6 July 2006

In Address to Joint Session of Liberian Legislature, Secretary-General Pledges UN Cooperation in Meeting Challenges of Development, Security, Human Rights

NEW YORK, 5 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the joint session of the Legislature of Liberia, in Monrovia on 4 July:

Let me thank you for the singular honour you have done me in inviting me to address this joint session of the fifty-second Legislature of the Republic of Liberia.  This is a deeply moving occasion for me in many ways.

I have come to Monrovia to pay tribute to the courage and resilience of the Liberian people.  And I have come to work with the Government to ascertain how the United Nations can best support Liberia's efforts to heal the wounds of the past, and rebuild.

But first, I want to congratulate the Liberian people on their achievement in implementing successfully the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Too often, in too many countries, peace agreements have failed to bring peace.  This time, it was different, and all Liberians should be proud.  The way this process has unfolded has proved an inspiration to the world.  It culminated in the inauguration of Africa's first democratically elected woman President and in the installation of this Legislature.  Above all, it brought peace and hope to this country, after years of devastation and despair.

Liberia's international partners can share in that sense of pride.  The United Nations, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], the African Union and others have worked along with you to help bring peace to Liberia.  Today, we can look to this country as an example of what the international community can achieve when it pulls together in a clear and common cause.

In the considerable work that lies ahead, this Legislature has a crucial role to play.  The elections of October 2005 gave you a mandate to foster democratic governance for the benefit of all the men and women of Liberia.  Those men and women have high expectations of you now.  They expect you to work together to achieve common goals in the interests of the Liberian people.  They expect you to turn diversity into strength, plurality into consensus, in a way which is representative and inclusive of all Liberians.  They expect you to rise above partisan considerations and personal aspirations.  They expect you to join forces with the executive and judicial branches to build a prosperous future for the citizens of this country -- a future that is built on a solid foundation of democratic principles, good governance, human rights and the rule of law.

Those will not be easy tasks.  The many years of instability and armed conflict have left Liberia with scars.  Your institutions were destroyed, your infrastructure was devastated, your country was torn apart and your people were traumatized.  Even the building we meet in today bears the scars of those years.

Today, Liberia needs to take the healing process forward.  You need to reintegrate your war-affected populations and restructure your security services. You need to reform public services and strengthen the judicial sector.  The Government needs to consolidate its authority throughout the country, and work to meet conditions that will allow sanctions to be lifted.  Last, but not least, Liberia needs to restore economic growth and gain the confidence of donors. And Liberia needs to remain at peace with itself and all its neighbours.

As long and hard experience has taught us, it is only if all parties work together that Liberia can meet those goals.

The entire United Nations family will continue to work with you as you strive to meet each one of them.

The United Nations will work with you as you seek to ensure gainful employment, especially for young people, and access to basic services, health and education -- all absolute prerequisites for any functioning society and for sustaining the peace you have worked so hard to achieve.

The United Nations will work with you as you seek to protect your hard-won security in a subregion that has yet to move out of the shadow of conflict.  In her inaugural address, your President pledged that, under her Administration, no inch of Liberian soil would be used to conspire to perpetrate aggression against neighbouring countries.  As a son of West Africa, I was deeply heartened to hear that pledge.  It is an important step in Liberia's transition from being a centre of conflict to a centrepiece of stability in the subregion.

The United Nations will work with you as you seek to heal the divisions that gave rise to confrontation in the past.  As parliamentarians, it is incumbent upon all of you to act as peacemakers in your constituencies, delivering and practising messages of tolerance and mutual respect.  I also look to the Government of Liberia, as well as its international partners, to provide every possible support for the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so that it can implement its mandate effectively and on time.

The United Nations will work with you as you strive to achieve good governance and a society built on the rule of law.  That work requires the Government to function in a transparent and honest manner.  Left unchecked, corruption corrodes society and destroys the confidence of the people.  In that context, I urge you to keep taking practical steps to fight this scourge, and to ratify, as soon as possible, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which was signed by the Chairman of the National Transitional Government.

The United Nations will work with you as you strive to reach the Millennium Development Goals -- including halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.  At the UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS last month, Governments pledged to fight AIDS by promoting gender equality, empowering women and protecting girls; ensuring respect for the full rights of people living with HIV/AIDS; strengthening protection for all vulnerable groups; and providing the full range of HIV prevention measures.  I hope that, with this Declaration, leaders have finally placed on record the personal commitment needed to win the fight against HIV/AIDS -- the greatest challenge of our generation.  I look to Liberia to show the same leadership in fighting AIDS, as it has demonstrated in achieving peace.

The United Nations will work with you as you seek to build a comprehensive strategy for the future -- one which gives equal weight and attention to development, security and human rights, all underpinned by the rule of law.  One which recognizes that development, security and human rights are not only ends in themselves -- they depend on each other, they reinforce each other.  Where peace and respect for human dignity have taken hold, investment and prosperity will follow.  And, with investment and economic progress, peace is more likely to take root, and people will be better equipped to stand up for their rights.

But, my dear friends, let us be realistic.  Change will not happen overnight.  A serious, patient and collaborative effort will be required of all Liberians.  The Government, for its part, will have to do all it can to nurture the conditions that encourage individual entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to thrive.

And, as for the international community, it is imperative that it stay with Liberia in the long term.  Too many times, we have witnessed the same weaknesses in international responses to post-conflict situations -- in the shortage of funds, in the lack of international coordination, in the tendency for international actors to leave too hurriedly.  This can reverse hard-won results and weaken the attempts we are making to build solid societies.  It was all of those weaknesses that informed the design and mandate of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, launched just 10 days ago.  We cannot allow those weaknesses to take hold again in Liberia.

At the African Union Summit in Banjul three days ago, I spoke of the momentous changes that Africa had been through in the past six decades.  First came decolonization, the struggle against apartheid and the first attempts at nation-building.  Then came a disappointing second wave, too often marked by civil wars, the tyranny of military or one-party rule, by economic stagnation as a result of corruption, weak governance, inadequate regulatory systems, State-sanctioned theft, and unchecked external interference.  Now, I believe, we are in a new era -- Africa's third wave.

In Banjul, I called on Africa to make this third wave an enduring one.  One which leads us to an Africa which is making the most and best of all its rich resources, and which knows that its most precious resources are its daughters and sons.

I believe that Liberia can be one of the leaders and defenders of that third wave.  You have certainly made a promising start in that direction.  The United Nations will be at your side as you continue on your journey.

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