22 January 2009

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

U thant’s life of public service informed by vision of truly global society, Spirit

of ‘one world’, says Secretary-General, in message to 100th birthday event

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the event marking the centenary of the birth of U Thant, to be delivered by Bishow Parajuli, United Nations Resident Coordinator, in Yangon, 22 January:

It is my great honour today to join the U Thant Institute and all who have gathered to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of U Thant, the third Secretary-General of the United Nations.

U Thant was thrust into the role of Secretary-General at a time of crisis following the untimely death of Dag Hammarskjöld, and navigated the Organization through the 1960s.  He put forth a vision of a truly global society, and emphasized the need, as he put it, “to understand each other and to develop a spirit of One World”.  It is this vision that has given the U Thant Institute its mission, “Towards One World”.

Beginning with his roots as a teacher and headmaster at the National School in Burma, Thant stressed throughout his life the importance of learning about the world.  As Secretary-General, he proposed the creation of both the United Nations University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in the belief that education is vital to building a better future for all.

Thant is also remembered for focusing the world’s attention on the perilous state of the global environment with the launch of the first Earth summit, in Stockholm, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme.  He was also deeply concerned about the widening gap between rich and poor nations, and it was under his leadership that the United Nations embarked on its first “development decade” and welcomed dozens of new Asian and African States as Members of the Organization.  The UN Development Programme, the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Industrial and Development Organization all came into being during his tenure, underscoring the abiding interest of the United Nations in the economic and social well-being of all the world’s people.

Building on Hammarskjöld’s example, Thant strengthened the role of the Secretary-General in world affairs.  He helped to defuse the Cuban missile crisis and end the civil war in the Congo, and worked actively toward a peaceful end to the Viet Nam War.  He also advocated strongly for decolonization and against apartheid in South Africa.

Thant’s patience and unassuming demeanour were valuable assets in his conduct of quiet diplomacy.  His approach to global challenges was also informed by a strong commitment to a practice of compassion and tolerance, bred of his devotion to Buddhism.  I have the greatest admiration for him and his achievements, and pay tribute to his life of public service.  He left a legacy that will live on in the history of the United Nations and the world in our work for peace.

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For information media • not an official record