4 November 2005

Impetus for Change in Arab World Must Come Primarily from Within, Secretary-General Says at King Hussein Foundation Dinner

NEW YORK, 3 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks delivered by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the King Hussein Foundation inaugural peacebuilders dinner in New York on 1 November:

It is a pleasure indeed to be here.  I've had a chance to talk to Her Majesty about the Foundation and it has been wonderful to watch her over the years while she has transformed this Foundation into the work that they do, which complements our own work at the United Nations.

It was also very gratifying to work with your late husband.  Few people have been called into public service so early in life.  Fewer still have had such complex challenges thrust upon them.  And few leaders, in shouldering such burdens for over half a century, have managed to maintain both the high regard of their citizens and the stability of their societies.  King Hussein's legacy is real, and it is natural that you should seek to extend it through the fine work of the King Hussein and Noor Al Hussein foundations, including this new award to be given for outstanding contributions to the world's search for justice and peace.

Each of tonight's honourees has richly earned his or her award, and I congratulate them all and thank them for their contributions.

You will forgive me if I take special satisfaction in your having recognized the Arab Human Development Report.  That landmark series, produced under UN auspices by a group of leading Arab intellectuals, sociologists and other specialists, has struck a chord throughout the region.  It sparked controversy, too, with its call for more freedom and greater emancipation of women, and in sounding an alarm about the growing knowledge gap between Arabs and the rest of the world.  While the reports may have been difficult reading for some, they testify to the richness of the Arab world's human capital, whose liberation holds the key to the future.  The reports are also firm in their conviction that the impetus for change must come primarily from within, not in response to outsiders but to the demands of the region's own people.

In any agenda of change and transition -- but especially where people of different faiths and traditions must coexist or achieve reconciliation -- dialogue and mutual understanding have an integral role to play.  Events around the world in recent years have heightened the sense of a widening gap between societies, in particular Islamic and Western societies, and within countries along sectarian lines.  That environment has been exploited and exacerbated by extremists.

The essential antidote is to build relations based on justice and equality.  That can be done through education, by allowing the free flow of information and ideas, and by encouraging people-to-people contacts.  Only by multiplying these can we hope to overcome ignorance and demonization, and save more young people from embarking on the slippery slope that leads from violent words to violent action.  The Hussein Foundation is one of the groups that have made admirable efforts to cultivate such exchanges at the grass-roots level.

It is equally incumbent on leaders to do their part.  I am afraid we saw an example of the opposite last week, with the chilling comments of the Iranian President flashed across our television screens.  But world leaders are also capable of more positive actions.  At the World Summit in September, leaders reached unprecedented agreement on the collective responsibility to protect people from genocide and crimes against humanity.  They made major pledges to push forward our work for the Millennium Development Goals.  They issued the first clear, unqualified UN condemnation of terrorism, and I quote, "in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes".  And they agreed to important institutional changes at the UN itself, including a new Human Rights Council and a Peacebuilding Commission.  And I should also say at the same time, the Clinton Global Initiative also brought together quite a lot of business leaders and political leaders from around the world to discuss what they can do to help alleviate poverty and that was also very successful.

Mr. President, I'm very happy you're here and I'm also very happy you're working with me to help assist tsunami victims.

Certainly, some worthwhile ideas and proposals were left behind in the negotiations.  We didn't get all that we set out to achieve, but we have a very promising basis on which to move ahead.  So if at times the gulf of misunderstanding seems to yawn ever wider, and progress seems slow and grudging, it is equally true that we can move forward.  Maybe slowly, but we can move forward.  That is the positive spirit with which King Hussein lived.  And it is that spirit that we should call upon in advancing our common cause of justice and peace.

Once again I congratulate tonight's honourees, and thank you all very much.

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