Press Releases

    13 October 2005

    World Summit Achieved Concrete, Significant Gains in Human Rights, Rule of Law, Secretary-General Says in Address to Universidade Nova de Lisboa

    NEW YORK, 12 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address delivered today by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (The New University of Lisbon):

    Bom dia!  I am deeply grateful for the honour this university has bestowed on me today.  Above all, I am delighted to have the opportunity to address students and faculty of this distinguished institution of learning.

    Portugal had one of the first European universities in the world.  You have, as a nation, made a significant contribution to the academic establishment.  Universities play a crucial role in instilling a global outlook in young people. You explore new ideas that can advance and inspire the progress of humankind -- and the work of the United Nations.  You are catalysts for change, and custodians of the future.

    I know that this university, through its broad curriculum and its many partnerships with other universities around the world, is preparing its students well for the challenges ahead.

    In two weeks' time, the United Nations will be 60 years old.

    Throughout those 60 years, its mission has remained constant:  to serve the cause of peace, advance development, and defend the dignity of every human being.

    But the world has changed.

    To achieve its mission in the twenty-first century, the UN must reflect those changes.  It must adapt to new realities, and be equipped to deal with new challenges.

    This is so, whether we are fighting disease and hunger, or working to strengthen democracy; whether we are advancing human rights and the rule of law, or combating terrorism; whether we are building peace, or making the United Nations more effective and more accountable to the peoples it exists to serve.

    Last month, world leaders gathered for the World Summit in New York to agree on a collective response to those challenges.

    As I am sure you are aware, some have called the results of the Summit disappointing.  Even before the ink had dried on the Outcome Document and Government leaders had left New York, commentators of every stripe had begun to tally perceived setbacks and gains.  Those who wished us well lamented -- and those less supportive celebrated.

    It is true that, in some crucial areas, Governments could not agree.  The biggest single failing was on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.  This was inexcusable.  Weapons of mass destruction pose a grave danger to us all, particularly in a world threatened by terrorists with global ambitions and no inhibitions.

    We must pick up the pieces in order to renew negotiations on this vital issue.  And last week, the Nobel Committee, with its inspired selection of the International Atomic Energy Agency as the winner of this year's Peace Prize, reminded the world in a most public way of the acute importance of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

    But on many of the issues on the Summit agenda, we should bear in mind that the incremental, negotiated, gradual world of multilateral diplomacy rarely allows progress to come in leaps and bounds.  Most often, and perhaps necessarily, it is measured in small and careful steps.

    Let us not forget that the Summit was but one moment in a longer process of reform and renewal that continues as we meet.  Viewed through a lens of realism, we have made an important, if careful, step forward.  Not as bold as I would have liked, but very important, nonetheless.

    Let us also recognize that Governments did show remarkable unity on some essential questions, as we heard earlier from the Foreign Minister.

    They agreed that development, security and human rights are not only vitally important in their own right; that they reinforce -- indeed, depend on -- each other.

    And in at least one area, that of human rights and the rule of law, the Summit actually brought concrete gains that were truly significant -- in some cases even historic.

    As you have done me the honour today of awarding me an honorary law degree, I will dwell on those aspects for a moment.

    First, to replace the largely dysfunctional Human Rights Commission, the Summit mandated the establishment of a new Human Rights Council.  This body will have an all-encompassing responsibility for "promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind."

    The Human Rights Council will be empowered with a range of responsibilities -- from addressing gross and systematic human rights violations to promoting the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the UN system.  Very important details remain to be worked out, and Member States have already begun the task of seeking agreement on the details of its composition and methods of work.  I am hopeful that soon, the world will greet a stronger, more credible, more effective intergovernmental human rights infrastructure.

    Second, the Summit made progress on the nuts and bolts of how we conduct human rights business.  It called for a doubling of the budget of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  In so doing, Governments recognized that it was high time to remedy an historical imbalance:  human rights have always been identified as one of the principal purposes in the Charter's provisions; yet they have never been allocated even 2 per cent of the Organization's regular budget.

    Third, the Summit called for a closer relationship between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Security Council -- moving beyond the controversy that had long impeded progress on this front.  To their credit, Governments have, thus, heeded one of the painful lessons of Rwanda:  the mechanisms of the UN human rights programme warned of the coming storm, but in a system that built walls between human rights and security, the warning could not be heard in the halls of the Security Council.

    Fourth, the Summit welcomed and attracted significant pledges of financial support for the Democracy Fund, which was established at the United Nations earlier this year to finance projects in support of democratization.  And we are well on our way.  We have already attracted $40 million in pledges and contributions.

    Any human rights agenda worth the name must have the promotion of democracy as a cornerstone of its endeavours.  After all, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, and that people should be able to participate in government directly or through freely chosen representatives.  By backing the Fund, the Summit gave new impetus to these efforts.  I am delighted that Portugal is among those countries that have pledged financial support for the Fund.

    Fifth, and most important, the Summit achieved an historic breakthrough on one issue above all -- the issue that has come to be known as the responsibility to protect.

    For the first time, all Member States expressed their willingness to act collectively, through the Security Council, when a population is threatened with genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity.

    For the first time, a global intergovernmental consensus was recorded, at the level of Heads of State and Government, declaring that every State has the responsibility to protect its populations.

    For the first time, Governments spelled out that where national authorities manifestly fail to do so, the international community, acting through the United Nations, is obliged and empowered to act.

    The Summit did not leave this "responsibility to protect" vague and undefined.  Rather, it made clear that it includes a range of duties:  prevention; action against incitement; the establishment of early warning capabilities; and whatever measures are "appropriate and necessary".

    Remarkably, it went even further, specifying means by which the international community, through the United Nations, must act where individual States fail.  These include diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, as well as collective action under Chapter VII of the Charter, in other words use of force as last resort.

    Consider that thought.  Human life, human dignity, human rights raised above even the entrenched concept of State sovereignty.  Global recognition that sovereignty in the twenty-first century entails the responsibility to protect people from fear and want.  A global declaration that reinforces the primacy of the rule of law.

    Clearly, for all who recognize that the rule of law is the best safeguard against the rule of war, this Summit was not a failure.  Rather, it was a milestone in the serious march of humankind towards a world based on right making might.

    Ladies and gentlemen, throughout the Summit Document, Governments gave effect to the principle that the rule of law and human rights form one of the three pillars of the United Nations.

    We walked away with what I consider an intellectual breakthrough.  That the Governments accepted that you cannot have development without security and you cannot have security without development and you can enjoy neither without respect for human rights.  I think that was an essential and important breakthrough.

    By committing to improving the effectiveness of our human rights treaty bodies; and by advocating human rights education at all levels; by pledging to eliminate human trafficking and gender violence; by urging greater efforts to eliminate gender discrimination; by pledging to protect the rights of migrants, minorities, internally displaced persons and refugees; and by calling on all States to ensure that measures to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, the Summit really did make great achievements and strengthen the rule of law and human rights.

    Each generation has its part to play in the age-old struggle to strengthen human rights and the rule of law for all -- which alone can guarantee freedom for all.

    I hope I can count on all young people here today to play their part in that mission.

    And I wish you the very best of luck on life's journey.

    Muito obrigado.

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