United Nations

At the Millennium Summit, world leaders uphold UN as key to peace

In a Millennium Declaration, the largest gathering of heads of state and government ever agrees to a values-based approach to promoting peace, prosperity and justice in the new century.

UNITED NATIONS - Gathered at an historic Millennium Summit for three days in September, leaders from virtually every country in the world agreed on a set of common values for the new century and upheld the central role of the United Nations in promoting peace, prosperity and justice worldwide.

In the largest gathering of heads of state and government ever held, leaders at the Summit issued a final Declaration stating that freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility comprise "fundamental values" in international relations. The leaders said they are "determined to establish a just and lasting peace all over the world."

"We recognize that, in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level," says the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by consensus on 8 September 2000, the Summit's final day. "As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.

"We reaffirm our commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which have proved timeless and universal. Indeed, their relevance and capacity to inspire have increased, as nations and peoples have become increasingly interconnected and interdependent."

As well, in their speeches to the Summit, the some 150 heads of state and government who attended repeatedly emphasized themes concurrent with the recognition of humanity's oneness, speaking of the world as a global village, of humanity as a single family, and of the importance of global solidarity.

"In earlier times, philosophers, poets and other visionaries recognized the existence of one human family," said Prime Minister P. J. Patterson of Jamaica. "It is a concept which our people have grown increasingly to accept. Photographs from space, showing a single Earth suspended in space, have served dramatically to confirm the sense of one borderless world, giving a powerful stimulus to the spread of this perception of human unity and global oneness. Acknowledgment of this reality must be the starting point of this Assembly as we mark the start of a new Millennium."

Other themes of the Summit included the moral imperative and necessity of ending extreme poverty; the importance of understanding that globalization is more than an economic phenomenon, that it has both positive and negative impacts, and that it must be justly and democratically regulated in order to benefit all; the importance of giving special attention to the development needs of Africa; the imperative to take action on climate change and the dire consequences of sea-level rise resulting from inaction; the need to reform the Security Council as well as the international financial and trade system; and the importance of involving civil society and the private sector in development efforts.

Many leaders called for debt relief, stressed the importance of combating HIV/AIDS, and upheld the imperative of achieving equality between the sexes. As well, a number of speakers were forthright in acknowledging problems that their countries face, from corruption and the effects of civil war, to the challenges of building democratic societies since the collapse of Communism.

Without doubt, however, the overriding theme of the Summit was the importance of the United Nations.

"The clear message of the Summit has been that the world and its people need the United Nations," said Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland and one of the Summit's two co-chairs, in closing comments. "At the same time it is clear that we need to strengthen it and make it meet the needs of people in the outside world."

Largest Summit Ever

The theme of the Summit was "The Role of the United Nations in the Twenty-First Century." Of the 189 UN member states, 187 took part. Other official delegations to the Summit included Switzerland and the Holy See in their status as UN observer states, the Palestinian Authority, several intergovernmental organizations such as the European Commission and the League of Arab States, and representatives of three non-governmental organizations.

Altogether, there were nearly 200 delegations, represented by 99 heads of state, 47 heads of government, three crown princes, five vice presidents, and various deputy prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors. More than 5,000 members of the press and 60 NGOs were given passes to enter the UN building during the Summit, for which security was extremely tight.

During the Summit, leaders signed, ratified or acceded to some 40 international treaties and, in a special session of the Security Council, pledged to strengthen peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts at all levels, from conflict prevention to post-conflict peace-building, promising also to give "special attention" to Africa.

The Summit also featured four roundtable discussions - a new format for UN summitry, designed to allow world leaders in gatherings of 30 to 50 to exchange views freely. Although the discussions were closed to observers, their chairmen hailed them as a distinctive new adjunct for global consultations, a change from the stock exchange of prepared speeches in plenary sessions.

"The real accomplishment of the Summit was the broad reaffirmation of and rededication to the processes of peace that are already well established," said Lawrence Arturo, a Bahá'í International Community representative to the UN. "While little new ground was broken conceptually, legally or institutionally, the coming together of the world's leaders to affirm their vision of a peaceful, prosperous and united world and to renew their commitment to the UN and its work will undoubtedly accelerate the pace of peace."

Globalization the key challenge

In speeches and in the main Declaration, much was made of the impact of globalization. "We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world's people," leaders said in the Declaration. "For while globalization offers great opportunities, at present its benefits are very unevenly shared, while its costs are unevenly distributed. We recognize that developing countries and countries with economies in transition face special difficulties in responding to this central challenge.

"Thus, only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalization be made fully inclusive and equitable. These efforts must include policies and measures, at the global level, which correspond to the needs of developing countries and economies in transition and are formulated and implemented with their effective participation," the Declaration said.

In speeches, leaders echoed this sentiment, stressing the singular role of the UN.

"It has become more evident that along with greater opportunities globalization has created situations of heightened vulnerability and all the more so for the weak and poor nations, thus leading to their further marginalization," said Natsagiin Bagabandi, the President of Mongolia. "The question is how to manage the inevitable process of globalization, so that it incorporates the human dimension in its seemingly unruly trends. Mongolia believes that with its impartiality and universal legitimacy as well as its Charter-based prevalence over any other international agreement, the United Nations is uniquely placed to provide an overarching general guidance to the process of globalization so that its benefits could be enjoyed by all, especially by the small states."

Support for UN Reform

The Declaration pledged to make the United Nations "a more effective instrument" but offered few specifics, other than to "reaffirm the central position of the General Assembly as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations," to urge wider cooperation among all agencies within the UN system, and to promise to "intensify our efforts to achieve a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects."

Many speeches went farther. "We must reform the Security Council to make it more representative, effective and legitimate," said Marco Maciel, Vice President of the Federative Republic of Brazil. "No longer can we tolerate anachronistic decision-making structures that are not only selective but fail to reflect the dynamics of worldwide transformations in the last few decades."

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, called for the United Nations to become a "platform of joint, solidarity based, decision-making - by the whole of humankind - on how best to organize our stay on this planet."

President Havel called for the creation of a second UN assembly, "consisting of a group elected directly by the globe's population in which the number of delegates representing individual nations would, thus, roughly correspond to the size of the nations." With the General Assembly, he said, it could "create and guarantee global legislation."

Common Values

Even if agreements on specific new structures for the United Nations were not reached, there was concurrence on six "fundamental values" for governance in the new century: freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility.

The significance of each value is summarized in a short paragraph, but in their totality they suggest a new vision of collective responsibility by all for all.

"Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice," reads the paragraph on Freedom. "Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best assures these rights."

"No individual and no nation must be denied the opportunity to benefit from development," reads the paragraph on Equality. "The equal rights and opportunities of women and men must be assured."

The paragraph on Solidarity reads: "Global challenges must be managed in a way that distributes the costs and burdens fairly in accordance with basic principles of equity and social justice."

Link to complete Statement by World Leaders at the Millennium Summit