Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2532
    Release Date:  4 April 2000
     Secretary-General, in Message to Opening of ‘Visas For Life’ Exhibit,
    Says Courageous People Honoured Are ‘Models for Our Time’

      NEW YORK, 3 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening of the exhibition “Visas for Life:  The Righteous Diplomats”, delivered on his behalf by Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations Gillian Sorensen, at Headquarters on 3 April:

     It is a pleasure and an honour to welcome you all to United Nations Headquarters.  I bring you greetings from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who truly regrets his inability to join you tonight.  It may be small solace to you to know that he is on his way to Geneva to address the Commission on Human Rights, but I mention this to illustrate the Secretary-General's commitment to the same cause to which you are dedicated:  the battle for human dignity in an incessantly brutal world.  He has asked me to read you the following message:

    Dear friends,

     This remarkable event, this heart-rending exhibition, and you yourselves all have a natural home at the United Nations.  The yearning for a United Nations had its origins in the scourge of fascism and Nazism, and its Charter was written as the world was first learning the full horror of the Holocaust.  Today, your struggle -- against hatred and intolerance, and for justice and remembrance -- is our struggle, as well.

     The popular image of diplomats is not a flattering one.  One familiar description says that "diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest thing, in the nicest way".  It is sometimes said that diplomats lack a moral compass, passively following the orders of bosses and regimes regardless of their political or ethical character -- or lack thereof.

     Maybe that is true of some.  It was emphatically not true of the extraordinary people whose stories are told by "Visas for Life".  Some famous, others known to just a few, they make up a gallery of courageous individuals who, in the face of an inhuman force that was destroying lives and societies alike, took enormous personal risks to rescue Jews and others facing persecution and peril.  They were true heroes; indeed, they were among the foremost human rights defenders of their day.  With genocide still stalking our world, they are models for our time, too.

     The United Nations seeks to carry on in that tradition -- first and foremost, to save lives, but also to show that the popular image of diplomacy is an unfair caricature.  That is why the United Nations tries to shine a spotlight on injustice, wherever it lurks.  It is why we build institutions such as the International Criminal Court, so that no one -- from rulers to front-line soldiers -- can enjoy impunity from the rule of law.  It is why, next year in South Africa, we will hold a world conference on racism at which, I should stress, anti-Semitism will be one of the forms of intolerance targeted for action.  And it is why United Nations personnel continue to work in war zones and other risky places -- many of whom, like Dag Hammarskjöld, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace.

     I would like to express my congratulations to the many groups and individuals who have made this project possible. You are doing more than documenting stories worth passing on from generation to generation. You are teaching the world that each and every one of us has a responsibility to care and be aware, and to speak up in the face of suffering, prejudice and violence.  Had there been more righteous diplomats and more righteous people in general over the years, our world might be a better place.  With more such individuals in the future, it still can be.  In that hopeful spirit, please accept my best wishes for a memorable evening.

    * * * * *