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To the UNICEF Executive Board May 2000

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New York, 22 May 2000

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this Annual Meeting, our first of the 21st Century.

I am grateful to Ambassador Chowdhury for his leadership in preparing for this gathering -- and I thank all of you, including the significant number at high level, for journeying so far to be here. To paraphrase the poet, we may have miles to go before we sleep -- but that mileage is a measure of your commitment to the cause that unites us all.

Mr. President, at this time a year ago, we stood at the symbolic edge of a new era in human history, poised to move forward with a new global vision for children -- a vision that grows out of the progress we have seen since 1990 as it addresses new and more complex challenges.

Now that much-talked-about future is upon us -- and it is no exaggeration to say that its arrival has brought UNICEF to the most important juncture in its 54-year history.

A decade ago, at the World Summit for Children, governments made a solemn pledge to give every child a better future -- and vowed to take political action at the highest levels to ensure that the essential needs of children received a first call in the allocation of resources.

Ten years later, we have many achievements to celebrate, starting with the global embrace of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the instrument that both inspires our work and lights our path.

We have also seen significant region-by-region progress toward the Summit goals. As you know, all of this will be examined during the course of an end-decade review -- a process that we hope will inspire national, regional and international reflection and debate -- and generate specific recommendations on how to confront the formidable challenges that lie ahead.

Our objective is clear: to ensure that children and adolescents grow up safe from violence and exploitation, free of poverty and discrimination -- in an environment where they can be healthy and happy, free to learn and develop to the fullest as engaged citizens and caring family members.

Mr. President, the global commitment to do this already exists.

It is a commitment that grew out of the process that gave us the CRC and the outcomes of the World Summit and the other United Nations development conferences of the decade just past.

It draws on our ongoing efforts to approach development issues and programming from a child rights perspective.

It is embodied in the OECD's Development Assistance Committee goals for the year 2015.

And it is inspired by triumphs like the entry into force of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines -- and the approval of an International Criminal Court that will help confront the impunity of war crimes, especially those where children are victimised.

Mr. President, the international commitment to building a better future for every child is strong, and it is clear. The challenge now is to bring it to critical mass -- to engage millions of additional people who can lead the fight for child rights at every level.

Our concept of leadership for children is very broad. It encompasses not only established leaders, but people with influence, whether from the highest echelons of government or civil society, non-governmental organisations, business and private enterprise, people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, the family -- and children themselves.

The galvanising power of the partnerships we are building came to the fore just two weeks ago in Johannesburg, where Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel announced that they would assume a direct and personal role in mobilising leaders from every sphere to act on a basic recognition: that if we want a more just, equitable and thriving world, we must invest in children now, acting always in their best interest.

I had the privilege to be in Johannesburg on behalf of UNICEF and to share in what was, by any measure, a unique event. Graça Machel and Nelson Mandela made extraordinarily insightful and moving statements -- and I have asked that copies of their joint letter be distributed to the Board.

As Graça Machel declared, leaders at every level are accountable -- which is a shorthand way of saying that they have a responsibility to use their position and their power to lead.

Mr. President, we are already witnessing what real leadership for children can accomplish.

We see it in the global campaign that has all but eradicated polio, a drive spearheaded by governments, international organisations, visionary scientists and other citizens -- and groups like Rotary International, which has spent more than $340 million on worldwide polio eradication efforts since 1985.

We see it in the creation of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), a coalition of business leaders, philanthropic foundations, development banks, UN agencies and national governments -- all dedicated to ensuring that the world's children are immunized using every effective vaccine available.

We see it in the ongoing drive to ensure children's right to a name and a nationality, which UNICEF and its partners are working to implement by promoting efficient birth-registration systems and by raising public awareness of the importance of a birth certificate.

We see it at the World Health Assembly, where WHO's Director-General hailed the growing embrace by the large pharmaceutical companies of the idea that life-saving and life-enhancing pharmaceuticals, including those for treating HIV/AIDS, must be made available to all who need them, and not just the few who are fortunate enough to be living in industrialised countries.

We saw it earlier this month at the World Salt Symposium in the Hague, where UNICEF, governments, the salt mining and processing industry, health, and international organisations celebrated the remarkable progress that our partnership has achieved in the drive to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders -- and heard UNICEF challenge them to use the lessons of the salt iodisation campaign as stepping stones for the development of other nutritional interventions for children

And we saw it at the World Education Forum in Dakar, which reaffirmed that Education for All is at the heart of all development.

Indeed, the World Education Forum has made the point that education is a crucial element in building the global partnership for children. And we have every confidence that the Dakar commitments will inform the future action plan for children that will be considered at next year's Special Session for Children.

The Dakar Forum reaffirmed that the tens of millions of children excluded or forced out of education must be enabled not only to go to school, but to stay there -- and that all those who are in school but are prevented from learning must get the quality basic education that is every child's right.

It is shocking and shameful that the majority of children denied the right to education are girls -- and that is why UNICEF is so gratified that the Secretary-General highlighted the priorities of his Millennium Report by announcing the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative, which acknowledges UNICEF's leadership role.

As the Secretary-General observed, experience has shown that education for girls translates directly and quickly into better nutrition for the whole family -- and into better health care, more effective poverty reduction, and improved overall economic performance.

Mr. President, the world we live in is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. Driven by blindingly fast developments in information technology, globalisation is reshaping the planet's economic and political landscape more profoundly than anything since the Industrial Revolution.

The interdependencies that globalisation has encouraged have raised hope that a new rising tide will lift all boats. But it has also dramatised the fact that we are all, indeed, in the same boat.

For globalisation has shown that problems know no borders, and that no corner of the world is immune -- whether from the spreading disintegration of the social order, deepening poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor, the explosive spread of HIV/AIDS that is devastating Africa as it expands elsewhere, the proliferation of armed conflict, gender discrimination, environmental degradation, terrorism, and natural disasters.

Distinguished Delegates, the agenda for our work this week very much reflects UNICEF's priorities as we confront these challenges -- priorities that are anchored both in the hard look we are taking at our day-to-day activities -- and in the elaboration of our future priorities for children.

Those priorities obviously include how we respond to the needs of children and women caught up in emergencies, such as the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa, a region that is now reeling from the terrible combined effects of drought and armed conflict.

Later this week, we will be reviewing a Report on UNICEF's Core Commitments in Emergencies, which builds on the Executive Board's effort two years ago to define with even greater clarity UNICEF's predictable actions in crisis situations.

It is a document that I want us to approach not as a new paper on emergencies, but as a contribution to an ongoing aspect of our daily work -- work that draws on the special strengths and expertise of key partners like the World Food Programme, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Health Organisation.

Mr. President, that discussion will also serve as an opportunity to acknowledge the very difficult environment in which our valiant staff on the ground must function, day in and day out -- before, during and after every conflict -- and the importance of giving all staff members the support they need in their tireless efforts to ease the vulnerability of children and assure them a better future.

Distinguished Delegates, thanks to the General Assembly, you, too, are on the front lines in the struggle to build that future. In its Resolution of 17 December 1999 (A/RES/54/93), the General Assembly gave UNICEF a mandate to function as the secretariat for the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session for Children.

The PrepCom will be the one body in the United Nations that will be substantively engaged in reconfirming a global commitment to children for the first part of this new century -- and I have every expectation that its work will be a historic step in sparking a momentous shift in national investments to favour child survival and development.

The PrepCom will also be an opportunity to reaffirm UNICEF's focus on the "whole child" -- an approach that takes the physical well-being of children to another plane, where children are understood and respected as people with rights, who have physical, emotional and intellectual needs that must be addressed much earlier in life than had once been thought.

Distinguished Delegates, it is your knowledge and your commitment that are essential if we are to mobilise universal support for this new global vision for children -- and that effort must begin with the PrepCom, with the launch of a transparent and participatory process that will carry over to the Special Session.

Of course, NGOs and countless others in civil society have key roles to play in mobilising groups and encouraging action locally. And there are vast possibilities in the prospect of development partnerships with business and the private sector.

But at the end of the day, it is governments who remain the primary actors in development -- and it is they who must lead. It is governments that have thought long and hard about the development imperatives. It is they who have set the goals and made the commitments. It is governments that sit on the executive boards of multilateral agencies. It is governments that think about development as a matter of social policy, who have development ministries and foreign ministries that fashion the world's humanitarian and political agendas.

And I need hardly remind you that it was governments that declared, on September 30, 1990, that there is no task nobler -- or more important for this generation and for all the generations to come -- than to give every child a better future.

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: Let us ensure that in renewing that commitment, we mark a turning point for children that transcends all others.

Thank you.


 

 

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