18 June 2009
Secretary-General
SG/SM/12323

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

United Nations only universal multilateral forum for tackling this generation’s

 

challenges, Secretary-General tells foreign Policy association

 


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech to the Foreign Policy Association, in New York, on 17 June:


I thank you very much for your warm welcome.  I was also impressed by the warm welcome from the many people in front of the hotel.  [referring to a demonstration on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils]  I am deeply conscious of their concerns.  I have also been deeply concerned by this issue.  That is why I visited Sri Lanka.  That is why I visited the [internally displaced persons] camps.


I think I did my best.  I was the first world leader ‑‑ and I think the last ‑‑ to convey my concerns, and the message of the international community, for their well-being.  I made it clear to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa that though the fighting might be over, there is much more to do.  People must be allowed to return to their homes.  There must be reconciliation.  The Government of Sri Lanka must hold out their hands to the minority.  If this is not addressed there might be more violence.


I also made clear that there must be accountability for those who may have committed human rights abuses.  This was agreed in the joint statement issued at the conclusion of my visit.  I have also written to President Rajapaksa to follow up on these matters.  I will continue to work for the people of Sri Lanka ‑‑ and indeed for all people suffering from breaches of humanitarian law and human rights.


Let me say what an honour it is to be with you tonight.  I stand here humbled and I wonder if I deserve this award when I am only in the middle of my mandate.  There is so much more to do, therefore, I accept this with humility.


It is also an honour to receive this award alongside President Bill Clinton, even though he cannot be here tonight.  President Clinton is a great humanitarian.  He is a committed activist, a man of legendary energy.  This is why I have asked him to be my Special Envoy for Haiti’s early recovery.  I have visited Haiti twice, including with President Clinton.  As you know Haiti is at a turning point.  It has a real chance for stability and potential prosperity.


I accept this award not for myself.  I accept it on behalf of the great humanitarian organization I serve.  I would like to talk tonight about what the United Nations means to me and, more importantly, what I think it means to the world.


Earlier this year I had an encounter that will live with me forever.  I met a young woman in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She had been brutally raped at gunpoint by four soldiers.  She was just 18 years old.  I met her at a hospital in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo called HealAfrica.  It cares for hundreds of girls and women.  All have been sexually abused and maimed by soldiers and militia from all sides of the conflict.


Doctors at the hospital can repair their wounds.  But can they heal their souls?  This made me sad.  I was deeply moved by this young woman’s story.  It also made me angry.  Violence against women stands against everything in the United Nations Charter.  It is an abomination.


As Secretary-General, I have been standing ‑‑ and I will continue to stand ‑‑ against these crimes.  I try to defend the defenceless.  I speak for the powerless in the councils of power.  This is what the United Nations means to me.  And it is what the United Nations means to millions of people around the world.  The people we feed.  The people we shelter.  The people we protect.


I have met children ‑‑ forced to become soldiers when they should have been in school.  The UN is helping them back into society.  In Gaza, in January, I spoke out for the people there, caught in a conflict over which they have no power.  In Sri Lanka I held the hand of an old woman, bandaged, lying on a cot in a hospital tent full of flies.  Like too many others, she had lost her family and her home in the fighting.  She is the face I see when I talk about Sri Lanka.


There is an African proverb:  “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”  People all around the world are being trampled by forces outside their control.  They are being trampled by war.  They are being crushed by poverty.  I understand these people.  I have met people who are starving.  Children who go to school in the open air because there is no schoolhouse.


The dedicated men and women of the United Nations are working hard around the world to help these people.  They are working to fulfil our humanitarian mission.


The demands on the United Nations are growing.  Today, we have 18 peacekeeping missions around the globe.  Nearly 115,000 UN military, police and civilian peacekeepers.  They and many other UN staff are putting their lives on the line to safeguard others.  Just last week, five people serving the UN lost their lives in the bomb blast in Peshawar, Pakistan.  Every day, the UN feeds close to 80 million people.  We are helping to save mothers, we are helping children to learn, we are supporting the world’s farmers.


These are among the things for which the UN is best known.  I thank you for honouring our work at this wonderful ceremony.  But there is another essential element of the UN’s work that I would like to emphasize tonight.  It is this:  the United Nations is the only universal multilateral forum for tackling the great challenges of this generation.


The past 12 months have shown repeatedly how local events can have global repercussions.  We live in a world without borders.  A world where a sneeze can become a global health emergency.  Where a financial hiccup can trigger an economic collapse.  The energy crisis, the food crisis, the financial crisis showed how closely all our fates are linked.


Such challenges demand our full collaboration ‑‑ all nations working together, rich and poor, big and small, North and South, developed and developing.  They demand a new multilateralism, which is harnessed to resources and principles.  When the economic crisis struck, it was the UN that worked day and night to pioneer a proposal that would help to lift all boats ‑‑ not just the few that could afford a quick repair.  We knew that in a recession those hurt first ‑‑ and worst ‑‑ are the poor.


We told this to the G-20 leaders in London in April.  We asked for $1 trillion to make sure the poor were not left behind.  I told the leaders of the G-20 that I welcomed their coordinated recovery packages, but I said do not lose sight of poor people around the world otherwise you cannot claim to be successful.  When the H1N1 epidemic emerged, the United Nations was again in the forefront ‑‑ providing information and coordinating a response.  I also met with leaders of pharmaceutical companies asking them to manufacture vaccines.  This is what the United Nations is for ‑‑ to help us rise to global challenges.


Climate change.  It is not an environmental challenge.  It is a humanitarian challenge.  It is a health crisis, an energy crisis, a food crisis and a security crisis all rolled into one.


This December, in Copenhagen, Governments will meet to finalize a new climate change agreement.  We have an opportunity.  An opportunity to save millions from disaster and starvation.  To provide clean renewable power to people who live without electricity.  To create clean, green efficient cities of the future.  We can do so much, if we have the will.  If we have the political will.  We have the resources, we have the technology.  What we lack is political will.  I am working to create awareness and political will.


You can help us generate the will.  You can help us succeed in Copenhagen.  You can help us seal the deal.  Tell your members, your friends, your political leaders that climate change is a humanitarian crisis.  Tell them that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity.  Tell them that we must seize it.  Tell them that we must make a difference.


I know we can make a difference.  People like Paolo Scaroni and Brendan Dougher know we can make a difference, and I congratulate them for their contribution.  Their businesses are part of the growing United Nations Global Compact working for corporate responsibility around the world.  Although he is not here, President Clinton also knows we can make a difference.  He believes in the United Nations.  He knows, and I know, that by working together, we will make a difference.


We live in momentous times.  Your mission of promoting understanding of global issues has never been more important.  On behalf of the United Nations, I thank you very much for your commitment and for this award.


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For information media • not an official record