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United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Statements

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 27 November 2015 - Deputy Secretary-General's speech entitled "United Nations at 70-Challenges for Peace, Development and Human Rights" [as prepared for delivery]

Your Serene Highness, President of Parliament, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Members of Government and Parliament,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to join you in celebrating 25 years of Liechtenstein’s membership in the United Nations.

I am proud to have been present and actively engaged in this historic decision in New York in 1990. I recall very close cooperation with Ambassador Claudia Fritsche and your Government on the road to your membership.

Today, I am pleased to follow in the footsteps of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Liechtenstein five years ago.  The UN also had the honour of welcoming His Serene Highness Prince Alois to New York this past June.

In this year of the 70th anniversary of the UN, I would like to express the gratitude of the United Nations to the Principality of Liechtenstein for a quarter century of constructive and dynamic engagement.

You can be proud of your achievements at the United Nations.  Your diplomacy has contributed greatly to the cause of global justice, in particular through your support for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In this process, Ambassador Christian Wenaweser has played – and is playing – a crucial role.

Liechtenstein is engaged across the UN agenda, from international law, rule of law and human rights to women’s empowerment, counter-terrorism and Security Council reform. For this, I thank and commend the Government of Liechtenstein, and in particular Foreign Minister Aurelia Frick, my very good host at several of the events here in Vaduz.

Also, Liechtenstein is a generous donor country and has strongly supported the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  Now, as the MDG clock winds down and a new era of development is to begin, I know your support for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be just as strong.

A moment of opportunity and hope

When we look at the world around us, it is easy to feel that we today are living through unusually uncertain, troubled and difficult times.

The migration and refugee flows stemming from unsolved conflicts and horrific living conditions are dramatic signs of these times. More people – 60 million – are displaced than at any time since the end of the Second World War.  An arc of instability and conflict stretches from the Sahel, across the Maghreb and into the wider Middle East.  The threat of terrorism grows ever more serious, as we have seen in recent weeks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, Bamako and Tunis. 

Also, around the world, far too many people still struggle desperately to feed their children, find decent work and live a life of dignity. To this should be added the existential threat to all of us, our children and our grandchildren that we are not at peace with Nature, that global warming may dramatically change our world and our lives.

But let us remember - there are also reasons for hope.  We must not despair.

Two months ago, an historic agreement was reached in New York.  The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by over 150 world leaders.

This new “2030 Agenda” is our blueprint to leave no one behind – to ensure that every man, woman and child can have freedom from poverty and hunger; health and education; gender equality; access to clean water, sanitation and energy; decent work; effective and honest institutions – and not least, peace and justice. 

The new goals are transformative and universal.  Every country has agreed to be bound and led by them. At their core is the concept of sustainability.  Three days from now in Paris, world leaders will come together again.  This time they aim to reach an agreement on tackling the existential threat of climate change. 

Together, the SDGs and, hopefully, a strong and universal climate agreement will give us an historic new basis for collective action.  The fact that Member States can come together in Paris, at a time of dramatic turbulence, sends a powerful message of a universal desire to set a new course for the world and the future.

At the same time, we must continue to address the acute conflicts, terrorist acts and instability around the world which threaten to block progress and reverse the gains we have made. It is vital that we do not lose sight of the values and fundamental principles which must guide us.

We must not be provoked by terrorism and blind violence. We must not limit freedoms, shut out the outside world, disregard refugee conventions, international humanitarian law or human rights.

If we do so, the forces of extremism will achieve what they want – to claim that democratic societies are weak and will bend under pressure.

Our globalised world

So what are the factors driving trends in today’s turbulent world? And what role can the UN play in addressing them?

Let us first recognize that the world today is more interdependent and interconnected than ever before.

People communicate across time zones at the tap of their fingers, sharing ideas and information. Economies and markets are intertwined. Goods and people move across borders with greater ease than ever.

But so do diseases and weapons, illicit financial flows and extremist hate speech. For every opportunity that this new world has opened, there is an equally important challenge or risk.

The border line between ‘national’ and ‘international’ has become blurred. Almost any issue being dealt with at the domestic level - migration, jobs, energy, terrorism – also has an international dimension.

Governments simply cannot deliver stable, prosperous societies at home without international cooperation.

Therefore, we need to maintain a constructive and open dialogue between all Member States so that solid international agreements can be found.  We must all realize that international solutions to complex issues, such as climate change and migration, are in the national interest of all states.

What does this mean for the UN? What role can our primary universal organization play in this new and complex global landscape?

The challenges we face today represent a serious test of multilateralism.  I know that many people question whether international institutions deliver sufficient results.

The strains for institutions at the international level correspond to the pressures many governments are feeling. I think of the erosion of trust in their institutions’ ability to deliver and of impatience among people with the speed and quality of their work and decision-making.

So, in fact, today national and international institutions face similar challenges to deliver to the peoples of the world what they need and expect, both from their governments and from the UN.

Let us recall that the United Nations is a reflection, a mirror, of the world as it is.  But it is also a reflection of the world as it should be.  Our job is to close that gap – or, more realistically, at least reduce the gap.

Let me share with you how we in different ways are trying to achieve this, across the three main pillars of the UN – peace and security, development and human rights.

Peace and security
The UN was established, as the Charter states, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.  The UN may by its very existence, some claim, have been successful in helping to prevent a third world war.  It has allowed the member states, not least the great powers, to, formally or informally, address many disputes, which might otherwise have led to war.

The UN has also helped resolve many inter-state and civil conflicts over the years with tools such as mediation, peacekeeping and sanctions (Chapter VI and VII of the UN Charter).

But let us be aware - the nature of warfare keeps changing.  Today, we face a new set of peace and security challenges.

First, a number of conflicts have to a great degree become part of wider regional or geopolitical tensions.  When we turn to the Security Council for political support to our diplomatic efforts, we often find deadlock and division instead of a strong, unified voice guiding our work. 

Here, I very much think of the nightmare of Syria with its unspeakable suffering and huge ramifications on regional and international security.  The Secretary-General and I are encouraged that at the recent talks in Vienna, both permanent Security Council members and key regional powers have seriously engaged in the search for a political settlement to the Syrian conflict. I hope the recent Turkish-Russian military incident will not obstruct or delay this important diplomatic process.

Second, there is an increasingly sectarian or ethnic dimension to many crises and conflicts.  This will make traditional diplomatic tools less effective and risk making conflicts more intractable.

Most dramatically, we see the dangerous rise of violent extremist groups with territorial ambitions and cross-border reach.  Also, non-state actors in the internet age are able to quickly communicate and export their destructive narrative to a global audience. 

This is a danger and challenge for the affected countries.  But it is also a danger and challenge for the international community as we, together, must try to reduce the influence and attraction of these extremist groups.

Here, we need to develop a comprehensive approach. Military action and harsh law-and-order measures may be necessary. But we must also develop political strategies as well as ask ourselves: what can we do about the recruitment of young people to extremist ideologies?

This is a fundamental challenge to all nations. 

Let me turn to the second pillar of the UN agenda, development. 

It took a mammoth effort to arrive at the ground-breaking new sustainable development goals (SDGs). The negotiators and the world’s leaders were driven by the daunting challenges faced in global and national development. They lived up to their responsibilities. A new ambitious development agenda for 2030 was adopted. 

We have much work ahead and must ask ourselves some fundamental questions:

• How can we simultaneously promote peace, sustainable development and human rights?
• How much growth can our global economic system sustain? How can we combine economic growth with seriously curbing carbon emissions?
• How do we counter the trend of rising inequalities and the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and at the expense of the many?

The 2030 Agenda represents a challenge and a transformative approach to sustainable development.

Governments alone cannot in 15 years bring about change of this magnitude. Success will require all actors to mobilize – parliaments, the private sector, NGOs and civil society, as well as the academic and scientific communities.

It will be vital to keep people engaged, keep partnerships together, and work tirelessly to meet the crucial test of implementation – to make these goals realities to our peoples. 

Human Rights and Rule of Law
The global landscape may be changing, but the values that underpin our work remain as relevant as they were in 1945.

These purposes and principles are enshrined in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They are captured in the extensive body of international humanitarian law.  And they are made tangible in the daily lives of people through the rule of law.

Yet, today, we are witnessing a serious erosion of respect for these core principles.  This is happening not only in the places we may first think of – fragile states where law and order have broken down.

It is also happening in countries which have long been supportive of international law. New challenges such as refugee flows and terrorist acts risk causing nations to call into question legal and moral obligations.   Fundamental aspects of international humanitarian law are disregarded in conflict situations around the world.  And human rights are always in danger.

To that end, the Secretary-General and I have been working to ensure the primacy of human rights through our ‘Human Rights Up Front’ initiative. This initiative reflects our conviction that violations of human rights are evident early warning signs of upcoming instability and conflict.  Why should we wait for mass atrocities to occur when we can act preventively at the stage of serious human rights violations?   We have tried to work in this spirit recently in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

A deeper appreciation of human rights must guide our responses to the threat of terrorism and violent extremism.  We must not be provoked or play into the hands of those who thrive on hatred and division, of those who compete in brutality in order to instil fear in our societies, dividing all of us into “us” and “them”.

I end – as I began – on the note of hope.

I mentioned the 2030 Agenda and the climate agreement as reasons for hope. Let me mention some more.

• The empowerment of women.  It is happening – it is real.            It is a positive sign of the times that women are candidates for the next President of the United States - and for the next Secretary-General of the UN.  

• There is great potential in young people around the world, waiting to shoulder responsibilities. That is why it is crucial to give priority to education and to fighting youth unemployment. 

• There are remarkable advances in science and technology, not least in the areas of health and environment.

• Patient and skillful diplomacy still works. The nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries reminds us that even the most intractable issues can be resolved through negotiations.

• The transition in Tunisia remains a bright spot in the Middle East turmoil. Its key actors are well-deserving Nobel Peace Prize Laureates this year.

But these hopeful signs are, regretfully, only part of a story.  Too many people across the world still live in poverty, conflict or despair.  The refugee and migration challenge will be with us for a long time, with far-reaching political, economic and social effects.  And the terrorist threat is clearly still with us.

In our complex world, it is important to keep a wider perspective and recognize our longer-term objectives and agenda.  The second UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, always underlined the importance of having a vision, a horizon.  But he also noted that equally important are the steps we take tomorrow which move us closer to the vision, the horizon.

It is sometimes said that the darkest hour is before the dawn.  There are indeed times these days when the world around us seems dark to all of us.  We should then recall how many reasons we have for hope and action.

It must be our mission to mobilize all good forces, develop a positive narrative, dispel fear and mistrust, gather strength from values and principles, and together go to work for a better world.

Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.

I thank you for inviting me to the celebration of Liechtenstein’s 25 years at the UN and for your continued commitment to our global organization and its purposes and principles.


Statements on 27 November 2015