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UN: Annan Urges U.S. To Defend Human Rights, Rule Of Law

Outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (file photo) (epa) UNITED NATIONS, December 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kofi Annan, who will step down as the United Nations secretary-general in less than a month, used his last speech in his official capacity to appeal to the United States to uphold high standards of human rights and the rule of law.

Annan said on December 11 that other countries are troubled when the United States abandons its traditional role as a leader in these areas.

Annan chose to deliver his last speech as secretary-general at the Truman Library in the central U.S. state of Missouri to honor former President Harry Truman, who was born in Missouri and was instrumental in founding the United Nations in 1945.

Calls For U.S. Leadership

In his remarks, Annan, who is 68, invoked Truman's legacy with a sweeping call for U.S. leaders to engage and lead the international community in all areas.

"As President Truman said, 'The responsibility of great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world,' Annan said. "He showed what can be done and what can be achieved when the U.S. assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the U.S. remains aloof. But, when it is fully engaged, the sky is the limit."

"When [the United States] appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are, naturally, troubled and confused." -- Kofi Annan

The outgoing secretary-general also urged world powers to uphold five principles: collective responsibility, the rule of law, global security, mutual accountability, and multilateralism.

"No nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over others," he said. "We all share responsibility for each other's security and only by working to make each other secure can we hope to achieve lasting security ourselves."

Security And Welfare

In the international-relations arena, Annan said he has learned that states are not only responsible for each other's security but also, in some measure, for each other's welfare.

"Our challenge today is not to save Western civilization or Eastern, for that matter," he said. "All civilization is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task."

Annan said in his two five-year terms he has learned that both security and development ultimately depend on respect for human rights and the rule of law. Despite the increasing globalization of the economy, Annan said the world remains divided by religion, traditions, and culture.

Those divisions by themselves are not a problem, he said, if people are willing to remember what unites them: a common humanity and the shared belief that human dignity and rights should be protected by law.

Here again, he singled out the United States.

"[The United States] has, historically, been in the vanguard of the global human rights movement," Annan noted. "But, that lead can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are, naturally, troubled and confused."

Reforming The Security Council

Another lesson he learned as UN secretary-general, Annan said, is that states cannot confront global challenges alone, but must coordinate their actions with "non-state actors" -- unofficial entities like NGOs, labor unions, charitable foundations, academic institutions, and policy institutes.

In his speech, Annan repeated his call to change the structure of the UN Security Council, the world body's most powerful executive organ. He reiterated that the council's structure reflects the balance of power in 1945, not the 21st century.

Several proposals have been talked about, including expanding the council's permanent members from five -- Great Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- to nine but withholding veto power from the new members.

Another option is expanding the council's total membership from 15 to 24 countries. India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil have been considered as possible permanent member candidates, but none of the proposals have moved beyond the discussion stage.

Annan's last day as UN secretary-general is December 31. His successor is Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean.