The United Nations and its Secretary General Kofi Annan have received this year's Nobel Peace Prize during ceremonies in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Annan noted that the recent terrorist acts in New York and Washington have underscored the need to protect every individual.
Delivering the traditional Nobel lecture, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that after the events of September 11, a new insecurity has entered every mind, making no distinction between races, nations or religions. "We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible," he said.
Speaking to distinguished guests in Oslo's City Hall and television viewers worldwide, the 63-year-old secretary general repeatedly reminded his audience that in this age of globalization, the focus must remain on each individual. He said the sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross human rights violations.
"A genocide begins with the killing of one man, not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ethnic cleansing begins with one neighbor turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all to often ends with a calamity for entire nations," he said.
Mr. Annan pledged that the mission of the United Nations in the 21st century would be defined by a more profound awareness of the dignity of human life, regardless of race, religion, gender or circumstance of birth. "Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today's Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman," he said.
Mr. Annan noted that religious and ethnic rivalries are often the cause of wars and terrorism, even though every great faith and tradition teaches tolerance and mutual understanding. He said people of different faiths and cultures must learn to live side by side. "Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of higher power," he said.
Mr. Annan closed his lecture to a standing ovation. Referring back to the girl born today in Afghanistan, he ended by noting that such a child, because of where she is born, faces a one-in-four risk that she will not live to see her fifth birthday. Whether she survives, he said, is only one test of humanity, of our belief in our individual responsibility for our fellow men and women. But he added that it is the only test that matters.