Amid Multiple Global Crises, Strong, Outspoken Parliaments More Important Than Ever, Secretary-General Tells National Speakers

19 July 2010

Amid Multiple Global Crises, Strong, Outspoken Parliaments More Important Than Ever, Secretary-General Tells National Speakers

19 July 2010
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Amid Multiple Global Crises, Strong, Outspoken Parliaments More


Important Than Ever, Secretary-General Tells National Speakers


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s remarks to the Inter-Parliamentary Union World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, “Parliaments in Time of Crisis:  Securing Global Democratic Accountability”, In Geneva, today, 19 July:

It is a great honour to have this privilege of addressing the distinguished Speakers of the world’s parliaments.  Looking out, I see ideals, I see experience.

You come from many different backgrounds but you are united in purpose.  Wherever I travel, I try to speak to national assemblies and parliaments.  You may have varying powers and ambitions but you are the true backbone of democracy.  You make the laws.

By your very diversity, you are the voice of the people.  You link the local with the national and the national with the global.  Some of you may know the saying “all politics is local”.  At the United Nations, especially, we know that to be true.  After all, the opening words of the United Nations Charter are “We, the peoples”.

Like you, the United Nations bears a great responsibility.  That is to realize the dreams and aspirations of those we represent.  Peace and security, human rights, climate change, the well-being of families and societies — these great global issues are also great local issues.

And you, parliamentarians, see that every day.  That is why your voices are so important to the effective governance of our complex world.  And that is why we are all here today in this chamber of the United Nations.  Like never before, the world needs your leadership.  The world needs your strong, effective, outspoken parliaments.

Since you last met, five years ago, the world has been shaken by crises.  You know them as well as I do.  The financial crisis, the food crisis, economic recession — all of these compounded by the impact of climate change.

We are struggling to end conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and elsewhere.  We are troubled by many such local conflicts.  Natural disasters, most recently in Haiti, have tested the collective will of the international community.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, the menace of terrorism, and the growth of transnational organized crime are growing threats to international peace and security.  They call for our collective action, our collective leadership, and I count on your leadership.  More than ever before, they require us to work with a broad range of partners.

To be effective, our responses must be both global and local.  They must be rooted in our pact with the world’s people.  This is the true meaning, this is the essence of “democratic accountability” — the theme of your Conference this time.

Looking ahead, we need your leadership in four areas.  First, it is you who must act on the great challenges of our times.  It is you again who must ratify treaties on climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, economic development, and much else.

And again, it is you, the parliamentarians, who must fund these commitments.  It is you who must remind Governments of their international obligations.  With your strong leadership, our future will be much brighter.

Second, parliaments can and should be a force for stability.  Democracies rarely wage war against each other.  Civil wars break out less frequently in well-established democracies.  Parliaments help to resolve ethnic, religious and economic tensions.  They reinforce justice and the rule of law.  They can help advance the interests of women and minority groups.

Third, parliaments are essential in advancing development and creating prosperity.  This is particularly important as we approach the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals.  This is the blueprint world leaders agreed on in 2000.

We have made progress, but we must step up the pace.  The Millennium Development Goals are, simply put, an expression of our collective commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and ill health.  Too many of our people in too many parts of the world live in conditions that are simply intolerable.  As parliamentarians, you more than anyone — you are the parliamentarians that represent the people of your countries — know we must help them.

Here, too, democracy is a force for change.  As the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen pointed out, no famine has ever taken place in a flourishing democracy.  Democratic Governments competing for votes must feed their people.  More, development is more likely to succeed when people can influence their own governance.

So we look to parliaments to write the laws and invest in programmes that will achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  You are on the front lines, fighting for your people for basic services like safe water and sanitation, primary education and health care.  It is again up to you to mobilize and prepare your Governments for our final push towards the Goals.

We only have five years remaining.  Time is short.  We are fighting against time.  That starts with the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, two months from now.  National ownership is key.  We must come up with bold, concrete and workable action plans, plans that deliver real results for real people.

Some say the Goals are too ambitious, that we do not have much time left, that time is too short.  My view is the opposite.  Experience has shown how much is possible with the right policies and adequate resources.  We know what works and what doesn’t work.  Parliaments must help us move from vision to action.

Let me close on a fourth area where we need your leadership:  nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.  Recently, we have seen some signs of progress.  In May, at the United Nations, the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty concluded successfully.

The historic Security Council summit on nuclear non-proliferation last year, the conclusion of a new START treaty between the United States and Russia, the Washington summit on nuclear safety.  With these building blocks, we are inching closer to a world free of nuclear weapons.

But much more needs to be done.  I sincerely hope that the Second Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in 2012 in the Republic of Korea, my home country, will be a great success in helping realize our goal, our aspiration — to make the world free of nuclear weapons.

We urgently need progress towards the entry into force of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  We also need to revitalize the Conference on Disarmament.  I will convene a high-level meeting in New York in September during the General Assembly for that purpose.

And in August, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attack, I will visit the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to send out a strong message from the international community that we must realize a world free of nuclear weapons.

For decades, parliamentarians and civil society organizations have worked to counter the nuclear threat.  I thank you in particular for adopting a resolution last year endorsing my own five-point nuclear disarmament proposal.  Please keep up the pressure for change.

Democracy has proven its power across our shared agenda.  That is why I am troubled by recent reversals.  There have been, and we have seen, unfortunately, many cases of unconstitutional changes of Government, in Africa and elsewhere.  There have been coups and illegal seizures of power.  This puts hard-won development gains at risk.  It breeds instability.  It runs counter to our firmly held principles.

Constitutional rule is not always shattered in a single blow.  It can suffer death by a thousand cuts, as when Governments manipulate constitutional, political and electoral processes to extend their term in office.  International criminal networks pose yet another threat to the rule of law.  They spread corruption, compromise elections and damage the legitimate economy.

Such threats remind us that there is nothing inevitable about democratic development.  It comes through hard work, vision, leadership, and sustained effort.  People rightly look to the United Nations to help.  They look to us to help democracy, to recover from war, to help uphold the rule of law and to shine a spotlight on shortcomings and outright abuses.

But above all, people look to you, their chosen and elected parliamentarians.  You are part of a universal democratic ideal.  You are proof that democracy is not a model imposed by one part of the world on another; you are evidence that democracy is a yearning shared and voiced by people the world over.

I myself grew up in a country — Korea — devastated by war.  Sixty years ago, it lacked many of the basic elements of a functioning democracy.  Today it has one of the most passionate and lively parliamentary cultures in the world.  Some might even say too lively.

In between, there were dark periods of military rule.  There were times when the National Assembly’s voice was crushed and silenced.  But party leaders and political activists — parliamentarians like you — led and won the day.

Hand in hand with democracy, my country’s economy has grown and its people have prospered, enjoying genuine freedom and democracy.  I have witnessed, first hand, the birth pains of democracy, the slow and halting path it may take and the stability and prosperity that are its rewards.

I know how important your work is, what a difference it makes.  That is why I have such great respect for you, all the parliamentarians and distinguished speakers, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and why I am so happy and honoured to be with you today.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union is bringing the voice of the world’s people to the work of the United Nations.  It is helping to integrate global issues into the work of national assemblies all over the world. 

At this time of crisis and challenge, let us deepen our strategic partnership between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, between the United Nations and national parliaments.  Let us continue to work together.

And in closing, let me say that I look forward to meeting you once again, when I will be travelling to your countries and I will try to visit your home parliaments.  Until then, I extend to all of you my best wishes for the continued success and prosperity of the countries you represent.

That is our aspiration and your responsibility.  I count on your leadership and commitment in working together with the United Nations to make a better world for all.

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