Countries will only overcome the “three great challenges” of development, security and human rights if they take action together, globally and coordinated through the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in a wide-ranging speech to world leaders gathered for the opening of the General Assembly’s annual debate.
In his final address to the Assembly’s general debate before he completes his term at the end of this year, Mr. Annan said the events of the past decade “have not resolved, but sharpened” the challenges of “an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law.”
As a result, prevailing divisions “threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands,” he said, adding that this is occurring during a period when the world’s peoples are connected as never before.
“I remain convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations,” he said, observing that he witnessed the legitimacy and reach of the world body during his recent tour through the Middle East.
Citing examples such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, migration and human rights, Mr. Annan said most of the world’s problems have acquired a global dimension that can only be matched by “global action, agreed and coordinated through this most universal of institutions.”
Surveying the world since 1997, when he took up his post, the Secretary-General noted that many millions of people have been “released from the prison of poverty,” especially in Asia.
But he warned that the benefits have not been equally shared, even in those nations making great progress, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are unlikely to be reached everywhere before the target date of 2015.
Mr. Annan drew attention to continuing difficulties in achieving reform in international trade. “Globalization is not a tide that lifts all boats. Even among those who the statistics tell us are benefiting, many feel deeply insecure, and strongly resent the apparent complacency of those more fortunate than themselves.”
Turning to security, Mr. Annan said there are fewer inter-State or civil wars than there were 10 years ago, but far too many conflicts remain, especially in the developing world.
He decried the fact that the outcome document at last year’s World Summit did not include any reference to the non-proliferation or disarmament of weapons of mass destruction because countries could not agree which of the two should be given priority.
Terrorism has helped to feed a false idea of a “clash of civilizations,” he said, adding that “this climate of fear and suspicion is constantly refuelled by violence in the Middle East.
“We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many. But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield.”
On the challenge of human rights and the rule of law, Mr. Annan welcomed the fact that more governments today are elected by, and accountable to, those whom they govern, and that more rights have become enshrined in global treaties and pacts.
But he added that despite the Assembly’s commitment to a ‘responsibility to protect’ populations in peril from war crimes, “every day reports reach us of new laws broken [and] of new bestial crimes to which individuals and minority groups are subjected.”
The greatest problem is in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where the widespread murder, rape, displacement and destruction of homes “makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses.”
Mr. Annan, who received a standing ovation after he spoke, concluded his speech by reflecting on his decade as Secretary-General.
“It’s been difficult and challenging, but at times also thrillingly rewarding. And while I look forward to resting my shoulder from those stubborn rocks in the next phase of my life, I know I shall miss the mountain. Yes, I shall miss what is – when all is said and done – the world’s most exalting job.”