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    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/GA/1620
    Release Date:  3 March 2000
     World Youth Have much to Gain from Advancing and Maintaining Mutual Respect, Meaningful Cooperation and Peaceful Co-existence, Assembly President Says

     NEW YORK, 2 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the statement delivered today at Headquarters by Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia), President of the General Assembly, to the United Nations International School-United Nations 1999-2000 Students and Youth Conference:

     I will start by thanking you for inviting me to address you, students and young people, in this Great People's Chamber -- the General Assembly Hall.

     At the same time, I am well pleased to welcome you to the United Nations and into this august House.  I do this, and happily so, as President of the fifty-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly.

     It is a well-established tradition for the United Nations and its specialized agencies to host gatherings of students and young people like this one.  For this is the best way for both sides to benefit from each other's outlook on world affairs and concerns about life.  I embrace this practice and encourage all the United Nations institutions to continue it in all possible ways.

     Since I assumed the Presidency of the General Assembly in September last year, I have devoted quite a good bit of my time to issues of special interest to children, students and youth.  And I remain committed to this worthy pursuit, which is of personal interest to me.

     In doing this, I don't think that I am a high-flying giver of wisdom and that those I interact with are unfortunate takers only.  That is not my nature.  I consider myself as much a beneficiary -- and a lucky one at that -- to be associated with your generation of tomorrow's leaders.  Many of you present here are already significant role players in different fields of society.  You have concerns, priorities, goals and a vision for a better and brighter future.

     Life is like a big river which is in continuous motion.  Both of them harbour mysteries and surprises and hold out lessons.  I often wonder about what revelations, puzzles and fortunes big rivers, not unlike life itself, have offered humanity over the years and centuries.  If, for example, the big rivers such as the Congo in Central Africa, the Amazon in Brazil, the Yangtze in China or the Mississippi in the United States could talk, what would their stories be like?  Think about it.

     Your generation is a product of an extraordinary age of knowledge and information on a global scale unlike anything ever known to humankind.  You are born with computers in your brains and Internet and “Website.com” in your mouths.  
     
     You are standing at the crossroads between a somewhat unremarkable past and shattering breakthroughs, brought about by science and technology, biotechnology, cyberspace and mind-boggling inventions in medicine, animal husbandry, explorations in space and the seabed.  Microchips and biotechnology are forging a smart partnership in laboratories to prolong human life and treat diseases.

     But let us not forget today's real world out there -- the world of hunger, poverty, disease, illiteracy and man's inhumanity to man.  Other dangerous impediments to human progress include, but are not limited to:  nuclear weapons, other savage weapons of mass destruction, genocide, ethnic cleansing, HIV/AIDS, child soldiering, organized crime, deadly drugs and international terrorism.  I wish it were otherwise, but you will inherit this mess, sooner rather than later.

     This is the first time ever for the United Nations to be hosting a students and youth conference in this millennium and in the twenty-first century.  Of course, it could not have happened before, because the United Nations itself is only 54 years old.  A century is a long period, not to talk of a millennium.  I am, therefore, exceedingly delighted that I became one of the world leaders called upon to bid a timely goodbye to the twentieth century and the last millennium.  And to welcome the new ones.  Transition from one epoch to the next has proven to be a time for new ideas and bold initiatives.

     Each generation has its moment under the sun and is given an opportunity to make its own history.  Now is your time and opportunity.  Your deliberations today and tomorrow will be recorded for posterity.  Those generations to come will judge you as you have a chance today to assess our performance.  That means that in human life the cycle of continuity and change repeats itself all the time.

     I am an organization man, not only at the United Nations but generally.  I believe an individual must be connected to the whole and not operate as an island unto himself or herself.  A hermit is a defeatist and a social misfit.  Give me a hermit and I will show you a coward and a parasite.  Humans do not grow on trees; we are born into a family and a community, with privileges but also responsibilities.  That's where it all starts.

     I was born many years ago in a small town-village called Usakos -- or ‘Usa-‘Khos in my mother tongue -- located in the backwoods of the south-western region of Africa.  The country whence I hail is called Namibia, big in surface area, small in population, generously endowed with natural and human resources and aesthetic beauty.  It thrives on mining, cattle ranching, fishing, tourism and wildlife.  Namibia became an independent nation on 21 March 1990, after a long, bitter and, indeed, bloody struggle.  In a couple of weeks' time, we will celebrate our tenth Republican anniversary, with a big birthday party of exuberant Namibians and our friends from around the world.

     All of us -- you, me and others -- have dreams.  I, too, had a dream back then to become somebody.  My intention was not to abandon my roots but to link them up with the world beyond my town-village and country.  I have done so, step by step, from 1958 onwards.  I left home and ventured into the unknown to this, that and the other place in Africa.  I finally reached the United States, as a United Nations Fellow, in 1963, landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  There, I studied political science and international relations at Temple University.  My extracurricular activities in Philadelphia included, amongst others, participating in student politics, civil and human rights movements and in radical activism of the political left.

     From Philadelphia, I came to New York at the end of 1971 and, in particular, to the United Nations in 1972.  That year, I became the principal spokesman for Namibia's freedom and independence here at the United Nations and internationally.  I stayed at the post until 1986, then left on promotion to Angola from where I continued carrying out my diplomatic activities on behalf of our national liberation movement, SWAPO of Namibia.  Education, coupled with the continued search for knowledge and politics of liberation, emboldened my will and determination, and internationalist solidarity sustained my confidence that our victory against oppression was certain.

     As I look at you -- one and all -- I think of myself and many others of my generation, especially those who have since become inseparable from me over the years in Africa, in the Americas and in so many other places around the world.  Your dreams must have a focus, a vision for the future and courage to succeed.  This is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind in 1959 when he addressed a much larger gathering than this one of concerned youth and students in Washington, D.C., who were demanding political participation, equality and social change in the United States and the world at large.  On that occasion, Reverend King said:

     "As I stand here and look out upon the thousands of black faces, and the thousands of white faces, intermingled like the waters of a river, I see only one face -- the face of the future."

     Today, the future is in your hands.  What will you do with it, and what are your dreams for the future?  That is the question.

     You have chosen the best time for your conference.  Many topical sessions of the General Assembly as well as other important meetings have been planned for 2000.  The whole United Nations is in, what you may call, an activist mode.  The year 2000 seems to have inspired renewed commitment to action and rethinking of ways in which the business of international politics, multilateral negotiations and United Nations diplomacy have been conducted to date.  People want change, better conditions of life and a safer world.  You are a part of the world's peoples.

     The two preceding months of 2000 have witnessed continuous high-level meetings and initiatives.  The Security Council, under American Presidency, devoted January 2000, "The Month of Africa", to a series of important meetings concerning military conflicts, safety and protection of children, refugee crises, HIV/AIDS pandemic and resource mobilization to fight the root causes of conflicts, abject poverty and to promote development, employment and prosperity in the world, specifically in the developing countries.

     During the ensuing months until September and beyond, various actions will be taken on pressing world problems.  They include United Nations reform, restructuring and democratization, effective coordination of the workload among the key United Nations Principal Organs, that is, the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and the Office of the Secretary-General.  This will ensure coherency, effectiveness and efficiency in implementing important resolutions and decisions of the United Nations and other important institutions.

     Five years after the Beijing Summit, I will preside over the General Assembly's special session, from 5 to 9 June, here in New York, which will review progress made, if any, on the implementation of the Platform for Action relating to gender equality and empowerment of women in all fields of human endeavour.  Later during the same month, I will do the same, this time in Geneva, at a review of the World Summit for Social Development, from 25 to 30 June, since the Copenhagen Summit on the same subject in 1995.

     Right now, we are busy preparing for the Millennium Summit, which will take place from 6 to 8 September this year.  World leaders are expected to converge in New York.  They will be discussing world peace and security, disarmament, development and poverty eradication, debt cancellation and financing for development, wealth creation and distribution, human rights and all other critical issues to save humanity and protect the environment.

     As some of you might be aware by now from the Internet and Gurirab.com, I have adopted the Plight of Children as my Presidency's theme.  I did so because I love children and because children, left to themselves, embody an inherent kindness of heart and open mind.  Therein lies hope and salvation for humankind.  One of my grand uncles was a gardener, amongst many other endowments.  I used to watch him tending his vegetable garden and I noticed his ginger hands and the intimate attention with which he interacted with the plants.  He told me that one must handle plants with the same care that you treat children.  Both require nurturing as a bankable insurance policy.  Rewards and benefits to you, in the future, come multifold provided that you cared for them when they were young.  They bear fruits in good works and for your own benefit in later years.  That was my instruction and I am giving it to you.

     My heart bleeds for those little and young children who are daily being turned into child soldiers to fight in beastly adult wars of death, destruction and darkness.  We cannot tolerate this heinous crime against humanity.  It must stop, and now.

     By way of concluding, let me share with you some aspects and missions of the Namibian youth.  In August of last year, our youth held an all-inclusive conference in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia.  The conference was opened by our President, Dr. Sam Nujoma.  I was a principal guest speaker.  After deliberating for three full days, they adopted a National Youth Action Plan Toward the Year 2000 and Beyond.  In it, the Namibian youth underlined, inter alia, the following points; I am paraphrasing:

     -- We have gathered here to promote the youth issues for human development, convinced that youth access to political and economic space is a prerequisite for the development of any nation and humankind as a whole;

     -- On the threshold of a new millennium, young people are full of hope and commitment.  We are convinced that, in partnership between youth, the Government, youth-serving organizations and other intergovernmental institutions, we can shape our national agenda for the creation of a better future for all;

     -- We are mindful of the need to promote the United Nations Global Programme of Action for Youth in 2000 and beyond;

     -- With this National Youth Action Plan we will strive to encourage and empower youth to participate actively in human development and social change.

     In particular, the Namibian youth committed themselves to concentrate in these areas by declaring that, and I paraphrase them once again:

     -- The financial institutions, both private and public sector, provide young people with adequate financial resources in order to realize their entire potential in becoming full and active partners in national development process;

     -- Young people are recognized not only as immediate inheritors of leadership, but also as actors of society today, with a direct stake in the national development process;

     -- Young women and men should be enabled to participate on equal terms; sexism is an obstacle that must be overcome and the empowerment of young women is a prerequisite for development;

     -- All young people should be enabled to participate as both creators and beneficiaries of development:  unemployment, illiteracy, discrimination against marginalized young people, discrimination against young people with disabilities or discrimination based on beliefs, religious, political and other forms of social exclusion are threats to the national development process;

     -- Justice between the present and future generations is recognized as a fundamental base for sustainable development:  young people must participate in the decisions taken today about resources of tomorrow;

     -- Youth should be enabled to participate in political decision-making on all levels, and must be enabled to organize themselves in youth NGOs, in order to fully participate in political, economic, social and cultural life; and

     -- Youth issues should not be treated in isolation, but mainstreamed into national policy and programmes.

     It is my firm belief that the ideas and hopes for a kinder and reassuring future that the Namibian youth are aspiring for resonate with your own yearnings and commitments, whether you represent an industrialized country or a developing one.  The young people of the world -- all of them together -- have nothing to lose but much to gain, now and in the future, by advancing and maintaining constructive linkages based on shared ideals for mutual respect, meaningful cooperation and peaceful co-existence, when your turn comes around to lead the world from different national capitals.  Individual initiative and community service are not opposites.  Rather, they reinforce each other, each benefiting from the other.

     Indeed, who can deny the fact that society today shows manifest parental deficit as well as moral meltdown everywhere.  There is domestic violence and random killings in family and the community alike.  Young people feel alienated and powerless.  As a result, they frequently resort to suicide, satanic cults and criminal behaviour, with guns, drugs and unprotected sex.

     Little children, in particular, are hard hit by this societal decay and neglect.  They have been turned into victims of armed conflicts, child labour, AIDS orphans, refugees and displaced persons, without a meaningful future.

     Yes, these are shaming challenges for the adults, but they, it is sad to say, define your very lives as youth and students.

     Lastly, let me once again thank you for your kind invitation and also for your presence of mind and attention in listening to my lengthy address.  In particular, I want to make mention of Mr. Medani Adjali and Mr. Michal Galuska who took full charge of the preparations for the conference and maintained close liaison with my Office and myself.  They deserve a rowdy applause and best wishes to take that leadership higher and higher.

     I now declare open this historic conference and wish you successful deliberations.

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