Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
11 June 1999
UN FOUNDED ON BELIEF THAT WORLD CAN YIELD TO FORCES OF CHANGE, TOLERANCE,
HOPE SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL, ACCEPTING 'SEEDS OF PEACE' PRIZE
Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan upon receiving the 1999 Seeds of Peace Prize in New York on 10 June:
It is a pleasure to be with you tonight. I am deeply gratified to receive this honour from an organization whose work I admire so much. I remember how inspired I was by the meeting I had last summer with a delegation of young Seeds of Peace graduates. They may be the next generation, following in our footsteps, but we adults would do well to follow their example of peaceful coexistence.
As for me, I know I follow in the footsteps of some very deserving and remarkable men and women. Indeed, we meet tonight still grieving the loss of King Hussein of Jordan, who received this prize two years ago. Few individuals have been summoned so young to such heavy responsibilities. Few had to steer their country through so many perils for so long. And few won such high esteem from friend and foe alike. The peace we continue to build today must be worthy of him.
That task suffered a terrible blow with the death of another Seeds of Peace prize-winner, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. We cannot rest until we complete his vision, too. If true peace is in the everyday gestures, one gesture I will never forget is the picture of King Hussein lighting Prime Minister Rabin's cigarette at the White House in 1995. I should hasten to add that, in saying this, I am endorsing peace, not cigarette smoking.
I recognize that it is not only me you recognize tonight. Through me, you are honouring the United Nations and its work for peace in the Middle East and around the world. The United Nations has been involved in the Middle East since the Organization's earliest days, reflecting the international community's abiding interest in a comprehensive, just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and throughout the wider region.
But, the United Nations is not just a voice from distant conference rooms. We are there on the ground, working day in and day out, with Israelis, Palestinians and others in their struggle for peaceful, stable lives. Our peacekeeping operations have created the stability and space needed for diplomacy. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and bodies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are an essential lifeline for more than 3 million Palestinians. Dozens of United Nations officials, civilian and military, have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
Like each of my predecessors, I have tried to support the peace process by condemning terrorism, stressing the human rights of all parties and mobilizing the entire United Nations system behind the cause of peace. During my visit to the region last year, I witnessed the hardship and deprivation caused by decades of conflict.
I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and learned more about the deep yearning of the Jewish people for a haven among the family of nations. In Lebanon and on the Golan Heights, I heard villagers express hope that their homes and fields would never again become battle zones. In Gaza, I saw the Palestinian Authority coping with its new and formidable responsibilities. There and in Jordan, I met with Palestinian refugees who for generations had known no life but that in the refugee camps -- men, women and especially children trying to maintain their dignity under dismal conditions and restrictions.
Such encounters cannot help but lead one to dwell on the question of why peace is such an elusive and hard-won prize, in the Middle East and elsewhere. This must seem especially mysterious to the young people who participate in the Seeds of Peace programme. The protests of youth -- their demands that adults do reasonable things -- are often dismissed as unreasonable or naive. Their high expectations have no place in the "real" world, they are told. If only they knew history better, it is said, they would accept injustice as the way the world is and always has been.
I myself was involved in the Middle East as a young person, as a civilian official with the United Nations Emergency Force. I was not quite as young as the Seeds of Peace graduates. But it was still early enough in my career for me to feel some of the impatience of youth at the inability of their elders to come to terms. The lesson I came away with, and a belief I hold to this day, is that the so-called real world is a lot less immutable than is commonly thought. The United Nations was founded on just such a belief; that the real world could yield to the forces of change, tolerance and hope.
We need look no farther than the Middle East itself for proof of how supposedly fixed truths can suddenly fall away. And once they have fallen away, it seems as though it was always inevitable that they would. Who would have predicted President Sadat's journey to Jerusalem? Or the Oslo process and the famous handshake on the White House lawn? Or, looking beyond the region, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela?
Seen in this light, young people have every right to think in terms of the impossible. And Seeds of Peace has been right to forge ahead even when the atmosphere has not always been encouraging. It is precisely when darkness is all around that such efforts are needed most. No one said that it would be easy to forge a lasting peace. But that does not mean it is impossible.
Peace needs leadership. Someone has to plant the seed. Someone has to make that initial investment, or find the courage to climb down from mistakes or speak of reconciliation even when the flames of hatred are burning.
Peace needs time. I have heard people in all regions -- in countries emerging from conflict and in those making the transition from planned to market economies -- acknowledge that they themselves will not likely enjoy the fruits of their labours, that what they do, they do for their sons and daughters.
Peace needs a strong foundation. The Middle East is renowned as the place where deserts can be made to bloom. But it doesn't happen without equipment and labour, without fertilizer and funding, without creating an environment in which seeds can grow.
Most of all peace needs community -- networks of concerned citizens -- at the grass-roots and international levels alike -- who are given the chance to participate, and who have the will to overcome differences.
A leading statesman of our century, who was both a military man and a diplomat, once said that "to jaw, jaw is always better than to war, war". As we have seen in the Middle East and elsewhere, the sad experience of "war, war" almost always leads to "jaw, jaw". Sooner or later, people must talk out their differences.
The Seeds of Peace programme is doing its part to continue this crucial dialogue in the Middle East. I pledge my support to that effort and wherever else in the world it is needed.
* *** *
For information media - not an official record