Angola + 5 more

Secretary-General says Assembly should establish working group to address progress in implementation of Report on Africa

Group Would Also Seek Ways to Create Effective Partnerships to Fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and Enhance Assistance to Post-Conflict Societies

Following is the text of the address delivered today by Secretary- General Kofi Annan to the General Assembly meeting on follow-up to his report on the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa (document A/52/871-S/1998/318):

I am pleased to join you today to renew our common efforts to bring lasting progress to Africa. We meet at a time of change, in a spirit of determination to turn words into action.

Since my last report was issued in April 1998, I have been gratified to see an intensification of the international community's engagement with Africa. From debt relief to conflict prevention to confronting the crisis of HIV/AIDS, Africans and non-Africans alike have invested their efforts with new energy and new ideas. And yet the statistics make clear how far we still have to go.

Out of the forty-eight least developed countries, the vast majority are in Africa. Of all the refugees in the world, the vast majority are in Africa.

Of the children orphaned by AIDS in the world by the end of this year, over 90 per cent will be in Africa. And in Central Africa, we are witnessing the persistence of a war which has drawn in a large number of States and threatens to engulf the entire region. This is a reality that must be faced honestly and soberly by all concerned if we are to improve Africa's prospects. In short, Africa needs our efforts as much as ever.

The United Nations has been a partner in Africa's decolonization and development from its earliest years.

Almost every agency and operational arm of the United Nations has a special programme devoted to Africa, and the Organization spends a great part of its resources on Africa. The United Nations is already broadly engaged in Africa. But it does need to be engaged more effectively. That is the simple lesson of our decades of experience with Africa. The question is: do we have the will to apply it?

In presenting my Report on Africa, I identified three general areas which deserved particular attention.

First, I stated that Africa had to demonstrate the political will to rely upon political rather than military solutions to problems. Despite setbacks in some areas, I believe we can speak of broad progress in recent years. I refer, in particular, to the determination expressed at the last Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit that governments which come to power through unconstitutional means could no longer expect to be received as equals in an Assembly of elected heads of State. Let me also reiterate my hope that the day will come when this Assembly follows Africa's lead and applies similarly stringent standards.

The international community, too, has shown a stronger commitment to finding political solutions to political problems -- notably through new initiatives in the area of conflict prevention and in the use of "smart sanctions" to target the leaders of regimes and rebel groups acting in violation of international humanitarian law.

In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the ground-breaking work being done by the Angola Sanctions Committee under the leadership of Ambassador Robert Fowler of Canada, and the group of experts who are working to strengthen the sanctions regime against UNITA.

They are helping raise awareness about the need to target those who are exploiting conflict in Africa for profit.

Second, I urged that Africa summon the political will to take good governance seriously -- ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law, and promoting transparency and capability in public administration. Since the release of the report, there has also been progress in many of these areas. Political reforms have resulted in a situation where democratically-elected governments in Africa are the norm rather than the exception. Constitutional rule and respect for human rights are now considered fundamental. Non- governmental and community-based organizations are working with governments in addressing critical issues such as illiteracy, health and poverty eradication.

Third, I called on African governments to enact and adhere to the various reforms needed to promote economic growth. On average, African countries have continued to experience positive growth.

However, a number of structural constraints and challenges continue to affect the potential transformation of the region. Among these are endemic poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the debt burden and the persistence of internal conflicts in a number of countries.

As I stated in my report, the debt burden of African countries has to be substantially lifted in order for them to use their scarce resources more productively. I welcome the initiatives launched to provide faster, deeper and broader debt relief through changes in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) framework.

I wish especially to urge international financial institutions to take additional measures to assist countries emerging from conflict. Their resources are urgently needed for rehabilitation and reconstruction, which in turn will serve to prevent the recurrence of conflict.

If there is one area, however, that has witnessed a dramatic deterioration since the publication of my report, it is the effect of HIV/AIDS on every aspect of the Continent's prospects. Of the twenty-five countries most affected by HIV/AIDS, twenty-four are in Africa. Recent statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) show that now for the first time, women infected by the disease outnumber men: fifty-five per cent of all Africans infected are women. The impact of HIV/AIDS on skilled human resources, already in short supply, has the potential to imperil any progress in social indicators. HIV/AIDS is not only a medical problem, it is a development problem. It is not only a national problem, it is an international problem. It must be dealt with as such, by Africans and by Africa's partners around the world.

Beyond these key challenges, I am pleased to report tangible progress in a number of other areas. In the area of children and armed conflict, a number of steps have been taken to ensure that the protection, rights and welfare of children be addressed in peace negotiations from the outset.

Cooperation between the United Nations and the OAU has been strengthened, from preventive diplomacy to training and contingency planning.

In Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Burundi, we are pooling our efforts for maximum impact. And in the area of post-conflict peace-building, concrete measures have been taken with the establishment of a United Nations peace-building support office in Guinea-Bissau and another one in Central African Republic early next year.

While the increased cooperation between the United Nations and the OAU has improved our effectiveness, I believe we can do better in our peacemaking and peacekeeping endeavours.

Our cooperation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Sierra Leone peace process, and our continuing work with the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) in the implementation of the Lome Peace Agreement offer lessons that we must apply in the future. I welcome, therefore, the attention devoted to conflict prevention at the current ECOWAS summit. In particular, I salute the ECOWAS moratorium on small arms, which addresses one of the key concerns of my report.

I wish to suggest three ways in which this meeting can have a lasting impact on our common aim of implementing the Report's recommendations and turning its aspirations into achievements. Before doing so, however, allow me to say that the priority attention we all believe must be given to Africa has to be reflected in the budgetary and financial priorities of the General Assembly. We cannot say that Africa is a priority, and then deny the United Nations the resources to give tangible expression to that priority.

First, the General Assembly should establish its own working group, comprising a cross-section of African States and other Member States engaged in Africa's future. The Secretariat stands prepared to provide substantive support to such a working group. This group could usefully take stock of the progress made so far in implementation of the Report's proposals, and to consolidate and ensure coherence in the efforts to implement them further. Otherwise, the proliferation of initiatives threatens to create more problems than solutions.

Second, I wish to propose that the working group seek new ways of creating effective partnerships to reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Specifically, I urge you to lend your support to the initiative launched last week when, for the first time, African Governments met with Non-governmental Organization (NGO) partners and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) donors and the private sector to map out new ways to fight the epidemic effectively and comprehensively. I urge you to draw on the knowledge and commitment of that coalition in your own efforts to make a difference in the fight against AIDS.

Third, I wish to propose that the working group focus on new ways to enhance assistance to post-conflict societies, including through the cancellation of debt. Given the essential link between peace and prosperity, we cannot hope to achieve lasting development as long as conflicts go unchallenged, and prevention is not made a priority.

What gives me confidence today is that African States are themselves more engaged than ever in taking hold of their own destiny and finding solutions to their own problems.

The international community has an opportunity to complement these efforts, and ensure success in its attempts to ensure Africa's peace and prosperity in the next century.