At the end of this year, the UN will lose a very dynamic member. Secretary General Kofi Annan is stepping down after ten years of service. Today, Annan gave a parting address at the Truman Library in New York. In the speech, Annan gave a challenge to the world and the new UN secretary general to continue fighting for what is right. This farewell was a fitting send off for a man that has made human rights a number one priority of the UN.
The focus of the Annan speech was on the current situation in Darfur, Sudan. Over the past months, the American media has virtually ignored this story. While it makes a good investigative piece for some reporters (Anderson Cooper, etc.) the story has failed to produce little government action. This is the point Annan makes in his speech. Anna gives a list of those that share the blame for the situation in Darfur. Among them Annan lists "those valuing abstract notions of sovereignty over human lives; those whose response of solidarity puts them on the sides of governments and not people; and those who fear commercial interests could be jeopardized." Annan says that these excuses for inaction are not enough. He states, "The truth is, none of these arguments amount even to excuses, let alone justifications, for the shameful passivity of most governments."
I believe that the American government should listen to Annan's speech. We are one of those governments whose inaction has lead to the gross violations of human rights in the Darfur region. Annan does not think it is too late. But he does say that this time of inaction needs to stop. Annan says, "We have still not summoned up the collective sense of urgency that this issue requires." And while Annan has been the biggest advocate for human rights, the UN has failed to act as it could. Holding this action back, is the UN security council. On such matters, the US is often a "stick-in-the-mud" and will not lift a finger to help. It simply doesn't fit into our foreign policy to help these people. So we watch them suffer.
Annan said that the UN must start acting as one body and not let the actions of a few dictate the general assembly's course of action. Annan says, "We must develop the responsibility to protect into a powerful international norm that is not only quoted but put into practice, whenever and wherever it is needed." And he also called for preemptive actions against future atrocities when he said, "Above all we must not wait to take action until genocide is actually happening, by which time it is often too late to do anything effective about it."
Kofi Annan is leaving the UN after ten years of dedicated service. During that time, Annan has tried to make human rights the "third pillar" of the UN. And under Annan, the UN has done more in places like Rwanda, Somalia, and Darfur than any government or nation. But the incoming secretary general must continue this type of resolve. He must take his cues from Annan and look toward peace. He must not let the UN become an instrument of war. Kofi Annan was able to bring the UN into a useful role in the 21st century. Let us hope his replacement can continue such a big legacy.