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Kofi Annan’s remarks on the receipt of the Medal of Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland

Kofi Annan praises Switzerland’s long-standing values of peace, tolerance, justice, and humanitarianism and its role in sponsoring dialogue and promoting peace and democracy around the world.

Merci pour cet accueil chaleureux et ces paroles qui me vont droit au cœur.

Monsieur le Maire, je vous remercie tout spécialement de l’honneur que vous me faites.

Le fait que le Maire de cette superbe ville est un professeur de philosophie distingué ajoute tout autant à l’influence et au rayonnement de cette ville hors norme.

Je tiens aussi à mentionner le privilège et le plaisir immenses  que j’ai à partager ce jour très spécial avec une personne que je tiens en haute estime : Ruth Dreifuss.

Depuis toujours, elle agit en faveur d’autrui et ses mérites sont nombreux : à travers le monde, elle a contribué à améliorer le statut des femmes en les aidant à s’affranchir des obstacles qui parfois les empêchent de jouer pleinement leur rôle fondamental dans nos sociétés.

Je ne peux exprimer à quel point je pense ses accomplissements remarquables : il est absolument nécessaire que les femmes soient des acteurs à part entière de nos sociétés pour pouvoir faire face aux défis qui nous attendent.

Chère Ruth, je vous félicite donc également pour la reconnaissance amplement méritée que cette ville vous accorde aujourd’hui.

Thank you for that welcome and for those kind words.

May I say a special thank you to you, Mr Mayor, for this honour.

The fact that the Mayor of this great city is also a distinguished professor of Philosophy is what makes this great city so special.

It is also a privilege, for me to share this day with Ruth Dreifuss.

Through her own achievements and tireless campaigning on behalf of others, Ruth has helped lift the barriers here and around the world which prevent women from playing their full role in societies.

Promoting the rights and equal opportunities for women  is absolutely essential if the world is going to overcome the immense challenges we face.

So may I also congratulate you, Ruth, for the richly deserved recognition you are getting today.

As for myself, it is a particular honour to be recognised by the city I regard very much as my second home.

This city and its people have played a major role in my life and in anything I have yet achieved – and, may  achieve in the future.

Perhaps it is I that should be thanking you for all your support, rather than you honouring me.

Preparing for this speech, I realised that my links with this city now go back almost half a century – rather longer than you wish to recall when you reach my age.

I first came to Geneva as a post graduate student in October 1961 to study at the Graduate Institute of International Studies.

It was a city very different in some ways to what it has become today…

I left the Institute, but not Geneva, to take up my first proper job with the World Health Organisation.

I returned here, a few years later, for a posting with the United Nations.

And I was back again for a third time at the beginning of the eighties to work at the UNHCR.  

It is a matter of personal pleasure that the people of Switzerland voted to formalise their country’s strong relationship with the UN by becoming full members during my time as Secretary-General.

And it is not just in my professional life that this city has played such an influential role.   

My son was born here.

I met my wife Nane at a social event far from this hall. For her, one may say it is a return home, given her Neuchatel roots

It should be no surprise that when, on my departure from the UN, I was looking for somewhere to live and set up my foundation that Geneva figured top of our list.

But this choice was not just because of my own many and deep links with Geneva and this country, nor the delight in living amid such beautiful surroundings.

It is also because what this country – and in particular this city – have come to represent.

No city is more open in its outlook or puts a greater emphasis on the ideals of peace, tolerance, justice, and humanitarianism.

No country has done more in recent decades to promote dialogue over conflict and to support the spread of democracy and the rule of law.

You can be proud that this city and country are deservedly seen as a force for good in our world.

There is, of course, nothing new in this inspiring spirit as Geneva has, for centuries, offered a safe haven to those fleeing persecution.

This altruism has been mixed, of course, with a very Swiss dose of enlightened self-interest.

For the people of Geneva quickly realised that this openness and tolerance not only benefited those invited to live and work here but also the city itself.

It has led to a city far more cosmopolitan in make-up and outlook than might be expected from a landlocked country.  

This enlightened tolerance continues today with over 40% of Geneva’s population born outside Switzerland.

And each of us, whatever our backgrounds, has been made to feel at home.

It is vital that you continue to foster this spirit of tolerance. For it is this outlook that explains Geneva’s remarkable and continuing influence on our world.

The ICRC – and its sister organisations around the world – owe their existence to the vision, compassion and commitment of one of Geneva’s most famous citizens and the active support of this city.

It is a fitting tribute that the legal safeguards which protect citizens in conflict carry this city’s name.

Geneva now plays host to over 200 international organisations including the European offices of the UN, the WHO, ILO and UNHCR.

And this does not include the many businesses which have sited their international and European headquarters here.

Truly, a successful model of how civil society and the public and private sector can work together in partnership.

The spirit of Geneva and the ideals which lay behind it have never been more important as we continue to overcome challenges in a world more inter-connected than ever.

North and South, East and West are all, for example, struggling to contain the impact of a financial crisis which has swept across the world.

We see, too, with the swine flu outbreak how sickness in one country can travel within days across our planet.

Frontiers no longer provide protection. National Governments can no longer alone provide answers.

Only by acting together, by addressing conflict and injustice wherever it is found, can we hope to safeguard our futures

But this, of course, is something this city and country have long understood as, quietly and effectively, you have brought people together, sponsored dialogue and developed imaginative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems.

We need your continued help to ensure that, as we address this global economic crisis, the world’s poor are brought centre-stage in any solutions.

We need your help as well to give developing countries a greater voice in our global institutions.

And through your support for the Global Humanitarian Forum, you are already demonstrating your determination to find a fair and lasting solution to climate change.

Thanks to your support, the Forum is ensuring the human impact of climate change is not forgotten.

With your help, we will mobilise popular support across the world to demand an effective and just agreement at Copenhagen.

Thank you not just for the honour you have paid me today and for the friendship you have shown me and Nane over many decades.

Thank you as well for your values and compassion in helping build a better world. We need it now more than ever.