“Secretary General Annan is admired alike by leaders from the countries of the world and by their grassroots populations. He is recognized for his moral character, for his faith and loyalty. And for his attachment to social justice as well as to economic development…He has affirmed the worldwide right of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – rights held so dear by the founders of our own nation.”
Liberty Medal International Selection Commission
United Nations Secretary-General
July 4, 2001
I am deeply honoured to receive the Liberty Medal on this wonderful Fourth of July. As a Ghanaian who has studied and lived in the United States for many years, I am especially pleased to receive this Medal in the great city of Philadelphia where Ghana’s first Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, was educated, and where he found inspiration to lead his nation to freedom.
I accept this award also on behalf of the United Nations and its staff, who labour every day in every part of the world to advance liberty.
Though this is a uniquely American day, the value you celebrate is universal. Though your Independence Day heralded freedom for the American people, it inspired—and continues to inspire—millions the world over who strive to end tyranny and defend human dignity. Though liberty is secured across this nation and many others, it remains but a dream for too many of our fellow men and women. Liberty is not just a cause for celebration today, but also a worthy crusade for our time.
Where there is life, there is the thirst for liberty in all men and women, regardless of faith, colour or country. That surely is the lesson of the twentieth century which—with all its untold suffering – also witnessed the greatest flowering of democracy in human history. That is true for my own continent of Africa, as it is for Asia, Europe and Latin America. In the new century, the United Nations must dedicate itself to preserving liberty where it is threatened and advancing it where it is denied.
The bonds between the United States and the United Nations are strong and rooted in a common vision of freedom and opportunity for all men and women, regardless of frontiers. As one of the main founders of the United Nations, and as host country of the Organization, the United States has understood that the United Nations’ mission is to bring the benefits of those rights and freedoms we celebrate today to people in every corner of the world.
Where your Declaration of Independence speaks of all men being created equal, the United Nations Charter speaks of the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small. Where your Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion and expression, the Charter reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, and in the dignity and worth of the human person.
The United Nations—founded to prevent the scourge of war and advance better standards of life in larger freedom—is today engaged in every aspect of the fight for liberty. When United Nations aid workers tend to the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable people in refugee camps from Central Africa to Afghanistan, they are fighting for liberty. When United Nations peacekeepers separate combatants and patrol borders from East Timor to Ethiopia, they are fighting for liberty. When United Nations medical experts strive to find new ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and treat its victims, from Africa to Asia, they are fighting for liberty. And when heads of State from 147 countries gathered at the United Nations for the Millennium Summit last year, they, too, came to fight for liberty.
The fight for liberty calls not only for the engagement of governments, leaders, or organizations such as the United Nations. It is one that all can embrace, and all can enrich. Indeed, some of the greatest global achievements of the past few years have been the product of new and unusual coalitions. Citizens’ groups, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and governments have united in more and more areas to make a common effort where a common good is at stake.
This was most recently the case at last week’s United Nations special session on HIV/AIDS, which gave new impetus to the global struggle against this deadly disease. We are now in the process of creating a Global Aids and Health Fund to help direct resources to those areas where they are most needed.
I am pleased to announce that I shall donate the prize money from the Liberty Medal to the fund. And it is my sincere hope that it will be followed by many more donations from governments, foundations and citizens like you gathered here today—all of us committed to defeating the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
In closing, I wish to thank you once again for this great honour, and ask every one of you to join the fight for liberty in any way you can—in your communities, in your schools, in your place of work, in every part of the world where it is in danger. It is a worthy struggle for our time, too.