1998 Andersen Lecture
'Regardless Of Frontiers:' Article 19 In A World Of Sovereign States
Thank you very much. Mr. Ottaway, Mr. Andersen, friends, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by saying how delighted I am to see Harold Andersen here with us today at this lecture, a lecture which is named for him. I know him as the first American President of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers. His long career with the Omaha World-Herald proves that you dont have to be an East Coast editor to have world influence. I dont know if you all would agree. You would?
Let me also join you in saluting the four courageous fighters for freedom who were honored earlier at this event. I think we need men and women like them who often hold up the standards at great risks to themselves. I had the chance of seeing Christine in Nigeria when I went there in June, so Im really delighted to see you and the others here this afternoon.
I want to thank Mr. Ottaway for the nice words he said about me, but Im also very, very pleased to join you today for a discussion on a subject that holds particular interest for me; how to assert and advance the universality of the right to freedom of expression regardless of frontiers in a world of sovereign states and diverse civilizations. How to ensure the most fruitful and mutually beneficial exchange of ideas between nations and peoples, and how to put the rights to freedom, and the right to free speech in the service of peace.
You may be surprised to know that that is a right I sometimes find it easier to defend for others than for myself, and yet it is.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations, an organization of member states represented by governments, I am bound by the Charter, by precedent, and by enlightened self-interest to weigh my words very, very carefully, to speak up and to speak out when no other voice will be heard, but also to respect the privilege and the duty of governments to defend their peoples interests as they deem fit.
But what if some governments are not defending their peoples true interests or have a view of those interests which the people dont share and do not endorse? What if governments are an impediment to the peoples wishes instead of being the vehicle for their fulfillment? What if some of those peoples in whose name its Charter is issued see the United Nations not as an instrument for their aspirations, but as a haven for oppressive governments?
Then we must and we will speak out for democracy, for human rights, for rule of law, for the proposition that governments are the servants of the people and not the other way around.
Some may say that speaking out is not enough, that words will never effect change, but I say it is a beginning, and you always have to start somewhere.
It is a way for the United Nations to pay the peoples of the world a tribute of truth, a tribute without which we can never hope to retain their support or to improve their lives. That is why I have sought as Secretary-General of the United Nations to speak clearly and candidly on every issue from Kosovo to Rwanda to Iraq, from the universality of human rights to the need for Africas leaders to take hold of their own destiny, and most recently, to the need for the global powers to understand the human and political implications of globalization in a time of crisis and contagion.
Only by speaking these truths can we ensure that ordinary men and women in every part of the world hear their United Nations speak in a voice that recognizes the realities they face day in and day out.
Now as you in this audience know well, there are those who will question the value of freedom of speech in their own societies, those who argue that it threatens stability and endangers progress, those who still consider freedom of speech as an imposition from abroad and not the indigenous expression of every peoples demand for freedom.
What has always struck me about this argument is that it is never made by the people, but by governments, and I repeat by governments; never by the powerless but by the powerful; never by the voiceless, but by those whose voices are all that can be heard. Let us put this argument once and for all to the only test that matters, the choice of every people to know more or less, to be heard or to be silenced, to stand up or kneel down.
Friends, freedom of speech is a right to be fought for and not a blessing to be wished for, but it is more than that. It is a bridge of understanding and knowledge. It is the essential vehicle for that exchange of ideas between nations and cultures that is the condition for true understanding and lasting cooperation. That is why I believe we must look at the question of civilizations anew.
Civilizations have always been enriched and not weakened by the exchange of ideas and arts, the freer and more peaceable, the better. In the relation between nations, it is rather the lack of education and the dearth of knowledge which is a chief source of dispute and conflict, never the opposite.
Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda, and in most modern conflicts, the men of war prey on the ignorance of the populace to instill fears and arouse hatreds. That was the case in Bosnia and in Rwanda, where murderous, even genocidal ideologies took root in the absence of truthful information and honest education. If only half the effort had gone into teaching these peoples what unites them rather than what divides them, unspeakable crimes could have been prevented.
This is not to say that ideas and interests do not clash. They do and always will, but one must never confuse the clash of ideas with the clash of civilizations. Clashes of ideas can and must be conducted peacefully and politically to the benefit of all.
Perhaps there is no greater need for such appreciation today than between the Islamic peoples and those of the West. Too often this question is discussed only through crude, invidious generalizations about the beliefs of one group or the behavior of the other. Too often the rhetoric of resistance from one group or other is deemed representative of the view of millions.
What is ignored is the historic and ever-growing interaction between peoples. The ways in which individuals and states -- regardless of religious affiliation -- define, defend, and pursue their purpose and the propensity of states as well as individuals to form alliances and allegiances on other grounds than ethnic belonging or religious affiliation.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Khatami of Iran proposed that the United Nations designate the year 2001 as a year of dialogue among civilizations and expressed eloquently the promise of a genuine dialogue among cultures and nations, and I quote what he said: Establishment and enhancement of civility, whether at national or international level, is contingent upon dialogue among societies and civilizations representing various views, inclinations and approaches.
As you will no doubt recognize, these are brave words from a visionary leader whose own respect for truth and for tolerance against powerful domestic opposition led him to declare unequivocally at the United Nations that the government of Iran will do nothing to threaten the author of the Satanic Verses, Salmon Rushdie.
I refer to these words of President Khatami not only to highlight what I believe to be a important development in one country, but also to illustrate the growing understanding of the meaning and promise of dialogue and communication. Indeed, I believe that history should teach us that alongside global diversity of cultures, there exists one worldwide civilization of knowledge within which ideas and philosophies meet and develop peacefully and productively.
This is a civilization for which the United Nations labors every day in every part of the world. It is a civilization which recognizes that true progress is based on lasting peace and prosperity, the civilization within which clashes of ideas take place peacefully and productively. In fact, this morning somebody referred to this tendency as jaw, jaw, mouth, mouth, saying is better than war, war.
Friends, Socrates taught us that There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance. By speaking up and speaking out, by promoting that vital exchange of ideas and information regardless of frontiers, we will have done our part to enhance our one good, knowledge, and defeat our only one evil, ignorance.
We will have done our part to make possible a global civilization that is defined by its tolerance of dissent, its celebration of cultural diversity, and its insistence on fundamental universal human rights -- a civilization that is proud to protect Article 19.
Thank you very much.