Annan: Peace is never a perfect achievement
By PATRICIA LEFEVERE
Human rights cannot be protected where there is no peace. No one knows that better thatn United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who came to his new post in 1996 after serving as U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations.
Annan spoke Nov. 17 as a ceremony in the capel of the Church Center of the United Nations were he received the World Methodist Peace Award.
Annan pointed to two 50th anniversaries at the world body this year - that of the U.N. peacekeeping mission and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
When peacekeepers were sent onto the battlefield under a new flag in 1948, it was to undertake a mission without precedent in human history, Annan told the ecumenical gathering. It was an attempt to counter violence with tolerance, might with moderation and war with peace.
Although the U.N. peacekeeping mission may not prevent all wars, it can help humanity make its future less scarred by war than in the past, Annan said, adding that peace consists of many parts. These parts - personal security, freedom from fear and from want, the absence of war and the opportunity to exercise a free conscience without the threat of retribution - constitute every persons rights, he said.
Having learned from bitter experiences - in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, Kosovo, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere - that the absence of peace means the absence of human rights, Annan wants human rights to become central to the U.N.s peace-building efforts. For this to happen, peacekeeping missions must incorporate human rights into their core activities, he said.
We have learned that promoting human rights within a country not only assures justice within nations, but ... between them, Annan said. Human rights also promote prosperity for they protect the free, unfettered flow of human ideas and initiatives.
Quoting Isaiahs words about swords turned to plowshares, Annan said that the prophecy may never be more than an ideal for humanity. If, however, in our service to the cause of the United Nations, we can help make that ideal more true than false, more promising than distant, more able to protect the innocent than embolden the guilty, we will have done our part
Annan, who graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Edudes Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also attended a Methodist primary school in his native Ghana. He credited his religious teachers and scripture with instilling in him the priciples that guide his life and work. Annan is a Christian, who attends a number of Protestant churches in New York, according to his staff.
He recalled that a minister in his elementary school once took a large white sheet with a black dot in the middle, draped it over the blackboard and asked the class: What do you see?
When they answered, The black dot, the teacher responded, Why only the negative? What about the vast white spaces around the black dot? Annan said the incident taught him that there is more than one side to a sory, more than one answer to a question.
He said it is critical for the U.N. secretary general to see conflicts in all their complexity. That sometimes means having to shake the hands of aggressors and lend our ears to voices of enmity, he said.
Peace is never a perfect achievement, Annan said, because it follow war, suffering, hatred. It follows the worst that man can do.
To restore humanity from such hell requires the patience of ages, the will to see light when all is dark and hope when all is bleak, he said. It is truly the work of those who shall run and not be weary ... those who shall walk and not faint.
National Catholic Reporter, December 11, 1998