Find us on

News & Media


Voices for Justice

Remarks by Kofi Annan at the Human Rights Watch’s Annual Dinner

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me start by saying how pleased I am to be with you today.

I want to thank the Human Rights Watch both for my invitation and, more importantly, for having been and continuing to be an essential partner in the quest towards a fairer, more peaceful world. Alongside Peace and inclusive development, Human Rights are the fundamental pillar without which any society is certain to run into serious difficulties, if not chaos, sooner or later.

Yet today certain governments of the more authoritarian type, have chosen repression as means to control their populations. But repression must not be confused with stability. It was repression that led Muhammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, to immolate himself; he wanted to draw attention to the way his government had deprived him not only of his livelihood, but also of his dignity. Muhammed Bouazizi’s fury swept across the Middle East and it is far from certain, that all leaders and regimes there learned the right lessons that might prevent renewed upheavals in future.

In other parts of the world the values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are under threat too. The international community is deeply divided, blocking progress on a host of global challenges, ranging from crises in Nigeria, Syria, Ukraine and Iraq to climate change and food security.

And yet, whatever the shortcomings of the international system, it is important to remember that never before in human history have so few people, as a proportion of world population, died from armed conflict. It may not make headlines, but the international system, with its rules and institutions, allows states to settle most of their disputes peacefully, most of the time.

As Secretary General, I fought hard to give civil society a seat at the table. Human Rights Watch was amongst those key critical voices that could express outrage, which I as Secretary General, could not always do in such a forthright manner. I came to value this complementary approach.  I am convinced that civil society organisations that promote human rights are not only a crucial voice for the people whose rights they defend but also for the preservation of a values-based international order. Allow me to add that my own Foundation is working to the same end – towards a fairer, more peaceful world.

Let me conclude by thanking Ken Roth personally for his firm support and tireless advocacy over the years. I wish him and Human Rights Watch all the best for the future.