Press Releases

    DSG/SM/131
    27 April 2001

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES VISION, ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF "NEW" UNITED NATIONS,
    IN NEW YORK ADDRESS

    NEW YORK, 26 (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of an address given by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the annual luncheon meeting of the Pilgrims of the United States in New York on 25 April:

    It gives me great pleasure to join you today. Let me start by saluting the work you do to promote good relations between the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. I hope I won't offend my Francophone compatriots if I include my native Canada among those that have benefited from your work. Your efforts are very much in the spirit of the United Nations, whose founding Charter states that one of the Organization's main purposes is "to develop friendly relations among nations".

    I want to talk to you today not about the United Nations of 56 years ago, when the Charter was written, but about the new United Nations that has been taking shape in recent years in response to dramatic changes in the international arena. I believe the United Nations has managed to keep pace more successfully than is generally acknowledged.

    One of the main prerequisites for an effective United Nations is a common vision of its mission shared by all its Members. Beyond the Charter, there has not always been such a vision, especially during the cold war. But today, such a vision does exist: it is encapsulated in the Millennium Declaration adopted at last September's Millennium Summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders.

    That Declaration represents a new consensus on the principles and values that must guide the work of the United Nations. Those principles faithfully reflect the Charter, but they are also firmly anchored in the realities of the twenty-first century, requiring us to focus United Nations action on human beings, respect for their rights and the satisfaction of their basic needs.

    The Declaration is also distinguished by the clarity of the objectives and priorities it establishes for the United Nations: to overcome poverty, put an end to conflict, meet the needs of Africa, promote democracy and the rule of law and protect our environment. And it comes with the highest possible political authority: that of the 150 presidents, prime ministers and other world leaders who attended the Summit and adopted the Declaration.

    The vision for the twenty-first century enshrined in the Millennium Declaration reflects the far-reaching changes that occurred in the last decade of the twentieth century. The radical transformation of the geopolitical environment, the accelerated globalization of the economy, the information revolution and the burgeoning presence of non-governmental organizations and other non-State actors, have all had a major impact on the role of the United Nations and the way it operates.

    In the area of peacekeeping, for example, the United Nations has had to conduct a new type of operation. Missions in decades past were most likely to involve positioning a neutral force along a ceasefire line to monitor the situation. The new missions are far more complex, and typically involve not only the establishment of minimum security conditions by military contingents, but also such tasks as the holding of elections, the disarming of combatants, the repatriation of refugees or the revival of the economy. In the cases of Kosovo and East Timor, the United Nations is assuming responsibilities similar to those of a full-fledged government in the management of those territories.

    When observers discuss this new style of peace mission, they often pause to reflect -- and not without good reason -- on the tragic examples of Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, and wonder whether the United Nations is up to the job. I can assure you that the United Nations has gone through a process of self-criticism in connection with those missions, and drawn clear lessons.

    At the same time, it is often forgotten that even as those difficulties were occurring, the United Nations was successfully carrying out complex and innovative missions in Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Eastern Slavonia, to name just a few. If today we are in a position to discharge our responsibilities honourably in Kosovo, in East Timor, in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is because of the experience gained over the past decade and because of the improvements we have made in managing these missions.

    The last decade has also been a productive one for the United Nations in the economic and social areas. The major conferences of the 1990s on the environment, population, human rights, children, human settlements, social development and the advancement of women have all served to update the legislative framework and to formulate strategies that now serve as guidelines for all United Nations activities in those areas. There is no doubt in my mind as to the positive long-term impact of such agreements.

    To take only one example that is dear to me, no one can overestimate how significant those conferences have been in terms of improvements in the legal, political, economic and social status of women across the globe. They have led to open discussion of such taboo subjects as genital mutilation and contraception. They have enabled civil society to become organized and express opinions, while allowing governments to benefit from the experience of other countries. And they have created for the women of the world a set of standards against which to measure performance in their own countries. The struggle for gender equality is far from over, but because of those conferences it is continuing in a much more favourable international climate.

    Today the topics of concern to people around the world are largely related to the phenomenon of globalization, which is making economies and societies more interdependent than ever. The widening gap between rich countries and poor countries, population movements, illicit trafficking in arms and drugs, climate change, the spread of disease -- these are all topics on the agenda of the United Nations, since it is now accepted that individual States cannot manage such issues on their own. Increasingly, non-governmental organizations, scholars, scientists and business leaders are contributing to the debate.

    We have long been working with non-governmental organizations in providing humanitarian relief and in promoting development. Now, new types of partnerships are emerging. Last year, when the Economic and Social Council decided to devote its annual ministerial session to information technologies, it invited a number of representatives from the private sector to participate in its work. An advisory council, involving governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations, will soon be formed to continue the dialogue with those who are best placed to predict how those technologies will evolve, and how they can be used to serve the development of the poorest countries.

    You have also most likely heard of the famous $1 billion donation from Ted Turner. This experience, now in its fourth year, shows what results can be achieved by working with a private foundation, in full observance of the principles and priorities of the United Nations.

    The Secretary-General also considers it very important to enlist the business sector, which plays such a key role in the world economy, as a partner in working to achieve the goals of the United Nations. As you may know, two years ago he proposed a "Global Compact" to world business leaders, under which they commit themselves to respect a number of international norms in the areas of human rights, labour standards and the environment.

    I am happy to report that a number of prominent American companies have already joined the Compact, in which trade unions and non-governmental organizations are also involved. They have correctly understood that, if the new global market is to be sustainable, it needs to be embedded -- as national markets are -- in a framework of shared standards and solidarity.

    These companies have also taken the enlightened step of acting on their own initiative -- that is, they are not waiting for governments to pass laws, but rather are doing what they can, in their spheres of influence, to bring positive change in these areas. They have also understood that not taking such initiative is the best way to see these issues get tied up with the trade agenda, thereby saddling the trading system with a burden it was not meant to bear.

    You are entitled to ask whether the United Nations system of agencies, programmes and funds is capable of fulfilling the vision set out in the Millennium Declaration. I said earlier that the United Nations is always changing with the times. But in addition, since 1997 we have been engaged in a special reform effort that the Secretary-General has described as a "quiet revolution".

    Those reforms have led to substantial improvements in coordination among the various components of the United Nations system, and less duplication of work. If the international community were to redesign the United Nations from scratch, I am sure it would give it a less complicated architecture than the one we have. But I believe we are in the process of proving that the United Nations system can perform more efficiently, delivering greater value for money to the peoples it exists to serve.

    The regular budget of the United Nations has been kept in a state of zero nominal growth for the past six years, which means that our real resources have shrunk year after year. Yet the mandates entrusted to the Secretariat by the various organs of the United Nations continue to increase. Thanks to the modernization of our management methods, the intensive use of information technologies and a great deal of hard work by staff, we are just about managing to meet the demands of our Member States. But the machine is now stretched close to the breaking point.

    Our core budget is $1.2 billion per year -- less than that of the New York City Fire Department. The entire United Nations system, not including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, spends some $10 billion each year, two thirds of it from voluntary contributions from Member States -- just a third of New York City's budget. Considering what the United Nations has to accomplish each year, these numbers are far from excessive.

    I can also tell you that the Secretary-General has taken action in all those areas of reform that fall under his authority. There are additional aspects of this process on which only the Member States can take decisions. Organizations such as the Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization have taken up this challenge and are redesigning the way they work. At the same time, other intergovernmental reforms are moving more slowly. For example, despite many years of intense discussions, Member States have not yet managed to agree on a formula for the enlargement of the Security Council. So, there remains a considerable amount of important unfinished business.

    The new United Nations that I have been talking about today can be seen in action in its response to the AIDS epidemic. At this very moment, the Secretary-General is in Nigeria attending an African summit on infectious diseases, where tomorrow he will make a major speech setting out the priorities that must guide us in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

    African presidents and prime ministers, their United Nations partners and others involved are meeting because AIDS is having its worst effects in Africa. But AIDS is a global problem, as experience elsewhere has already demonstrated, and as the rapidly widening impact of the disease in South Asia and Eastern Europe will attest. That is why, in June, the General Assembly will hold a special session on the subject. The Secretary-General, for his part, has been trying to raise the profile of the issue in both the developing and developed worlds.

    The new United Nations can be seen here through the involvement of major non-State actors. Among these are the major pharmaceutical companies, whose products and research are crucial ingredients. Foundations are also an important part of the picture. The contribution of more than $850 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to finance immunization research is an invaluable act of philanthropy, which I hope will be an inspiration to others.

    The United Nations is also pooling its own resources and efforts as never before. UNAIDS, the entity leading this battle, is actually a coalition of six United Nations agencies working together on everything from overall strategy to the delivery of basic health services.

    As you know, there has been a plethora of initiatives on different aspects of the issue in recent months. The Secretary-General tomorrow will sketch out a comprehensive strategy covering all aspects of this issue, from prevention, through care and treatment, to support for orphans and other vulnerable groups. He will also address the key question of how all this might be funded. His hope is that speaking out on these matters now will help the special session in June have the greatest possible effect. I urge you to pay attention. Working together, we can and must defeat this scourge.

    In an era of globalization and accelerating interdependence, the world needs a more effective United Nations. Despite its shortcomings, the United Nations still embodies our hopes for a just and peaceful world. No part of the world today can afford to ignore the problems affecting other regions, even the most remote. Human solidarity is not merely a moral imperative -- it serves the long-term interests of all.

    I hope I have shown you that the United Nations is a dynamic organization, closely attuned to the realities of the new century. And I hope, as we move ahead, that we will be able to count on your commitment and support.

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