Press Releases

    SG/SM/8552
    11 December 2002

    "KNOWLEDGE MEANS POWER" -- AND THOSE WHO PROVIDE
    HONEST INFORMATION ARE BEST ALLIES OF UN, SAYS
    KOFI ANNAN IN BBC WORLD SERVICE LECTURE

    Secretary-General Announces
    New World Service Series on "Millennium Milestones"

    NEW YORK, 10 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan's BBC World Service lecture, delivered in New York on 10 December:

    Long before the Internet, BBC radio connected the world. The merchant with his goods; the farmer with her crops; the office-worker in his tower; the refugee on the run; over the years, these and many others have found that they had something in common, beyond the basic human longing for progress and peace: a love of good radio.

    The latest cricket scores, a story, a song. And much more than that, of course: uncensored news, often cutting through the veil of tyranny; impartial analysis; new ideas, delivered free of political interference; broadcasts in dozens of languages, a celebration of diversity. In other words, required listening: programmes to schedule your day around, if you are lucky enough to enjoy such freedom. For many, the BBC World Service has been a lifeline -- to learning, to enlightenment, to hope itself.

    I remember, growing up in Ghana during the struggle for independence, the almost ever-present hum of the announcers, and the suspenseful silence that would descend on parents and teachers alike at the approach of the latest headlines. The BBC was a constant presence at home and at school.

    Even today, to hear that trademark series of beeps signalling the top of the hour is to hear humankind awakened, informed, empowered.

    Today, no matter who one is or where one listens, the BBC's programmes resonate with special urgency.

    Has there been a new terrorist attack?

    What new outbreak of ethnic hatred or religious extremism has taken a child's life?

    Has another piece of the polar ice cap melted into the sea?

    Have the rains come, bringing relief to drought-stricken millions?

    Do the latest AIDS statistics offer any hope that the disease has reached its peak?

    Do the latest trade talks offer any hope that the barriers and subsidies, which deny poor countries a fair chance in the global marketplace, will be dismantled?

    It is the nature -- and indeed the duty -- of the media to bring us reports of conflict and disaster. But happily, there is also some good news.

    Technical advances offer great promise, across a wide range of human need.

    More and more people live in democracies, with a say in the decisions affecting their lives. And the work of economic and social development continues, with little fanfare, in clinics and classrooms far from the spotlight. There are plenty of stories that tell us about people's lives getting better, and the World Service tells them, too.

    And yet, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we face a strange paradox: the more we know about the issues, and about each other, the more we act as if we were strangers.

    We all live on the same planet, buffeted by the same winds, influenced by the same currents of change. But instead of acting on what unites us -- seizing common opportunities and defending against shared threats -- we allow a chasm to persist between us: between rich and poor, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated; between those who benefit from globalization, and those who are marginalized.

    This gulf is an affront to human dignity. It leaves all our societies vulnerable, and each of us insecure. We need to mend this great divide with a new fabric of solidarity.

    Many strands of global cooperation and bridge-building exist already. The task of the United Nations is to bring them all together. Not only through development programmes, vital as they are. But also by providing a forum for dialogue. By promoting universal values, such as tolerance, freedom, justice and equal rights. And by projecting them across borders and cultures, so that they guide both individual behaviour and the conduct of nations.

    In place of Realpolitik, we strive to buttress the rule of law. To improve on a century that brought us two world wars, Holocaust and genocide, we work to build a system of collective security. And in a world of transnational issues, we seek to foster a sense of transnational values.

    There is no greater enemy of this work than armed conflict. War, more than anything else, drives people to build walls and hunker down behind them.

    It soaks up resources that should be used for productive investment.

    It interferes with trade, and provokes shortages.

    It chokes off escape routes from poverty, robbing the poor of hope.

    It even ropes in children, who not only suffer death, injury and bereavement, but are also conscripted -- boys as soldiers, handling guns almost as big as they are; and girls as sexual slaves.

    When I think of victims of conflict today, I think first of my fellow Africans. Dear sisters and brothers, I know you share my sense of anger and outrage at the suffering of our continent's people, and the plunder of its natural resources, at a time when we also have to face the onslaught of famine and HIV/AIDS. Too often our efforts are hampered by poor leadership and corrupt or inefficient administration.

    But don’t lose hope. In many parts of Africa -- for instance Angola, the Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and now Burundi -- there is progress towards peace. Africans are taking control of their own problems and destinies. That should embolden all of us to shed, once and for all, the image of a continent in perpetual crisis.

    Next, I think of listeners in the Middle East -- of Israelis and Palestinians trapped in a mutually destructive cycle of hatred and mistrust. This not only spells misery for the two peoples themselves, but blights the whole region’s prospects.

    Yet the solution is clear, and widely agreed on: land for peace, and two States living side by side. That is what all of us at the United Nations long to see. We are working hard, with our American, European and Russian friends, to rekindle hope of such a peaceful settlement.

    Every life lost before we achieve it is a tragic and avoidable waste.

    And then I think -- of course -- of you who are listening in Iraq, under the threat of new hostilities. There, too, a peaceful resolution is possible, if your Government complies fully with its obligations under Security Council resolutions.

    As you know, it has just made a declaration of its weapons programmes and related work, as the Council required it to do. The inspection teams are doing their work, seeking to verify the correctness and completeness of that declaration, and to ensure that any remaining weapons of mass destruction are destroyed.

    It is essential, if Iraq is to be put back on the path to peace and prosperity, that this work of disarmament be done thoroughly and completely. You cannot hope to see the sanctions lifted so long as your Government retains weapons of mass destruction. I would be deceiving you if I were to suggest otherwise.

    Meanwhile, the United Nations oil-for-food programme continues to give you the help you need, so long as economic sanctions are in force. But we all hope to see you delivered from that need -- freed from sanctions, from the threat of war, and from oppression.

    The world's hopes for you are the same as those for any other country.

    Everyone wants to see you enjoy the rights and opportunities of our age -- free to speak your minds, raise your children and pursue your dreams.

    I am not forgetting the many other parts of the world where peace and security are threatened.

    From Kashmir to Colombia, from Nepal to Somalia, there are all too many volatile situations that the United Nations follows anxiously, because people are suffering, and because hostilities could escalate at any time.

    But even if they were all to be resolved, we would only be clearing the decks for the long-term work at hand -- the struggle against poverty and its attendant ills, disease, illiteracy and pollution; the struggle for democracy and human rights; the struggle for development, in all its forms.

    In this struggle, yesterday’s adversaries must become today’s allies. We need to shift our mental geography, and understand that today, more than ever before, the global interest is the national interest.

    We don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, or which way our world is headed in the new century. The information exists. Indeed, the World Service has already reported on it.

    We know, for instance, that even the most modest scenarios of population growth will mean a dramatic increase in demand for social services, and demands on our natural environment -- especially in the cities of the developing world, where most of that growth is expected.

    And we know that, even if we meet agreed goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will bring extreme weather and other havoc in our lifetime.

    But the script is not yet finalized. There is still time to bequeath to our children a world of choices, not constraints.

    I believe we now have an agenda for the new century, in which all people can recognize their needs and aspirations.

    That agenda is the Millennium Declaration, on which all the world’s leaders agreed, two years ago, when they assembled at the United Nations for the Millennium Summit. It brings together all the conclusions of the great world conferences of the past decade.

    And the most immediate and urgent part of it is the Millennium Development Goals -- a set of clear targets for such basic tasks as reducing extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, and halting the spread of AIDS, malaria and other deadly diseases.

    These are minimum, achievable goals, with a clear deadline: 2015 -- now barely 12 years away.

    They are achievable by people like you, in every country, coming together and taking action.

    This week we have celebrated Human Rights Day -- the day when we pledge to respect the inherent rights of each individual human being.

    But individuals do not only have rights. They also have great power, when they come together and work for a cause.

    Again and again, in recent years, we have seen governments, corporations and other big powers obliged to rethink and adjust their policies under pressure from civil society movements.

    We have seen dams abandoned, roads diverted, neighbourhoods preserved.

    We have seen poor countries’ debts cancelled or rescheduled.

    We have seen a convention against landmines adopted.

    We have seen the Statute of the International Criminal Court come into force.

    We have seen pharmaceutical companies agree to lower their prices, to bring treatment within the reach of people living with HIV and AIDS in poor countries.

    And we have even seen some oil companies spend money on cleaning up the environment, and on social services for the communities surrounding their oil wells.

    None of these things would have happened, unless thousands and thousands of people, often in many different countries, had come together to assert their rights, and to agitate for change.

    That is the kind of movement we need to achieve our Millennium Goals -- a movement in which you, the peoples of the world, become fully and passionately engaged.

    And the most important thing we at the United Nations can contribute is to keep you informed.

    We need to tell you what your leaders have promised in your name, and what must happen, in every government and every society, if those promises are to be kept -- so that you can keep your own scorecard of your country’s performance.

    The more you know, the better placed you are to insist that the right things are done.

    Every year, for the rest of my time in office, I shall deliver a report to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the progress the world is making, or failing to make, in implementing the Millennium Declaration. But we shall also help every developing country to produce its own annual report and -- rest assured -- we shall keep reminding the developed countries of their responsibilities, too.

    I am delighted to say the BBC World Service Trust is also going to help. It is working with us on a series called "Millennium Milestones", which will show what is being done to implement the Millennium goals, and what difference it is making in the lives of real, individual people around the world.

    I hope many of you will play a part in this project. I hope all of you will see or hear the results, and make use of them in your own struggles, to improve the life of your communities.

    It is an old saying that knowledge means power. Much of our work, here at the United Nations, is aimed at giving you, the peoples of the world, greater power over your own lives and your environment. The better informed you are, the greater our chances of success. And those who provide you with clear and honest information are our best allies.

    So let me once again thank the World Service for this opportunity, and for all it does. May it continue and prosper for at least another 70 years!

    * *** *