New York, 17 January 2003
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, National Committee Members, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me begin by welcoming all of you to this, our first regular session of the New Year - and by congratulating our newly elected President and Executive Board officers. Each of you brings a wealth of experience to the job - and you can be sure that UNICEF will look to your skills and judgement as we sail the uncharted waters of 2003.
We are especially fortunate in the choice of Ambassador Jeno Staechelin as Board President. His long and distinguished record, which reflects that rare combination of vision and administrative skill, will serve him well in this first crucial year of follow-up to the General Assembly Special Session on Children. (It also strikes me that the Ambassador's election is an early sign that Switzerland has decided to waste no time in making its presence known.)
Distinguished Delegates, January is a time of new beginnings. But it is also an occasion to look back - and in doing so, I want to thank the outgoing Board officers for their exemplary work in the service of the world's children.
I want especially to pay tribute to Ambassador Andres Franco of Colombia, who led the Executive Board with smooth efficiency and good humour in a year when the demands of the Special Session brought an added layer of complexity to our work.
Mr. President, strategic partnerships are at the heart of that work - and over the years, they have come to encompass the entire spectrum of society, from governments and multilateral organisations to non-governmental organisations, religious groups and business and private enterprise, people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.
In the months leading up to the Special Session, we saw how partnerships between governments, multilateral organisations, and a wide range of civil society groups energised the global review of progress for children and the overall preparatory process.
It is in line with this effort that UNICEF has established an Office for Public Partnerships. The new Office, established at Headquarters with existing posts and funded with existing resources, is led by Ces Adorna, a Philippines national, and will offer internal assistance in partnership-building while expanding UNICEF's outreach at the global level to civil society organisations, parliamentarians, community and religious leaders, professional associations, and children's and young people's groups.
Mr. President, the proliferation of armed conflict and instability, combined with the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS, is not only undermining decades of progress for children - it is destroying the very fabric of societies.
Conflict and HIV/AIDS are also taking a terrible toll on UNICEF's own staff, who are working for the benefit of all children, particularly those in situations of greatest risk. Their health and safety - and that of their families - is a paramount priority, and as part of our ongoing step-up in assistance, I'm pleased to introduce two new colleagues in UNICEF's Division of Human Resources: Martina Clark, an American, will focus on problems stemming from the crisis of HIV/AIDS in the workplace; she comes to UNICEF from UNAIDS. And Penelope Curling of South Africa will offer stress management and trauma counselling; she's an authority on the psychosocial care of survivors of organised violence with hands-on experience in Kosovo and Namibia.
Lest I conclude on a negative note, I wish to recall that in recent weeks, we have seen how the affirmation of political will can transform national policies to address the needs and rights of children.
In Kenya, the transformation occurred virtually overnight when the newly elected President, Mwai Kibaki, took office and promptly ordered the elimination of the onerous primary school fees. When schools re-opened on 6 January, 6.2 million children returned to school and 1.5 million, that were not in school are now seeking admission. UNICEF is responding quickly to this positive development by helping the government to establish temporary classroms and deploying new teachers. And in Afghanistan, the UNICEF-supported Back to School drive has helped more than 4.0 million children return to school - many of them girls who had never been allowed to set foot in a classroom. I look forward to returning to Afghanistan for the opening of schools in March.
Finally, I want to introduce and welcome Ndolamb Ngokwey, who has been appointed head of the Office of Secretary of the Executive Board, succeeding Denis Caillaux. A national of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ndolamb has worked in a variety of posts in his nearly 17 years with the UNICEF, most recently as Deputy Regional Director in Abidjan. His earlier academic career included teaching university-level courses in sociology and anthropology as well public health; he holds advanced degrees in all three from UCLA.
Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: UNICEF is fortunate not only in the qualities of our staff, but in the skill and devotion of our Executive Board. And we are united by an irresistible force - the knowledge that together, we can change the world with children. That is why the drive for child rights has never faltered - and why I am convinced that, with your help and generous support, we will carry that drive to new heights.