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20 October 1997

Press Release



Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement to be delivered this evening at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations:

Thank you, Mr President of the Council, for your kind introduction. Let me say first how very happy I am to be here to address such a distinguished gathering. To me, it is a matter of the highest priority to explain the role and purpose of the United Nations to the widest possible audience, and I hope to be able to do more of that. I am therefore particularly delighted to have been invited by this august and respected forum in the heartland of America.

Your city has been described by the poets as the "Queen of the West"; the "Great city of visions, waging the war of the free" and, perhaps best of all, as the "City of the Big Shoulders".

On a more personal note, it also means a lot to me that Chicago is twinned with the city of Accra -- the capital of my home country, Ghana.

I am all the more honoured, therefore, to be addressing you in this seventy-fifth anniversary year of the Council. At 75, you are 23 years older than the United Nations. I hope that what I learn from you in our discussions tonight will be part of a long and fruitful exchange; part of the dialogue with civil society which I have made one of my missions as Secretary-General.

I have been in the job of Secretary-General now for 10 months. For much of that time, I have been pursuing a quiet revolution to reform the organisation; reform which I consider to be both desirable and necessary. You will no doubt have heard and read some of the debate concerning the objectives and recommendations of that reform programme.

Yet the process of reform, as everything we do in the United Nations, is and always must be conducted under the same guiding principle -- to direct the United Nations resources to work in practice for the common good of nations.

This evening I would like to share with you a few examples of our activities on the ground. Drawn from areas as diverse as human rights, electoral assistance, landmine clearance, peacekeeping and the fight against organized crime, they are activities that I believe have one single element in common: they bring about changes that benefit not only those countries where they are undertaken, but humanity as a whole.

Let me begin with a concern that touches us all as human beings: that of human rights. The world is changing. Modern technology, communications and open borders have led to a movement and exchange of ideas on a scale never seen before. Those nations which fail to uphold basic principles of acceptable behaviour can no longer hide behind their borders.

That makes all the more compelling our duty to translate into practice the United Nations' commitment to human rights.

For several decades, the primary focus in human rights was on establishing international norms and standards. That work was largely successful.

In the 1990s, the emphasis has shifted to implementation. There are now operations in more than 10 countries across four continents. Human rights monitors are often attached to peacekeeping operations. We run advisory services to strengthen the judiciary. Special rapporteurs are investigating torture, child labour and child prostitution, religious intolerance and violence against women.

I am pleased to report that we now have more staff working on human rights in the field than at Headquarters.

And, of course, the United Nations provides global leadership on human rights. I am truly delighted that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, has joined us as the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights. Mrs Robinson possesses a unique combination of leadership, commitment and sensitivity. She is clearly the right person for the job.

Hand in hand with human rights come issues of democratization and good governance. Increasingly across the world, it has become an established norm that military coups by self-appointed juntas against democratically-elected governments are simply not acceptable. The Security Council recently imposed sanctions on the military leaders of Sierra Leone in support of the strong stand taken by the region and by the Organization of African Unity.

With the wave of democracy sweeping the globe, the United Nations is receiving more requests for electoral assistance than ever before. In the past five years, we had no fewer than 80 such requests. The United Nations helps teams of international observers assess the legitimacy of an electoral

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process and its outcome. We guide, monitor and sometimes run elections in various countries.

Electoral assistance is a peace-building activity that invests in the future. Some of our peace-building activities, however, have to heal wounds from the past. One of the most tangible legacies of modern-day warfare can be summed up in one word -- landmines. Well after many conflict situations have died down, these abominable weapons lie in silence, waiting to kill or maim innocent civilians -- usually unsuspecting women and children.

The agreement concluded in Oslo last September as the culmination of the Ottawa process will ban their manufacture, production, stockpiling and use.

I am delighted that the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which inspired that process, has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

But the painstaking and time-consuming efforts to clear existing fields -- with millions and millions of mines -- must and will continue for many years to come.

In some countries, the incidence of explosions is such that on average every family -- I repeat, every family -- has had a member either killed or maimed by a mine or unexploded ordnance. In Angola, no serious specialist is able to mention even an approximate number of mines laid after 25 years of fighting. The reason is simple: the protagonists themselves do not know.

In several countries, the United Nations is working with non- governmental organizations and local bodies not only to clear the mines, but also to educate people, especially children, on how to behave with explosives, using teaching aids such as travelling theatre groups or puppet shows. The long-term goal is to develop a national demining capacity in the country in question.

I would now like to turn to quite a different problem -- organized crime. That is a problem that you in Chicago were once intimately familiar with; but whereas you, the good people of Chicago, confronted this scourge long ago, it is one which is increasingly in evidence in the post-cold war world at large. In this world of ever more porous borders, drug traffickers, money launderers and terrorists make up a new and insidious threat.

This year, we brought together our efforts to fight this threat under one roof: the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna.

To head it, I have appointed former Senator Pino Arlacchi of Italy, one of the world's leading experts on organized crime.

One of his priorities will be an integrated approach to drug control and criminal justice; because, as he has said to me, when you go into the real

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world, there is no clear-cut division between organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.

My friends, in addition to your own, there is another anniversary I would like to mention this evening. The United Nations flag was created 50 years ago today. At the moment, it flies over 15 peacekeeping missions throughout the world, in places ranging from Georgia to Angola, from Haiti to Lebanon. More than 22,000 soldiers and civilians serve under this flag.

Maintaining and restoring peace and security is a fundamental purpose of the United Nations. Over the years, the Blue Helmets have become a global symbol of peace and hope. More recently, peacekeeping has evolved beyond traditional operations in which troops are positioned in demilitarized zones or observers are put in place to monitor ceasefires.

It is now just as likely that the United Nations peacekeepers -- both military and civilian -- will be asked to observe elections, uphold human rights, protect deliveries of humanitarian assistance or help rebuild roads and bridges.

Peace is like good health. We often do not realize its value until we lose it. The earlier we can get in to deal with a crisis, the better. Several Member States are developing military units that could deploy without undue delay following a decision by the Security Council. Some of these countries are forming a standby high-readiness brigade. Our hope is that it will no longer take several months to deploy a mission in the field.

Many of the countries who have signed on to the standby high readiness brigade are veteran contributors of peacekeeping personnel. In one of them, Norway, one out of every 100 citizens has been involved in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have tried to give you some idea of what we are doing in practice to tackle problems that no government -- however powerful -- can handle on its own; problems that affect every individual, every country, every government, because they affect humankind.

Yet, I cannot end this speech without some mention of the question of funding. President Bill Clinton pledged in his speech to our fifty-second General Assembly last month to continue to work with Congress to pay the US contribution in full.

The amount owed by the United States amounts to $1.4 billion. While this is a respectable amount, I would take this opportunity to ask you to reflect for a moment on what that sum actually means to a great country like yours. On a per capita basis, it represents less than $6 per American to repay a debt built up over a decade.

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That amount would buy a typical American family of four one ride on the Chicago Transit Authority.

It is also important to understand that most of the amount in question is owed by the United Nations to countries which have provided troops to United Nations peacekeeping -- most of them poor ones such as Bangladesh, Fiji and Tunisia. We can only reimburse them if countries like the United States pay up. For their sake and the sake of the United Nations, give your Senator and Congressman a call. I hope there are none in the room, for I did not intend to embarrass anyone.

The United States has been a leading voice in calling for reform of the United Nations. There are, of course, some detractors of the United Nations whom we can never hope to satisfy; those who seem to have made a career out of United Nations-bashing; those who cry "reform or die" but for whom, one suspects, no reform would suffice.

But as the reform package shows, we must, and do, address constructive criticism seriously. Throughout its history, the Organization has prospered most when it has tried new ways forward, whether in the field or at Headquarters, whether in times of peace or times of war. The objective of this reform is to make for a more active, more responsive, more flexible United Nations, in the areas I have outlined tonight and in countless others. In short, a United Nations that delivers in a real and changing world.

I would like to conclude by recalling what one of my predecessors said here in Chicago 37 years ago.

When Dag Hammarskjold uttered these words at the inauguration of the University of Chicago's new Law Buildings, the United Nations was less than 15 years old.

"Perhaps a future generation," Hammarskjold mused, "which knows the outcome of our present efforts, will look at them with some irony. They will see where we fumbled and they will find it difficult to understand why we did not see the direction more clearly..."

We are that future generation. And we can see the direction that Hammarskjold's United Nations has travelled, and the path that still lies ahead. I pledge to you that we shall step resolutely forward on that path; and I hope that future generations will look back on our efforts without reproach, knowing that what we did was worth doing -- and worth doing well.

Thank you for your support.

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For information media. Not an official record.