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UNSG Kofi Annan Address On 'Unity In Diversity'

15 February 2000

Press Release




Following is the address of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 16 February:

It is an honour to be here. Let me begin by saying how impressed I am by what I have seen so far during my first visit to Indonesia. And how conscious I am of the tremendous work the Government and people of your country have accomplished against some formidable odds. In a few short years, you have undergone more changes, challenges and upheavals than most people do in a lifetime.

The Asian financial crisis was neither Asian nor financial. But it was a crisis. As you know better than anyone, its impact was far more than financial. As people everywhere know, it went far beyond Asia. The rest of the world is therefore all the more impressed and inspired by what Indonesia is doing -- and has done already -- to overcome it.

Under difficult circumstances and in a short space of time, you have made significant progress in restoring macroeconomic stability, advancing structural reforms, and assuring food security. Of course, economic development has been a priority since the birth of your nation. But, in the past two years, because you have understood that people are the most precious resource of any nation, this work has taken on new dimensions.

You have understood that economic and social recovery cannot take hold without a system based on transparency, accountability and the rule of law. And so you are carrying out economic reform in tandem with political, legal and institutional reform. You have opted for a foreign policy built not on competition with your neighbours, not on confrontation with the rest of the world, but on cooperation and friendship. You have championed non-alignment and South-South cooperation. You have set an example to other developing countries.

We have seen what Indonesia is capable of in the field of regional cooperation. We have witnessed it in the indispensable strength and direction you have given to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) since its inception -- something, indeed, that made ASEAN possible. Today, ASEAN is not

only a well-functioning, indispensable reality in the region. It is a real force to be reckoned with far beyond the region. It is also a trusted partner of the United Nations in the field of development. I hope that in the field of peace and security, too, we will see the beginnings of closer cooperation between ASEAN and the United Nations.

In the United Nations, Indonesia's leadership and engagement give voice not only to this nation, but to the interests of all developing nations. Last month your able Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Makarim Wibisono, was elected President of the Economic and Social Council for the year 2000.

And last year, you crossed a new milestone. Thanks to last year's free and peaceful general election -- which, I am pleased to recall, the United Nations Development Programme helped you organize -- you now have a government with a broad popular mandate. Your political parties have shown wisdom and a spirit of statesmanlike compromise. This should now make it possible for their leaders to focus on an agenda of long-term stability, economic recovery and democracy. We all have a stake in this and we all want you to succeed.

Already, political reform has opened the door to a free and vibrant press. Civil society is becoming increasingly active and effective. Parliament has grown more assertive. The challenge now for Indonesia, its people and its friends -- including the United Nations -- is to build on the democratic institutions that have so gloriously emerged, so that they grow stronger tomorrow.

No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. As your Foreign Minister has rightly noted, democracy is a habit that we need to cultivate consciously in ourselves. That is how we build enduring political, economic and social institutions. That is how we develop government that is answerable to citizens, and citizenry that is fully engaged in decisions that affect their country's future.

Strong institutions, underpinned by the will of the people and the rule of law, are crucial at all times and in all countries, but perhaps never more so than here and now, at this decisive time in Indonesia's history: a time when freedom and openness is bringing to the forefront a wide range of challenges. These challenges are not new in themselves, but many of them are made more difficult by the fact that, in the past, they were disregarded, dismissed or dealt with as purely security issues.

These challenges are many and various, and they all compete for the Government’s urgent attention. The country is suddenly faced with myriad political and social demands, all of which seem to require immediate answers. And of course you know that there are no ready-made solutions.

Among these challenges, probably none seems more threatening than the issue of separatism. It may well feel to some of you as if Indonesia's very

existence is under attack from covert forces which believe the country is too large, and want to break it up. But, in fact, your case is not unique at all. Separatism is a challenge facing many countries. Each case involves different realities and conditions; each requires a different approach. But most of them do have one thing in common: although they may have security implications, they are, in essence, not security problems. They are political problems and, as such, they require political solutions.

Separatism is a much more complex issue than terrorism -– though it is often identified with terrorism, because some separatists use terrorism to promote their cause. We cannot say that separatism is always wrong. After all, many Member States of the United Nations today owe their existence to separatist movements in the past. But, please do not think that that means the United Nations is predisposed in favour of separatism, or that its purpose is to break up large States into smaller ones.

On the contrary, the purpose of the United Nations is to enable peoples to live together without conflict. If there is one thing we hate in the modern world, it is so-called ethnic cleansing -- the idea that people can live safely only among their own kind, and that the price of survival is to expel or exterminate anyone whose language, or religion or culture, is different from their own. The United Nations will oppose that idea wherever we are given political responsibilities -- from the Balkans to East Timor.

The truth is that many separatist movements are wrong. Breaking up large States into smaller ones is often a wasteful and unimaginative way of resolving political differences. But those who oppose separatism have got to show that their solution is less wasteful and more imaginative. Minorities have to be convinced that the State really belongs to them, as well as to the majority, and that both will be the losers if it breaks up. Conflict is almost certain to result if the State’s response to separatism causes widespread suffering in the region, or among the ethnic group concerned. The effect then is to make more people feel that the State is not their State, and so to provide separatism with new recruits.

Like other political problems, separatism can be resolved successfully only through patient and painstaking confidence-building and dialogue. By showing that staying together is the best solution for all concerned. There are no quick fixes, no short-cuts. Wounds that have festered for a long time cannot heal overnight. Nor can confidence be built or dialogue develop while fresh wounds are being inflicted. It is a process that requires all parties to renounce violence. And it requires special efforts to uphold human rights. If innocent civilians are not protected, if their rights are not safeguarded, their suffering can only breed further hatred.

Therefore, let me pay tribute to President Wahid and his Government for the emphasis they are putting on good governance, on the rule of law, on improved civil-military relations and on accountability for corruption and violations of human rights. Let me congratulate them on their courage in

seeking to come to terms with the past, as an essential part of the search for a new way forward.

Let me also thank the Government for its clearly expressed desire to open a new chapter in Indonesia’s relations with East Timor. However difficult these relations may have been in the past 25 years when they were imposed by one side without regard for the wishes of the other, it remains true that East Timor and Indonesia are bound together by geography and history.

Now that the right of the Timorese people to their own State has been clearly recognized, their own leaders -- showing great magnanimity and statesmanship --have been the first to recognize how important it will be for that State to have good relations with Indonesia.

An independent East Timor is, therefore, not a threat to Indonesia’s security. Rather, it can enhance the stability and prospects of your region. By the very fact of its history and location, East Timor is connected with Portugal, Europe and the Iberian world, with Australia and the South Pacific. These countries and regions are crucial in assisting East Timor's transition to independence. And all of them, I believe, understand that East Timor has a far better chance to prosper as an independent State if Indonesia, too, is prosperous and successful.

But the world's stake in your success is far from being confined to the success of East Timor. As the world's fourth most populous country; as its largest Muslim-majority State; and as its largest nation of islands, straddling major shipping lanes, you carry great political weight and strategic importance. And you have used that position wisely.

You have staked the success of your economic recovery on a successful transition to democracy, and vice versa. This brave choice is not only the best hope for the people of Indonesia. It is also a shining example for the whole region -- and indeed the world. Your success will have implications reaching far beyond your borders. Your country's well-being is critical to long-term political stability in South-East Asia and beyond.

That is an awesome responsibility. It means you cannot afford to fail. You owe it to yourselves to succeed -- to yourselves, and to the world.

I wanted to entitle this speech "Unity in Diversity" not only because the words are enshrined on Indonesia's coat of arms, but also because the reality behind the words are the foundation of Indonesia's past, present and future. Ever since this old Javanese motto was introduced by a saint of the Majapahit Kingdom in the fifteenth century, it has signified the unity of the Indonesian people despite their diverse culture and ethnicity. It has summed up the meaning of our common humanity.

In this globalized world, it is more relevant than ever. Because in our interdependent world -- as the impact of the financial crisis reminded us --

what affects one nation affects us all. What defines us as human beings is not race, creed or geography. What gives most people's lives purpose and content is the chance of a decent life in freedom from fear and freedom from want; a successful part in the global economy, for their children and their grandchildren.

Surely, that is what makes up our common humanity and the foundations of our unity. Surely, that is why we should honour and celebrate our diversity. And so, if there are any words I will always remember from this visit to Indonesia, it is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Indeed, I cannot think of a better motto for the world as a whole -- and particularly for our United Nations. I wish you every success on the road ahead, and I pledge that the United Nations will walk beside you on your journey. Terimah kasih.


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