Press Releases

    GA/10379
    15 September 2005

    World Leaders at General Assembly Summit Urged to Persevere, Take Bold Steps to Tackle Urgent Challenges, as Lives of Millions Hang in the Balance

    NEW YORK, 14 September (UN Headquarters) -- Warning that "millions of lives and the hopes of billions" hung in the balance, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged more than 150 world leaders gathered for a summit in New York to take bold steps to remedy the challenges facing the international community, from ensuring collective action to prevent conflict and genocide to protecting human rights, promoting development and battling terrorism.

    "We must keep working with determination on the tough issues on which progress is urgent but has not yet been achieved", he said, opening the General Assembly's 2005 World Summit, which coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of the Organization.  "Because one thing has emerged clearly from the process on which we embarked two years ago:  whatever our differences, in our interdependent world, we stand or fall together."

    Mr. Annan charged world leaders to take decisive action by the end of the three-day Summit on the outcome document approved only yesterday evening by the Assembly after weeks of intensive negotiations.  The text highlighted the status of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of ambitious targets, ranging from halving extreme poverty, to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and to providing universal primary education, all by 2015, as well as the Secretary-General's own wide-ranging proposals on United Nations reform.

    While noting that the document would have presidents and prime ministers pledge to condemn terrorism in all its forms, protect populations from genocide, fight poverty and hunger, and establish a Peacebuilding Commission and a strengthened human rights body, he lamented the omission of clauses dealing with nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and Security Council reform.

    "We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required", he said, noting sharp differences had played their part in preventing that.  He warned that ignoring the basic principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law for the sake of expediency undermined confidence in collective institutions.  "That is why a healthy, effective United Nations is so vital", he declared.

    "If properly utilized, it can be a unique marriage of power and principle, in the service of all the world's peoples", he added, stressing the importance of reforming the world body to restore confidence in its "integrity, impartiality and ability to deliver".

    United States President George W. Bush said that countries must continue to work to ease suffering, spread freedom, and lay the foundations of peace for children and grandchildren.  No nation could remain isolated and indifferent to the struggles of others, as threats passed easily across oceans and borders and could threaten the security of any country.  Terrorism was spread by anger and despair, and those who had not seen attacks on their own soil still shared in the sorrow of others.

    The lesson, he said, was clear:  there could be no safety in looking away or seeking the quiet life by ignoring the hardship of others.  Either hope or violence would spread, and "we must take the side of hope".

    Nations must complete the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, because terrorism could not be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance.  It was necessary for terrorists to know that wherever they went, they could not escape justice.  He urged the gathering to sign and implement the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism in order to "send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsored terrorism that they will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world".

    He went on to say that the United States was determined to help nations that were struggling with poverty, and was committed to the Millennium Development Goals.  Nations had a moral obligation to help others, and a moral duty to make sure that their actions were effective.  He also called on all nations to implement the Monterrey Consensus.  Continuing on the long, hard road to reform meant creating a genuine partnership between developed and developing countries, he said, adding that the United States was ready to work with other nations to eliminate agricultural subsidies and create open markets.

    Göran Persson, Prime Minister of Sweden and Co-Chair of the World Summit, citing examples such as Sharm el Sheik, New Orleans and the Niger as challenges facing world leaders today, said that international cooperation should be regarded as part of the national interest.  The United Nations, and the approach to collective security, must be adapted to changing circumstances, as it was the prime instrument for effective multilateral solutions and a rule-based international order.  At the Summit, leaders had an opportunity to take decisions that might shape international cooperation for years to come.

    Leaders did not lack great words or declarations, nor did they lack the capacity to act, he said.  Declarations and real actions must be brought much closer together, and it was the political leaders who had to show the way.  Leaders must also rise above short-term interests, and invest in the future for generations to come.  It was a matter of solidarity -- not just between peoples, nations and continents -- but with children and grandchildren, he concluded.

    Picking up that thread, Gabon's President and Summit Co-Chair El Haji Omar Bongo Ondimba said the outcome of the Summit should not just be another declaration, but a renewed commitment to the collective tackling of the challenges facing the world.  The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was a good example of how collective action could be mobilized to achieve good governance, eradicate poverty and combat AIDS, just a few of the many challenges Africa faced.

    Concerted efforts were required to build a better world, he said, stressing that peace was impossible without a development component.  And development involved urgent issues to be addressed if collective peace and security were to be achieved.  Many countries, including in Africa, needed a framework to follow to establish peace and prosperity.  Peace, human rights and the rule of law were universal and inseparable.  Multilateral mechanisms were needed to ensure and protect the human rights of all and the United Nations was indispensable to ensure the building of a multilateral system that benefited all in a global and interdependent world.

    The World Summit will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m.

    Background

    The General Assembly met this morning to begin the High-Level Plenary Meeting -- known as the 2005 World Summit -- of its sixtieth session, with opening addresses by key leaders.  The Summit brings together more than 170 Heads of State and Government to tackle current global challenges, as well as reform of the Organization.

    Before the Assembly is a summary of informal interactive hearings held with representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector that had taken place at Headquarters on 23 and 24 June (document A/60/331).

    Opening Statements

    GÖRAN PERSSON, Prime Minister of Sweden and Co-Chair of the High-Level Plenary, citing examples such as Sharm el Sheik, New Orleans and Niger as challenges facing leaders today, said that international cooperation should be regarded as part of the national interest.  The United Nations, and the approach to collective security, must be adapted to changing circumstances, as it was the prime instrument for effective multilateral solutions and a rule-based international order.  At the Summit, leaders had an opportunity to take decisions that might shape international cooperation for years to come.

    Leaders had come to the Summit, he continued, because they knew that the challenges facing them in the era of globalization could not be met in isolation.  Leaders could not afford to fail, and needed to find collective solutions based on the rule of law.  A stronger United Nations was needed for that.  There had been good progress in several areas, but there had been very little progress in critical areas, such as environmental sustainability or child and maternal mortality.  There was a real risk that many of the poorest countries would fall far short of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, he added.

    Greater emphasis must be put on the prevention of conflict and early action, he said.  The responsibility of leaders to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and violations of human rights must be at the forefront.  Better tools were also needed to support States in post-conflict situations, and to help them avoid renewed tension and secure sustainable development.  Establishing a new institution -- the Peacebuilding Commission -- was of key significance in that regard.

    Leaders did not lack great words or declarations, nor did they lack the capacity to act, he said.  Declarations and real actions must be brought much closer together, and it was the political leaders who had to show the way.  Leaders must also rise above short-term interests, and invest in the future for generations to come.  It was a matter of solidarity -- not just between peoples, nations and continents -- but with children and grandchildren, he concluded.

    EL HAJI OMAR BONGO ONDIMBA, President of Gabon and Co-Chair of the High-Level Plenary, began by expressing sympathy to the people and authorities of the United States for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  He said the Millennium Declaration, signed five years ago, had expressed the determination of world leaders to build a world of greater peace and collective security.  That goal had remained elusive.  Terrorism, unrest in the Middle East, disease and poverty in many countries were the reality.  Steps had been taken to support development, including by members of the European Union, the Group of Eight and the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, which had recently decided to establish a development fund through South-South cooperation.

    The outcome of the Summit should not just be another declaration, he continued.  It should be a renewed commitment to the collective tackling of the challenges facing the world.  The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was a good example of how collective action could be mobilized to achieve good governance, eradicate poverty and combat AIDS, just a few of the many challenges Africa faced.

    Concerted efforts were required to build a better world, he stated.  Peace was impossible without a development component.  And development involved urgent issues to be addressed if collective peace and security were to be achieved.  Many countries, including in Africa, needed a framework to follow to securely establish peace and prosperity.  Peace, human rights and the rule of law were universal and inseparable.  Multilateral mechanisms were needed to ensure and protect the human rights of all.

    He said the United Nations was indispensable to ensure the building of a multilateral system that benefited all in a global and interdependent world.  The Assembly, in its fifty-ninth session, had established a solid foundation for the Summit.  Reform must take place, and the declaration to be adopted laid out the blueprint for that process.

    KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that two years ago when he told the Assembly that the Organization stood at a fork in the road, he did not mean that the United Nations was in existential crisis.  Indeed, it remained fully engaged in conflict resolution, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, defence of human rights and development around the world.

    "No, I meant that deep divisions among Member States and the underperformance of our collective institutions were preventing us from coming together to meet the challenges we face and seize the opportunities before us", he said, adding that the clear danger was that States of all kinds might resort to self-help, leading to a proliferation of ad hoc responses that would be divisive, destabilizing and dangerous.

    To help Member States, he had appointed the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, and had commissioned the Millennium Project.  Drawing on those reports and early reactions of Member States, as well as his own conviction that the international community's work must be based on respect for human rights, he put forward, six months ago, a set of balanced proposals for decisions during the Summit.

    "Those proposals were ambitious.  But I believed they were necessary, given the era of peril and promise in which we live.  And I believed they were achievable, if the political will was there", he said.  Since then, under the leadership of former Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon, delegations had worked hard to negotiate a document on which world leaders could take decisions this week.  That outcome document had been approved yesterday.

    He noted that the convening of the Summit had triggered progress on several critical areas, including the creation of a democracy fund and the finalization of a convention against nuclear terrorism.  Most important of all, an additional $50 billion per year had been unleashed to fight poverty by 2015.  The 0.7 per cent target had gained new support, innovative sources of financing were now coming to fruition and there had been progress on debt relief.

    By agreement on the Summit's outcome document, he stated, those achievements would be locked in, and progress on development would be matched by commitments to good governance and national plans to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  World leaders' adoption of the text would achieve vital breakthroughs in other areas.  Indeed, the leaders would condemn terrorism in all its forms, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purpose.  They would also pledge to seek agreement on a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention in the coming year.

    He went on to say that by adopting the outcome text, world leaders would, for the first time, clearly and unambiguously accept that they had a collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  They would also agree, among other things, to establish a Peacebuilding Commission, double the budget of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and strengthen that Office.  They must also work out the details of establishing a new Human Rights Council.

    Along with putting into place a framework for wide-ranging Secretariat and management reforms, world leaders would be committing to a far-reaching package of changes, he said, but added, "Let us be frank with each other, and the peoples of the United Nations.  We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required.  Sharp differences, some of them substantive and legitimate, have played a part in preventing that."

    The international community's biggest failing was on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, he stated.  Twice this year, at the 2005 review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and now at the Summit, the international community had allowed posturing to get in the way of results.  "This is inexcusable.  Weapons of mass destruction pose a grave danger to us all", he said.  He added that for the moment, Security Council reform was proving elusive, but that everyone agreed that such revitalization was overdue.

    "So the package is a good start.  On some issues, we have real breakthroughs.  On others, we have narrowed our differences and made good progress.  On others again, we remain worryingly far apart", he said, urging the Assembly to turn to the next stages in the reform process, first, by implementing what had already been agreed.  The current Assembly must give support to its President in that regard.

    He said one thing had become clear as Member States had begun the process of reform:  "Whatever our differences, in our interdependent world, we stand or fall together.  Whether our challenge is peacemaking, nation-building, democratization or responding to natural or man-made disasters, we have seen that even the strongest amongst us cannot succeed alone."

    At the same time, whether the task was fighting poverty, stemming the spread of disease, or saving innocent lives from mass murder, "we have all seen that we cannot succeed without the leadership of the strong, and the engagement of all", he said, adding "And we have been reminded, again and again, that to ignore basic principles -- of democracy, of human rights, of rule of law -- for the sake of expediency, undermines confidence in our collective institutions, in building a world that is freer, fairer and safer for all."

    That was why a healthy, effective United Nations was so vital, he continued.  If properly utilized, it could be a unique marriage of power and principle, in the service of all the world's peoples.  That was also why the current reform process mattered, and must continue.  No matter how frustrating things were, no matter how difficult agreement was, there was no escaping the fact that the challenges of our time must be met by action -- and today, more than ever, action must be collective if it is to be effective.

    "For my part, I am ready to work with you on the challenges that remain, on implementing what has been agreed, and on continuing to reform the culture and practice of the Secretariat. We must restore confidence in the Organization's integrity, impartiality, and ability to deliver - for the sake of our dedicated staff, and those vulnerable and needy people throughout the world who look to the United Nations for support", he said.

    "It is for their sake, not yours or mine, that this reform agenda matters.  It is to save their lives, to protect their rights, to ensure their safety and freedom, that we simply must find effective collective responses to the challenges of our time", he said.  "I urge you, as world leaders, individually and collectively, to keep working on this reform agenda -- to have the patience to persevere, and the vision needed to forge a real consensus."

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States, said the Summit came at a time of great challenge for America and for the world.  The United States was facing one of the worst natural disasters of all time, and he offered thanks to the 115 countries that had stepped forward with offers of assistance.  The response of nations had shown once again that the world was more compassionate and hopeful when everyone acted together.  The founding members of the United Nations had laid out great and honorable goals six decades ago, and the United States remained committed to those noble ideals.

    As nations responded to great humanitarian needs, they must actively respond to other current challenges, he continued.  Nations must continue to work to ease suffering, spread freedom, and lay the foundations of peace for children and grandchildren.  No nation could remain isolated and indifferent to the struggles of others, as threats passed easily across oceans and borders and could threaten the security of any country.  Terrorism was spread by anger and despair, and those who had not seen attacks on their own soil still shared in the sorrow of others.  The lesson, he said, was clear:  there could be no safety in looking away or seeking the quiet life by ignoring the hardship of others.  Either hope or violence would spread, and "we must take the side of hope".

    A great coalition of nations had come together to fight the terrorists across the world.  He said nations had eliminated terrorist sanctuaries, and prevented terrorists from using financing tools.  Terrorists must know that the world stood united against them.  Nations must complete the comprehensive convention on international terrorism, because terrorism could not be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance.  It was necessary for terrorists to know that wherever they went, they could not escape justice.  Leaders must also sign and implement the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.  They must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsored terrorism that they would not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world.

    War could not be won by force of arms alone, he continued.  Terrorists must be defeated on the battlefield, as well as in the battle of ideas.  It was necessary to spread the hope of freedom to the millions of people who had never known it, and to defend and extend a vision of human dignity, opportunity and prosperity.  The United States was determined to help nations that were struggling with poverty, and was committed to the Millennium Development Goals.  Nations had a moral obligation to help others, and a moral duty to make sure that their actions were effective.  He called on all nations to implement the Monterrey Consensus.  Continuing on the long, hard road to reform meant creating a genuine partnership between developed and developing countries.  It was necessary to give poor countries access to drugs to fight diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and nations must also remain on the offensive against new threats to public health.

    Speaking about the burden of debt, he said that international financial institutions should increasingly provide new aid in the form of grants rather than loans.  He called on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to finalize an agreement as soon as possible to cancel the debt of the world's poorest countries.  The elimination of trade barriers was needed because the future of millions of the world's citizens hung in the balance.  Nations must tear down the walls that separated the developed and developing worlds, and needed to ensure that the poor had the same opportunities to live their dreams and provide for their families.  He reiterated the challenge to work together to eliminate agricultural subsidies and create open markets, and said that the United States was ready to do that.  By expanding trade, nations would spread hope and opportunity to the world.

    All who stood for human rights must also stand for human freedom, and the United Nations had a vital role to play to nurture freedom's progress, he stated.  Every free nation had a responsibility to advance the cause of liberty.  Calling on the United Nations and Member States to continue to stand by the Iraqi people, he said the Organization had played a vital role in Iraq's January elections.  The United Nations, he added, must be strong and efficient, free of corruption and accountable to the people it served.  It must also stand for integrity and live by the high standards it set for others.  It had taken the first steps toward meaningful institutional reforms, and the United States would join with others in that process this fall.  If Member States wanted the United Nations to be respected and effective, they should begin by making sure it was worthy of respect.  The world needed the United Nations to live up to its ideals and mission, and that would require the work of many hands.

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