20 March 2006

Madagascar's Strong "Wonderfully Diverse" Culture Lesson for All Trying to Live in Peace, Says Secretary-General in Remarks to Academie Malgache

NEW YORK, 17 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks to the Academie Malgache, in Antananarivo, Madagascar, 17 March:

NEW YORK, 17 March (UN Headquarters) -- Thank you for that warm welcome.  Thank you as well for the honour you have bestowed on me today.  It is a privilege to be admitted as a full member of this highly respected academy.  I know I join some very distinguished men and women from many realms.  I take this recognition as an expression of your support not only for me, but for the United Nations in general.  Such support is especially encouraging at a time when we are striving hard to adapt and renew the Organization to better serve the world's peoples.

Let me also say what a pleasure it is to be visiting Madagascar at this time.  To see this country's renowned cultural and natural riches is a real treat.  I have had very good talks with the President, the President of the Senate, the President of the National Assembly and Prime Minister.  I also met representatives of the opposition.  In just a short time here, I have learned a great deal about the progress your society is making in its economic and social development, for example in increasing literacy, and about your efforts to overcome trade barriers and disaster vulnerability.

I know that sustainable development is one of this country's central concerns.  One can see that in your efforts to develop ecotourism, to set aside more of this country's fabled landscape for conservation, and to protect endangered species and ecosystems, in particular Madagascar's unique biodiversity.

Such efforts are a key part of what it will take for Madagascar and other countries to reach the Millennium Development Goals.  Environmental sustainability is rightly a goal in its own right, but it is also linked to most of the others.  If, for example, we allow biodiversity to decline any further, we will lose a wide range of vital services:  the materials we need for food, clothing and shelter; the medicines we need to treat disease; the means with which to pollinate our crops and fertilize our soils.

Despite some progress, making the transition to sustainable development has not yet taken on the urgency it needs.  I am pleased to know that Madagascar is a party to the Kyoto Protocol.  And I hope not only that your efforts will continue, but also that Madagascar will help others facing similar challenges.

The United Nations, for its part, will continue to be your close partner.  Our system has had a presence here since you gained independence nearly half a century ago.  Our agencies are here in full force, working as an integrated country team to help you in areas ranging from governance and education to AIDS and disaster prevention.  I am pleased to note that the first annual review of the UN Development Assistance Framework for Madagascar took place this week, and that important gains have been achieved.

To help the United Nations work more coherently here in Madagascar, and indeed everywhere, I have just named a panel to explore how the work of the United Nations system in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment can be made more coherent and more effective.  World leaders called for such a study at last September's World Summit in New York.  It is intended to lay the groundwork for a fundamental restructuring of the work done by different United Nations funds, programmes and agencies.

We are also pressing ahead with other follow-up to the Summit.  Member States have created a new Peacebuilding Commission and a new Central Emergency Response Fund for humanitarian relief.  We have launched a Democracy Fund to strengthen institutions and ensure that people are able to exercise their democratic rights.  And just two days ago, the General Assembly took the historic step of creating a new Human Rights Council, which would enable us to make a fresh start in this area and restore the Organization's credibility.

Also as requested by the Summit, I have given the membership a new set of reform proposals, calling for a radical overhaul of our management systems.  Previous rounds of reform have made the Organization more efficient and more effective than it was 10 years ago.  But the current effort will focus on the operational nature of our activities, be it in peacekeeping, development assistance, human rights monitoring, emergency relief, criminal justice and much more.

We are an Organization in the midst of change.  I very much look forward to an even deeper partnership between a renewed United Nations and the people of Madagascar.

And of course I am also looking forward to the rest of my stay here.  Immediately after this gathering, I will accompany the President on a visit to the site of the historic Queen's Palace.  I know that its destruction more than a decade ago was a widely felt tragedy.  I am pleased that the United Nations system, through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is helping to restore it.  I share your longing for this sacred spot to be restored to its former condition, and pledge my support for that effort.

Indeed, just as we must care for our natural environment, so we must protect the world's common cultural heritage.  And it is clear to me that there is not only a strong culture here in Madagascar, but a wonderfully diverse one that has lessons for all of us who are trying -- at the global level and within our societies -- to live together more peacefully and harmoniously.  That is the fundamental human project.  Your country, with its mix of peoples and traditions, has found a way to live as one nation.  And in today's world, your spirit of fiavahanana is an asset to build on -- for peace, for development, and for a productive role in the United Nations.

Thank you again for this honour and for your support.

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