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UN Must Answer the Needs of Individual Human Beings

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the United Nations faces a fresh mission in the 21st century. It will be defined by a new awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the world to respect the individual during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Annan said the individual’s fundamental rights had too often been sacrificed for the good of the state.

"The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights," he told the gala audience in Oslo’s City Hall. "What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations."

A gate of fire

Annan said the beginning of the 21st century had opened those people’s eyes who thought "progress toward global peace and prosperity is inevitable".

"We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire," he told the dignitaries. "If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible." New threats made no distinction between races, nations or regions. "A new insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status."

A new mission for the 21st century

The United Nations face a new goal in the 21st century. Annan said his vision was to eradicate poverty among the poorest of the poor, prevent conflict and promote democracy and human rights. This would be defined by a new, "more profound awareness" of the dignity of human life, regardless of race, religion, gender or circumstances of birth.

"We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character," the Secretary-General said.

He singled out the example of a newborn Afghan girl, whose mother would comfort her like any mother anywhere in the world. "In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions."

But he said that to be born a girl in today's Afghanistan was to begin life centuries away from prosperity. "Beneath the surface of states and nations, ideas and language, lies the fate of individual human beings in need. Answering their needs will be the mission of the United Nations in the century to come."

Tolerance is the answer

Quoting from the Koran, Confucius, the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Gospels, Annan repeatedly pleaded for tolerance. He said everyone had the right to take pride in his or her particular faith or heritage. "But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous," he said. "It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power."

He pointed out that humanitarian and political issues are intertwined. "Today's real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated," he said. "Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another."

Annan equally shares the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations as such. South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo, president of the UN General Assembly, accepted the award on behalf of the body.

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