Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/DSG/28
    Release Date:  3 March 2000
     Inequality ‘Stark and Undeniable’ Feature of Today’s World Order,
    Says Deputy Secretary-General to Annual UNIS-UN Conference
     

     NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the annual United Nations International School (UNIS)-United Nations Conference at Headquarters on 2 March:

     I am delighted to be speaking to an audience that can really make a difference in the struggle against inequality.  I admire you for focusing your minds and your energies on exploring the causes of inequality at a time when many, particularly in this part of the world, are enjoying unprecedented prosperity.

     It shows that you have not forgotten your fellow human beings, and that you have not forgotten the past.  That cannot always be said about the people who usually sit in your seats.

     Today, you have heard from the President of the General Assembly, who spoke about the inequalities experienced in Namibia during its struggle for independence.  And you have also heard from Nafis Sadik about the inequalities facing women in South-East Asia.  They offer unique perspectives on what inequality means in the individual lives of men, women and children who share the very same hopes that we have for better, safer, and more promising lives.

     More importantly, you will be debating the question of globalization and inequality amongst yourselves, seeking out your answers to the questions that we are struggling with every day.  For the truth is that we can only start the process.  You have to carry it on.  And we have much to do.

     Inequality is a stark and undeniable feature of today's world order.  Whether it is the homeless man who sits outside the south gate of the United Nations Secretariat Building every morning or the million-plus people whose homes have disappeared in Mozambique’s catastrophic floods, we cannot ignore their suffering.  And those are just examples that make the news.

     Just consider these numbers:  average gross national product (GNP) per capita in the 25 richest nations ($25,000) is 58 times that of the 50 poorest.  And in the area critical to the social and economic development of societies ?- research and development -- 85 per cent of total world spending  -- $400 out of $470 billion - occurs in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  This represents an investment of 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Japan and the United States, while the average in Latin America, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is only 0.3 per cent. 
     In other words, where research and development are most needed, they are most absent.

     Perhaps the single change that would do most to reduce global inequality over the medium term would be a closing of this "knowledge gap" -- giving people in developing countries access to new technology, especially information technology, and to quality education.  Meanwhile, aid flows from rich to poor countries dropped more than 20 per cent during the 1990s.  More important, investment flows remain small.  We need to reverse this trend, if we are to make our world more equal.

     Fortunately, there are reasons to believe that we ?- and, more importantly, you in your generation -? can succeed.

     The fact is that, for all the dislocations and pressures caused by globalization, it also offers the hope of spreading prosperity more equally in a world where borders matter less and less.  However -- and this is a critical point that I hope you will consider in your own debates -- recent World Bank research suggests that aid is only effective in promoting growth when it is given to countries that have adopted sensible policies.

     Domestic policy is the most important variable in deciding whether a given country is integrated into the new global economy or not.

     The development of a society based on the rule of law; the establishment of legitimate, responsive, and transparent government; respect for human rights and the rights of minorities; freedom of expression; the right to a fair trial
    -- these essential, universal pillars of democratic pluralism provide the basis for true and lasting equality.

     At the same time, however, the international community will have to own up to its own responsibilities in giving the developing world the terms it deserves.

     From access to trade, to credit and debt forgiveness -- from maintaining and increasing overseas development assistance to providing technical assistance -- these are real and proven steps that the developed world can take which can make the difference between success and failure in the efforts of the developing world to escape the cycle of poverty and violence.

     What your meeting today recognizes is that if globalization is to succeed, it must succeed for poor and rich alike.  It must deliver rights no less than riches.  It must provide social justice and equity no less than economic prosperity and enhanced communication.

     It must be harnessed to the cause not of capital alone, but of development and prosperity for the poorest of the world.  That is because we all have equal rights as human beings.  These are set out in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and have thus been accepted -- on paper -- by all the States in the world.  Most States have also accepted them as binding legal obligations by signing and ratifying the various international Covenants and Conventions -- on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

     But as I am sure you would be the first ones to tell me, just because principles and rights are accepted on paper does not mean that they are realized or defended in the lives of those who need them most.  There is an enormous task still ahead of us.  But the United Nations is dedicated, above all, to making the world a freer, more just and more equal place, and every part of the Organization is working to make it happen.  
     The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, headed by the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, is working in many countries to help them improve their institutions so that human rights are really protected.

     Klaus Töpfer, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme, and his staff are doing the same to help countries adopt sustainable and eco-friendly policies.  And Juan Somavia, the head of the International Labour Organization, and his staff work with employers and trade unions around the world, as well as governments, to try and ensure the observance of agreed labour standards.  

     The World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme and the Population Fund are helping countries to adopt sound economic and social policies which will encourage investment and give everyone a chance to share in decisions affecting their lives.

     The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) advises developing countries on how to present their case in trade negotiations, and helps them to implement agreements once reached.  Many branches of the United Nations are involved in the relief of suffering caused by disasters whether natural or man-made, while others -- including notably the Secretary-General himself -- work tirelessly to try and resolve the conflicts which cause much of this suffering, and to prevent others from breaking out.

     Regardless of where you call your home, just by sitting here today, by having the chance to expand your horizons and think about improving your world, you are especially privileged -- with wealth, with opportunity and with security.

     But I also believe that such privilege carries with it an obligation to the world beyond your borders -- to those nations and individuals who were left behind during this extraordinary half century of peace and prosperity for this part of the world.

     What is clear -? after a half century of the United Nations’ efforts to fight poverty and promote freedom -? is that there are no quick or easy solutions.  But in today’s world, there are so many ways in which an individual can help fight inequality and defend human rights.  You can join this Organization; you can join a non-governmental organization or a governmental agency; or you can serve the public good from the private sector.

     There are literally no limits to the ways in which this battle can be fought.  The only limits are the ones we set ourselves.  And in a world defined by constant change, I want you to use this opportunity to think about how you can affect those changes and make them work as much for the poor of our world as for the privileged, as much for those still struggling to attain human rights as for those who are fortunate enough to take them for granted.

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