SECRETARY-GENERAL HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION,
NEW YORK, 28 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the National Assembly of Lesotho in Maseru today:
It is a distinct honour to address this National Assembly of Lesotho. Let me at the outset congratulate you, and all the people you represent, on the historic elections held in May. The process was described by national and international observers as transparent, free, fair and lawful, and that is a real sign of hope for the future of Lesotho and, indeed, the entire region.
I applaud the partnership that helped make that achievement possible -- a partnership bringing together the Government, the Interim Political Authority, the Independent Electoral Commission, donors and the United Nations.
I hope you will now continue the work to deepen democratic governance in Lesotho by strengthening democracy within your parties, and by promoting constructive engagement through the tools the parliamentary system offers you.
As parliamentarians, you carry tremendous responsibilities. It is you who must give voice to the needs, hopes and aspirations of Lesotho’s people. As their elected representatives, you have a vital role to play in strengthening democracy and creating the kind of enabling environment needed to bring out the energy and creativity of the men and women you represent.
You are also important partners of the United Nations as we pursue our overriding mission to meet the Millennium Development Goals and work for freedom from fear, freedom from want, and protection of the resources of this planet. In our work to reach those goals, we share a guiding motto: putting people at the centre of everything we do.
I hope therefore that in that work, and as your country’s legislators, you will put partnership before partisanship and find ways to work constructively together towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
With the election process now behind you, there is a chance for real advancement in your country’s consultative processes aimed at reducing poverty. The United Nations family -- in particular the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank -- are here to support you.
Allow me, on that score, to applaud Lesotho’s contribution in building a United Nations house largely from its own resources -- thereby showing a real commitment to working closely with the United Nations family on an enduring basis.
In the face of the food crisis threatening Lesotho, a particularly pressing challenge is devising strategies for securing national as well as household food security. The United Nations is committed to working with you in that process, in addition to the assistance we are already providing to alleviate the immediate crisis.
One of the prerequisites to fighting poverty in the long term, as study after study has shown us, lies in education. We know that in the course of the past century, countries committed to universal primary education -- for boys and girls -- have been far more successful in escaping poverty. They have enabled their people to lead more fulfilled, productive lives. They have given their people the chance to make better use of democratic opportunities.
I applaud Lesotho for introducing, with the help of the United Nations family, a programme of Free Basic Education for all -- which guarantees children in the first four grades a place at school, provides for a school feeding programme, and transfers the cost of education from the family to the State. It is my fervent hope that you will meet your goal of providing education to all of Lesotho’s children by 2008.
An equally powerful weapon in the fight against poverty lies in the empowerment of women.
I urge you to translate into reality the commitments you have made in ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
And I urge you to build on the progress made so far in ensuring that the rights of women are protected and embraced by all society. I thank His Majesty the King for his commitment to that process, and I hope I can count on the traditional leaders -- who form the majority of the Upper House -- to also play a leadership role. Again, the United Nations family is here to do all it can to assist you.
Education and the empowerment of women are both essential and indispensable in the work to reach yet another of the Millennium Development Goals -- halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Experts now agree that HIV/AIDS is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced. It has spread further, faster and with more catastrophic long-term effects than any other disease -- particularly in Africa. It has affected young people disproportionately, and its impact has become a devastating obstacle to development.
In Lesotho, the work to fight AIDS cannot wait. Consider that almost one in five children has lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS; and that more than 30 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 49 are estimated to be HIV positive. You, as the link between people and Government, have a crucial role to play in the work to fight this epidemic .
Only if we meet the challenge of fighting AIDS can we succeed in our other efforts to build a humane, healthy and equitable Africa. Only then can we expect to see the success of regional strategies such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which offers such a beacon of hope for the renaissance of the Continent. And only then can we truly hope to reach the other goals of the Millennium Declaration.
Our overarching mission to reach those goals is about to be put to an important test as the world meets in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Let us be clear: sustainable development is not only one of the Millennium Development Goals in itself, but a prerequisite for reaching many of the others.
I know that your country is acutely aware of that relationship. For this beautiful mountain Kingdom, which boasts a unique biodiversity, environmental degradation and ensuing problems of food insecurity pose a particular and persistent challenge.
I trust I can count on Lesotho’s support as we seek a successful outcome in Johannesburg, and on your support as parliamentarians in the work to implement the follow-up.
As the link between the local and the global, there is so much you can contribute across the full range of the issues on the United Nations agenda -- both for the good of your constituents and for the global good. I know you will do your best to live up to the trust the people of Lesotho have placed in you.
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