4 September 1997

Press Release


19970904 Kofi Annan Says Fifty-second General Assembly Session Promises To Be 'One of the Most Momentous Periods of Debate and Decision in UN History'

Following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on United Nations reform, in Reykjavik, today:

It is a real pleasure for me to address this audience of Icelanders. Iceland proves that a country does not have to be large, or militarily or economically powerful, to play an active role in the United Nations.

Iceland's commitment to international peace and security stems from its unique history and geography. Over the years, its history has known many twists and changes. Its position in the North Atlantic placed it in a sensitive position in the geopolitics of the twentieth century.

Iceland thus understands the reasons for international cooperation. Like all peace-loving small countries, Iceland looks to the United Nations and other international organizations to set clear norms for relations among nations, and to serve as an instrument for common progress. Iceland has every right to expect that the United Nations is effective, efficient, and clearly focused.

In a fast-changing world, the objectives set out in the Organization's Charter more than 50 years ago have lost none of their relevance. We must still respond to threats to international peace and security. More than ever, we must promote economic and social development. The ideals of human rights, good governance and democracy still need to resonate more meaningfully in people's daily lives. And the rule of law must take firmer root.

Two years ago, Prime Minister David Oddsson told the Special Commemorative Meeting of the General Assembly on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations that all countries are increasingly affected by the same difficulties and challenges. Some threats are overt: terrorism, pandemics, arms proliferation. Others are insidious: climate change, drug

trafficking, money laundering and corruption. All of them transcend borders. No country, acting on its own, can ward them off.

Every country therefore needs the United Nations. Even those which, in the past, may have felt they could do without the Organization, can benefit from multilateralism and engagement at the international level. That is because the new global agenda can be tackled only by global action. The United Nations is the only organization with the legitimacy, expertise and presence to undertake such action.

I have been pleased to note an emerging consensus on this point -- on the virtues and objectives of international action, and on the need for common approaches to common problems.

This is a major new development. During the cold war years, Member States were in fundamental disagreement about many key issues. So it should not surprise us that they never allowed the United Nations to fulfil its great potential, to become a coherent organization able to serve a common purpose.

But now, with such dramatic changes in its external political environment, the Organization itself must change. That is why reform is necessary. That is why I have chosen to make reform one of my highest priorities. That is why I have launched a quiet revolution at the United Nations.

The structures of the United Nations system -- including the Secretariat, programmes, funds, specialized agencies and other entities -- grew up not as the result of conscious planning. Rather, they grew incrementally, in response to mandates -- mandates which changed over the years as the priorities of Member States changed.

Today we must bring greater coherence to these structures and mandates. We need greater unity of purpose and effort. We must be more agile and cost effective. Our managers and staff must be committed to excellence, and held accountable for their performance.

The reform package I presented to the Member States in July is intended to achieve these goals, and to bring about a fundamental transformation in the way we operate.

Under the plan, the Organization's work is grouped around four core areas: peace and security; economic and social affairs; development cooperation; and humanitarian affairs. Human rights cuts across each of these substantive areas, an example of the dynamic interplay that characterizes our work programme. Each activity buttresses and reinforces the others.

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Reform begins at the top, with leadership. Soon after I return to New York next week, I will be holding the first meeting of the new Senior Management Group: a small committee of senior managers that will function like a cabinet. This may be standard operating procedure for most governments, but the United Nations has never had such an arrangement before. It will enable us to plan together, to pool our efforts, to coordinate our activities and to work for common objectives. The result should be greater impact on the ground.

Reform is also comprehensive. My proposals will affect virtually every department and every activity of the United Nations. We aim to increase the speed with which we can deploy peace-keeping and other field operations. To improve our capacity for peace-building. To advance the disarmament agenda and strengthen environmental protection. The plan proposes ways to combat the scourge of "uncivil society" -- criminals, drug pushers and terrorists. It calls for simplified administrative procedures that will generate a development dividend for developing countries.

These are only some of my proposals. Other major features include negative budget growth and the elimination of posts. But reform is far more than the sum of its cuts. Rather, we are strengthening the United Nations positioning ourselves to tackle the new and mounting challenges of the new age.

Consider, for example, the crisis in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. Our response illustrates the capacity of the Organization to act effectively in the post-cold war climate. And it shows the spirit of reform in practice.

The region is suffering through a series of overlapping upheavals: political instability in several States at different times; a genocide, spilling over into a refugee problem and a major humanitarian emergency; allegations of human rights violations; and enormous challenges of development, reconstruction and reconciliation.

We have acted on all these fronts, employing some of the lessons of recent years and some ideas for the future.

Politically, we have joined forces with the Organization of African Unity in designating a joint envoy to troubleshoot and negotiate peaceful settlements to the region's problems.

These efforts helped avert a bloody conflict in Kinshasa during the transition from former President Mobutu Sese Seko. They also demonstrate the advantages of our growing collaboration with regional organizations.

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Humanitarian assistance has been provided since the outset, often under perilous conditions. These efforts alleviated some of the suffering and cemented ties with a range of non-governmental organizations. I welcome these partnerships, too, and am eager to work more closely still with the full range of NGOs active in the Organization's areas of concern.

Our human rights mechanisms have also been deployed. An International Tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes in Rwanda has been established. Field operations in Burundi and Rwanda have been launched.

And while the outcome has been very disappointing so far, efforts have been made to field a team to investigate allegations of human rights violations and atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These activities are part of a major trend in United Nations human rights work: an explosion in field work. We now have more staff working on human rights issues in the field than at Headquarters.

We are also conducting contingency planning for a possible peace-keeping operation in Congo-Brazzaville, and our development arms are present throughout the region. We can do more, of course. But in this as in our reform efforts, the necessary complement is support and political will from the Member States.

The fifty-second session of the General Assembly will begin in less than two weeks. With reform and renewal at the top of the agenda, this promises to be one of the most momentous periods of debate and decision in United Nations history.

We are seeing our way steadily towards an end to the crisis of confidence that has plagued the Organization in recent years. I can now envisage a United Nations that enjoys the full support of the international community. A United Nations that embodies the hopes of small nations such as Iceland, who have much to offer, and of others whose needs make up the thrust of our global mission. A United Nations that delivers.

Iceland has a role to play in this noble endeavour. I look forward to working with all Icelanders in our common quest towards the goals we share and hold dear -- towards peace and progress for all humanity.

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For information media. Not an official record.