But to be born a girl in
today's Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the
prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to
live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider
I speak of a girl in Afghanistan, but I might equally well have
mentioned a baby boy or girl in Sierra Leone. No one today is
unaware of this divide between the world's rich and poor. No one
today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on
the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human
dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any
of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it
is borne by all of us - North and South, rich and poor, men and
women of all races and religions.
Today's real borders are not between nations, but between powerful
and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today,
no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one
part of the world from national security crises in another.
Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and
interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon
rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the
earth. This principle is known as the "Butterfly Effect." Today, we
realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity
also has its own "Butterfly Effect" - for better or for worse.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If
today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see
further - we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats
make no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new
insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A
deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all in pain as in
prosperity has gripped young and old.
In the early beginnings of the 21st century - a century already
violently disabused of any hopes that progress towards global peace
and prosperity is inevitable -- this new reality can no longer be
ignored. It must be confronted.
The 20th century was perhaps the deadliest in human history,
devastated by innumerable conflicts, untold suffering, and
unimaginable crimes. Time after time, a group or a nation inflicted
extreme violence on another, often driven by irrational hatred and
suspicion, or unbounded arrogance and thirst for power and
resources. In response to these cataclysms, the leaders of the world
came together at mid-century to unite the nations as never before.
A forum was created "the United Nations" where all nations could
join forces to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and to
secure peace and development for all peoples. Here States could
unite to strengthen the rule of law, recognize and address the needs
of the poor, restrain man's brutality and greed, conserve the
resources and beauty of nature, sustain the equal rights of men and
women, and provide for the safety of future generations.
We thus inherit from the 20th century the political, as well as the
scientific and technological power, which - if only we have the will
to use them - give us the chance to vanquish poverty, ignorance and
In the 21st Century I believe the mission of the United Nations will
be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and
dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion. This
will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath
the surface of nations or communities. 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. We must
begin with the young Afghan girl, recognizing that saving that one
life is to save humanity itself.
Over the past five years, I have often recalled that the United
Nations' Charter begins with the words: "We the peoples." What is
not always recognized is that "we the peoples" are made up of
individuals whose claims to the most fundamental rights have too
often been sacrificed in the supposed interests of the state or the
A genocide begins with the killing of one man - not for what he has
done, but because of who he is. A campaign of 'ethnic cleansing'
begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when
even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education.
What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all
too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.
In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace
belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member
of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be
used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be
made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in
need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition
for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and
The rights of the individual are of no less importance to immigrants
and minorities in Europe and the Americas than to women in
Afghanistan or children in Africa. They are as fundamental to the
poor as to the rich; they are as necessary to the security of the
developed world as to that of the developing world.
From this vision of the role of the United Nations in the next
century flow three key priorities for the future: eradicating
poverty, preventing conflict, and promoting democracy. Only in a
world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of
their abilities. Only where individual rights are respected can
differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only
in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and
dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be
secured, and freedom of association be upheld.
Throughout my term as Secretary-General, I have sought to place
human beings at the centre of everything we do - from conflict
prevention to development to human rights. Securing real and lasting
improvement in the lives of individual men and women is the measure
of all we do at the United Nations.
It is in this spirit that I humbly accept the Centennial Nobel Peace
Prize. Forty years ago today, the Prize for 1961 was awarded for the
first time to a Secretary-General of the United Nations -
posthumously, because Dag Hammarskj?had already given his life for
peace in Central Africa. And on the same day, the Prize for 1960 was
awarded for the first time to an African - Albert Luthuli, one of
the earliest leaders of the struggle against apartheid in South
Africa. For me, as a young African beginning his career in the
United Nations a few months later, those two men set a standard that
I have sought to follow throughout my working life.
This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On
behalf of all my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in
every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives - and in
many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace ? I
thank the Members of the Nobel Committee for this high honour. My
own path to service at the United Nations was made possible by the
sacrifice and commitment of my family and many friends from all
continents - some of whom have passed away - who taught me and
guided me. To them, I offer my most profound gratitude.
In a world filled with weapons of war and all too often words of
war, the Nobel Committee has become a vital agent for peace. Sadly,
a prize for peace is a rarity in this world. Most nations have
monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations to heroic battles,
archways of triumph. But peace has no parade, no pantheon of
What it does have is the Nobel Prize - a statement of hope and
courage with unique resonance and authority. Only by understanding
and addressing the needs of individuals for peace, for dignity, and
for security can we at the United Nations hope to live up to the
honour conferred today, and fulfil the vision of our founders. This
is the broad mission of peace that United Nations staff members
carry out every day in every part of the world.
A few of them, women and men, are with us in this hall today. Among
them, for instance, are a Military Observer from Senegal who is
helping to provide basic security in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo; a Civilian Police Adviser from the United States who is
helping to improve the rule of law in Kosovo; a UNICEF Child
Protection Officer from Ecuador who is helping to secure the rights
of Colombia's most vulnerable citizens; and a World Food Programme
Officer from China who is helping to feed the people of North Korea.
The idea that there is one people in possession of the truth, one
answer to the world?s ills, or one solution to humanity's needs, has
done untold harm throughout history - especially in the last
century. Today, however, even amidst continuing ethnic conflict
around the world, there is a growing understanding that human
diversity is both the reality that makes dialogue necessary, and the
very basis for that dialogue.
We understand, as never before, that each of us is fully worthy of
the respect and dignity essential to our common humanity. We
recognize that we are the products of many cultures, traditions and
memories; that mutual respect allows us to study and learn from
other cultures; and that we gain strength by combining the foreign
with the familiar.
In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of
tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur'an, for example, tells
us that "We created you from a single pair of male and female and
made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other."
Confucius urged his followers: "when the good way prevails in the
state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way,
act boldly and speak softly." In the Jewish tradition, the
injunction to "love thy neighbour as thyself," is considered to be
the very essence of the Torah.
This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also
teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to
persecute us. Hindus are taught that "truth is one, the sages give
it various names." And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are
urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.
Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or
heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in
conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has
resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the
greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power.
It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live
side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have
overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We
can love what we are, without hating what ? and who ? we are not. We
can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and
come to respect their teachings.
This will not be possible, however, without freedom of religion, of
expression, of assembly, and basic equality under the law. Indeed,
the lesson of the past century has been that where the dignity of
the individual has been trampled or threatened - where citizens have
not enjoyed the basic right to choose their government, or the right
to change it regularly - conflict has too often followed, with
innocent civilians paying the price, in lives cut short and
The obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or
religion, and much more to do with the desire of those in power to
maintain their position at any cost. This is neither a new
phenomenon nor one confined to any particular part of the world.
People of all cultures value their freedom of choice, and feel the
need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives.
The United Nations, whose membership comprises almost all the States
in the world, is founded on the principle of the equal worth of
every human being. It is the nearest thing we have to a
representative institution that can address the interests of all
states, and all peoples. Through this universal, indispensable
instrument of human progress, States can serve the interests of
their citizens by recognizing common interests and pursuing them in
unity. No doubt, that is why the Nobel Committee says that it
"wishes, in its centenary year, to proclaim that the only negotiable
route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United
I believe the Committee also recognized that this era of global
challenges leaves no choice but cooperation at the global level.
When States undermine the rule of law and violate the rights of
their individual citizens, they become a menace not only to their
own people, but also to their neighbours, and indeed the world. What
we need today is better governance - legitimate, democratic
governance that allows each individual to flourish, and each State
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You will recall that I began my address with a reference to the girl
born in Afghanistan today. Even though her mother will do all in her
power to protect and sustain her, there is a one-in-four risk that
she will not live to see her fifth birthday. Whether she does is
just one test of our common humanity - of our belief in our
individual responsibility for our fellow men and women. But it is
the only test that matters.
Remember this girl and then our larger aims - to fight poverty,
prevent conflict, or cure disease - will not seem distant, or
impossible. Indeed, those aims will seem very near, and very
achievable - as they should. Because 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.
Thank you very much.