Leaders from the United Nations' 191 member states have gathered in New York for the beginning of the annual General Assembly. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the rule of law was at risk around the world.
US President Bush rejected Annan's criticism of the Iraq war
From Iraq to Sudan, from Chechnya to the Middle East, the world is facing a daunting collection of challenges to peace and the rule of law, the Secretary-General told UN representatives and leaders on Tuesday.
"Today the rule of law is at risk around the world," Annan said at the opening of the assembly at UN Headquarters in New York City. "Again and again, we see fundamental laws shamelessly disregarded -- those that ordain respect for innocent life, for civilians, for the vulnerable -- especially children."
Iraq no longer only topic
In each of the past two years, Iraq dominated discussion at the General Assembly, the occasion for all of the organization's members to voice their concerns. This year, the war-torn country shares the floor with a budding humanitarian disaster in Sudan, a bloody cycle of violence in Russia and Chechnya as well as new terrorist threats.
During his speech Annan appealed to the world leaders present -- among them US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- to do all they could for world peace and stability. Annan, who in an interview last week described the Iraq war as "illegal," took aim at the violations of the rule of law happening around the world.
"In too many places … hatred, corruption, violence and exclusion go without redress … At times even the necessary fight against terrorism is allowed to encroach unnecessarily on civil liberties," said Annan.
He focused on fighting between the Sudanese government and rebels that has led to the death of 50,000 people, many of them poor farmers and innocents, and caused 1.2 million to flee their homes.
"Things are happening there which must shock the conscience of every human being," Annan told the assembly.
Bush, in a 24-minute speech, addressed Sudan as well, calling for more UN involvement to prevent a humanitarian crisis. But he spent most of the time defending his decision to invade Iraq, made without the approval of the UN Security Council, and appealing for help in stabilizing the country.
Looking for support
George W. Bush
"The UN and its member nations must respond to Prime Minister Allawi's request and do more to help build and Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free," he said.
Bush's comments came as he faces increasing criticism from his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, for the reasons he gave for invading Iraq and the quagmire it has turned into. US allies who opposed the Iraq war, such as France and Germany, continue to refuse to supply troops to help stabilize the chaos and terrorism that has engulfed the country in the past year.
The embattled US president promised America would be with Afghanistan and Iraq in the tough times ahead.
"We will be standing with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes for freedom and liberty are fulfilled," he said. Delegates applauded once, at the end of his speech.
Germany calls for permanent seat
In all, 66 heads of state and 28 heads of government will address the Assembly over the next two weeks. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will represent his country. In comments ahead of the Assembly, Fischer reiterated Germany's claim to obtain a regular seat on the UN Security Council.
The UN is currently working on its first major organizational reform since its founding in 1945 to make the world body more responsive and efficient.
Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
"If there is an expansion (of the Security Council), we will be part of that," he told reporters, adding that other major global players should also join the table. Germany has joined Brazil, India and Japan in a common lobbying effort to gain seats on the Council.
"If there's no expansion, problems will be much harder to handle," Fischer said.
He added that he believed a failed reform would not mean that no changes would happen in the next 30 years. Instead, member states would be pressured by crises and inadequate capacity to act to introduce reforms, he said.
"I don't think that's a good option," Fischer added.
Germany has been lobbying foreign governments for the past year for support to that end, to mixed results.
Annan brought together a special commission to address UN reform and their report and recommendations are expected in December.