Universal values more important than ever – Annan

12 December 2003
Kofi Annan

The universal values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than half a century ago - such as peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity - are more important now than ever as they come under attack in a backlash against globalization, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

In a lecture on global ethics at Tubingen University, in southwest Germany, Mr. Annan said universal values must be re-asserted today to ensure that the peoples of the world can share the same principles so they can manage their differences without turning to violence.

The Secretary-General said that while the process of globalization has brought people together in one sense, in another it has driven people apart by not sharing the benefits and burdens and thus accentuating disparities in wealth and power.

"This makes a mockery of universal values. It is not surprising that, in the backlash, those values have come under attack, at the very moment when we most need them," he said.

Mr. Annan said that the men who attacked targets in the United States on 11 September 2001 must not be allowed to provoke a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West - "as if Islamic and Western values were incompatible."

He said anyone who sincerely believes in individual rights should also support the right of people to not have to dissociate themselves from their co-religionists or ethnic kin.

"Muslims, for example, should not be reviled or persecuted because they identify with Palestinians or Iraqis or Chechens, whatever one thinks of the national claims and grievances of those peoples, or the methods used in their name.

"And no matter how strongly some of us may feel about the actions of the state of Israel, we should always show respect for the right of Israeli Jews to live in safety within the borders of their own state, and for the right of Jews everywhere to cherish that state as an expression of their national identity and survival.

"But if it is wrong to condemn a particular faith or set of values because of the actions or statements of some of its adherents, it must also be wrong to abandon the idea that certain values are universal just because some human beings do not appear to accept them.

"Indeed, I would argue that it is precisely the existence of such aberrations that obliges us to assert and uphold common values. We need to be able to say that certain actions and beliefs are not just contrary to our own particular morality, but should be rejected by all humanity."


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