10 May 1996

Press Release



Following is the text, translated from the French, of an address by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at a seminar held on 8 May on the address by his Holiness Pope John Paul II at the fiftieth session of the General Assembly:

It is a great pleasure and an honour to be with you today at this gathering to reflect on the address delivered to the United Nations General Assembly on 5 October 1995 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

I should like to thank the Observer Mission of the Holy See and "The Path to Peace" Foundation for giving us the occasion to undertake this common meditation.

We are well aware that His Holiness, in inaugurating, so to speak, the anniversary ceremonies of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations and giving us the joy of his presence in New York, wished to honour the world Organization. But above and beyond the States and their representatives, he also no doubt wanted to address each of us individually.

Those who had the privilege of hearing him speak that day immediately grasped the importance of his message and its universality. For the concept of universality was truly at the heart of this address. Universality was the prime concern of the Holy Father. When he spoke on 5 October 1995, he was calling on us to reflect upon universality.

In opening this seminar today, I shall not be so bold as to try to offer an exegesis or commentary on this great pontifical address. I should merely like to take a few minutes, as an introduction to your discussions, to try to tell you what my own response has been to the Pope's words, and on the lessons I am trying to draw from these words in my daily life and in the post to which the States have elected me, as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

This beautiful text contains both a political analysis and a moral lesson. It proposes at once an interpretation of history and a message of hope. It is a mental construct, but is also a proclamation of faith. It

offers us an ethical meditation on "the risk of freedom" and a forward-looking reflection on the "law of nations". Furthermore, a certain representation of the world can be found in this address.

I should like to spend a few minutes to consider the rich lesson offered by the Pope when he said, "In this representation of the world, the great human family, over which the Spirit breathes, is displayed in all its fullness".

The representation of the world offered to us by this pontifical address goes far beyond the inter-State vision which all too often prevails in our thinking. Although States are the principal actors in the international order and the principle of sovereignty remains the basis of our positive law, it is none the less clear that the richness of the world and the adventure of history cannot be reduced to this representation alone. From the very opening sentences of his address, Pope John Paul II resolutely addresses the whole family of peoples living on the Earth. In this, he makes a spiritual connection with the words contained in the Preamble to the Charter: "We the peoples of the United Nations". This desire to express himself to what he calls "the Assembly of peoples" calls us to reflect on the structure and on the very nature of the international community. It also invites us to rethink the complex dialectic between the law of States and the law of peoples, between the law of peoples and the law of nations, between the law of nations and a law centred around the individual.

He encourages us to offer to the world's peoples a new collective morality of the global society. Indeed all of us are aware that the major problems for the future of humanity are primarily transnational problems. Whether one takes, for example, environmental protection, the promotion of human rights, population issues or efforts to combat poverty, it is clear today that all these problems are worldwide in scope and can be dealt with only very partially by individual nation-States. This makes it even more imperative than ever before that the way in which we think about the world should be collective. This is why for several years now the world Organization has been embarked on a process of forward-looking thinking in the economic and social spheres. For the international community must begin now to ponder its future and its destiny.

It is of this dimension of community, in both the political and spiritual meanings of the term, that the Holy Father reminds us in his address. But the thinking goes beyond that. For this global society must be the product of the ideas of all its constituent parts. Here once again it would be an over-simplification if we were to consider only those political subjects that are States. We must also take into account not only the economic and financial forces, but the spiritual, cultural and social actors as well. It is this plurality of approaches, this bringing together of

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/5981 10 May 1996

viewpoints, and also, at times, the clash of different perceptions, which must impart a richness to our discussions and give true meaning to our decisions.

Once again, I see in the Pope's address a hymn to diversity in the world and the profound necessity of recognizing that diversity. It seems to me that this constitutes a powerful encouragement to the world Organization to continue to promote the imperative of democracy in all spheres and at all levels of international life. But there is also a powerful spiritual affirmation in the Holy Father's insistence on thinking about the world's peoples as a genuine gathering.

His Holiness the Pope is endeavouring, in essence, to deliver a strong reminder here that the action of the international community has meaning only if it is ultimately targeted to the individual. Not an abstract or disembodied individual, but rather each and every man and woman who lives on this Earth and shares in the glories and tribulations of human existence.

Indeed, our action will have meaning only if it makes possible the development of the great human family. That is, as I see it, a second lesson in the Supreme Pontiff's address which we might well ponder. And the Holy Father is right to remind us that the great human family in its entirety must have as its foundation not only the values of love, but also respect for human rights and the universal nature of those rights.

For today the universality of human rights is very much at the centre of the international community's concerns. The discussions at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993 bear witness to this fact. On that occasion I sought to reaffirm that human rights, conceived in universal terms, bring us face to face with the most demanding dialectic there is: the dialectic of identity and "otherness", of the self and "the other". What those discussions have unequivocally taught us is that we are at one and the same time identical and different.

How then can we not agree with the Pope's idea that human rights are the common heritage of mankind and that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the highest expressions of the human conscience in our time? Indeed we are well aware of the fact that human rights are at once a moment in the history of conscience and the expression of immutable commandments. Human rights can be brought about only if we transcend ourselves, only if we make a conscious effort to find our common essence beyond our apparent divisions, our temporary differences, our ideological and cultural barriers.

I noted, at Vienna, that human rights are not the lowest common denominator among all nations, but rather what I should like to describe as the "irreducible human element", in other words, the quintessential values through which we affirm together that we are a single human community.

- 4 - Press Release SG/SM/5981 10 May 1996

It is in this perspective that I wish to draw today on the Holy Father's reflections and what he terms the "moral logic" which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples. For the Spirit must constantly inspire this great human family.

Far be it from me, here, to propose a secular reading of the address by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. However, it is apparent that, in his spiritual thinking, there are many points of convergence with the activities which are being conducted by the United Nations. For all of us, this Spirit is first of all a spirit of peace. The entire United Nations aspires to this objective. Peace is at the same time the justification for its existence and the goal of its activities. Everyone knows the extent to which, in difficult circumstances, the world Organization is continuing to fulfil its role in the service of peace.

Today is neither the time nor the place to dwell at length on these activities. However, I should like here to pay tribute to all the women and men who are dedicated to the service of this ideal. I should also like to note that peace is not only a political, military or humanitarian undertaking. It also has a spiritual dimension. Peace, to last, must be established also in the hearts of men. Every woman and man must therefore take, in his or her own domain, what the Holy Father so rightly terms "the risk of peace".

Recently in South Africa, on the occasion of the ninth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, I made an appeal for economic solidarity among States, peoples and nations. In the world in which we live, and in which competition is called on to play an increasingly assertive role, the imperative need for greater solidarity must guide development processes and act as a counterweight to national selfishness. While the advent of a global economy brings hope for the majority, it nevertheless may be fraught with exclusions if we ignore those who cannot participate in it because they were born poor, disadvantaged or marginalized.

We know how modern society tends to engender social and economic situations which upset the traditional indicators. Thus we see the stage being set increasingly for a greater vulnerability of individuals who are being swept away in a spiral of growing marginalization and exclusion. It is therefore impossible to consider any real development in the service of the human person unless all these elements of vulnerability are taken into consideration, that is to say unless development is placed within the context of a social project that promotes the personal development of all people. We must work together to see to it that each individual can become a genuine agent of his own destiny. We must therefore endeavour to build the "ethic of solidarity" which the Holy Father speaks of, and without which no human progress is conceivable.

- 5 - Press Release SG/SM/5981 10 May 1996

I realize that I have merely skimmed the surface of a few themes tackled by the Holy Father in his statement of 5 October last. However, the wealth and depth of his thoughts compelled me to adopt this evocative and impressionistic approach. I hope, nevertheless, that I have shown you the profound resonance that this speech had on my own thinking and on my own actions. In particular, I wanted to recall forcefully that, as far as I am concerned, it is not possible to conceive of taking action without constantly referring to higher values.

Believe me when I tell you that I shall listen very carefully to the lectures that you are going to hear and to the debates that you are going to conduct. I will keep myself carefully informed of them. I should like to conclude by expressing the hope that your work will be fruitful. I should also, once again, like to thank the organizers of this event for having enabled us to re-read and to meditate upon the address delivered by His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Charter.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.