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UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy addresses the Executive Board

Carol Bellamy remarks:

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates: It is a pleasure to welcome you to this Annual Meeting of the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Your presence here marks the close of what has been, by any measure, a wrenching 12 months in the 58-year history of this Organisation – and the world at large.

From Baghdad to Madrid and from Afghanistan to northern Uganda, the bloody choreography of terrorism and counter-terrorism has taken centre stage, diverting resources and political will from the vital work of development – and fueling a climate of   insecurity that has darkened the future for millions of children and their families, many of them already desperately vulnerable. 

Mr. President, we know only too well that the latest humanitarian catastrophes, in Sudan and Chad and Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are only the tip of a seemingly unmeltable iceberg.

We can only imagine how differently today’s world might look if just a tiny fraction of the billions being spent on terrorism-related measures had been invested instead in the far less expensive task of insuring the right of every girl and boy to have the best possible start in life – as well as a quality basic education that not only imparts

Distinguished Delegates, if the international community is to fulfil its commitment to break the cycle of global poverty and inequity – itself a source of the rage that drives terrorist criminality – we must remind the world that human security does not imply simply the absence of war and terrorism. It means having the confidence that your children will not die of measles or malaria. It means having access to clean water and proper sanitation. It means having primary schools close to your home that will educate your children free of charge. It means having the basics of life that allow quality of life. It means investing in children and in the creation of a world that is fit for all of them – a place where every child can grow to adulthood in peace, health, and dignity.

Mr. President, we also recognise that we live in an era when our most precious resource – our UN staff – is being increasingly targeted in the field because of the tragically wrong-headed belief that the United Nations and its family of agencies are the enemy. This is a profoundly disturbing turn of events, especially since it has also brought humanitarian aid workers of every stripe into the cross-hairs – and made it that much more difficult for all us to render aid in humanitarian crisis zones

Of course, the task of assisting endangered children and their families has always involved a higher-than-average risk of life and limb. But the risks have grown sharply, and they have done so in direct proportion to the spread of armed conflict and instability. What we can never accept is deliberate harm done to UN personnel and our humanitarian allies.

Yet for all these ominous trends, it must be said that we live in a time when the advantages of partnership and collective action have never been more compelling. For us at UNICEF, we are blessed by the riches of our Goodwill Ambassadors and Special Representatives and of the wonderful services they perform – people like Harry Belafonte and Roger Moore and one of our newest conscripts, Jackie Chan, whose talents and charisma are matched only by their fierce commitment to the well being of children.

At the same time, we will never forget that the children and young people of the world had no greater champion than the late Peter Ustinov – and that the United Nations and the cause of multilateralism had no more convincing advocate, as Sir Peter demonstrated in his 35 years as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

We are similarly blessed by the industry and commitment of our 37 National Committees, whose tireless advocacy and fund-raising efforts have given UNICEF and our key priorities a consistently high level of international visibility. This work is a major reason why the drive to fulfil children’s  rights and meet their needs has never faltered – and why I am convinced that, with the same continued high degree of help and support from all our partners, we will carry that drive to new heights.

The partnership between the World Food Programme and UNICEF is a striking example of the benefits of joint programming, as I told the WFP Executive Board in Rome last month. For in our efforts to stave off hunger and malnutrition, we are helping empower the poorest to help themselves – especially children and women.

That was a key objective of the UN Millennium Summit and the General Assembly Special Session on Children – and it is a unifying principle that helps guide the work of UNICEF and such institutions as the World Bank, with whom UNICEF has collaborated on a Child Survival and Development Secretariat, along with such agencies as the World Health Organisation, USAID and Canadian CIDA.

Our efforts are rooted in compassion and a profound sense of responsibility to all of our fellow human beings – and it begins with the knowledge that together, we can change the world for – and with – children.

Indeed, the imperative of child participation in building a better world was a centrepiece of deliberations last month in Sarajevo, where the Second Intergovernmental Conference on Children in Europe and Central Asia affirmed that the views of children are crucial if both regions are to have any hope of achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, rooted as they are in the recognition that children are at once the future of every community – and society’s most vulnerable group. 

And UNICEF’s reliance on partnerships has only grown stronger with the international drive to achieve the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), six of which speak directly to the rights and needs of the world’s children. The key to success lies in building a global sense of responsibility for the well being of all children. That means we must be relentless in pointing out that it is not only citizens who have obligations to children, but governments, corporations and civil society organizations as well – and that those obligations must be met.  

As I will shortly describe in my Annual Report, UNICEF is pursuing both the strategic use of advocacy and the growth of partnerships in each of our Priority Areas, in support of national policy frameworks such as PRSPs, SWAPs and decentralization.  We’re seeing dynamic new areas of collaboration – such as our development of joint strategies with WFP in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which we think will set the stage for future victories against this scourge, as you will hear this week in an oral Report on orphans and other vulnerable children.

Distinguished Delegates, there is every reason to believe that UNICEF and its partners will someday ensure that every child has the best possible start in life – and an education that will give them the skills that will allow them to work, to contribute to society – and, in time, to support their own families.

It is not a question of resources or know-how. We have the experience and the communications capacity; the partnership potential and the technical expertise. We have a universal code of human rights, with specific obligations to children and women. And we live in a $30 trillion dollar global economy.

The plain fact is that the Millennium Development Goals focusing on children will be achieved only when the needs and rights of children and women are given genuine universal priority. And that, Distinguished Delegates, is our job.

Thank you.