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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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Keynote address to Global Insight Summit opening ceremony

by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Jackson Hole, Wyoming (USA), 6 June 2008

Thank you, Bill Rouhana, for those kind words and for your support of the United Nations. I consider you a true friend of the UN family.

Let me also thank the organizers of the Jackson Hole Film Festival, especially Eben Dorros and Todd Rankin. You and your team are showing great dedication in highlighting global issues.

I'm very happy to be here at this first-ever Global Insight Summit. It is important to get outside one's natural habitat sometimes. If my life were a movie, instead of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” it would be “Ban Ki-moon in the Negotiating Room.” Against this beautiful backdrop, the Teton mountain range, it might seem odd to speak about the world's most forgotten peoples in the most forgotten places. But they are precisely who you care about.

By bringing together leaders from the creative community, concerned members of the public, and the United Nations, I believe we can highlight the plight of children around the world and the role of the UN in helping them.

As UN Secretary-General, my work is naturally concentrated in the world of diplomacy. The reality is most of the time I have a much smaller audience than the average re-run of “The Lone Ranger.”

And it's true that we come from different cultures. It's not just that the UN and Hollywood are world's apart – the West is another world altogether. Here you have “No Country for Old Men,” I just meet old men from different countries.

The UN is the world's only truly universal organization, which today is facing an unprecedented surge of demand. The world is asking the UN to do more – in more spheres of activity, in more locations, in more challenging circumstances – than at any point in the Organization's history.

The UN is where the action is, in some of the toughest hotspots on the planet. We have over one hundred and ten thousand peacekeepers deployed in twenty countries on four continents, providing security to millions affected by conflict. Our agencies, like UNICEF, are saving millions of children in silent emergencies that don't make headlines. Twice a minute, a child dies of malaria. We're trying to deliver bed nets to protect them. Malnutrition is another stealth killer. So is the lack of sanitation. We're doing all we can to stop these unnecessary deaths.

When cyclones hit, when wars erupt, when people flee their homes, the UN rushes to the scene, helping more than 10 million refugees and 2 million displaced people globally.

Two weeks ago, I saw first-hand the damage caused by the cyclone in Myanmar. As all of you know from the tornado that hit parts of Wyoming just last month, such disasters have a devastating impact on everyone, whether rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated.

Two days ago, in Rome, I convened an emergency summit to address both the short-term and long-term solutions to the “silent tsunami” of rising food prices around the world.

In that crisis, as in so many others, children are the most vulnerable of all populations. Yet they are often the most overlooked. The reality is that millions of children are exposed to such ills as armed conflict, poverty, and disease. They are deprived of their fundamental right to childhood and many grow up without ever knowing peace, love and good health – things that most of us in this room have been fortunate enough to be familiar with since a very young age.

As Secretary-General, I am personally committed to being a voice for the voiceless and an advocate for their needs to help ensure that every child on earth can grow up in a peaceful, prosperous and just world.

In a way, we are victims of our own success. The more we do well, the more demands are placed on us. We're grateful for this global vote of confidence, but it has to be backed up by the resources we need to do the job. Look at Darfur. We've been asked to mount our largest peacekeeping operation there, and we're up to the job – but we need troops. We need equipment. We need your support.

The UN has always worked with governments to achieve our goals. And we always will. But we need new strategic partners and we need fresh creative thinking. Governments can't succeed alone – you in civil society have a powerful role as a force for change.

And the creative community has a far-reaching influence that can be harnessed for the greater good. The audience numbers in the billions. For better or worse, many people, when they think of Gandhi, picture Ben Kingsley. Many people had never heard about the role of gems in war until they saw Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond.” One unknown Rwandan hero became legend when Don Cheadle portrayed him in “Hotel Rwanda.”

Of course I could go on, but you know even better than I do how popular culture affects consciousness.

I'm happy to say the United Nations already receives a great deal of support from individual celebrities. I won't name them because the list is too long, but these are Oscar winners, rap stars, singers, supermodels, athletes and others who want to make a difference. They use their fame to shine the spotlight on global problems and what the UN is doing to address them. A model talking about abuses against women. An actor speaking out about the importance of disarmament. An actress helping refugees in camps and letting the world know, just by being there, about their plight. You know who you are.

These individuals, and others who don't work directly with the UN but still share our concerns, are making an immeasurable contribution to the success of our work.

But, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we can do more. Much more. This is why I have decided to launch a Creative Community Liaison Office at the UN, led by Susan Farkas, Chief of the Radio and Television Services at the UN, which we will build up to develop this relationship with the creative community. For the first time ever, the United Nations will have a dedicated capacity to partner with the creative community.

This is an obvious place to start. The creative community is working behind-the-scenes to recreate the drama that we face on a daily basis: war, rising sea levels, pandemics, natural disasters. Unfortunately, we've got it all. When a crisis hits, the UN stands ready to respond, ensuring security, promoting development and fighting for human rights.

You in the world of entertainment and new media have a unique power to connect the UN and people in every corner of the world. I can shout until I'm hoarse or I can ask for a microphone. You have the microphone. I'm asking you to join this effort to amplify the UN's message.

This Global Insight Summit can help forge new partnerships to spotlight critical issues and solve them together, as a global community. I hope this unique meeting will set creative ideas flowing and mobilize action.

Then this Summit can be a building block towards dynamic partnerships to tackle the pressing issues faced in today's world, and ensure that every person can enjoy a full and peaceful life.

There are a number of UN experts here who are eager to work with you. The panels tomorrow will be confronting some of the toughest issues we face: children and armed conflict, and HIV/AIDS.

There's no way to accurately count the number of children who are being robbed of their childhood in wars, but we estimate that 300,000 child soldiers are fighting in three quarters of all conflicts in the world. Ishmael Beah, one of our UN advocates, lived through this nightmare. He's here and he can tell you first-hand how devastating this problem is.

These children are often ripped from their homes, assaulted, abused, drugged and forced to become weapons of war. They are ostracized by their communities and have no hope of attending school. Many are stuck for years in militant groups that perpetuate a culture of violence. Girls and boys all over the globe are subjected to unimaginable abuse and are forced to commit atrocities they should not even know about, let alone participate in. We need to expose this exploitation and save the hundreds of thousands of children who are in grave danger right now.

At the United Nations, we carry out programmes called “Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration” which have helped to release thousands of children from militant groups. Our personnel work with these children to help them heal psychologically and learn skills to return to a normal life within their communities. In addition, the UN works on a daily basis to address the underlying issues that allow child exploitation to happen.

AIDS continues to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and children are particularly hard-hit. At last count, 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV, and children comprise 15 percent of all new infections annually. In addition, over 15 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Treatment, prevention and support should be available to all affected by this deadly epidemic, especially children.

But don't take my word for it.

I hope you will attend the panels tomorrow. Not only will you benefit from having an interactive session with Ann Veneman, the head of UNICEF, Radhika Coomaraswamy, my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and Deborah Landey, the Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, I think you will also be impressed by some people you may not have heard of. Mariatu Kamara is a survivor of the conflict in Sierra Leone where children were exploited as soldiers. Keren Gonzalez is a thirteen year old who has turned her own experience living with HIV/AIDS into a way to help other children and youth via family workshops and being an editor of a magazine for her community in Honduras. Princess Zulu, a Zambian woman who has brought her story of growing up as an HIV/AIDS orphan to the halls of Congress and even to the White House.

Awareness and understanding are powerful weapons against injustice, war and violence.

I look to all of you here to join forces with the brave men and women of the United Nations and be a beacon of hope for those who are most in need.

All of you have a voice – but more importantly, you can be a voice for the voiceless. Together we can be a powerful movement to find solutions for these problems. We can bring this real drama into the consciousness of the public and spur action.

Thank you very much.