17 December 1996

Press Release


19961217 Farewell Assembly Address Notes Increasing Demands on World Body; Ongoing Reform Dependent on End to Financial Crisis, Full Payment of Members' Dues

This is the text of a statement by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros- Ghali to the General Assembly this afternoon:

Five years ago, responsibility for the Office of Secretary-General was placed in my hands. I am grateful to have had the privilege of serving the Peoples of the United Nations during this time. Today I am proud of the way the United Nations has responded to the challenges of these difficult years. I have had the difficult task to guide the United Nations during the post- cold war period. The next century has already begun. Great transformations do not wait for the calendar. The past five years opened with optimism and enthusiasm. Member States called the United Nations to take action on an unprecedented scale: for peace, development, democratization and reform.

My first act for peace as Secretary-General was to sign at Chapultepec on 16 January 1992, the agreement on peace for El Salvador, a great achievement of my distinguished predecessor. The first ever Summit Meeting of the Security Council took place on 31 January 1992. My report issued in May 1992, "An Agenda for Peace", launched an international debate on preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peace-keeping and the new concept of post-conflict peace-building. From El Salvador to Cambodia, to Angola and Mozambique, the United Nations adapted United Nations peace-keeping to unprecedented forms of conflict.

Development also was given a new opportunity. The easing of ideological tensions and the expected "peace dividend" raised hopes for development cooperation. The landmark Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992 brought the first ever global plan -- Agenda 21 -- for a new and equitable partnership to achieve sustainable development.

* Revised to incorporate translation from the French part of the statement.

Democratization became a new feature of the work of the United Nations. Member States, new and old, turned to the United Nations for support in democratization. The United Nations quickly developed its capacity to provide electoral assistance.

As I entered the Office of Secretary-General, it was clear to me that the United Nations would have to undergo comprehensive change. I simplified Secretariat structures and began a process of managerial reform. This in turn, stimulated more demand for reform. Throughout the period leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, reform was the issue of the day. In Governments, universities and foundations, proposals for restructuring and re-organization were drawn up.

But the middle years of this half-decade were deeply troubled. Disillusion set in. Where peace-keepers were asked to deal with warfare, serious setbacks occurred. The first came in Somalia, and weakened the will of the world community to act against genocide in Rwanda. In Bosnia too hard choices were avoided. The concept of peace-keeping was turned on its head, and worsened by the serious gap between mandates and resources.

The volume of assistance to developing countries was not only failing to grow, it was in fact declining. Resources for long-term development were being diverted to emergency efforts. Africa was hit hardest. Despite high hopes for democratization, a counter-trend emerged. Human rights atrocities reached unprecedented levels. The horror of ethnic cleansing emerged. In some countries, democratization proved more difficult than expected, creating political instability, social disarray and economic disappointment. Democratization in some cases slowed or was even eroded.

And it emerged that the conditions for major reform of the United Nations did not yet exist. The decisions required far exceeded the authority of any Secretary-General. Extensive reform of the United Nations can only emerge from a consensus among Member States on the goals of reform. Until such a consensus exists, and until the political will emerges to take hard decisions, and to reform inter-governmental machinery along with Secretariat structures, major institutional reform is impossible. And throughout this time of disillusion, the Organization's financial crisis continued to pose a serious obstacle to reform.

The United Nations is emerging from the mood of disillusion. The fiftieth anniversary brought an impressive recommitment by Member States to their world Organization. A new sense of maturity seems possible. We have begun to restore the logic of United Nations peace-keeping, and to clarify our approach to the range of instruments contained in the Charter. The division of labour between the United Nations and regional organizations continues to improve.

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/6133/Rev.1 17 December 1996

As I described to the Lyon Summit of the Group of Seven last June, the United Nations is now working closely with the Bretton Woods institutions on development policy and on projects in the field. The flagship of this effort is the System-wide Special Initiative on Africa, which I inaugurated earlier this year. And a new global policy consensus has begun to take shape.

The Rio Conference on Environment and Development; the Vienna Conference on Human Rights; the Yokohama Conference on Disaster Relief; the Cairo Conference on Population; the Naples Conference on Transnational Crime; the Barbados Conference on Small Island Development; the Copenhagen Conference on Social Development; the Beijing Conference on Women; the Istanbul Conference on Human Settlement; UNCTAD IX on globalization and liberalization in South Africa -- all have been dedicated to the betterment of the individual human person. Taken together, this series of Conferences has created an entirely new dimension to international cooperation.

It has set the stage for restoring development and international economic cooperation to the place it should have on the agenda of the United Nations, as a major objective of the Organization in its own right, and as a pre-condition for lasting peace and progress. This is the Charter conception. This is the concept that the Group of 77 has fought long and hard to defend. And this should be a key objective to guide further reform of the Organization in the economic and social area.

For democratization, a more comprehensive and effective United Nations approach is taking shape. Beyond help in holding free and fair elections, the United Nations today offers a range of assistance, from support for a culture of democratization to institution-building. To succeed over time, democratization within a nation must be supported by a process of democratization among nations. The democratization of the international system is one of the greatest tasks ahead.

The past few years have brought a new and wide recognition -- that reform is well under way. The path forward can now be seen. Roles and responsibilities are more clearly understood. Key issues of intergovernmental reform -- relating to the Security Council, assessments, and peace-keeping debts -- are seen to be linked. Proposals are being put forward by Member States for the settlement of arrears. Most important, there is a new recognition that reform is not an end in itself. Reform which seeks to turn the United Nations away from its fundamental responsibilities under the Charter can be legitimately opposed. The test of true reform will be whether it will improve the capacity of the United Nations to meet those responsibilities and to advance the common objectives of the Peoples of the United Nations and its Member States.

The downward trend has been broken. What is emerging is a United Nations more mature in outlook and stronger in achievement. A United Nations aware not only of its potentialities but also of its limits. Enthusiasm.

- 4 - Press Release SG/SM/6133/Rev.1 17 December 1996

Disillusion. Realism. This has been the history of the United Nations over the past five years. Now, let us look to the future.

Some old problems appear to be solved. But new problems -- and old problems in new forms -- have emerged. For some, the world seems more secure. But for many others, devastation, death and despair have become more common. For some, economic progress races forward. But for vast numbers of others, stark poverty crushes hope in every dimension of personal and community life. What use the world makes of the United Nations over the next few years can affect the course of world affairs for generations to come.

Most immediately there remains the financial crisis. Just as my distinguished predecessor said to this Assembly in his last address, I too must state that I have been unable to resolve the financial crisis. It is a threat to the future of the United Nations that began over a decade ago. We know what causes it and what is needed to end it. It is not the result of mismanagement. It is the refusal to fulfil a treaty obligation. Now that a new Secretary-General is being appointed, all arrears should be paid at once, as has been promised so often in the past few months.

In saying farewell to this great Assembly, I want to stress that nothing is more precious to the United Nations than its reputation. That reputation rests on four pillars: impartiality, equity, efficiency and achievement. A fifth principle is independence. If one word above all is to characterize the role of the Secretary-General, it is independence. The holder of this office must never be seen as acting out of fear of, or in an attempt to curry favour with, one State or group of States. Should that happen, all prospects for the United Nations would be lost. The Secretary-General's loyalty must be international and nothing but international, and the international civil service must be a real civil service.

Throughout the past five years, the first thing I thought of when I awoke in the morning were my responsibilities as Secretary-General to the ideal of the Charter and independence and credibility of the Organization.

By way of conclusion, my thoughts go to all the men and women of goodwill with whom I have worked over these past years to confront the difficulties that we have all faced together. I have appreciated their competence, their devotion and their self-denial. Sometimes I have also had to pay tribute to their sacrifices.

All those men and women who are devoted to the general interests of the international community are the real wealth -- the real future -- of this world Organization. I assure them today of my highest consideration and deepest gratitude.

In particular, I should like to congratulate the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who has served this institution for many

- 5 - Press Release SG/SM/6133/Rev.1 17 December 1996

years with tenacity, competence and great energy. I am convinced that his varied experience will be useful in resolving problems that he will confront and in defending the interests of the Secretariat and of the entire staff of this world Organization.

Finally, I would like to thank the General Assembly for having entrusted to me five years ago this high post, in which I have continued the work that I have been conducting for so long now in the service of peace, development and human rights.

You can count on me to continue to place my energies in the service of the great ideals of the Charter. You can count on me to continue to defend the United Nations.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.