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Fighting Poverty and Deprivation Crucial to Peace

Fighting poverty and deprivation crucial to ensuring peace and security – Annan

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  • Ensuring cheap generic drugs and free and fair agricultural trade for poor and developing countries in the face of subsidies, tariffs and quotas from rich nations is crucial to countering the more conventional threats to peace and security from wars and unrest, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

    Fresh from two days of talks with leaders of some 20 of the world’s regional organizations, Mr. Annan told his semi-annual news conference: “Indeed, one of the points most strongly made at our meeting was that our success in countering the more conventional threats may depend in large part on the progress we make in overcoming poverty and deprivation. These cannot be thought of as lesser priorities.”

    “History will not forgive us if we neglect them,” he said in introductory remarks, explaining that was why he attached so much importance to the current round of trade talks that will reach “a crunch point” with the ministerial meeting at Cancun, Mexico, in September.

    “Decisions taken there will tell us whether this is to be a real ‘development round’ – in other words, whether poor countries will or will not, at last, be given a real chance to trade their way out of poverty,” he added.

    Dividing the challenge into two parts, he said one – the issue of intellectual property as it affects public health in developing countries – was relatively narrow. “We must reach an agreement allowing those developing countries that cannot produce cheap generic drugs themselves to import them from other countries that can,” he declared.

    The other was very broad and potentially decisive for the economic prospects of many developing countries – the issue of trade in agricultural products.

    “We must reach an agreement that allows farmers in poor countries a fair chance to compete, both in world markets and at home,” Mr. Annan said. “They should no longer face exclusion from rich countries’ markets by protective tariffs and quotas. Nor should they have to face unfair competition from heavily subsidized producers in those same rich countries at home.”

    Another non-conventional threat that “we cannot afford to ignore” was HIV/AIDS, Mr. Annan said in announcing that he had just written to all Heads of State and Government urging them to attend a one-day session in September that the UN General Assembly will hold on the issue on the day before the general debate begins.

    “I believe all these crises can be solved, if the peoples and states of the world are really determined to work on them together, making good use of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as those whose leaders are here this week,” he said. “But we must not underestimate the gravity or the urgency of the task. We have real opportunities to make the world safer and fairer for all its inhabitants.”

    In a question and answer session afterwards Mr. Annan stressed how important the UN remained despite the divisions earlier this year over the war in Iraq. “I think the message that comes through loud and clear, given the reactions of other Member States, is that multilateralism is important…that the imprimatur of the United Nations – the legitimacy the United Nations offers – is important.

    “I think that this is a very clear message for those who thought that the United Nations was dead and had no influence,” he added.

    Noting that it was the only organization where all the governments can come together to discuss issues, he said. “Governments are telling us, the world and their people that the United Nations is important for them and that they take its decisions seriously.”

    On the Middle East, the Secretary-General noted that the peace process and the Road Map plan of the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States – have made some progress with the ceasefire that has held for the past couple of weeks.

    But, he stressed, the plan demands the parties take parallel action – “actions that give hope to the Palestinians that there could be a State at the end of the process, and steps that also give assurances to the Israelis that steps are being taken to end violence and terrorism.”

    Asked about the separation fence being constructed by the Israelis, Mr. Annan replied: “I know that it is conventional wisdom that fences make good neighbours. But that is if you build a fence on your own land and you do not disrupt your neighbour’s life.”

    Turning to the issue of respecting human rights while fighting terrorism, Mr. Annan said there should be no trade-off and people should not be asked to give up their civil liberties for security. “We are concerned that, under the guise of terrorism, governments all around the world are using the T-word – and tagging people with it – to abuse their rights and lock them up in jail and to deal with political opposition,” he declared.

    Asked whether he had succumbed to pressure from the Rwandan Government in recommending the removal of the current prosecutor from the UN’s war crimes tribunal for that country, he replied: “Absolutely not. The question of the separation of the prosecutor function has been around for quite a long time.”

    Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is also chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia and Mr. Annan said separating the two posts would accelerate the work of both courts. “I think that we have to admit that it is extremely difficult for a prosecutor even to run a tribunal in one country; but for a prosecutor to run two tribunals thousands of kilometres apart, with major cases in The Hague such as the Milosevic one, while at the same time wanting to pay attention to Rwanda – we have had problems from the beginning,” he said.”

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