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 Stories for April 22, 1998

Kofi Annan Wins Campus Hearts and Minds
UN Secretary-General Is Awarded the Berkeley Medal

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 22, 1998

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived and left Zellerbach Auditorium Monday afternoon to thunderous standing ovations.

Following his quietly impassioned, carefully reasoned talk on the UN’s role in preventing war and promoting peace, he answered at length the provocative questions of eight Berkeley students, several of them from the Peace and Conflict Studies program.

Before his talk, International and Area Studies Dean Richard Buxbaum presented Annan with the Berkeley Medal, the university’s highest honor.

Annan’s talk and discussion with the students ranged over the gamut of UN challenges: weapons inspections in Iraq, genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda and the failure of the international community to prevent it, the desperate need for an independent, credible international criminal court, the emerging crisis in Kosovo, human rights, and the changing nature of UN peacekeeping efforts “in the new world of disorder.”

Annan is the third UN secretary-general to visit Berkeley, after Dag Hammarskjold in 1955 and U Thant in 1964. He noted that “Berkeley over the years and in many ways has left its distinguished imprint on the UN.”

Annan emphasized that the UN must seek and regain the confidence and trust of the world community.

“There is nothing inevitable about conflict or tyranny,” he said. “Peace and human rights are universal concepts amenable to human action across all borders. The agreement reached in Baghdad was neither a victory nor a defeat for any one person, nation or group of nations.” When he added, “It was a victory for peace, reason and the resolution of conflict by diplomacy,” the auditorium erupted in applause.

Applause also greeted Annan’s comment that for the first time at the Bosnia war crimes tribunal, the deliberate and organized rape of women was recognized as a crime against humanity.

Responding to a student question on the apparent conflict between the Western concept of human rights and some non-Western cultural practices, Annan pointed out that human rights have their roots in all the great religions. “The problem is not with the faith, but the faithful; we are the problem,” he said to more applause.

With some poignancy, Annan described the plight of young, idealistic UN peace keepers who are not given the means or the mandate to protect the people they have been sent to help.

“Peace keepers are asked to do the impossible,” he said. “They are asked to step in when all others have failed,” likening the situation to a couple who refuse help until their marriage is in shambles. “The will to reconcile ultimately must come from the warring parties themselves,” he said. “Peacekeeping was discredited in places like Bosnia and Somalia, where there was no peace to keep.”

Calling an international criminal court “the missing link in the international legal system,” Annan pointed out that “it’s easier to convict someone for killing one person than it is for killing 100,000.”

Annan called for more weapons control and disarmament worldwide, noting that the UN recently reinstituted its Department of Disarmaments. To more applause, he said he has appealed to African governments not to spend more that 1.5 percent of their GDP on weapons.

To more applause, he said he’d like to see governments go the way of Costa Rica and have no army at all. “If you have an effective, democratic police force, you don’t need an army,” he said.

Annan stressed the importance of the UN’s role as an advocate for peace and human rights, pointing out how its conferences have raised awareness of population control, sustainable development, environmental protection, social and economic rights.

“We made these household words,” he said. “We engage others. There’s no way we can do it alone. We must work in partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society, multinational corporations, universities, foundations, the World Band and the IMF to find solutions.”

Throughout his afternoon presentation, Annan emphasized that the international community includes not only governments, but individuals and grassroots organizations. He pointed to the agreement to ban land mines as a “wonderful manifestation” of the ability of individuals across the globe to effect change.

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