Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Statement

The Secretary-General's Remarks to the University of Luxembourg [as prepared for delivery]

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, 17 April 2012

Bonjour tout le monde, je suis heureux d'être ici.
And please, be forewarned:
 
In a few moments I will speak in several different languages — if only to prove that I could be a student here, too!
 
Before coming, I learned that the motto of your school is “Multilingual, international and well-connected.”
 
"Multilingue (FR), international (DE) a gutt vernetzt (LU)"
 
In any language, that is the very heart and soul of the United Nations.
 
One of the best parts of my job as United Nations Secretary-General is meeting with young people. As you can probably guess, I travel widely in my job — and one of the things I have discovered is that, more and more, young people are looking beyond themselves … looking beyond their own countries … to what they can do for our world.
 
That is a tradition at this University. Every one of you will spend a year studying in another country.
 
That will enrich your lives.
 
I speak from experience. I would not be standing here today if it were not for my first trip abroad as a teenager.
 
I come from a very small town in rural Korea. Much of it had been destroyed in the war. We did not have any modern appliances. We used the stove to heat our house. I studied by candlelight. My classes were held under a tree, out in the open.
 
Thanks to that education — and thanks to the many friends from around the world who came to help Korea in its time of need — I began to see beyond my country. I knew that by learning a different language I could enter a broader world.
 
I entered an English essay contest and I won. The prize was a trip to America.
 
It was a life-changing experience. From the dirt roads leading out of my hometown, I went to the capital, Seoul. Then I got on an airplane, for the first time.
 
I was so thrilled, I felt like I could grab the stars right out of the sky.
 
At the time, Korea was still recovering from the war. The poverty was terrible. What I saw in the United States opened my eyes. I decided to devote my life to diplomacy.
 
When you have different experiences in a new country, they shape the way you see the world – and your place in it.
 
That is what I would like to speak to you about today — the idea of global citizenship … and the fact that we are all born to be a part of something larger than ourselves. That each of us has a responsibility to do our part for our larger world.
 
After that first trip abroad, I never stopped travelling. I am always on the go.
 
I am not trying to set any records – I am simply acting on my long-standing conviction that to change the world we have to see the world. To understand its problems, we have to speak to the people who experience them.
 
Wherever I go as Secretary-General, I meet with high-ranking officials – diplomats, ministers, that sort of thing.
 
But I also make a point to meet ordinary people… to hear their hopes, their concerns and their aspirations for the future.
 
Earlier today, I had excellent talks at the Luxembourg Parliament. But here and now, I am just as interested in hearing what you have to say.
 
Early in my time as Secretary-General, I made a pledge to use my office to be the voice of the voiceless, the defender of the defenceless.
 
And so, while I meet with kings and prime ministers, I also meet with refugees fleeing war, hunger and poverty. I meet with women who lead their countries as presidents and members of parliament – and I also meet with mothers in health clinics in, say, Bangladesh, or young girls recovering from rape in, say, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
I also travel to see first-hand the great challenges we face as global citizens — to the Arctic and Antarctica, for example, to witness how climate change is affecting our world.
 
            Again, the point is not simply to see different places. The point is to see from different perspectives.
 
            Ladies and gentlemen,
My young friends,
 
We live in an era of challenge and transition, more challenging I believe than in any recent decade.
 
We have a new generation of major threats to human well-being. No nation can meet them on their own. Nor does any problem exist in isolation.
 
            Climate change, poverty, disease, growing scarcities of natural resources, shortages of food and water, terrorism and threats to the environment — all are inter-related. And they respect no borders.
 
We can deal with these problems only if we confront them collectively.
 
            Consider climate change. If you think of this only as a matter of meteorology, you will have a very narrow view.
 
But let us widen our perspective.
 
Climate causes natural disasters. Natural disasters worsen poverty. Poverty breeds discontent.
 
Suddenly, we realize that if we want to live in peace and security, we have to deal with problems of poverty, environmental disasters and climate change.
 
The same is true for women’s rights. When you oppress women and deprive them of equal opportunities, you also hurt their children. You undermine social development. You hold back economic progress.
 
But when you empower women, you unleash a force that can transform families, communities and whole countries. We have found that when you invest in women, you also invest in community health … in education … in entrepreneurship.
 
More and more leaders understand these links. They know we have to tackle major global threats comprehensively. That we need integrated solutions to multifaceted problems.
 
The United Nations is leading the international response.
 
The UN’s convening power is unmatched.
 
But we do more than bring countries together in conference rooms. We go out to countries around the world to help people.
 
This weekend, I chaired a meeting of the United Nations Chief Executives Board. It brought together heads of all UN agencies. In that room, I met with top experts on security, development, human rights, health, information technology, children and so much more.
 
The United Nations has 120,000 peacekeepers serving in some of the toughest places on earth, from Lebanon to Sudan …from Haiti to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
            Peacekeeping operations used to separate forces along a ceasefire line.
 
            But today’s peacekeepers are not just soldiers. They are human rights monitors going into prisons to make sure conditions are humane. They are police serving side by side with national officers to make people safe. They are advocates for women. They help people in disasters. They construct bridges in communities. They build nations.
           
            This is the kind of comprehensive approach that gets results.
 
            But the United Nations will never succeed alone.
 
            We need partners.
 
You can make a difference. You, personally, can contribute to the UN’s work for peace. You, personally, can contribute to the world’s development and human rights.
 
It used to be that if you wanted to be part of the United Nations, you studied political science.
 
But today, it doesn’t matter what degree you earn as long as you have passion and creativity, a sense of mission, a conviction that you can make a difference.
 
Of course we still need diplomats. But we also partner with movie stars, professional athletes, philanthropists, and businesspeople. We hire doctors and we join forces with religious leaders. We fight alongside human rights groups and we pool our talents with aid organizations.
 
            This United Nations is your United Nations. And this is your moment.
 
            Youth around the world are shaping events as never before.
 
            We saw this in the Arab Spring. Tweets blinked across the Internet. Crowds gathered in public squares. And those crowds shifted power in ways that most people could barely have imagined.
 
            All of us can mobilize for change.
 
With our cameras and our sense of justice, we can be human rights monitors.
 
With our access to information and our ability to put it online, we can hold authorities to account.
 
With our social networks, we can push for progress.
 
            Just last week, I was part of a Google+ Hangout online. I spoke to young people around the world about what is on their minds. Unemployment, terrorism, human rights, women’s empowerment, how youth can make a difference.
 
            I told them our world is shrinking. As a young man, I sent letters that took days to reach one friend. Now you can reach millions instantly with a click.
 
Our world has seven billion people and six billion mobile phone subscriptions. Many individuals are still not connected, but the digital divide is closing.
 
Technology and partners are helping the United Nations to shine a global spotlight on crises around the world.
 
When the massive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, the UN put a video on YouTube and a few thousand people watched it. Then the band Linkin Park put our video to their music and suddenly we were counting those numbers in millions. The viewers did more than watch – they donated to the relief effort. They made a difference.
 
            I met the members of Linkin Park to thank them. Fans go crazy for their music, but I go crazy for their global citizenship.
 
            At our online Hangout, the Vice President of Google said, “Let’s shrink the world more.”
 
            I fully understood what he meant – and I agree.
 
            The United Nations is opening its doors to more and more people. We invite non-governmental organizations that sometimes criticize our views. We welcome scrutiny from the press. And we look for funding, advice and innovation from the world of business.
 
            We need all people of conscience to help change our world.
 
            We need you. Be a global citizen.
 
[Repeat in Luxembourgish: We need you.  Be a global citizen.]
            Mir brauchen dech. Sief e Weltbierger.
 
            Thank you. Merci. Danke schön. Villmools Merci. [Luxembourgish for “thank you”.]
 
Thank you very much.

Statements on 17 April 2012