15 October 2007


15 October 2007
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the National Association of Evangelicals in Washington, D.C., on 11 October:

I thank you very much for your warm welcome.  It is a pleasure to be here this evening, and an honour to be with you -- you who contribute so much to causes close to our hearts: peace, good works and prosperity for all.

I would like to speak with you about basic principles -- justice, conscience and, most important, consciousness.  Consciousness of the community of humanity and all living things, and consciousness of our sacred duty to them.

This is what brought me to the United Nations, and to this place with you tonight.  From my earliest days as a boy in South Korea, I dreamed of working for the United Nations.  I wanted to make a difference in the world.

Like you, I believe in moral passion -- grounded in concrete action.  I believe the measure of men is their deeds, not their words, however fine they might sound.  As Secretary-General, I would like to be remembered as one who did things, who tried in small ways to the best of his ability to make the world a better place, to help people.

You are well aware that the United Nations is a secular institution, composed of 192 nations.  We have six official languages, but no official religion.  We do not have a chapel -- though we do have a meditation room.

One of my predecessors, Dag Hammarskjöld, put it well:  “The United Nations stands outside -- necessarily outside -- all confessions.  But it is, nevertheless, an instrument of faith.  It is inspired by what unites, not by what divides, the great religions of the world.”

Faith has always been at the heart of the United Nations.  Faith in good works, undertaken in unity.  We are a little younger than the National Association of Evangelicals.  At our founding in 1945, 42 non-governmental organizations were involved in the creation of the new United Nations.  Fourteen of those were faith-based.  Today, 4,000 non-governmental organizations are accredited to the United Nations -- 400 of them faith-based.

This should be no surprise, considering the nature of our common cause.  The United Nations is dedicated to ending war and building peace -- to making swords into ploughshares, if you will.  We are dedicated to helping the poor.  To aiding the victims of conflict, famine, disease and disaster.  To protecting human rights and promoting the rule of law.

“If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

So reads Isaiah 58:10.  You find similar passages in every sacred text.

If you ask the people who work for the United Nations what motivates them -- whether they are building peace in Timor-Leste, fighting human trafficking in Eastern Europe, or battling AIDS in Africa -- many reply in a language of faith.  They see what they do as a mission, not just a job.

There are three pillars of the United Nations Charter: peace and security, development and human rights.  Among these, I regard development as key.  This is at the core of what you invited me to discuss tonight -- the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

There are eight of them, set forth in the Millennium Declaration signed by world leaders in September 2000.  They range from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, to promoting universal primary education and empowering women, to combating HIV/AIDS and creating a global partnership for development.

I know you are familiar with this work.  Christian evangelicals have pursued a similar calling for more years than the United Nations has existed.  Your mission statement reads partly “to work to relieve human suffering, poverty and hunger worldwide”.

Everyday, you work towards the Millennium Development Goals by delivering aid and humanitarian services across the world.  You are leaders of the Jubilee Campaign to cancel debts to more than 30 developing countries.  You fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.  You have pushed to create the President’s Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief, and helped make the United States the world’s single largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

And in the truest spirit of the Millennium campaign, you have mounted the Micah Challenge as a moral compact between rich and poor.  I emphasize this word.  Development, as enshrined in the MDGs, is indeed a moral calling.

Too often, we forget how intimately all people and nations on this planet are bound together.  We in the developed world have a responsibility to help those in the developing countries.  This cannot come merely as humanitarian aid.  We must help them develop, so that they can share in the world’s bounty.

“Give me a fish, and I will eat.  Teach me to fish, and I will never go hungry.”

We are at the midpoint of our MDG campaign.  Across the world, millions of people are lifting themselves out of poverty.  More children than ever are going to school.  Child mortality has declined.

And yet, we have far to go.  In Africa, we are not nearly on track to reach the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, our target deadline.  It is intolerable that half a million women die each year from treatable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.  It is intolerable that HIV/AIDS continues as a modern-day scourge.  It is intolerable that 10 million children die each year before their fifth birthday, mostly from such preventable diseases as malaria.  It is a moral scar on our conscience.

As I see it, 2008 should be a year of new directions.  The United Nations can, and must, do better.  That is why I recently established the MDG Africa Steering Group -- to generate fresh thinking and mobilize the political will to effect real change.

We cannot do it alone.  We need good allies, such as you here this evening.  More than ever, we need the National Association of Evangelicals, the Micah Challenge and others in the faith community to help give voice to the voiceless.

Your engagement can push Governments to follow through on their commitments.  You know that at Gleneagles two years ago the world’s rich countries pledged to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010 -- half of it to Africa.  You also know that very little of that money has been delivered.

You know that rich countries’ trade policies continue to deny poor nations an even playing field in the global economy.  You also know that poor countries need equitable trading opportunities if they are to develop and grow.  As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rightly says, a world with a billion people living on less than $1 a day can neither be just nor stable.

We see that in such places as Darfur.  We cannot rest until the killing stops and the seeds of normal life are planted.  At the United Nations, we are pressing ahead with peace talks, to take place in Libya late this month.  We are laying the foundations for a major deployment of peacekeepers, even as we continue our massive humanitarian aid effort under difficult conditions.

And ultimately, we all recognize that there can be no enduring peace in Darfur that does not go to the basic core of our MDG campaign -- economic development.  Security and development go hand in hand.  They, too, are human rights, essential to true justice.

Let me close by talking about yet another key element of the MDGs and our war against global poverty.  That’s climate change -- yet another moral imperative and a defining issue of our era.

We hear about it every day: the melting of Arctic ice, the growing deserts of the Sahara and the Gobi.  Several weeks ago, just before the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, I called together a high-level meeting on climate change.  It was the largest such event ever held, with more than 80 Heads of State.

Something remarkable happened -- transformative, even.  Speaker after speaker stood and agreed.  The science is clear, they said.  Global warming is real; we are the primary cause.  Its impact is being felt worldwide and we must act, now.  All agreed that the United Nations must take the lead.  And they also called for justice.

Climate change affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally.  Those who are least able to cope are being hardest hit.  Those who have done the least to cause the problem bear the gravest consequences.

An estimated 70 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa survives by subsistence agriculture; their livelihoods depend on rain, and climate change makes the rains fail.  Hundreds of millions of people in Asia and the Americas depend on mountain snow and glaciers for their water.  We have seen how climate change threatens these communities with flooding as the ice and snow melt.  But once they are gone, these poor communities will struggle with drought.

We have an ethical obligation to right this injustice.  We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable.  Without a strong global effort against global warming, we will fail in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the implicit human right to economic justice and development.

Without a strong global effort against global warming, humankind could even be wiped out, along with other species.  Our Earth is God’s creation.  We are its custodians.  We can no longer look the other way.

The good news is that people and institutions of faith all over the world agree.  This gives me great hope.

I commend those of you who have signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative, including many on your board of directors.  All of you can make contributions, from doing the right thing in your communities and making responsible consumer choices to calling for the local and national policies that will help solve our global problem.  Do not underestimate your power.

When the world’s Governments go to Bali in December, I hope that friends like you will remind them of the sacred trust we have invested in them.

Please, join me in this great cause.  With faith and will, we can make the difference.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.