September 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 173
The Vatican's Address to the world leaders at the UN Millennium Summit on September 8, 2000 in THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS for the September 17th issue
I have the honor to convey to this Assembly the cordial greetings of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and his encouragement to the Representatives of the world's countries assembled here in New York to reaffirm their confidence in the work of the United Nations Organization. It is the fervent hope of the Holy See that at the dawn of the third millennium the UN will contribute to the building of a new civilization for the benefit of all mankind, a civilization which has been called the "civilization of love".
1. The first duty of the United Nations is to preserve and promote peace throughout the world. This was the essential aim of the founders of the Organization and it remains an imperative today. Still too often war brings affliction and suffering to peoples. In the face of new outbreaks of violence, especially civil and ethnic conflicts, the UN is duty bound to intervene within the framework of its Charter to restore peace.
In the name of the Pope I pay tribute to all that the UN has already done in this field, and I pay homage to the memory of the soldiers and civil personnel who have died in the course of peace-keeping operations.
Peace is always fragile and it is important to try to forestall outbreaks of conflict, as well as to keep them from spreading. This is why the UN needs to develop its capacities in the area of preventive diplomacy. For its part, the Holy See will always support initiatives in favor of peace, including those aimed at strengthening respect for international law and controlling arms proliferation.
2. The second duty of the UN is the promotion of development. Even today a significant part of the world's population lives in conditions of poverty which are an offense to human dignity. This is all the more unacceptable when at the same time wealth is rapidly increasing and the gap between rich and poor is growing wider, even inside the same country.
Furthermore, other evils such as war, the destruction of the environment, natural disasters and epidemics are often exacerbated by the presence of poverty. How can we not draw attention to the fact that the majority of these scourges affect Africa in the first place, and how can we not ask that Africa be given special attention, and that efforts be made which are really capable of meeting its needs?
The present situation calls for a moral and financial mobilization, directed to precise objectives, and with a view to obtaining a drastic reduction of poverty. Among these objectives, there is the introduction of incisive measures for the cancellation of the debt of poorer countries, the increase of development aid, and wider access to markets. Furthermore, programs should be launched to ensure that social progress goes hand in hand with economic growth. Development is a global notion, the aim of which is the promotion of people's dignity and well-being, considered in its fullest sense. The means to reach this may be summarized in a word: solidarity.
In this regard, Mr President, allow me to repeat that the commitments undertaken at the international conferences and meetings devoted to these issues should be respected. It is disappointing that there has been so little progress on fundamental questions such as debt reduction and the level of public development aid.
3. The third duty of the United Nations is the promotion of human rights. Many documents have been drawn up, both to define these rights and to guarantee respect for them through appropriate mechanisms. These efforts must continue, since the struggle for human rights never ends, and I would make special mention of the first of these, the right to life, which is so endangered today.
Pope John Paul II expresses his support for the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, to take place next year in South Africa, and he encourages every initiative aimed at preventing the spread of racism and intolerance.
But in addition to this concrete approach to human rights, human rights must be affirmed by giving them a solid ethical basis, for otherwise they will remain fragile and without foundations. In this regard, it is necessary to reaffirm that no one creates or concedes human rights; rather, they are inherent in human nature. In the Holy See's outlook, the natural law, inscribed by God on the heart of every human being, is a common denominator of every person and of all peoples. It is a universal language, which everyone can come to know and on the basis of which we can understand one another.
4. A fourth duty of the UN is that of guaranteeing the equality of all its members. In this sense, some reforms will be necessary to adapt the UN structure to present realities and to reinforce the legitimacy of its action. The Organization must be fully representative of the international community and cannot appear to be dominated by some members in particular.
It is essential to listen to and respect each member when it comes to taking common decisions, and all the more so when deciding policies that concern on fundamental moral and cultural values. In this area, it is not licit to try to impose certain minority modes of living in the name of a subjective understanding of progress. "The Peoples of the United Nations", mentioned in the Preamble of the Charter, have the right to have their dignity and traditions respected.
From this perspective, I wish to recall the position of the Holy See with regard to sanctions imposed by the Organization to oblige a State to carry out its international obligations. A precise process of evaluation and revision should be put in place in each case, as well as procedures to ensure that these measures will not weigh above all on innocent segments of the population.
Mr President, Christians, who this year have been commemorating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, feel solidarity for the efforts which the international community is undertaking so that the world of the future may be freed from violence, injustice and selfishness. The Catholic Church proposes to contribute to this work above all through her proclamation of the Gospel of Christ since, without spiritual progress, the material progress of nations will be vain and illusive. This conviction has guided the Church throughout her history and it is also her commitment for the third millennium.
Thank you, Mr President.
September 17, 2000
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