsibility of government, and dialogue is pursued to translate ideas, ethics and policy orientations into legislation that help shape a society and the way a country is governed.

I hope you will make the most of the opportunities that this role offers you.  And I look forward to an ever-stronger partnership with you in the years to come.

Muchas gracias.  Thank you very much.

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