Annan named a high-level panel of eminent persons to look into issues of peace and security, while a parallel group of economists, led by Jeffrey Sachs, studied what was needed to fulfill the development commitments made by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000. In March, Annan synthesized their key recommendations in a report entitled In Larger Freedom.
The title comes from the preamble to the UN charter, which speaks of striving “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” By that magnificent phrase, the UN’s founders meant that human rights, development, and security are mutually interdependent.
Of course, the UN often falls short of its noble aspirations, since it reflects the realities of world politics, even while seeking to transcend them. At its best and at its worst, the UN is a mirror of our world: it reflects our differences and our convergences, our hopes and aspirations, and our limitations and failures.
But the cause of political freedom has been making headway. When I joined the UN, it was almost unthinkable for the organization to take sides between democracy and dictatorship, or to seek to intervene in members’ internal affairs. Even on the meaning of human rights there was no universal agreement, with some states regarding them as a tool of Western neo-imperialism.
Today, by contrast, the UN does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world. In the past year alone, it has organized or assisted in elections in over 20 countries – often at decisive moments in their history – including Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, and Burundi. The UN is setting up a Democracy Fund to increase assistance for building democracy, and we have proposed establishing a Peace-Building Commission to help countries move from war to durable peace. Annan is also pressing for a more effective and credible international machinery for defending human rights.
As we face the new challenges of our time, let us not forget the old ones, especially the persistent horror of underdevelopment. The combination of poverty, drought, famine, and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa threatens more human lives than terrorism or tsunamis ever did. This summit must reaffirm the Millennium Development Goals and recommit the world to achieving these targets by 2015. There is no longer any excuse for leaving well over a billion people in abject misery.
As Mahatma Gandhi put it, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The UN is no exception. To change the world, we must change too. The UN can be a much more effective instrument if its member states in the General Assembly and the Security Council are better organized and give clearer directives to us in the Secretariat – along with the flexibility to carry them out – and then hold us clearly accountable.
This week’s summit will be the largest single gathering of world leaders in human history. If world leaders rise to their responsibilities, the rebirth and renewal of the UN will be at hand. With its renewal, we will also renew our hope for a fairer and safer world.