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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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Riga, Latvia, 15 November 2013 - Secretary-General's remarks at Latvia 95 Conference [as prepared for delivery]

I am glad to visit your beautiful country.

Today we celebrate 95 years of Latvia as a Republic.

We look back on Latvia’s history. We examine its current challenges. And we look ahead to a future of even greater engagement on the global stage.

Latvia re-gained independence without recourse to violence.

At the time, Latvians drew on their rich heritage of folk music.

These musical compositions are lovely to listen to – but they represent more than songs. They are a bridge from the past to the future. They convey wisdom from one generation to the next. And Latvian culture preserved the country’s national identity.

Your independence slogan, from the poet Maris Caklais, was: “Going with the force of spirit against the force of arms.”

This commitment to peace and non-violence is in line with the values of the United Nations.

Latvia joined the United Nations just 22 years ago, but it has already served on important UN bodies, including twice being elected to the Economic and Social Council. And Latvia’s representative chairs the Executive Board of UN Women.

Beyond holding seats in commissions and councils, Latvia has upheld values and principles. Latvia is a champion of gender equality and fundamental freedoms. Latvia is a party to more than 50 human rights treaties. I hope other countries follow this example.

When Latvia gained independence, the United Nations offered a helping hand. More than ten UN agencies sent teams to Latvia. The Government generously provided a UN House where our staff joined forces to help Latvians seize their historic moment and achieve lasting progress.

The world extended its solidarity to Latvia – and now Latvia is helping others.  I encourage your efforts to reach out to other countries which are now undergoing transition so that they can benefit from your experiences.

Latvians have been playing an important role at the United Nations and other international bodies. Andris Piebalgs, the European Union Commissioner for Development, served on my High-level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda. And he and I just travelled together to the Sahel region of Africa, along with the President of the World Bank, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the President of the African Development Bank. We went there together to stress that security and development must go hand-in-hand.

Latvia is contributing to the Sahel region, including by sending personnel to the European Union Training Mission in Mali. Latvian soldiers are also serving with the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

I applaud these contributions. They show Latvia’s resolve to participate in multilateral initiatives.

The United Nations will stand by the people of Afghanistan in the years to come as our partnership evolves in the light of its increasing sovereignty.

We continue to address the conflict in Syria. The United Nations is verifying the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons. We are providing life-saving aid to millions of Syrians. And we are pressing for a political solution.

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there has been some progress. The M23 declared the end of its military rebellion.  The Congolese Government has announced the end of combat operations against the M23. Now, people  must reap the benefits of peace.

In all of these areas and beyond, we are demonstrating the power of multilateralism to address the greatest challenges of our times.

Latvia has impressed the world with its courage, unity and solidarity in the face of financial sacrifices. With the quality of its elections.  With its healthy and vibrant civil society.  With its independent media.

This is a forward-looking Conference, and Latvia has much to look forward to, as it continues to consolidate its vibrant democracy and advance in its social and economic agenda.

Latvia will take up the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2015. That will be a crucial period in international relations. That year, we have an opportunity to set the world on course for a sustainable future.

The Millennium Development Goals marked the most successful anti-poverty campaign in history.

Now we are accelerating our push to reach those Goals while we shape a vision for development after they expire in 2015.

This is a momentous opportunity in the global quest for dignity, peace and prosperity.

I am calling for a single, coherent and ambitious post-2015 agenda with sustainable development at its core and poverty eradication as its highest priority.

The year 2015 is also our target to conclude a global legal climate agreement. The leadership of the European Union – and particularly Latvia as president – will be crucial to success. Yesterday I invited President Berzinš to attend a summit I am convening next September to build support for international action on climate change.

Latvia and all of the EU can play a key role in carrying forward new approaches for sustainable development.

The new agenda will reflect our changing world. This means making the most of information and communications technology. I applaud Latvia and the other Baltic States for using ICT to achieve more open, transparent and effective government.

Gender equality is also essential for progress. I commend Latvia for having so many female ministers serving in Government. I hope to see greater representation of women in Parliament as well.

Earlier today, I planted an apple tree. This was largely symbolic, but it made me feel closer to the land here.

I am told that many Latvians have apple trees in their gardens. And the mythical Golden Apple Tree is a national symbol of luck.

More than half of this country is made up of forests. The Government has adopted policies that protect this valuable resource. In this region, Latvia supports negotiations on a legally binding agreement on forests in Europe. And globally, Latvia is active at the United Nations Forum on Forests.

This morning, I met with Mr. Arvids Ozols, the Director of Latvia’s Forests Department. He chaired that Forum in 2011 with a focus on people, livelihoods and poverty eradication. I expect Latvia will continue to show global leadership on forest issues.

I appreciate this opportunity to meet with so many outstanding leaders of government. I am privileged to make the first visit of a Secretary-General to Latvia – but I can already promise this will not be the last. In two days, I will be back. Because I also want to see Old Riga.

Latvia’s history is part of our global cultural heritage.

Three years ago, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, helped to launch a project to preserve significant Latvian documents.

The project preserves a rich collection of documents, including writings of the great Latvian poets Rainis.

I was inspired to learn about them.

I was especially moved by the spirit of global citizenship that Rainis expressed.

He wrote, “I’m part of the world; I’m responsible for everything.”

Latvia is a small State – but it is making a global impact through its important multilateral efforts.  I count on you to continue to make a difference by building on your growing list of contributions towards a better world for all.

May Latvia live as long as the Sun!

Thank you.


Statements on 15 November 2013