13 March 2009

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




Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the thirty-first annual Lions Day at the United Nations, in New York today, 13 March:

It is a pleasure to join you for this thirty-first annual Lions Day at the United Nations.  The Lions has a long and proud history of supporting the world Organization.  You were present at our founding conference in 1945.  You have stood by our side ever since.  We share the same goals.  Foremost among them is peace.

I particularly welcome the theme of this year’s Lions Peace Poster Contest.  “Peace Begins with Me” expresses a fundamental truth that needs to be continually stressed.  Each of us, every single individual around the world, has a contribution to make to the great global project of building a more peaceful world.

I have just returned from a short visit to Haiti.  Before that I visited Africa.  Peace was a dominant theme wherever I went.  Peace in Haiti.  Peace in Zimbabwe.  Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, I talked with world leaders about peace in the Middle East.

There is an African saying:  “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”  In too many places, ordinary men and women are the innocent victims of conflict.  That is why, everywhere I go, I try to speak out for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Earlier this year, I stood in the burning rubble of the United Nations compound in Gaza, where life has become extraordinarily difficult.  I have been following events in Sri Lanka, where innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire of war.  In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo I visited a hospital that is helping women to recover from unspeakable acts of brutality.  And I have listened to the testimony of children abducted from their families and forced to fight, take drugs and commit atrocities.  Children from Africa.  From Latin America.  From Asia.

Their stories were shocking.  But with help, these children have been able to put their terrible experiences behind them.  They have shown us the resilience of the human spirit.  I see such resilience wherever I go.  I see the good work that the United Nations is doing.  And I see how important our partners are.

Organizations like the Lions are vital in helping us to achieve our goals.  Your SightFirst programme has helped reduce preventable blindness around the world.  You are also helping the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat childhood blindness.  You support UNICEF’s School-in-a-Box programme.  When children’s lives are disrupted by conflict or disaster, you make sure they can get straight back to the important business of learning.

In a few minutes we will honour the winner of this year’s Lions International Peace Poster Contest.  The winning poster is heart-warming and inspiring.  It truly expresses the message that “peace begins with me”.  That message is especially resonant in these difficult times.

We face multiple challenges.  The food crisis has not gone away, even if it has left the front pages.  In 2008, a further 40 million people joined the ranks of the undernourished.  The global economic downturn threatens to make things worse.

In three weeks I will attend the G-20 Summit on the economic crisis.  There I will meet with the leaders of the countries that represent 85 per cent of the world’s economy.  I will remind those leaders of the need to fulfil their promises to the world’s most vulnerable people.  Their promises to Africa.  Their promises to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  I will tell them that their stimulus packages must not forget the poor.  I will also talk about combating climate change.  This is a threat to us all.  I will emphasize that their stimulus packages must be green.  They must include significant investment in clean energy, renewable energy and energy efficiency.  And I will argue that a green recovery plan will also mean more jobs.

I will also remind the G-20 that the world’s poorest countries are the least responsible for climate change.  But they will be hit first and they will be hit most hard.  Wealthy nations must agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  They must agree on investments in a low-carbon future.  And they must agree to help the poorer countries adapt to the changes we know are going to happen.  These things must be agreed by December this year, when the world’s Governments meet at the crucial climate change meeting in Copenhagen.

One of the great powers of an organization like yours is that it reminds us, in the most practical ways possible, that our destiny lies in our own hands.  We are responsible for what happens to us.  We are responsible for what happens to our neighbours.

Peace, prosperity and the fulfilment of the dreams on which the United Nations is built -- these things begin with you, with me, with all of us.  So I thank you for being here today.  I thank you for your commitment to our common goals.  And I thank you for spreading such a positive message of hope through your work.

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For information media • not an official record