A Pillar of Support: Kofi Annan’s Address to the Canadian Parliament

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2004 Volume 25 Issue 2

Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan made this address to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on 9 March 2004.

I am very pleased to be here in Ottawa today, and I thank the Prime Minister most warmly for giving me the opportunity to address you.

As you know, the United Nations’ Charter opens with the phrase “We the Peoples.” Since becoming Secretary-General in 1997, I have made a determined effort to bring the United Nations closer to “the peoples.” I have also tried to have the voice of the peoples heard more directly at the United Nations. This is why I am particularly glad to be here with you, the representatives through whom the people of Canada make their voice heard.

It is often said that “all politics is local.” Yet in our globalized age, local events are connected, in a myriad of ways, with situations far afield. We need but glance at the headlines over recent weeks – about new diseases and climate change, for instance – to grasp the important link between the global and the local. As citizens of an outward-looking country, you in Canada are keenly aware of this, and in many ways you have been able to make the best of globalization, while working to minimize its negative effects, for Canada and for the world.

Throughout the years, Canada has been a pillar of support for the United Nations. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the United Nations without Canada and, I might even say, it has become hard to imagine Canada without the United Nations. Your country’s multicultural character and bilingual tradition give it special qualifications as an exemplary Member of our Organization.

Canada played a key role in the drafting of the UN Charter. You have contributed to practically every aspect of our work, whether in peacekeeping or in the promotion of the UN’s development agenda. You have pioneered important disarmament and humanitarian efforts. The very name of this city has become synonymous with the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines. And I am delighted to hear that Toronto may soon house a University for Peace Centre, which I hope, working with other Canadian institutions, will enable Canada to make an even greater contribution to UN conflict prevention and peace-building.

Canadians have been prominently involved in the United Nations since its early days. John Humphrey was one of the principal drafters of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In 1955, Paul Martin Senior, the father of your present Prime Minister, helped overcome political and procedural obstacles to the rapid expansion of UN membership – paving the way for the near universality which is today one of our Organization’s most important assets. Lester Pearson even received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the Suez Crisis – a process in which he helped to invent the very concept of peacekeeping.

It is because I have seen what Canada can bring to the work of the United Nations that I was heartened by the words of Her Excellency the Governor General during the opening session of this Parliament last month, when she expressed the desire for Canada to have a role of pride and influence in the world – to bring Canadian values to international affairs and to “create a world where fairness, justice and decency reign.” When hearing those words, my reaction is, as so often when I think about Canada: “we can work together.”

And indeed we need to.

Today’s world is plagued not only with long-standing problems, but also with newer ones that have come to the top of the international agenda. Terrorism has become a central concern in this new millennium and is today a major threat to international peace and security. Many States are concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their possible acquisition by terrorist groups. Every day, it seems, brings news showing the limitations of our current collective systems designed to curb proliferation and trafficking in fissile materials. None of us is omniscient when it comes to ascertaining the presence or absence of weapons of mass destruction in other States.

The last decade of the twentieth century taught us lessons about the changing nature of armed conflict. Securing the peace was once seen as simply a matter of preventing war between States. Since the end of the Cold War we have witnessed primarily conflict within States. In the process, we have been repeatedly faced with grievous and massive violations of human rights, and of international humanitarian law. Our instinctive reaction is that “something must be done.” But we are not sure what, or how, or by whom.

As we embark on the twenty-first century, our Organization faces a very different world from the one envisaged by its founders. All of us face new problems, and we need to find new solutions.

My starting point, as you would expect of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is multilateralist. From that perspective, we are not doing very well. We have yet to find collective answers to the new so-called “hard” threats to international peace and security that I mentioned a moment ago. We are also collectively failing to provide adequate responses to persistent hunger, disease, massive violations of human rights, and the degradation of the environment. These threats disrupt, disfigure, and destroy the lives of many millions of our fellow human beings. The responses to these problems cannot be viewed in isolation from our broader concept of security. A world in which millions live in misery without prospects for development cannot be regarded as a world at peace.

Three and a half years ago, at the Millennium Summit, the world’s leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration – a joint statement of our ambitions for humanity in the new century. For the first time, there was genuine consensus that poverty, hunger, unequal access to primary education, lack of safe drinking water, and diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as environmental degradation, are problems that concern the whole world. For the first time in history, a specific date, the year 2015, was set as our target to achieve specific goals in development and poverty reduction. Sadly, stark and terrible events over the past three years, including on this continent, have distracted our collective attention from these aspirations. Next year, when we review our progress towards achieving the Millennium Goals, we will have to take an honest, hard, unflinching look at where we stand.

Our first great task should be to restore the world’s focus on development. We must do so by taking decisive action to ensure the achievement of the key Goals we have set for ourselves.

The Millennium Development Goals place a great responsibility on developing countries to mobilize domestic resources, implement policy reform, strengthen democratic governance, and protect human rights. But none of the Millennium Goals will be achieved without a truly Global Partnership for Development in which countries like Canada will have to do their fair share. It was under Canadian leadership that, two years ago, the G8 adopted the Africa Action Plan in support of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – and therefore Africans are looking to Canada to ensure that this commitment is fully implemented.

Reaching the Millennium Goals will require a true global partnership, in which all developed countries play their part – through increased and more effective official development aid, investment, advice, and policies that ensure a just global trading system. The recent report of the Commission on the Private Sector and Development has shown the critical role that the private sector can play in this effort. Prime Minister Martin did a splendid job as co-chair of this Commission. I hope that Canada will remain engaged and propose concrete measures to implement the report.

We must all make certain that poor countries have a fair chance at development and that they can benefit from globalization. We must put Doha back on track, a task in which Canada’s leadership role is crucial. Developing countries must not face unfair competition and their most competitive exports, especially, should be free of restrictive barriers. Developing countries should be given the chance to “trade away their poverty.” And we must find new approaches to relieve poor countries of heavy debt burdens that drain resources for their development.

To safeguard our environment and preserve a viable world for future generations, we must ensure that our development is sustainable. I salute Canada’s determination to reduce greenhouse gases and to comply with international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

And perhaps most urgently of all, we must redouble our response to the monumental crisis of HIV/AIDS. This has become not only a dangerous obstacle to development but also a threat to global security. Canada’s assistance and proposed legislation to provide low-cost generic HIV/AIDS medication to African countries are welcome steps in the right direction. But even greater efforts are needed if we are indeed to begin to reverse the spread of the disease by 2015, as we have pledged to do.

Indeed, none of the Millennium Development Goals will be achieved with a “business as usual approach.” Our pace of progress must be accelerated. In all these areas, I urge Canadians to aim even higher. Yours must be a leading role in a renewed global effort to deliver what the world has promised to its neediest citizens.

I would also like to make a special plea for a long-term commitment to help the people of Haiti. The experience in Haiti shows how poverty, instability, and violence feed on each other, with repercussions for the broader region. The international community is now preparing for a new effort to help Haiti. Security as well as humanitarian and development assistance are urgently needed. At the same time, the international community will need to make a decisive contribution to buttress Haiti’s democratic institutions. Only through a long-term commitment to help the country can stability and prosperity be assured. Half-hearted efforts of the past have been insufficient. We cannot afford to fail this time.

The past year was a particularly difficult one for the United Nations and for me personally. We suffered some bitter blows, including the devastating attack on our staff in Baghdad and the loss of some of our most dedicated friends and colleagues. The persistent instability in Iraq and its regional repercussions are a matter of profound concern to all of us. Now, we are confronted with the challenge of helping Iraqis recover their sovereignty under a fully representative Government.

The debate over the use of force in Iraq has brought into sharp relief the urgent need for a system of collective security that inspires genuine confidence, so that no State feels obliged to resort to unilateral action.

That is why, in November of last year, I appointed a High-Level Panel charged with producing a rigorous assessment of the threats affecting us today and in the foreseeable future. It is my hope that it will help us move away from stereotypes such as the notion that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are of concern only to the “North,” while poverty and hunger only affect people in the “South.” I would also hope that the Panel will produce recommendations intended to make the United Nations as effective an instrument of collective action as possible against threats both old and new. The Panel is rightly canvassing the views of governments and civil society throughout the world, and I am sure that Canada will make an important contribution to its work.

What we need is a new global consensus. For this, the active and committed involvement of the Organization’s membership will be vital. I am looking ahead to a serious, engaged debate. The decisions needed to make our Organization more effective will require a high degree of political will among Member States – the will to achieve necessary change, but also to make it possible by compromise. Here too, Canada, with its long tradition of bridge-building among different international constituencies, can play an important role.

Already, Canada has shown leadership in promoting valuable new ideas on ways to strengthen peaceful global governance. Canadian initiatives – such as the “Responsibility to Protect” concept, developed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty – have changed the way we think about some of the most important issues facing us.

I applaud Canada’s focus on the rights and dignity of the individual – an approach that has helped alter the terms of the debate on intervention and sovereignty in a creative and promising way. The individual is the basis on which every free, democratic society is built. As a result, we increasingly conceive of sovereignty as involving the responsibility of States, in the first instance, to protect their own populations. When that protection is lacking, all of us in the international community share responsibility to protect our fellow human beings from massive and systematic violations of human rights, wherever and whenever they occur.

In this context, the approaching 10-year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda must give us pause and compel us to reflect on how to avoid similar atrocities in the future. We can no longer afford gaps in existing capacity to provide early warning of genocide or comparable crimes. I have proposed the establishment of a Special Rapporteur or Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide – to make clear the link, which is often ignored until too late, between massive and systematic violations of human rights and threats to international peace and security.

More broadly, I look forward to the day when the concept of our shared “responsibility to protect” encompasses the sense of a global obligation to reach out and help our fellow human beings, whenever they are most in need.

Prime Minister Martin has called on Canada to pursue “a new politics of achievement,” and to “ensure a place of influence and pride for Canada in the world.” I subscribe to that plea and I challenge you to renew, with even greater determination, your great tradition of international engagement.

I look forward to working with you.

Information on the Doha World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference.

Millennium Declaration.

Millennium Development Goals.

Millennium Summit.

G8 Africa Action Plan.

Responsibility to Protect, ICISS.

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