For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2579
Release Date:  29 May 2000
World Needs to Have United States, United Nations Working Well Together
Says Secretary-General, in Remarks to John Quincy Adams Society

NEW YORK, 25 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the John Quincy Adams Society in Washington, D.C., on 25 May:

Let me first of all thank you for that very warm introduction and to say how happy Nane and I are to be here with you this afternoon and I think I also speak for my team that came with me and Ms. O' Neill who also helped work out the arrangements.  I would also want to thank you Congressman Houghton for telling me about the association and telling me you would want to get me here as quickly as I could get here.  And  I am very pleased to be here and to have this opportunity not only to speak to all of you Congressmen and women, and to hear your views

I believe that the world needs the United States and the United Nations to work well together -- and gatherings such as this are of invaluable help in building the understanding that is required between the United Nations and the United States.  I have said time and time again that the United Nations needs the United States and I believe the United States also needs the United Nations.  We need the United States leadership in the organization and I think the United States can work very effectively with all the Member States to make the organization what it ought to be.

The idea behind your own society, the John Quincy Adams Society -- that of forging a closer relationship between those who make public policy decisions and those who are affected by them -- is truly commendable.  To forge such relationships is also one of the top priorities of the United Nations and ever since I took office, I have been trying to do exactly that. 

In this millennium year, the United Nations is holding a series of meetings with parliamentarians, and the presidents of all national parliaments will meet in New York in August to discuss the United Nations of the twenty-first century.  The non-governmental organizations are meeting right now, non-governmental organizations from around the world to discuss the same topic.  And we would want to interact with them, hear their views before the heads of State come to New York in September for the Millennium Summit again to give us their marching orders and to discuss the United Nations in the twenty-first century. 

And just as your group is creating closer links and working relationship between business and Congress, so are we at the United Nations building a new partnership with the private sector.  I said right at the beginning that as Secretary-General, I could not do much alone and that I needed to reach out and work in partnership with the private sector, with civil society, with non-governmental organizations, with parliaments, foundations and universities.  And I  also believe the only way the United Nations can achieve this objective and expand this capacity and rate is by working in such partnerships.

We cannot expect governments to do it all, we cannot expect governments to give us all the money we need to do what we ought to do and this is why we have entered into these useful partnerships with the private sector.  I think you have seen some of the results, our work with the private sector, with the foundations and universities.  Business depends upon an understanding of the rules that legislators help create.  In this country, I suppose the link between trade and legislation has never been more evident to the general public than yesterday's vote in Congress on United States trade relations with China.  If we need these rules at the national level, we also require them at the international level.

But, on the multilateral level too, it is vital to have clear, simple rules that everyone knows and everyone applies.  What is not so widely known is that many of the rules that exist today, along with institutions to manage them, fall within the United Nations system. 

Let me give you some examples:  The World Health Organization sets quality criteria for the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, and standardizes the names of drugs.  Commercial airlines have to fly across borders, and to land in case of emergency, thanks to agreements negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization.  Even in this learned society, I suspect there are some members who have not heard of UNCITRAL -– the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.  Yet this body plays an essential role in facilitating international trade and reducing transaction costs, through its work of standardizing the laws which govern commercial transactions.  

It is one of many parts of the United Nations system that establish, maintain and gradually extend the “soft infrastructure”, making possible the international exchange of goods, money and information.  The same is true of international telecommunications, shipping and many other areas.  These are all services that many of us take for granted in our daily lives.  But, it is only thanks to a carefully woven network of international rules and regulations that we are able to do so.  And the more we find ourselves living in a single economic space, the more we shall depend on such rules.

But in our globalizing age, technical standards are not sufficient.  Market forces, especially when unleashed on a global scale, bring about enormous and very rapid changes in people's lives.  They raise concerns about their jobs, about human rights, about child labour, about the environment, about the commercialization of scientific and medical research, above all about the desperate poverty in which many people in developing countries are condemned, also exacerbating their fear and insecurity.

I believe that economic rights and social responsibilities are two sides of the same coin.  That is why last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I proposed a global compact between business and the United Nations.  I asked the business community to act within its sphere of influence, according to internationally accepted norms and principles in the areas of human rights, core labour standards and the environment.  I indicated to them that they did not have to wait for individual governments in country A or country B to pass laws before they know that in their own daily organization and work they should respect the individual rights of their workers, that they should not accept child labour, that they should discourage it and give them their influence if they were to do that.  And if manufacturers and others respected the environment it would influence governments and society and therefore work in partnership with us to implement some of these core values and standards that we all have accepted -- and I offered the services of the relevant parts of the United Nations to work with the private sector in bringing this compact to a reality.  

In July this year, I shall be meeting with quite a few chief executive officer's in New York to discuss how we bring the global compact to life and how we can work together to ensure they apply labour standards, human rights and environmental standards in their work.  But of course I am not suggesting here that business should do this alone.  Most businessmen would be understandably alarmed at the idea of shouldering the burdens of social and environmental policy by themselves.  I think it would be an abdication of responsibility by States if we were to leave this only to the private sector.

It is above all in my judgement the job of the State to define and enforce standards in these areas.  And where common standards are needed, as increasingly they are, it is the job of States working together, through multilateral institutions like the United Nations to establish these standards.

Shared standards must be rooted in shared values.  In all the United Nations activities, whatever influence we have derived from the force of the values we represent -- values such as respect for the rule of law, tolerance and equal rights.  These values are in fact America's own founding values.  It is common values that hold every society together, and what we are talking about here is the emergence of a global society.  Moreover, every society must have a language; the language of global society is international law.

In this interconnected world, many of the challenges we face today cannot be addressed by any single country, no matter how powerful that country is, acting alone.  It is this awareness that underpins the cooperation that occurs at the United Nations. It is this understanding that gives all Member States the opportunity to come together in common cause, sharing burdens, risks and costs.  And I think it is becoming clearer and clearer that in many situations the collective interest is the national interest and collective action is helpful to the nation.

The United Nations has no aspirations beyond helping sovereign states -- 188 of them -- to pursue their interests and improve their people's lives.  Nothing is less desirable than the idea of a world government, of centralized bureaucratic behemoths trampling on the rights of people and States.  The very notion of centralizing hierarchies is itself an anachronism in our fluid, dynamic and interconnected world.

The United States and the United Nations will work together fruitfully if only we are clear about what the United Nations is and is not; about what the Organization can and cannot do; and about how the work of the United Nations is consistent with United States interests and values. 

I very much hope this meeting, and many more like it to come, will help us develop our understanding further.  As members of Congress and leaders of business, you are indispensable allies in advancing that understanding among the American people as a whole.

You can also help us strengthen the rule of law.  Since the birth of the United Nations, we have seen the conclusion of more than 500 multilateral conventions which, taken together, form a comprehensive legal framework for a better world.  But far from all of them are universally signed or ratified.  The United Nations Millennium Summit will provide special facilities for governments to add their signatures to any treaty or convention of which I, as Secretary-General, am the depositary.  I have written to heads of States and governments ahead of the Summit to encourage them to make use of this opportunity.  I hope that in the relevant cases, some of you too, will add your voice and your encouragement.  I have with me a document, which some of you have, indicating the conventions and treaties that I would want the governments to sign when they come.

And now I will be pleased to try to answer your questions -- and I know you will question my answers.

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