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    Press Release No: UNIS/GA/1672
    Release Date: 29 August 2000
    Assembly President, Addressing Fifty-third Annual DPI/NGO Conference,
    Calls for Global Solidarity between United Nations Partners
     
     

     NEW YORK, 28 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the statement delivered today by General Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia) to the opening session of the fifty-third annual DPI/NGO Conference:

     In the same way that the current fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly is unique because it straddles two centuries and two millennia, I have the rare honour to address this annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference twice during my presidency.  I'm happy to be among friends yet again.  I have known many of you over a period of nearly 30 years.  Some of you helped me personally in various ways for the sake of Namibia's independence.

     I am happy, therefore, to address this gathering of non-governmental organizations.  As I look around this hall and see the diversity of faces of participants, I'm delighted to note how far the NGO movement has come since the founding of the United Nations.

     It is said that about 41 grass-roots organizations representing women, trade unions, religious and other community groups collaborated with the founding Member States to enrich the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco, in 1945.  Contrast that handful with the 1,800 representatives here today, and the hundreds of thousands of NGOs operating in all corners of the globe.

     I welcome all of you, from far and near, while recognizing that your movement has, indeed, come a long way in its cooperation and partnership with the United Nations and its family of agencies.

     At the same time, I must thank the Under-Secretary-General, Kensaku Hogen, and the Department of Public Information for bringing us together again.  I'd also like to thank all the organizers.  The timing of this Conference is significant, for it links the aspirations of the NGO community to the Assembly's historic Millennium Summit, which will take place at the United Nations starting on 6 September.  The Summit will bring together 159 Heads of State and Government and numerous other dignitaries in an unprecedented gathering of world leaders.

    This overwhelming convergence of world leaders in New York is a clear manifestation of a universal support for, and a vote of confidence in, the political, legal and moral authority of the United Nations, which is the indispensable common home of the entire human family, as nations and peoples of the world have become ever more interconnected and interdependent.
     
    The theme of this year's DPI/NGO Conference is "Global Solidarity: The Way to Peace and International Cooperation".  It focuses on making the growing partnerships between the United Nations and civil society a living reality.  Your challenge is to discuss all aspects of this topic and make concrete suggestions for consideration and implementation by Member States as well as by business, labour and other stakeholders in the civil society.

    The General Assembly -- this most diverse, representative and democratic intergovernmental forum in the world -- is, first and foremost, a deliberative forum of Member States.  But the Charter also talks of "We the Peoples of the World".  World leaders and governments understand the true meaning of this.  Today, we see change and a growing spirit of inclusion.  For governments have come to the realization that NGOs must be active players and partners for the achievement of the goal of sustainable peace, solidarity and development for all in this twenty-first century.

    This change in attitude was evident at the 1992 Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Brazil.  Since that Earth Summit, where organizers actively sought out the participation of civil society and produced remarkable results, the United Nations and its Member States have accepted the importance of this kind of cooperation and partnership.  All the major United Nations conferences of the 1990s adopted programmes or platforms for action and time-bound targets, whether on the environment, human rights, population, habitat, social development, women, food security or the concerns of small island developing States.  Without exception, their final documents specify roles and responsibilities for civil society, including the NGOs, towards the successful implementation of the goals defined. 

    Many of you, I'm sure, were here for the Millennium Forum of Civil Society in May this year, in the lead-up to the Beijing +5 Special Session on Women's Rights, and then travelled to Switzerland for the Geneva 2000 Forum which preceded the Copenhagen +5 Special Session on Social Development.  The outcome documents adopted at both Special Sessions outlined measures to be taken by civil society's non-governmental community to further enhance and advance women's rights through gender equality, development and peace, and to promote sustainable development through poverty eradication, full employment and shared prosperity.

    I recall telling delegates in Geneva that one of the most urgent challenges of our time was that of putting the needs of people at the centre of the global agenda of peace and development and democracy.  I also stressed that, in the search for real solutions to the acute problems of real people, it was essential for all concerned to agree on a comprehensive plan of action that would bring together governments, business, parliaments, non-governmental organizations and civil society at large into a constructive partnership and joint action.  At that gathering, speaker after speaker reaffirmed the complementary roles of government, the private sector, NGOs and other civil society operators, if human advancement and social justice are ever going to be successful and satisfactory to everyone.  We must fight together and win the war on poverty and find money for development. 

    Here at the United Nations, it is known that at all those conferences, and in the follow-up periods, it was the NGOs which set the pace on many issues.  You did that through advocacy and through action -- by pressuring governments and by working with them as partners and implementers.  This pressure on the United Nations and Member States, while disconcerting at times, has generated much of the progress we have achieved in recent years.  

    NGOs have proven to be rather effective in mobilizing the support of the international community for many worthy causes shared by Member States, such as development, poverty eradication, human rights and humanitarian assistance.  I'm also reminded of your active involvement that resulted, very recently, in the Ottawa treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines, and the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court.  We also continue to witness the courageous actions taken by NGOs in the field of preventive diplomacy, conflict resolution and reconstruction.

    This Organization, quite simply, needs you and your innovative ideas, and all of us have come to see that we have shared agendas that require concerted efforts to advance.  I reiterate what I said when I addressed you last September, that "we all want to see a sober and solid partnership between the United Nations and NGOs, at all times".

    Civil society is assuming greater roles in intergovernmental negotiations, particularly at the United Nations, and many NGOs want to expand that role significantly.  The United Nations and Member States need to identify complementary and constructive ways to respond to this growing involvement of civil society in the international arena.  The United Nations has responded by establishing an important new priority, namely, to strengthen outreach to civil society in order to foster practical partnerships to fulfil the goals and mandates of the Organization.   

    Let me, at this juncture, suggest some pertinent areas where the United Nations and the NGO community can work together for the good of humankind.

    In exactly nine days, the largest-ever number of Heads of State and Government, and other representatives and observers, will assemble in this very hall for a historic Millennium Summit, convened to deliberate on the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.  Among the documents they will consider will be the Secretary-General's Millennium Report, "We the Peoples...".  At the conclusion of the Summit, on 8 September, world leaders are expected to adopt an outcome document complete with renewed and collective commitment to, and a road map for, the United Nations towards realizing its universal goals for peace, human security, cooperation, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

    While the declaration is addressed to governments, the NGO community can work to ensure that the promises made therein are kept.  If the United Nations is to be more effective and credible, its Members must implement the decisions taken by them.  As informed and influential members of civil society, NGOs can monitor and ensure the implementation of commitments by governments, and thereby strengthen the work of this universal Organization.  I am sure this subject will be addressed in the Conference's panel discussion on "Action not Promises".  

    Another area where NGOs are uniquely positioned to make a lasting contribution is in the signing or ratification of many outstanding treaties and conventions that have been adopted over the years.  Over 500 multilateral treaties have been deposited with the Secretary-General.  They constitute a body of international law.  World leaders are being encouraged to take advantage of their presence at United Nations Headquarters to add their signatures to these international instruments.  In this context, I look to you to do what you do so well:  galvanize governments into action.

    During this Conference, you're also expected to debate the thorny question of humanitarian intervention as it relates to NGOs and their interaction with decision-making bodies of the international community, particularly the United Nations.  I am keenly interested in knowing how your discussion on this issue evolves.  The question of humanitarian intervention is one on which Member States hold a wide range of often conflicting and competing views.  But the matter must be discussed.

    On the question of United Nations reform, I am aware that the Plan of Action adopted by your Millennium Forum contains recommendations for enlarging and democratizing the Security Council and further strengthening the United Nations General Assembly.  In this connection, the Assembly devoted four meetings last December to a debate on this topical subject, under the agenda item entitled "Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters".  Additionally, the Assembly's Open-ended Working Group, now in its seventh year, has continued to debate the subject, and its report will be submitted to the fifty-fifth session of the General Assembly.

    At the beginning of my presidency, I highlighted a number of issues I believed the international community needed to address urgently if people everywhere are going to feel safe and have the belief that their needs are being attended to.  Globalization, armed conflicts, gender equality, the plight of children affected by wars, as well as the attendant refugee crises, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic remain more pressing matter today than they were a year ago.  All of them continue to pose serious challenges for governments, the United Nations and civil society alike, and require collaboration and resources in finding concrete solutions.

    You will, no doubt, reflect on these and other pressing issues and challenges facing humankind.  In doing so, you will, of course, not ignore the burning questions relating to compliance with binding United Nations resolutions, and on issues like sanctions regimes and the suffering of innocent people, including, in particular, defenceless children.

    Yet again, our illustrious Secretary-General, my brother and colleague, Kofi Annan, has provided creative leadership and professional excellence in taking the United Nations into new areas of partnership with key captains of big business, banks and the entertainment world.  The emphasis has been on challenges of globalization, on the one hand, and on finding reliable sources of financing for development in the third world, on the other.  This, I call reinventing the United Nations for the twenty-first century.  It is, indeed, a promising window of opportunity.  We must not fail in grabbing it with both hands and exploiting its benefits for the people.  I congratulate the Secretary-General for his achievement.  He is the man of the hour, according to Time Magazine.  

    Congratulations and stick to your guns.  Don't let them get you down, whoever they are.  In the end, everything will be all right, and We the Peoples of the United Nations will benefit.

    In closing, let me say that the United Nations belongs to all its Member States, big and small, rich and poor, developed and developing.  It also belongs to "We the Peoples", including the NGOs.  All of us, individually and collectively, must feel a sense of shared ownership of this our universal Organization as we work towards fulfilling the aspirations, hopes and expectations of the peoples of the world.  The way to international peace and cooperation is, indeed, through global solidarity between the United Nations and its partners the world over.  In this, I have the fate of the world's children and youth uppermost in my mind.  They must survive.  We have the duty to save them.

    There is no escaping the fact that we are linked together on this ship of life.  As such, we will sink or swim together.  And so I say, onward and upward, as partners, in the service of humanity.

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