– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

2 October 2018 

 

Unveiling of new UN stamps at “Non-violence in Action” (on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence)

Your Excellency, Ambassador Tanmaya Lal, Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations,

Excellencies,

Mr. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator

Ms. Jan Beagle, UN Under-Secretary-General for Management,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed truly an honor to be here today to join with you in celebrating the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and the International Day of Non-Violence.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, who cannot be with us today, and the Permanent Mission of India for organizing this great event.

I had the opportunity to visit India in August and experienced the vitality, creativity and throbbing pulse of a nation on the move.  As the fourth  woman to preside over the General Assembly in 73 years, I will be remiss if I do not acknowledge the first woman President, Madam Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, a national of India. Like Vijay Lakshmi, the man we celebrate today, was a first, leading the way in ways that have inspired generations to do better.

Dear friends,

today we come together to commemorate 150 years since the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, an individual whose name and image evoke the very concepts of peace, restraint and passivity, even in the face of violence and extremism.

This is incredible, especially when one considers that it has been 70  years since his passing. Entire generations have lived and died without ever really appreciating the true legacy of a man who worked, tirelessly, in a country on the other side of the world.

And yet, despite the distances in time and geography, we would be challenged to find anyone, in any part of the world, who has not heard of or been redeemed by the principles he represented.

This is remarkable. For while the details of the man may blur and fade, the essence of what he stood for will live on, long after we have ourselves have passed.

This is why we are here today, to ensure that his legacy is remembered and is celebrated.

 

Dear friends,

in lieu of extolling the achievements of Gandhi, which others can surely do more justice to than I can do, allow me instead, as President of the General Assembly, to highlight the current challenges in global peace and security, as well as recognize positive examples where success has proven possible. Through my remarks, I hope you take away a sense that peace is truly possible.

On the first point, the news is not good: years since they began, conflicts in Syria and in Yemen continue to rage on. Millions have been displaced, while entire cities, historical monuments and cultural icons have been destroyed. Those who have fled risk never having the possibility of returning home; while humanity itself has lost out on the opportunity to see first-hand these beautiful countries and the icons that their history had left behind.  There are tragedies here too numerous to name, but on every account, it is heartbreaking.

In other regions, throughout Central Africa, for instance, conflict and violence continue, with women and children far-too often the target of needless and horrendous crimes. While at one time such crimes would shock the world, the sheer explosion of social media and, occasionally, questionable media, has left many people desensitized to the world around them. We cannot allow this to happen, not when the suffering of our brothers and sisters continues.

Beyond conflict, the world faces a plethora of challenges that evoke insecurities. Billions fear the impact of climate change and disasters. Whether through the erosion of coastlines, or the loss of crops, or the lack of water – security and peace are threatened by the sheer desperation of people seeking only fulfillment of their most basic needs.

Many would argue that these threats are not new, but the scale of them is near unprecedented. A few figures from the last year to consider:

–              An estimated 124 million people across 51 countries were food insecure, an increase from 108 million in 2016;

–              Nearly 140 million people required humanitarian assistance; and

–              Over 30 million people were displaced, either by disasters or by conflict.

As we move into the 73rd Session, I commit to working with the General Assembly and its related committees in ways that reflect Gandhi’s view of change: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. 

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Dear friends,

the challenges, you can see are severe. But the news is not all bad. At its heart, humanity yearns for peace and harmony, principles that Gandhi espoused, and recent developments have given us cause for hope.

In July, the Governments of Eritrea, Ethiopia and then Djibouti, ended a decades long conflict with the signing of a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship. Seemingly out of the blue, two, then three, countries, close in historical and cultural ties yet years apart on politics, managed to find common ground and to see beyond their differences. The benefits have been profound: families reunited, borders opening to trade and investment, improved areas for cultural, social, economic and security cooperation.

On the other side of the world, in the Korean Peninsula, an inter-Korean summit has led to an historic thawing in relations. While only last year the threat of war had become a very real possibility, in a matter of months the tide had turned, so much so that the world watched this year as the two Koreas marched together into the 2018 Winter Olympics. Efforts have now turned towards denuclearization and formally opening relations to the betterment of citizens of both sides.

 

Excellencies,

for those countries still at odds, for those who would continue to pick up arms, the examples of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and of the Korean Peninsula, should serve as inspiration.

Did these peace deals happen in a vacuum? Of course not, they required work and determination, they required compromise, patience, compassion and forgiveness.

In our host country, Dr. Martin Luther King is celebrated as a student of Ghandi. Resisting opposition and insult, he took the long view. And he was right – his dream has changed the trajectory of a whole nation and influenced others. Over a week ago, world leaders at the General Assembly celebrated another icon of forgiveness and peace, the great Madiba, Nelson Mandela. These leading lights of our recent modern times were inspired by Mahatma Ghandi, whose example has proven the most durable and enduring.

As former Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “Non-violence does not mean non-action. It takes courage to stand up to those who use violence to enforce their will or beliefs. It requires resolve to face down injustice, discrimination and brutality. It takes strength to move from conflict to peaceful negotiation. Some of history’s greatest leaders rejected the battleground for the negotiating table.”

Before closing, allow me to stress, as President of the General Assembly, that we are committed to peace and security and to representing the ideals and principles of Mahatma Gandhi.

As we move into the 73rd Session, I commit to working with the General Assembly and its related committees in ways that reflect Ghandi’s view of change: “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. We are committed to bringing the United Nations closer to the people we are here to serve, to leave no one behind-and that means we the representatives of States must find ways to be the true ambassadors to the people we represent.

That means that we go beyond a narrow focus or definition of national interest. In an interdependent world, under pressure from inequality and climate change, such a vision of coexistence is both morally right but also self-serving.

My priorities for the 73rd session include those on decent work and on youth, peace and security, which aim to empower youth to engage and contribute to the peacebuilding process. I highlight those two, because, as Ghandi once said, “If you want real peace in the world, start with children”.

 

Dear friends,

I will end here. However, I hope that my remarks have offered you two things: a sobering, yet accurate portrayal of the continued struggle to reach peace and security; as well as the sheer determination of the human spirit and the successes that we see, every day, in bringing peace to the world.

So, to close with a Gandhi quote, let me say this:

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Thank you very much.