|Date||14 September 1999|
Click on thebutton beside the speech or paragraph to expand it to a useful panel containing:
- The date of the speech
- A link to the original page of the PDF document
- A URL that can be used in most blogs
- A structured Citation template suitable for use in a Wikipedia article.
Those last two rows ("URL" and "wiki") use textboxes to hide most of the text.
To access this text, right-click in the textbox with your mouse and choose "Select All", then right-click again and choose "Copy". Now you can right-click into another window and choose "Paste" to get the text.
Address by Mr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the General Assembly at its fifty-fourth session
This fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly is heralding a new millennium. Together we are setting sail in a single ship into vast and uncharted oceans. On this journey, we embark, with our experiences, our beliefs, our hopes and our fears, to craft workable solutions and institutions for the problems of our planet. As we proceed, the United Nations and its agencies stand out by their size, scope of activities, authority and as a reflection of the aspirations of humankind. The United Nations is a living Organization dedicated to the interests of "We the peoples" of the world.
My esteemed predecessor, Mr. Didier Opertti, Foreign Minister of Uruguay, has done a sterling job as President, and the fifty-third session of the Assembly produced outstanding results, not least of which are the preparations for this session and the "Millennium Summit". I thank him for this and wish him well in his future endeavours.
Uruguay and Namibia enjoy excellent bilateral relations. Our two countries, acting on behalf of their respective neighbours, have been promoting economic, trade and cultural relations, in the spirit of South-South cooperation. To this end, in 1995 we established the African-Latin American Initiative (ALAI). Diplomatic and business exchanges between the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have begun in earnest, and they are expected to grow in other directions.
I am, as most present here know, a graduate of the United Nations, and now I assume the office of President of the world's greatest parliament. My mind and heart are always close to the Charter of the United Nations, and I am devoted to the ideals for which it stands: a beacon for all worthy causes in the far corners of the world, especially among the poor and needy in the developing world. I wish to reiterate my strong commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and to the principles enshrined in it. I believe in a strong, democratic, transparent and caring United Nations -- a United Nations that promotes people-driven virtues of brotherhood and fairness. I therefore pledge to work closely with all 185 -- soon to be 188 -- delegations represented in the General Assembly on the basis of the United Nations Charter and the rules of procedure of the Assembly.
I feel honoured by my unanimous endorsement in 1998 by the leaders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to preside over this session of the Assembly, the last of the twentieth century, and I accept my election with gratitude. My election is a tribute not to me personally but to Africa and my country, Namibia. I owe this to my undaunted leader, His Excellency Mr. Sam Nujoma, President of the Republic of Namibia, whose trust and support have made this possible. I am greatly indebted to President Nujoma and thank him from the bottom of my heart.
With the cooperation and assistance of all, I cannot fail in my job. I will work hard, in close consultation with the Vice-Presidents and the Chairpersons of the Main Committees, in the execution of my duties and responsibilities.
I know that I can always count on the support of our illustrious Secretary-General, my brother, Kofi Annan. I will also need his strong shoulders to lean on when times are hard. For my part, I will give him all the help he may need in his untiring efforts on behalf of the United Nations.
Many among you have come to know me quite well. We have walked together, shared ideas and experiences and taken joint actions for change in and relating to the United Nations and beyond. You have been very helpful to me in various ways when I was the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) representative to the United Nations. Some of you have always responded without hesitation whenever I asked for help. Again, I thank you all most sincerely.
This is the first-ever General Assembly to straddle two millennia. The aspirations, hopes and expectations of the world's peoples are high as they anticipate the future. They yearn for a world that is peaceful, humane and prosperous for all. Without the United Nations, such an inclusive world, led by inspiring leaders, cannot come about. The fiftieth anniversary of our Organization in 1995 produced bright ideas and rededication towards the twenty-first century. On that occasion the world leaders collectively pledged to fulfil their promises for a new and just world order.
Let me reiterate here that the ongoing process of reforming, restructuring and democratizing the United Nations should be consistent with the end product we all want, including the review of the veto in the Security Council. At the end, we should be satisfied that the United Nations belongs to all its Member States collectively and individually.
Its ownership must be shared equitably, in a manner similar to the way in which members of an extended family share. All Member States, big and small, rich and poor, developed and developing, must have a stake in the Organization. It goes without saying that all Member States should pay their contributions on time and in full without preconditions. Without adequate resources, the United Nations cannot perform effectively. That said, the reform negotiations must continue. But, in the interest of all, any quick fix which smacks of apartheid cannot be tolerated. Instead, we should move forward together in good faith to find solutions.
The fifty-fourth session of the Assembly is momentous also because it represents a high point in the history of the anti-colonial struggle. For Africa, much of the twentieth century has been devoted to ending colonialism and to achieving liberation and independence. Africa's decolonization began in Libya in 1951. It built up and assumed urgency following Ghana's independence in 1957. Thirty-three years later, in 1990, Namibia, Africa's last colony apart from Western Sahara, became free with the assistance of the United Nations after a long and bitter struggle.
It is perhaps fortuitous, but it is a fitting coincidence of history that at the century's end both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the General Assembly are sons of Africa. The two of us represent those heroic struggles and the final triumph of the human spirit. The end of apartheid and the liberation of South Africa have brought Africa to the cutting edge of contemporary history and international solidarity. It thus behoves me on this occasion to salute the former President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela, the current President, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, and indeed all the great South African people.
The momentum to defeat apartheid gained new impetus in this very Assembly in 1974, when racist South Africa was roundly condemned and was expelled from the General Assembly for stubbornly defying the authority of the United Nations and obstructing the demands of its victims for freedom and democracy. South Africans endured 20 more years of hardship and sacrifice until 1994, when the legitimate representatives of a new and democratic South Africa reclaimed their seat in the Assembly. It was my worthy predecessor, the then Foreign Minister of Algeria, Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who took that courageous action as President of the Assembly at its twenty-ninth session. I was witness to that unprecedented event and was emboldened by it. At this session, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will return to the rostrum as head of State of a resurgent People's Democratic Republic of Algeria and current Chairman of the Organization of African Unity. I admire his bold leadership.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the name of President Olusegun Obasanjo and extend warm congratulations and best wishes to him on his election victory and on the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. The Special Committee against Apartheid, led by Nigeria, made constructive contributions to isolate South Africa internationally and to end apartheid in that country. Also, Nigeria, under his committed leadership, played a pivotal role in support for and solidarity with the national liberation movements and the front-line States in southern Africa.
Democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and environmental protection are common values now widely shared in Africa. The people are ready to rise up and face the new dawn.
On another front, warlords driven by blind ambition for power have destroyed Somalia. Out of the ashes of despair, Africa and the United Nations should help reconstruct Somalia and give its brave people another chance to rebuild their shattered lives.
The United Nations remains firmly committed to the early and peaceful transition of Western Sahara to self-determination.
While the latest developments concerning the question of Palestine are encouraging, the United Nations should not be sidelined, but should play its legitimate role towards the creation of an independent Palestinian State.
At the same time, I welcome the holding of the referendum in East Timor, and its results. I am, however, saddened by the bloodshed and devastation, and I call for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence to pave the way for the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor.
Having expressed our human yearning for a new millennium, I will not shy away from calling upon the children of Africa's invaders and slave-traders for an honest and sincere apology, and upon the children of the victims, many of whom have been left stranded in the diaspora, for forgiveness. The horrors of slavery and destruction wrought upon Africa and its peoples cannot be forgotten. Now is the time for reconciliation and healing.
Such an act of mutual affirmation will never be truly complete unless Africa's sacred relics, icons, art works and other priceless cultural objects are returned lock, stock and barrel to their rightful owners. Today these stolen African treasures adorn public museums, libraries, art galleries and private homes in foreign lands. They must come home to assuage the pain and anger in the hearts of the succeeding generations of Africans. Now is the time for atonement, reflection and renewal to foster better human relations and rectify the ugly legacies of the past.
There are present and future challenges that face us as we enter the coming age. The first is globalization. I would place the growth, development, expansion and concentration of transnational corporations at the centre of this powerful force.
The development of global financial markets made possible by incredible technologies has helped to facilitate the formidable power and concentration of transnational corporations. We now live in a wired world in which instant communications to all corners of the globe have become an accepted way of life.
One fear exists, however. It is that the unrelenting power of transnational corporations, with interlocking financial arrangements, is overwhelming Governments, particularly in the developing world. With this in mind, African leaders recently adopted the Algiers Declaration, in which they stated that globalization should be placed within the framework of democratically created social dynamics -- globalization with a human face. Currency traders should have no chance to run roughshod over developing and industrializing countries. To prevent this, the international community should assist in promoting economic growth and prosperity that will be shared by all nations and peoples. Globalization should be about empowerment of the people, especially the youth, the future leaders. It should not cause further impoverishment or the marginalization of the poorest of the poor in the third world.
The second challenge is sustainable development and the protection of the environment. The economies of the developing world, especially in Africa, are trapped in a vicious cycle of falling commodity prices, manufacturing and mining technologies that replace labour and low levels of domestic savings and foreign direct investment. It is a known fact that growth prospects in developing countries are bleaker than they have been in years. The degradation of the environment has further compounded the situation.
Other handicaps abound in the third world, such as high unemployment, inadequate social and physical infrastructure, as well as the debilitating debt burden. Debt write-off, without imposing new hardships, is a necessary first step. Against this background, development assistance is still required and should be supplemented by private-sector initiatives. Already, there are some commendable private sector initiatives in support of United Nations social development programmes. In this connection, more discussions should be held to explore joint ventures. Last week, the United Nations co-sponsored in this Assembly Hall "the world's newest and most powerful website": NetAid.com. That presentation, through words, music and drama, showed ways and means to fight world hunger, poverty and the misery of children. I was moved and encouraged by this cooperation.
The third challenge is war. Regional wars in many parts of the world constitute a major scourge that destroys lives and whatever political, economic and social gains that have been made. The Security Council has the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security and should speak with one voice. Its actions should be based on consensus-building and collective commitment. The Council's authority is best enhanced and its actions legitimized when it allows for more frequent open debate in which all United Nations Member States can participate.
Given the frequency with which new kinds of regional conflicts arise, both the Security Council and the General Assembly should devise practical ways and means of identifying areas of potential conflict in advance and of strengthening with resources regional mechanisms for conflict resolution in order to prevent wars and human suffering.
Better coordination between the Security Council and the General Assembly is now more necessary than ever in streamlining their relationship as they deal with these armed conflicts and humanitarian crises. Neither one of them can really be effective or successful at the expense of the other. Cooperation, rather than competition, would ensure that their efforts are complementary and provide stronger back-up for the Secretary-General. Furthermore, the role of the Economic and Social Council is indispensable both in conflict situations and in reconstruction.
The fourth challenge is that of the ever-deteriorating refugee crisis. Reports indicate that there are currently about 12 million refugees in the world, more than half of them in Africa. These neglected masses of fellow human beings have been displaced largely by devastating wars, some resulting from ethnic hatred and others from contested borders as well as natural disasters. These are women, children and men who are deprived of the basic human necessities and who end up being no one's responsibility. Their fate should be of common concern. This includes their sustenance and the restoration of their fundamental rights and dignity.
We should be asking ourselves what else the world community can do beyond providing the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with needed, albeit usually limited, resources to lessen their suffering. I pray that there will be light for them at the end of the tunnel as we usher in the next millennium.
The fifth challenge concerns gender equality. A special session of the Assembly devoted to gender-related issues and development will be held in the year 2000. Gender equality pertains to the entire society. It affects power relationships, decision-making and governance, as well as inter-State relations. Moreover, these concerns include the family, war, peace, development, disarmament, science and technology, human rights and other public policy priorities that form intrinsic parts of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. Governments should adopt and implement national gender policies without delay and report to the Assembly.
The sixth challenge is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has declared a nasty and unrelenting war on humanity. HIV/AIDS has become a major global menace that requires a common awareness and strategy and demands resources and intervention by Governments, business, intergovernmental organizations and civil society alike. It is a killer disease that respects no borders and is an enemy of all. For the wealthy in the North, money and medical treatment allow them to live with the HIV virus, or even the AIDS disease itself, for many years. For vast sections of the afflicted populations in the third world, such benefits are sadly beyond their reach, owing to prohibitive costs imposed by greedy drug manufacturers. In many such countries, notably in Africa, the situation has assumed alarming proportions. HIV/AIDS affects the economically productive and younger sections of the population. This means that sustained economic development, prosperity and progress stand to suffer immeasurably.
Prevention through education, control and treatment of HIV/AIDS is necessary but not sufficient. We must take the search for a cure into the political, social, business, community and cultural spheres. The third world needs assistance and understanding when its peoples make difficult choices between debt repayment and health and social services. On the other hand, society needs to appreciate the challenges and contributions of HIV/AIDS sufferers.
In this connection, I welcome the important decisions and resolutions adopted by the forty-ninth session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for Africa, held recently in Windhoek, Namibia.
The world's children who are languishing today in squalid conditions created by endless armed conflicts cannot really hope to realize their highest and best dreams fully or become productive citizens and winners. These are the leaders of tomorrow. To reach their full potential as achievers, the world's children desperately need a compassionate social environment, a warm circle of family members and friends and a culturally nourishing community around them. Human security and our own future depend upon the survival of these children, particularly those who are constantly falling through the cracks in the third world.
The seventh and last challenge is the future of our children in a globalized community. Despite the advances in health care, education, science and technology, and the ratification of international conventions and protocols governing the legal rights and social welfare of children, their lives are daily at risk of being snatched away by the cruelty and indifference of adults.
In the South, our children continue to die of diseases long ago eradicated in the developed world. Moreover, both in the North and in the South, children are also victimized by drugs, crime, sexual abuse and other adult vices. Millions of the world's children continue to face a future of hunger, poverty, illiteracy and child labour. More and more of them are forced to work under difficult conditions rather than being allowed to study and play. They are easy targets of the violence and neglect that characterize life today, in both developed and developing countries.
The ever-increasing numbers of children forcibly turned into soldiers to serve in national armies and tribal, ethnic or racial gangs should outrage us all. A recent article in The Economist brought this out in glaring terms. The article was about children under arms around the world. While this is an old problem, its new trends are most disturbing and cannot be tolerated. The prolonged civil conflicts rely heavily on child soldiers. Worse still, child recruits have come to be preferred over adults. Why? The reasons given are insidious and immoral. Children, the soulless recruiters boast, are numerous and readily available, more malleable and impressionable, learn quickly, are small and agile, and quite simply require less food and supplies than adults. This is the horrendous fate of many of the world's children today. It demands that the United Nations show renewed commitment and redouble its efforts as the repository of humanity's conscience and of social justice in the world.
While the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides protection for children under 18 years of age, it allows for recruitment for military service at age 15. I commend the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for its persistent work to save children. In the same vein, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict has left no stone unturned in its efforts to make the world a better place for children. That Office and its many allies in the field must continue to blame and shame Governments for not doing enough to protect our children's lives and their future.
I have made it my business to add my voice and devotion to their laudable efforts to make the twenty-first century one of love and security for every child in the world. It is for this reason that I, during the Namibian presidency of the Security Council, presided over the Council's debate on children and armed conflict on 25 August 1999. On that occasion, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1261 (1999) -- the Council's first ever resolution on the plight of children.
I intend to do whatever I can to be helpful in this worldwide campaign during my presidency. In this context, I endorse the designation of the first decade of the next millennium as the international decade for the culture of peace and non-violence for the children of the world.
I have addressed some of the key issues of the day as I see them. I have sketched the role of the United Nations and its reform, which must be carried out in a transparent and constructive way. I have emphasized the continued importance of the United Nations Charter and the General Assembly rules of procedure. I have reiterated my strong commitment to upholding the principles and goals for which the United Nations stands. I have expressed the need for the Secretary-General and the President to work together in promoting the ideals and objectives of our Organization. I have also stressed the imperative need for the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as other vital institutions of the United Nations, to coordinate their activities.
I have recalled the completion of the decolonization process in Africa, except in Western Sahara. I have urged the United Nations to play an active role in the creation of an independent Palestinian State. I have appealed for an apology from the descendants of slave traders and forgiveness by the descendants of victims of slavery in the context of mutual affirmation. I have raised the question of globalization as an imperative for empowerment of the people. I have also called for debt write-off for developing countries and for active cooperation between the United Nations and the private sector in the interests of poverty eradication and development. I have addressed the plague of HIV/AIDS, which continues to rend the social fabric of our societies. I have reiterated the obligation of United Nations Member States to continue promoting their adherence to democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and protection of the environment.
By now, it must be clear that the plight of children, especially the phenomenon of child soldiers, is uppermost in my mind. The Security Council resolution to which I referred, inter alia, strongly condemns the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction and forced displacement, recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in violation of international law, and calls on all parties concerned to put an end to such practices.
In conclusion, I endorse the recent proposals made by the Executive Director of UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. UNICEF called upon United Nations Member States to end the use of children as soldiers; to protect children from the effects of sanctions; to ensure that peace-building measures specifically include children; to challenge the impunity of war crimes, especially against children; and to promote early warning and preventive action for children.
For his part, the Special Representative recommended that the concept of "children as a zone of peace" be translated into practical measures on the ground to prevent or mitigate the suffering of children who are actually caught up in ongoing conflict; that neighbourhood initiatives be developed that would ultimately lead to specific arrangements and concrete actions on cross-border threats to children; that the business community should be engaged by developing voluntary codes of conduct within their own industries; that the protection and welfare of children should be placed on the international peace agenda; and that the needs of children in the aftermath of conflicts must be addressed.
Of course, I remain actively committed to the observance of the International Year for the Culture of Peace and the International Day of Peace, which we are commemorating today.
I commend the General Assembly at its fifty-third session for adopting the declaration and programme of action on a Culture of Peace.