Annan, a 63-year-old Ghanaian who has held the leading U.N. post since 1997, has given “the U.N. an external prestige and an internal morale” almost unparalleled in the 56-year history of the world body, said Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
During his acceptance speech at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Annan spoke of the growing interdependence between nations and the widening gap between the fortunate and the dispossessed.
“Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated,” Annan said. “Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national and security crises in another.”
He noted that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States highlight the bond linking all of humanity.
“We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire,” Annan said. “If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions.”
Annan said the United Nations’ focus should shift to helping the individuals whose rights and interests are often sacrificed for the supposed benefit of the state or nation.
“From this vision of the role of the United Nations in the next century flow three key priorities for the future: eradicating poverty, preventing conflict and promoting democracy,” Annan said. “Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities.”
Annan will share the 10 million Swedish crown ($951,600) prize with the United Nations, which was represented at the ceremony by the president of the U.N. General Assembly, South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo.
At least 13 U.N. agencies and people associated with organization have won the peace prize before, but this is the first time the prize has been awarded to the United Nations itself.
Annan, who joined the United Nations in 1962 as an administrator with the World Health Organization in Geneva, was the first Secretary General to be elected from the ranks of the U.N. staff. He was unanimously reelected to serve a second five-year term this past June.
Annan has received international praise for focusing the efforts of the United Nations on poverty, human rights abuses, the AIDS epidemic, and conflicts in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East. But he has also been criticized for negotiating with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and for failing to prevent the massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Nobel prize, more than 20 peace laureates from previous years joined Annan and Seung-soo on the stage for the 90-minute ceremony.
The first Nobel Peace prize went to the Swiss founder of the Red Cross, Henri Durant, and French peace campaigner Frederic Passy. The prizes are always presented on December 10, in honor of the day their benefactor, Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel, died in 1896.