Press Releases

    SG/SM/10123
    26 September 2005

    UN, Congressional Black Caucus Share Commitment to Africa's Rights, Progress, Says Secretary-General in Washington, D.C., Remarks

    NEW YORK, 23 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus' thirty-fifth Annual Legislative Conference, Foreign Affairs Brain Trust, in Washington, D.C., 23 September:

    It is a great pleasure to join you for this annual conference.

    The Congressional Black Caucus occupies an inspiring place in this country's political life.  Born from the struggle for civil rights, it has given voice to the aspirations of African-Americans and, indeed, to the yearning of all Americans for a society where they can live free, in dignity, as equals.  The Caucus has also carried that noble campaign into the international arena, becoming an important force for global peace and development.  I thank you for that engagement, for that example, for that energy.

    The struggle that eventually gave rise to this Caucus formed the backdrop for my own time as a student in Minnesota more than 40 years ago.  I had grown up watching my own country's moves towards independence.  So I knew that dramatic change was possible with leadership and determination.

    And later, when I went to work for the United Nations, I saw that the fight for economic progress, and to overcome discrimination, was truly global in scope.

    Of course, we are still dealing with these issues today.  Poverty and inequality still stalk the earth, despite our best efforts.  And it is the weakest who have least to fall back on when disaster strikes.  They are the ones who suffer.  We at the United Nations see this every day in our work around the world, much of which we could not do without the support of the United States.  You, too, have seen it, especially in the last few weeks, with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on your own Gulf Coast.

    Let me reiterate my sympathy for all those who have suffered from the death and destruction inflicted by the storm.  The entire international community was saddened by the loss of life and large-scale devastation.

    The American people have always been generous in helping the victims of disasters in other parts of the world, and now the world has responded in kind.  Offers of assistance came in from more than 136 countries.  Last week at the United Nations, there were lots of expressions of sympathy and solidarity by the Heads of State and Government who gathered at the United Nations.  Even those with little, even some poor countries, felt obliged to give and they offered what they could out of solidarity and concern for those who have been affected by the hurricane.

    The United Nations itself has contributed to humanitarian efforts in support of the victims.  Our help has taken many forms.  UNICEF provided two planeloads of education and recreation kits.  Experts from the World Health Organization worked with their counterparts at the Centre for Disease Control to register displaced persons and track the support provided to them; you'll notice I said "displaced persons" and not "refugees".  And logistics staff have served in Baton Rouge, Denton, Little Rock, Arlington and other staging areas, including the U.S.S. Iwo Jima, in part to coordinate the reception and dispatch of international assistance.

    In short, the United Nations has been doing whatever we can to help, and wishes the American people strength and courage as they continue the recovery and reconstruction effort.  But, of course, we are also monitoring what Hurricane Rita may do, and we pray for those in its path.

    The humanitarian imperative that has brought people together in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has also been long in evidence in our work for the well-being of Africa.  The United Nations shares with the Congressional Black Caucus a commitment to championing Africa's rights and progress.

    We championed decolonization, and directly facilitated independence in various African countries.

    We joined the struggle against apartheid and, indeed, against discrimination and racism in general.

    When Africans raised their voices for democracy, the United Nations responded with electoral and other assistance.

    And today, when Africans ask for a fair chance to compete in the global economy, the United Nations is their ally.

    We have never stopped advocating for Africa, even when conflict seemed intractable or obstacles to development seemed insurmountable.

    Indeed, a United Nations that did not support that would not be true to its ideals.

    Of course, there have been setbacks along the way.  But these have only strengthened our resolve to respond even better to Africa's needs and aspirations.

    Not that "Africa" is monolithic.  On the contrary, its remarkable human and natural diversity makes all generalizations risky.  But one can say that, today, Africans are making important progress on all fronts.

    The African Union continues to strengthen its peacekeeping and mediation capacities, and to find its footing as an instrument of common progress.  We have seen their work in Darfur.  They are the ones who have sent peacekeepers to Darfur, and they are the ones leading the negotiations on Darfur in Abuja.

    Economic growth in quite a few African countries is relatively strong and sustained.

    The private sector is being welcomed more readily as a partner.

    And civil society groups are mobilized as never before.

    At the same time, conflicts in Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire and elsewhere continue to take a terrible toll.  So does the AIDS epidemic.  And sub-Saharan Africa lags behind the rest of the developing world in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    International support therefore remains crucial, if we are to consolidate hard-won gains and avert further crises.

    Such support was among the main items on the agenda of last week's World Summit.

    You may recall that, earlier this year, I put forward a wide range of proposals to the membership of the United Nations, entitled "In Larger Freedom", and challenged world leaders to come to New York and take bold decisions.  Leaders did not deliver everything I had hoped for.  But the Summit did produce some remarkable commitments.  Taken together, the gains are significant enough to say that the glass is at least half full, perhaps more.  And that is especially true when it comes to Africa.

    Consider what happened with the Millennium Development Goals.  The document cements the Goals as operational targets, not just rhetorical ambitions.  President Bush joined the rest of the world in voicing strong, unequivocal support.  Moreover, the Summit served as a trigger for steps we have been seeking for many years, including an increase of as much as $50 billion in annual development assistance by 2010; debt relief for 18 heavily indebted countries; and the adoption by many donors of specific plans to earmark 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for aid by 2015.  Member States also pledged to carry out vital quick-impact initiatives such as the distribution of malaria bed-nets, which can save lives immediately, at low cost.

    I know that members of the Black Caucus have worked long and hard on these issues.  I thank you for your efforts, especially in calling for an end to agricultural subsidies and trade barriers that actually impoverish African farmers and producers.  But I think you will agree that we still need to do more, especially when it comes to trade.  For that, our target must be the Doha Round of talks, in particular the ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December.  You can count on me to raise my voice for an outcome that helps developing countries participate fully and fairly in the global economy.  I will count on you to raise yours.

    Another Summit breakthrough was the clear acceptance by all United Nations Members of the responsibility to protect civilian populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.  The acceptance of the responsibility by the international community to protect in situations where Governments fail, or are unable or unwilling to protect their own citizens, was a great achievement.  In advocating this for many years now, one of the experiences I had in mind was the world's, and the UN's, failure in Rwanda.  And more recently, of course, I wanted to see the world respond sooner, and more effectively, to the appalling killing, raping and looting in Darfur.

    International inaction, especially where national governments are unwilling or unable to act, is unacceptable.  It would be wonderful if the United Nations never had to exercise this new responsibility; but I fear it is all too likely that we will be tested again sooner or later.  When or if that day comes, I hope Member States will fulfil the solemn pledge they have now made to people facing the gravest of perils.

    The Summit also endorsed a wide range of other proposals of direct consequence for Africa.

    It decided to improve the main fund for humanitarian emergencies.  Already, there are pledges in excess of $150 million, and we hope to obtain even more.

    It endorsed the establishment of a Democracy Fund, which will provide assistance to countries seeking to establish or strengthen democracy.  Already, more than a dozen countries from all over the world -- including the United States, Senegal and Mauritius -- have made contributions and pledges of more than $40 million.

    World leaders pledged to scale up their response to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  We can make major progress in reversing the spread of these diseases.  This is question not only of increasing funding, but also of more vocal leadership, stamping out stigma, better planning and coordination, and real investment in the empowerment of women and girls.

    Member States also filled a gaping institutional hole by deciding to establish a Peacebuilding Commission.  Too many countries emerging from conflict or political upheaval lapse back into violence for lack of action to consolidate peace or simply to create stability.  I think you would agree that Haiti fell into this category after the international intervention there in the mid-1990s.  The new Commission will bring all actors to the table, and is meant to ensure a more coherent international approach in the immediate aftermath of war, as well as more sustained engagement for long-term recovery.  I am pleased to say that Tanzania and South Africa were among those countries that played a crucial role in ensuring that the Commission was created.

    Member States also paid close attention to the United Nations itself.  Africans, like people in every other part of the world, must be able to have confidence in the Organization -- its management, its integrity.  That confidence clearly suffered a blow from the revelations about our handling of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq.  I am determined not only to rectify the problems that were uncovered, but also to make our management more transparent and accountable, so that in future we can set an example and live up to our ideals.

    As your conference title so aptly puts it, Africa matters.  It matters as a simple question of human solidarity.  It matters because problems in one part of the globe often end up becoming problems in another.  To put it quite frankly, we saw this in Afghanistan.  A failed State, thousands and thousands of miles away, became a haven for terrorists who preferred to attack.  The result was 9-11.  But Afghanistan was very far away, a failed State, and most of us thought it had nothing to do with us.

    And it matters because doing without the contributions that a peaceful, prosperous Africa can make to the world would put a brake on global development and peace.  At a time when African States are addressing their problems with new energy and determination, we must work with them, and invest in them, to build the better future that can be theirs.

    Throughout this year, I have seen that potential up close.  Last month in Niger, I saw not only terrible suffering, but also civil society groups mobilized to deliver help and help the country through this crisis.  Two months ago in Sudan, I saw not only the prolonged agony of the victims of conflict, but former antagonists committing themselves to reconciliation and peace.  That pledge has been sustained despite the tragic death of John Garang, a man well known to this Caucus, who was a symbol of hope for millions of Sudanese.

    Encouraging steps can be found elsewhere, too:  in Burundi, where the first elected president in more than a decade took office last month; in clinics where civil society groups have mobilized to provide care for AIDS sufferers; in small enterprises benefiting from private investment and business-friendly reforms.  We must support all these efforts, and help them multiply.

    Last week's Summit, then, was not so much an end as a beginning.  We have much work to do, particularly in the next year, because the Member States have made a range of time-bound commitments, and because I am determined, in my remaining time as Secretary-General, to see these reforms and improvements take root in Africa and elsewhere.

    I know you, too, will do your part.

    The United Nations needs you to get the American media interested and focused on events in Africa.  It is through your voices that the story of Africa is told here in the United States.

    We need you in your primary role as legislators.  I know that Congress has weighed in to support the Millennium Development Goals, and we thank you for that.  We thank all those who have signed on to that initiative.

    We also appreciate the continued support of Congress for United Nations peacekeeping during a time when the bills continue to get higher due to new or expanded missions in Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- and when you have such a large, unforeseen domestic call on your resources.

    We thank you for the support you give to UN development and humanitarian agencies and others doing vital work in Africa.

    And we thank you for standing by us during these difficult times.  I very much look forward to working with you in the year ahead, in a spirit of ever closer partnership.

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