Press Releases

SG/SM/8061
AFG/172
4 December 2001

"UNITED NATIONS IS URGENTLY ENGAGED IN HELPING
AFGHANISTAN EMBARK ON A NEW BEGINNING", SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS ON RECEIVING FULBRIGHT PRIZE

NEW YORK, 3 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of being awarded the 2001 William J. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding in Washington, D.C. today:

I am deeply honoured to receive the 2001 Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. I am particularly pleased to receive an award named for William Fulbright, a visionary statesman and founding supporter of the United Nations, and we are pleased, Mrs. Fulbright, you are here with us today. His belief in the values of the United Nations Charter, and his commitment to securing peace through cooperation inspire us even today. The Fulbright exchange programme is a model for the kind of dialogue among cultures and civilizations that the United Nations is promoting around the world.

Today, perhaps more than ever, international understanding is essential to world peace -- understanding between faiths, between nations, between cultures. Today, we know that just as no nation is immune to conflict or suffering, no nation can defend itself alone. We need each other –- as friend, as allies, as partners –- in our struggle to uphold common values, and to fulfil common needs.

The United Nations –- at its best -– can be the true home of the dialogue among civilizations -– the forum where such dialogue can flourish and promote genuine understanding. Without this dialogue taking place every day among all nations -– within and between civilizations, cultures and groups –- we will not be able to overcome the wounds of 11 September.

That is the lesson in almost every part of the world, but nowhere more so today than in Afghanistan -– a country devastated by decades of war, drought and political repression driven by ethnic and other differences.

We have learned from painful experience that authoritarian and highly personalized forms of governance, ethnic discrimination, and human rights violations have been at the root of that country’s conflicts. Conversely, we have also learned that only democratic governance -- by protecting minorities, encouraging political pluralism, and upholding the rule of law -- can channel internal dissent peacefully, and thus help avert the kind of civil war that has taken such a heavy toll on the people of Afghanistan for the last quarter-century.

The appalling terrorist attacks on this country on 11 September focused the world's attention on the reality that a collapsed and destitute State -– such as Afghanistan -- provides fertile ground for armed groups to plan and prepare unspeakable acts of terror, at home and abroad. It must bring home a second reality, too –- that the answer to such violence and to sources of grievance which provide an excuse for such acts is more democracy, not less; more freedom, not less; more development aid, not less; more solidarity with the poor and dispossessed of our world, not less.

The United Nations is urgently engaged in helping Afghanistan embark on a new beginning. First and foremost, we must do all we can to help meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. Winter has already set in, and we must feed and shelter as many of the up to 7.5 million vulnerable and suffering Afghans as possible.

Beyond this most urgent need, as you are all aware, my Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been hosting talks in Bonn aimed at producing a basic agreement on the establishment of an interim administration that is acceptable to all Afghans and accountable to all Afghans. If all the Afghan parties -– as well as their neighbours and the wider international community –- give their full support, there is now a real opportunity to create the sort of broad-based, fully representative government which the United Nations has long been trying to help the Afghan people achieve. A stable Afghanistan -- living in peace, protecting the rights of its people, carrying out its international obligations, denying terrorists a safe haven, and posing no threat to its neighbours and enjoying their respect and support -- must be our common objective.

To achieve it, any arrangement arrived at must reflect the will, the needs and the interests of the Afghan people, and enjoy their full support.

Afghanistan is but one of many conflicts in the world today that deserve our concern, our compassion, our solidarity. We must also remember that the main challenges facing the international community on September 10th have not gone away. Indeed, they have become more urgent -– whether it is the devastation wrought by AIDS, the continuing poverty that afflicts billions of our fellow men and women, or the environmental degradation that threatens all peoples, and all nations.

Critical to addressing these obstacles in an effective and lasting way is a far greater understanding of the bonds that exist across all boundaries. The Fulbright Association has made an immense contribution to the kind of knowledge and appreciation that is necessary to sustain and deepen this solidarity. I salute you for your contribution, and wish you all success in the future.

* *** *