OSLO, Norway — Saying “humanity is indivisible,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for global cooperation in fighting poverty, ignorance and disease as he and the United Nations accepted the centennial Nobel Peace Prize on Monday.
Annan said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States showed that the world is divided less by borders than by the gap between the fortunate and the dispossessed. He said the cost of ignoring human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education was steep.
“Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another,” he said. “What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.”
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee presented the $950,000 prize, which includes diplomas and gold medals, to Annan and the president of the U.N. General Assembly, South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo, representing the world body.
Annan has given “the U.N. an external prestige and an internal morale” hardly before seen since the world body’s founding in 1945, chairman Gunnar Berge said.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the first prize, more than 20 peace laureates from previous years, including East Timorese freedom fighter Jose Ramos-Horta and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, joined them on the stage for the 90-minute ceremony at Oslo City Hall, amid tight security.
Norway’s royal family and other dignitaries also attended, and a torchlight parade and a banquet were planned in the evening.
A week of centennial festivities, including a three-day symposium attended by the Dalai Lama and 27 other peace laureates, was to culminate Tuesday with a concert by Paul McCartney and other stars.
Annan looked back on the last century, which suffered two World Wars and brutal civil conflicts, and said it was important to confront new security threats that “make no distinction between races, nations or regions.”
“We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire,” he said. “If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further — we will realize that humanity is indivisible.
Quoting from the Quran, Confucius and the Bible, Annan said all major faiths recognize the values of tolerance.
Annan outlined three priorities for the United Nations as eradicating poverty, preventing conflict and promoting democracy. “We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of individual men and women,” he said.
Annan, a 63-year-old Ghanaian, and the United Nations will share the prize equally for their efforts to achieve peace and security in the world, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in announcing the award on Oct. 12.
The awards in literature, medicine, physics, chemistry and economics were to be presented later Monday in Stockholm, Sweden, where some 160 laureates from those categories were gathered.
About 3,000 Norwegian schoolchildren greeted Annan before the ceremony began. Annan, on a stage with Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit, lit a peace torch.
Annan became secretary-general of the 189-member United Nations in 1997 and has won high marks for focusing the global spotlight on poverty, human rights abuses, conflicts in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, and the AIDS epidemic.
He also has faced criticism for trying to negotiate with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and for standing by as U.N. peacekeepers were kidnapped in Sierra Leone.
Annan joined the United Nations in 1962 as an administrator with the World Health Organization in Geneva. He was the first leader to be elected from the ranks of U.N. staff and was unanimously reappointed to a second-five year term in June, six months before his first term expires on Dec. 31.
At least 13 U.N. agencies and people connected to the world body have won the prize before, but it had never gone to the organization itself. In 1961, U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the prize posthumously after his death in a plane crash on a peace mission to Congo.
The Nobel Prizes are always presented on Dec. 10, marking the date their benefactor, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, died in 1896.
Last year’s peace prize went to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
On the Net:
Nobel site, http://www.nobel.no
U.N. site, http://www.un.org