Speech at the 54th Session of the United
Nations General Assembly
New York, September 20, 1999.
Mr Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of our Government and in my capacity as Chair
of the Non-Aligned Movement, I wish to extend our sincere
congratulations to you Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, on your
election as President of the General Assembly.
I would also like to thank you for the kind remarks
you made about my country as you assumed your high position.
We have worked together for many decades. Thanks in
good measure to your statespersonship, as neighbours
we live together in peace and have joined hands as equals
to ensure the all-round fulfilment of both our peoples.
These experiences convince us that you will discharge
your responsibilities as President of the General Assembly
in a manner that will help humanity to make our common
world a better place for all.
We are pleased that you will be working with the Secretary
General, Kofi Annan, who has demonstrated unquestionable
commitment to the realisation of the goals of this Organisation.
The Charter of this Organisation and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights provide all of us with the
vision towards which we should strive.
At the time these documents were adopted, they reflected
the international determination to ensure that the catastrophe
occasioned by the rise of fascism and Nazism should
never recur. We recall them today because we believe
that the time has come that determined measures are
taken actually to ensure that they inform what happens
in the common world we all share.
The central message they contain is expressed in the
words of the Declaration of Human Rights:
" ...the peoples of the United Nations have in
the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human
rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person
and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined
to promote social progress and better standards of life
in larger freedom"
We believe that the time has come for all of us to ensure
that we work together to reconstruct human society in
a manner consistent with this perspective.
We further believe that what we have said constitutes
a particular and historic challenge to those who occupy
positions of political leadership in the modern era
- those who, like us, will have the privilege to address
this General Assembly.
Only time will tell whether we have the moral and intellectual
courage in fact to rise to this challenge.
But this we feel we can say, that conditions exist
in the world today for us successfully to pursue the
vision contained in the UN documents to which I have
What may be in short supply is the courage of the politicians,
as opposed to an abundance of good-sounding rhetoric.
What are these conditions of which we speak!
The Cold War has come to an end. There is no sign anywhere
of an ideology-driven contest among superpowers which
dictates that each should seek to destroy the other
in order to protect itself.
It is true that a number of countries still possess
weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons,
which constitute a threat. The only logical way to address
this is vigorously to sue for universal disarmament
and the destruction of such weapons.
Secondly, I believe it would be correct to say that
the overwhelming majority of countries in the world
have opted for democratic forms of government.
Having learnt from their own experiences, the nations
have turned their backs on dictatorship. We cannot say
that such dictatorships do not exist or that no attempt
will be made in future to establish them.
But we can make bold to say that these exceptions prove
the rule rather than disprove the proposition we are
trying to advance. The combination of these two factors
should lead to three conclusions, at least.
The first is that there should be no need on the part
of any country to seek to establish spheres of influence
as a supposed necessary condition for the advancement
of its national interests.
Secondly, the very sustenance of democracy across the
globe requires that in every democratic country the
ordinary people should feel that they actually do enjoy
the right to determine their destiny.
In other words, no country should be required to restrict
its exercise of this right simply because some other,
more powerful, country dictates that this should be
Thirdly, these circumstances create the possibility
for a more democratic system of international governance,
as would be reflected by a correct restructuring of
this very Organisation.
In any case, the process of globalisation necessarily
redefines the concept and practice of national sovereignty.
The frontiers of that sovereignty are being pushed back,
especially as regards the smaller countries of the world,
such as our own.
As this happens, inevitably, so does it become necessary
that a compensatory movement takes place, towards the
reinforcement of the impact of these countries on the
system of global governance, through the democratisation
of the system of international relations.
The developments we have spoken of also suggest that
perhaps, and depending on what we all do, humanity has
never had as bright a prospect for durable world peace
and security as it does today.
The mere spread of democracy throughout the world speaks
of a greater commitment among the nations to the resolution
of national and international conflicts by peaceful
I am certain that when HE President Abdelaziz Bouteflika,
current Chairperson of the OAU, addresses the Assembly,
he will report on the important decision recently taken
at the Algiers Summit of the OAU to exclude from its
ranks, with effect from the next Summit, all military
regimes that may still exist on the African Continent.
A further decision was taken to assist such countries
resolutely to move towards a democratic system of government.
The developments on which we have commented would suggest
that this Organisation has a responsibility to focus
especially on the objective contained in Article 1 of
"to take effective collective measures for the
prevention and removal of threats to the peace...and
to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity
with the principles of justice and international law,
adjustment or settlement of international disputes or
situations which might lead to a breach of the peace..."
This imposes a solemn and supreme responsibility on
the United Nations to work for the prevention of conflicts,
and to endeavour to resolve them so that a durable peace
can be established. Sometimes, our response to conflicts
has been to wait for them to develop into violence,
and even wars, and subsequently to intervene through
costly peace keeping operations. These, at times, serve
to freeze those conflicts, perpetuate polarisation,
and make their timely resolution more difficult.
Moreover, the requirement on the United Nations to
make such interventions to prevent the outbreak of hostilities,
imposes an obligation on the UN that it should be seen
by governments and peoples as a truly even-handed interlocutor
It can only attain this if it works genuinely "to
develop friendly relations among nations based on respect
for the principle of equal rights and self-determination
of peoples..." as stated in its Charter.
If we are indeed seriously committed to these critical
objectives of peace and democracy in the world, then
we have no excuse to permit the further postponement
of the meaningful restructuring of the United Nations.
If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that
what is blocking progress is the desire to accommodate
what are perceived as new power relations, to re-institutionalise
relations of inequality within the UN in an amended
This is based on the thesis that the institutionalisation
of such relations has precedence over the founding principle
of this Organisation, of respect for the principle of
equal rights among the nations.
In the situation of the Cold War and the prevalence
of dictatorship in many countries, the politics of power
might have been seen as the only path to survival.
The management of the world today, through the exercise
of such power, however modified, will itself subvert
the objectives of democracy and peace, spawning pretenders
to the throne at global, continental and regional levels.
Simultaneously as the UN focuses on the critical question
of the prevention of conflict, so must it attend to
such issues as the elimination of weapons of mass destruction,
the implementation of the ban on anti-personnel mines,
the removal of mines in those countries which face this
problem and the control of the proliferation of small
Of course, none of these proposals gainsay the need
for the UN to act with all necessary vigour to help
end all existing conflicts of which it is seized. These
include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Western
Sahara, East Timor, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Kosovo, and
We started off with a quotation from the Declaration
of Human Rights, which speaks of affirming the dignity
and worth of the human person, the promotion of social
progress and securing a better life for all.
We argued that conditions exist for movement towards
the realisation of the objectives spelt out in that
Declaration. It is a matter of common cause among all
of us that the levels of poverty, ignorance and disease
that continue to afflict billions across the globe constitute
a direct denial of the dignity and worth of the human
person to which we have committed ourselves.
I am certain that we would also agree that the process
of globalisation has also been accompanied by growing
inequality within and among countries. We have also
seen how movements of short-term capital have produced
disastrous economic consequences in some countries.
As with the challenges of peace and democracy, it is
our firm belief that sufficient resources exist within
the world economy actually to address the social progress
and the better life for all, for which the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights calls.
Further to this, science and technology continue to
develop in such a way that it is difficult to believe
that, taken together with the large concentrations of
capital that characterise the world economy, the means
do not exist within human society to make the required
impact on poverty, ignorance and disease.
Indeed, it can be argued quite rationally that international
peace, democracy and prosperity are a necessary condition
for the further rapid growth of the world economy, and
with it the further expansion of the corporations both
small and big, which require global markets.
Similarly, the revolution in information and communication
technology, a critical driver of the process of globalisation,
both enables and calls for higher levels of education
and standards of living among the billions who constitute
the human population.
However, it is clear that there is no automatic or
inherent mechanism within the operation of the markets
to enable both capital and technology to make the sort
of impact we are talking about on all countries of the
When we say this, we should not be taken to mean that
we are contemptuous of all that has been said about
what each country needs to do to create the conditions
conducive to investment and technology transfers.
Nor should it be taken to mean that we are re-opening
the debate about the role of markets in the allocation
of resources. What we are saying is that the functioning
of the markets does not and cannot exclude conscious
interventions being made, both to increase economic
opportunities and to raise the standards of living and
the life possibilities of many in the world denied their
human dignity by the scourge of poverty.
In his interesting book, "Living On Thin Air",
the British author, Charles Leadbeater, writes:
"The new (knowledge driven) economy needs a mobilising
vision and institutions fashioned to make it real. Bit
by bit, our institutions are changing through reform,
reorganisation and restructuring - but the process is
much too slow, haphazard and piecemeal - it must become
more conscious, imaginative and radical."
Once more, the matter turns on the will of the political
leaders actually to discover among themselves the moral
and intellectual courage to do what is correct and necessary.
What is correct and necessary also requires that in
this field as well, affecting socio-economic matters,
we review the functioning of all multi-lateral institutions,
including those that belong within the UN family.
This would be done to ensure that these too reflect
the very necessary imperative of the democratisation
of the international system of governance.
The UN documents to which we referred earlier give
us the starting point.
Accordingly, we believe that there is no need for anyone
among us to rediscover a new vision that should inform
our actions to build the new world which affirms the
dignity and worth of the human person.
What is necessary is that we match the beliefs we profess
with the necessary action.
We speak of action that will, practically, address
the related issues of peace, democracy and development.
I am certain that such a practical programme of action
would meet the aspirations not only of the members of
the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned
Movement of which we are a member.
It would also respond to the most deep-seated feelings
of the peoples of the developed North who can have no
interest in conflict, oppression and poverty, even if
these occur beyond the borders of their own countries.
It also goes without saying that the democratic systems
in which we operate would also require that, through
committed advocacy, we secure the support of the electors
for what should be a Programme of Action of the United
Nations for the 21st Century.
The evolution of human society has presented the world
leaders who will stand at this podium with new possibilities
to move our globe a giant step forward towards a new
actuality of which the poor and the powerless dream
It would be to betray these millions if we do not act
to turn their dream into reality. Let future generations
not say that because of the force of inertia, we failed