General Assembly 2002 Event 4034
Ambassador Stephen Lewis delivered an impassioned and mesmerizing speech to a packed house at General Assembly 2002.
Lewis began by greeting the room full of Unitarian Universalists (UUs) as a "feckless, undisciplined and rambunctious group who are both generous and welcoming." Then he got down to business.
Lewis said, "I am not an expert on global issues...but I have never allowed a lack of knowledge to impede an opinion. A trait I share with both of our nation’s leaders."
Said Lewis, "In an almost supernatural act of generosity, Canada signed the free trade agreement with the United States, thereby rescuing your [the U.S.] economy and self-immolating ours."
Continuing, Lewis said, "I am profoundly, and to the depths of my being, committed to multilateralism." He went on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations.
In January of 2002, near the end of the month, there occurred two global conferences. In New York, the World Economic Forum met, consisting largely of the CEOs of large multinational corporations. Lewis described this meeting as "an exercise in triumphalism, an orgy of self-aggrandizement." These corporations seemed to hold the view that big business was the answer to the world’s problems.
At the same time, in Puerto Valenté, the World Social Forum was "attempting to tell the world that something is out of whack."
He offered this stark contrast: In the international business world, if two countries have a dispute, they can take it to the World Trade Organization. There, both sides of the dispute are arbitrated by a tribunal. This arbitration is binding.
Now, to whom do you complain on issues of social justice? Who will arbitrate when a large conglomerate begins destroying areas of the environment? No one. There is no way beyond "moral suasion."
Lewis states that he is thrilled when he sees young protesters. He says, "These young people see the injustices in the world, and take action." He went on to express his admiration for the youthful protest movements he sees rising again in both of our countries and throughout the world and compared them with the protesters of the Viet Nam era.
On the subject of globalization, Lewis states that "globalization does not seem able to deal with global problems." "Poverty is increasing and intensifying around the globe." Over "half of the people of the world live on less than $750 per year."
The United Nations World Bank is attacking poverty through education, especially through the education of women and young girls. The UN Millennium Poverty Project has set a goal to reduce poverty by one-half by 2015.
According to Lewis, the United Nations only works when the member states allow it to do its work. Take the example of the conflict in Rwanda. Over the course of one hundred days, over 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered. When General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian general in charge of the UN troops requested additional troops to stop the slaughter, two nations, the United States of America and France, denied the additional troops. In fact, his troops were cut from 2,000 to 270. According to a UN investigation, "the massacres could have been slowed down, if not prevented, had the UN mission, headed by beleaguered Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, been allowed to act in the first hours of the killings."
Lewis passionately said, "The world entrusted millions of lives to the United Nations who allowed hundreds of thousands of people to be slaughtered."
There is one bright spot on the world stage, according to Lewis, and that is what he refers to the "end of a culture of impunity" in the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal. Through this organ, crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual violence, can now be prosecuted.
Another item which kills millions of people throughout the world is disease. According to Lewis, much, if not most of these deaths could be avoided or significantly delayed except for a lack of financial resources. Through negotiations with drug companies, African organizations have been able to get the cost of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS down to $350 per year. However, African governments do not have the financial wherewithal to purchase these life saving drugs. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requested seven to 10 billion dollars to defeat this disease in Africa. He was given only 2.4 billion spread out over three years.
Lewis stated several fact about HIV/AIDS in Africa:
- 55% of all new infections are women;
- Susceptibility of women toward this virus is six times higher than in men;
- Africa is a country of millions of children orphaned by parents killed by AIDS;
- Grandmothers are now caring for many children who have lost their parents;
- When the grandmothers die, the oldest child then becomes the head of the family. Often these children are as young as ten years old.
As Lewis points out in anguish, "We know how to stop this crisis. We know everything we need to know to stop it. But the member states of the United Nations will not allow it to happen!"
Lewis said that when allowed to do its job, the United Nations can be a powerful force. He went on to list several agencies of the UN that have done "lovely things" such as:
- The World Summit for Children;
- 1992 Conference in Brazil;
- 1993 Human Rights conference in Vienna on Women’s Rights;
- The Conference on Population in Cairo which focused on the education of young girls and women;
- The Conference on Women in Beijing;
- The 1995 World Conference on Poverty in Copenhagen.
According to Lewis, the strength of the UN lies in its agencies such as UNICEF, the High Commission on Refugees, the World Food Program, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and more. These agencies have been very successful in improving the lives of those they can afford to help.
However, without financial support from the world’s rich nations, these successes and other victories will end.
Lewis’s closing words were this: "The heart of success lies with the United States."
About the Ware Lecture
The Ware Lecture, an annual presentation at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, is a long-standing tradition, originally founded by Unitarians in honor of the Ware family. The selection of Henry Ware, Sr., as chair of Harvard in the early 19th century helped precipitate the crisis that led to the founding in the 1820s of American Unitarianism as a separate faith.
In 1963, Stephen Lewis, at the age of twenty-five, was elected to the Ontario legislature, then was re-elected four more times. He served as leader of his party, and as the Leader of the Official Opposition. In 1984 he was appointed as Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1988 he was appointed as Special Advisor on Africa. By 1991, Mr. Lewis became the Special Representative for UNICEF and was the agency spokesman advocating for the rights of women children. In 1992, he worked to understand the consequences of armed conflict on children. From 1995-99, Lewis served as the Deputy Director of UNICEF. In 1997, he worked for the Organization of African Unity to investigate the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, with the final report released in June, 2000. In June 2001, Lewis was appointed Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special agent for AIDS in Africa as a follow up to the April 2001 summit on HIV/AIDS and the July 2001 Special Session on HIV/AIDS.
Reported by Phil Hoffman.