Speech Delivered at a Reception in Pretoria to Celebrate United Nations Day, by Deputy Minister R. Schoeman on Behalf of Deputy Minister A Pahad, 24 October 2003

The Resident Co - Ordinator of the United Nations,

Heads of United Nations Agencies,

Excellencies,

Friends and Colleagues,

Allow me to apologise on Deputy Minster Aziz Pahad's behalf, for not being able to share this day with you, as he has been elsewhere tasked by the President.

I am indeed honoured to have been requested to address you on this United Nations Day, and to take the opportunity of congratulating the United Nations Organisation for the work it has done and is doing to promote global peace and security, and a more equitable global society. I would especially like to single out the work of the United Nations in Africa and in Southern Africa, and I ask Mr John Ohiorhenuan the Resident Co-Ordinator of the United Nations in South Africa and the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme, to convey our congratulations to the Secretary General.

The challenge facing humanity was excellently expressed by the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, when he said, three years ago, during the Millennium Summit, that we shared a common vision, a vision of global solidarity and collective security, which was ultimately expressed in the form of the Millennium Declaration.

But recent events have called that consensus into question.

All of us know that there are new threats which must be faced - or, perhaps, old threats in new and dangerous combinations: new forms of terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But, while some consider these threats as the main challenge to world peace and security, others feel more menaced by small arms deployed in civil conflict, or by so-called "soft threats" such as poverty, income disparities between and within societies, the spread of infectious diseases, climate change and environmental degradation.

The United Nations must confront ALL these threats and challenges. It must be fully engaged in the struggle for development and poverty eradication, for human rights, democracy and good governance.

I would like to declare today South Africa's strong support for the UN and for the whole multilateral system of global co - operation and co - ordination. On this day the South African Government conveys it very best wishes to the UN, the Secretary General and all the United Nations officials, many of whom are represented here today.

At the same time, I would like to reflect that this is a sad time for the United Nations and for all of us, as we remember the United Nations officials killed in the senseless attack on the UN offices in Iraq, including Sergio Veira de Mello, an outstanding international civil servant. That attack was an attack on us all and we need to stand firm in our determination to resist such acts of terror and re-affirm our support for the United Nations.

The Middle East situation poses major challenges to international peace and security, as well as to the credibility of the UN. The dramatic developments in Iraq the past few months have raised important and disturbing questions about the very future of the United Nations.

Central among these is the question - does the United Nations have a future as a strong and effective multilateral organisation, enjoying the confidence of the peoples of the world, and capable of addressing the matters that are of concern to all humanity?

Matters have evolved in such a matter that, it seems extremely difficult to resolve the issue of the role of the United Nations in Iraq, unless we answer the question about the future of the UN as the legitimate expression of the collective will of the peoples of the world, the principal guarantor of international peace and security, among other global issues.

Put differently, we could say that what is decided about the role of the UN in Iraq will, at the same time, decide what will become of the UN in the context of its Charter, and the important global objectives that have been taken since the Charter was adopted.

This is not a case of the tail wagging the dog. Rather, history has placed at our feet an urgent and practical test case that obliges us to answer the question - what do we, collectively, want the United Nations to be! What do we do distinguish the trees from the woods!

In this regard, we must make the point directly that, as South Africans, we are partisan activists who campaign in favour of such a strong and effective United Nations. We do so because of the place our country and people occupy in the contemporary world.

That place is defined by the fact that we are a developing country, whose central challenge is the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, a challenge we share with the rest of the African continent of which we are an integral part.

The South African Government believes that the United Nations and its specialised agencies need to be more at the centre of international co-operation aimed at tackling the world's problems. It is the United Nations system that must provide the framework in which multilateral co-operation can take place. We must guard against tendency to undermine the role of the UN by taking unilateral action.

Excellencies, friends, we have come to a T-junction. This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, i.e. when the UN was founded.

We fully support Kofi Anna's call for UN Reform: the Security Council is not the only institution that needs strengthening, but also the Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, including the UN's relationship with the Bretton Woods Institutions, need to be re-thought and re-invigorated, the role of the Trusteeship Council must be reviewed.

During his address to the General Assembly, Kofi Anna took the opportunity to announce the establishment of a High-Level Panel of Eminent Personalities, which will be charged with 4 tasks:

To examine the current challenges to peace and security
To consider the contribution which collective action can make in addressing these challenges
To review the functioning of the major organs of the UN and the relationship between them
To recommend ways to strengthen the UN, through the reform of its institutions and processes
These are indeed testing times for the UN and the international community. We have the central problem of widespread poverty in the world, and the urgent need to alleviate it. All our joint efforts are needed if the Millennium Development Goals are to be obtained. We have set an achievable target by seeking to halve global poverty by 2015, but in fact time is running out if we are to come close.

In Africa the situation is especially serious, as the latest statistics would appear to indicate that in many African countries it will not be possible to attain the MDGs even in a very optimistic scenario.

The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals by the UN and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, made a major contribution towards mainstreaming the concerns and needs of Africa and other developing countries.

According to the latest UNECA Report, of the 53 countries in Africa, only 5 achieved the 7% growth rate required to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Bilateral ODA flows to African economies have dropped in the last decade and fell well short of the estimated $50 billion a year required to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The development and adoption of NEPAD is confirmation of the emergence of a growing number of progressive leaders, who are committed to the renewal or rebirth of Africa. There is a major transformation process that is taking place on the African continent, that is anchored on key principles of African ownership and leadership, self-reliance, and a new partnership with the developed world that is based on mutual respect, responsibility and accountability.

This transformation, labelled NEPAD, has placed African priorities such as agriculture, infrastructure, IT, research and development, health, institution and capacity building, firmly on the international agenda, thus changing the dominant development paradigm that has for so long been imposed on our continent.

We are acutely conscious of the reality that there can't be sustainable development without peace and stability. African leaders are taking responsibility and are committing human and financial resources to ending conflicts on the continent. A number of successes have been registered in this regard, such as in Angola, Liberia, DRC and Burundi. However, many challenges remain.

The UN and the specialised agencies have a vital role to play in this regard, not least in Southern Africa.

In SA itself, we have assisted the UN to developed the UN Development Assistance Framework for South Africa, and we have highlighted three top priorities. The first is to combat HIV and Aids, the scourge that threatens to undermine the great achievements of our first ten years of democracy. The second is rural development, with a particular focus on Limpopo Province, the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu/Natal. The third is regional integration, in which the focus is of course integration of the SADC countries.

It is this last priority that I wish to highlight today, as I believe we still have many challenges ahead in strengthening regional co-operation and integration, and it is my belief that the UN family can assist us. A number of the UN agencies are already operating at the regional level, because it makes sense to do so. We think of the excellent work the World Food Programme is doing in Southern Africa. Their assistance in combating drought and starvation as been truly wonderful. In my view, we ought to be thinking in terms of a broader UN effort in the region, even thinking in terms of a regional development framework, and not just a country framework.

For our part, we in South Africa will have to consider how we can facilitate the work of the UN in our region. We are already investigating the possibility of providing better office accommodation for the UN and all its agencies, and I hope this preliminary work can be finalised soon. We will also need to raise the broader issues involved at the UNDP Board in New York, to test the reaction there.

We can do a lot improve and strengthen the partnership we have between the UN family and South Africa. Today's gathering is an opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved together, and to commit ourselves anew to seek further progress.

Before I ask the UN Country Co-Ordinator to say a few words, I would like to conclude by asking you all to raise your glasses and drink a toast to the United Nations and all its people.

To the United Nations.

Thank you.

 

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