|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Tolerance among Lithuania’s ‘Defining Characteristics’,
Secretary-General Says, Accepting Honorary Degree
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at Vytautas Magnus University, in Kaunas, Lithuania, 17 November:
Thank you for welcoming me to this distinguished university. It is a great pleasure and honour to be with such an inspiring group of young people.
I am especially grateful to you for the conferral of an honorary degree. I know that, through me, you are recognizing the work of the United Nations — and of the brave and dedicated staff who work every day, across the world, to promote peace and human well-being.
I am pleased to be the first United Nations Secretary-General to visit Lithuania. This visit has given me a window into your country’s dynamic engagement on many critical issues facing our world today.
Lithuania is strongly committed to maintaining positive and constructive neighbourly relations. I have just visited Latvia and Estonia and heard about how you are striving together to make the Baltic area a strong and thriving region.
As an active member of the European Union, Lithuania has played an important role in building partnerships and promoting engagement between the European Union and a number of countries in its own region.
With your current Presidency of the European Council, and as you prepare to host the Eastern Partnership Summit later this month, Lithuania continues to deepen its involvement in the great project of European integration.
As a young country that has gone through a successful democratic transition, you are to be commended for sharing your experience with others.
As a country that has overcome the financial crisis, you have recognized that the way out must involve sacrifice as well as innovation.
And now you are just six weeks away from joining the United Nations Security Council, where you will serve for the next two years. I congratulate you on your election to the Council. This reflects global appreciation of your long-standing commitment to conflict resolution and peacekeeping, including a dozen United Nations operations and your current contributions to the international security force in Afghanistan and the European Union training mission in Mali.
Lithuania may be a relatively small State, but your contributions to the international community are substantial. Ladies and gentlemen, those contributions are needed now more than ever.
These are challenging times. We live in an era of transition and dramatic change. We face the crisis in Syria — the world’s biggest peace and security challenge. We face climate change — the world’s largest threat to our future.
We are also currently grappling with the realities of the typhoon that just devastated the Philippines: one of the largest storms to make landfall, with horrendous destruction and loss of life. Extreme weather is not a hypothetical issue for tomorrow. It is a reality today. Typhoon Haiyan is a brutal reminder of the serious consequences we face without a change in course.
We also face a host of dramatic developments that are re-drawing the global political and economic landscape, bringing both opportunity and risk.
The global transition is economic, as the countries of the South emerge as hubs of global dynamism.
It is technological, with huge advances in global connectivity that have major implications for health, education, and governance — but also for cyber security and organized crime.
The changes are environmental — as we seek improved stewardship of resources and a more sustainable path.
And they are political, as people rightly demand their rights — and call for an end to repression and corruption.
The United Nations is engaged on all these fronts.
We feed 90 million people every day and vaccinate nearly 60 per cent of the world’s children. Our work for the Millennium Development Goals has generated the most effective anti-poverty push in history. Now we are pressing to finish the job while defining a new agenda for the period beyond 2015.
We currently deploy more than 115,000 peacekeepers to 15 operations, as well as another 15 political missions to promote peaceful solutions to disputes. We provide electoral assistance to dozens of countries every year. We are working to empower the world’s women and girls and to enable them to enjoy their right to be free from all forms of violence. And we promote sustainable energy, education for all, and an end to hunger, and struggle against disease and maternal mortality. We have made important progress, but there is much work still to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations also works at another level — and it is in that area that I would like to make a special appeal today.
Almost seven hundred years ago, Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania wrote an open letter of great consequence. It read in part, and I quote: “We open our … kingdom to every person of good will: knights … peasants … cobblers … any manner of workers…”
This was more than an invitation for outsiders to come and practice their trade and their faith. It was also an early expression of tolerance — a value I know Lithuanians hold dear and that has been among your country’s defining characteristics.
In 1992 the Lithuanian artist Vladas Drema wrote that “All of Europe created Vilnius. People from every country in Europe … Lithuanian, Jewish, Polish, German, Italian… and Scandinavian culture — it is all here”.
Like many other countries, Lithuania has suffered. Your country has endured invasion, war and the horrors of the Holocaust. But Lithuania has worked hard to rise above these struggles. The world can see a Lithuania that is building on the best of its history and placing human rights and the rule of law at the centre of its priorities.
Yesterday, 16 November, marked the International Day of Tolerance — a time to reaffirm our commitment to upholding human equality and promoting mutual understanding. Given your country’s dedication to combating intolerance, I am glad to be in Lithuania to make this appeal.
Tomorrow, 18 November, I will visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau to pay tribute to the victims — above all the Jews of many nations, but also the Roma, homosexuals, dissidents, the disabled and mentally ill — anyone the Nazis deemed inferior according to their appalling racial theories.
In recent years, I have stood with the widows of Srebrenica, paid my respects at the mass graves in Kigali and visited the genocide memorial in Phnom Penh.
I believe it is absolutely essential to see the concentration camps, to stand with survivors, and to proclaim our commitment to remembrance of the past and prevention for the future. I will also sound the alarm about intolerance that still plagues us.
We see this poison in the increasingly sectarian dimensions of the conflict in Syria. We see it in the Central African Republic, where a collapse of law and order has led to horrendous attacks and reprisals between communities that have long lived in peace. We see it here in Europe, which is still trying to banish age-old anti-Semitism while wrestling with new waves of discrimination against migrants, Muslims and other minorities.
The United Nations is fully engaged in the struggle to eradicate discrimination and prejudice, and in the long-term struggle to change mindsets that lead to violence.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations works to counter extremism and build bridges among people, communities and countries.
Our human rights mechanisms set standards and provide mechanisms for protecting people — including vitally important rights defenders themselves.
My Special Advisers on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect keep a close watch on situations across the world where the precursors of grave crimes might be evident.
United Nations tribunals and special courts, as well as the International Criminal Court, seek to combat impunity, deliver justice for the victims and serve as a deterrent to future crimes.
We have also just embarked on an effort — called Rights Up Front — to enable the United Nations to do more and better in preventing, containing and stopping grave crimes. When people face such situations, they expect the United Nations to act. We are determined to uphold that responsibility.
Ladies and gentlemen, to build a culture of peace and tolerance, we need young people like you to take the lead. Young people are the leading edge of our new world. Half the world’s population is under 25 years of age — the largest generation of young people in history.
With new information technologies at your fingertips, you can find new ways to link up with like-minded people and support United Nations causes.
The world faces tremendous pressures. But this is also a moment of opportunity. With so much at stake — and even more that we can achieve — we need peoples and nations to come together, with each other and through the United Nations.
I ask you above all to be global citizens.
I am confident that the people of Lithuania will continue to be a strong partner of the United Nations, helping us to build a life of dignity for all.
* *** *For information media • not an official record