Inequality Not Just about Slice of ‘Proverbial Pie’, but about Ensuring Everyone’s Involvement in Its ‘Baking and Feast’, Secretary-General Tells University Students

15 February 2011

Inequality Not Just about Slice of ‘Proverbial Pie’, but about Ensuring Everyone’s Involvement in Its ‘Baking and Feast’, Secretary-General Tells University Students

15 February 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Inequality Not Just about Slice of ‘Proverbial Pie’, but about Ensuring Everyone’s


Involvement in Its ‘Baking and Feast’, Secretary-General Tells University Students


Following is the text of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (National University of San Marcos), in Lima, Peru, 15 February:

Es un honor para mi estar aquí, en la casona de San Marcos que alberga esta Universidad.  I am especially privileged to have my distinguished predecessor, Javier Perez de Cuellar, join us.  Sir, you honour us with your presence here today.  No Secretary-General can visit Peru without thinking of Mr. Perez de Cuellar.  But I do not have to come all the way to Lima to appreciate my predecessor.  His legacy is everywhere at United Nations Headquarters in New York and around the world.

It all began here, in Lima.  When he was a young boy, he saw flags of different countries displayed in the shops in the old city, and the future Secretary-General started to imagine the world beyond Peru.  I wish I had time to review all of the history since then.  But since I do not, I just want to look back on Mr. Perez de Cuellar’s final day in office.  Most of us, when we leave a job, there is a little office party.  After 10 years as Secretary-General, he could have spent his last day drinking wine and meeting with friends and colleagues.

And it was 31 December 1991, so it was New Year’s Eve, a time most people celebrate.  But Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar had work to do.  He spent his last day in office in difficult negotiations between the Government of El Salvador and the FMLN [Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front].  He was working extremely hard, but he told his staff to go home.  They still remember him kindly saying: “Go, enjoy your New Year’s Eve.”

Of course they did not want to leave their leader.  They all stayed.  The negotiations ran right up to midnight.  Before Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar left the dark halls of the United Nations that night, his final night as Secretary-General, he got a peace agreement for the Salvadoran people that ended a devastating war.  He said to me today, recollecting that historic moment, that he had to stop the watch not to cross over midnight, the last of his mandate.  Finally, to complete his negotiations, he had to borrow one hour from his successor.  This is just one aspect of Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar’s important legacy for the United Nations and the world.

I am very honoured to speak in this oldest university on this continent which dates back 460 years.  But, however old it may be, I can feel a certain thirst, not just for education and ideas; a thirst for change.  And there are few things in the life of a United Nations Secretary-General as inspiring as being among a group of young people eager to change the world.  It gives me hope.  It gives the world hope — as we have seen most recently in Egypt.

So I am moved to be here, moved to be standing in this room that is so steeped in your country’s struggle for independence, and eager to talk to you about the global challenges we must face together.

We are living in an era of transformation, of sweeping changes in the global landscape, with new economic powers emerging, disasters striking with greater force, the impacts of climate change growing ever clearer, drug trafficking and organized crime syndicates that at times seem capable of outgunning legitimate police forces.  Today’s challenges have global reach.  No single country or group, however powerful, can deal with them alone.

We must work in common cause, not just as a matter of pragmatic burden-sharing, though that is reason enough.  We must find common solutions because we share a common future.  Webs of commerce have made us more dependent on each other.  Global communications have made us more aware of each other - what it is to be rich, what it is to be poor, what it is to be free and what it is to lack choices and be relegated to the margins.

Rights, dignity and opportunity for all should be everybody’s business.  We need to do more — far more — to prepare for our shared future.  That is one of the primary functions of the United Nations.  And indeed, people and Governments are asking us to do more than ever before.

I have seen in my own life what the United Nations can do.  One of my earliest memories is of my own village burning from the bombs of war — looking back at it from the hills to which my family and I had escaped.  The United Nations helped my country to rebuild from a devastating war.  The United Nations fed me and my family, my entire nation.

I am determined to see the Organization rise to similar challenges today.  But I can do little without partners, partners such as Government leaders and entrepreneurs, philanthropists, human rights defenders and environmental activists.  Partners like you.

We need you — all Peruvians but especially its young people — to take on two big challenges.  To join us in building a world that is a more sustainable world – and a world that is more equitable.  Two big challenges.  Let me take them each in turn.

First, sustainable development.  For most of the last century, the world burned its way to prosperity.  We believed in consumption without consequences. Those days are gone.  In the twenty-first century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high.  The old models are not just obsolete, they are dangerous.  Peru itself faces the challenge: its extractive industries have helped fuel impressive growth, but cannot do so forever.

We need to reinvent what we mean by progress.  We need a revolution in how we define prosperity and in our relations with our planet.  In many ways, that revolution started here in Latin America.  A generation ago in Brazil, the Earth Summit put sustainable development on the map.  Peru itself drew inspiration from that conference, and soon established its first national council for the environment, later followed by a full-fledged ministry.

Our challenge now is to go further still.  New threats have emerged since the Earth Summit, climate change above all.  Peru and Latin America can see the consequences.  Andean glaciers continue to melt.  Sea-level rise could disrupt the ecosystem of the Galápagos, just next door, and threaten the very existence of some Caribbean nations.  Climate change leads us down a path that no longer works — a path of the past.  We need to build paths to the future.

That means decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth through energy efficiency.  It means connecting the dots among climate, water, food and energy.  My High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability will recommend ways to do just that as we prepare for next year’s Earth Summit — Rio 2012.  The Andean region can become a major producer of biofuels, an area with significant potential if developed in a sustainable manner.  Peru is blessed with extraordinary natural resources, and indeed is considered a “mega-biodiverse” country.  Indigenous knowledge of Pachamama, Mother Earth, is part of this endowment.

You must be custodians of this global public good.  We cannot talk about sustainability without talking about equality.  Over the past decade, Peru has been the fastest growing country in South America.  You have made impressive progress towards the Millennium Development Goals — reductions in poverty, better access to primary education, and much else.

Just as important as what you achieved, was the way you achieved it.  You also made advances in income distribution.  Of course, great disparities of income and wealth, and the concentration of wealth among elites, remain major challenges.  But you have begun to make inroads against them.

At the same time, let us remember: inequality is not just a question of how much of the proverbial pie one has; it is about ensuring that all are involved in the baking and all can share in the feast.  Participation and social cohesion are crucial parts of the picture.  That means empowering farmers’ organizations and civil society groups.  It means consultations with indigenous people on land issues and other matters.  The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples visited Peru two years ago.  While some progress has been made on his recommendations, I hope we will see more.

Participation means empowering Latin America’s women.  Gender quota laws have led to a substantial increase in women in the executive and legislative branches across Latin America.  But fighting violence against girls and women must also be a priority.  I have launched a global campaign to end gender-based violence and protect the human rights of all women and girls.  I am pleased that this effort has been adopted by Peru’s national institutions.

We at the United Nations have placed women and gender equality at the centre of our work for development.  Our newest agency, UN Women, is up and running, led by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.  We have increased the ranks of women in senior posts by more than 40 per cent in the past few years.  Our top lawyer, our top humanitarian, our top development administrator, our top climate negotiator, our Human Rights Commissioner, the head of management, our top doctor, and even our top police officer — all are women.

Participation also means strengthening democracy.  The Americas have made great strides in consolidating democratic practices through a wave of constitutional reforms and other steps.  Where democracy has been threatened, the region’s leaders have spoken out.

At the same time, for vast sectors of the region’s population, especially young people, democratic and macro-economic stability has not translated into tangible improvements in their daily lives.

Social cohesion is firmly on the agenda.  But it remains to be seen whether reforms can happen fast enough.  Indeed, we should worry about the slow pace of change.  We should all be concerned when people say they would sacrifice democracy for economic and social progress.  It is not just possible to have both — in the long run, it is essential.

Peru is a good, close partner of the United Nations.  It is playing a constructive role in the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations — part of our response to extremism and intolerance.  Your troops are helping keep the peace in Haiti and are advising our missions in a number of African countries.  You are using peaceful means — the International Court of Justice — to resolve your maritime border dispute with Chile.  And your region has been a pioneer in forging multilateral agreements on many fronts, from trade and migration to nuclear disarmament.

The increasingly important role of Latin America and the Caribbean is good news for the rest of the world, given the main players’ commitment to peace and a progressive social agenda — and their unflinching support for the United Nations.  There is great potential to bridge the gap between North and South while serving as a building block of South-South cooperation.  I am confident that you will not be mere spectators in our work for a peaceful, sustainable, equitable world.  Soon you will assume the mantle of leadership, soon you will have your chance to improve on what your elders have done.

In his last annual report on the work of the United Nations, my distinguished predecessor and one of your country’s finest sons, Javier Perez de Cuellar, noted that “new vistas are opening for States to work together in a manner they did not do before”.  He was surveying the post-cold-war landscape.  But the same is true today: new partnerships, new technologies, new understandings of what works and what does not — all this gives us, as Perez de Cuellar put it, “more solid grounds for hope than there are reasons for frustration and fear”.  Again, as he wrote, “an era of law and justice may not be around the corner, but the United Nations has defined the direction”.

So I urge you, queridos estudiantes y profesores, please join your efforts with ours.  At this new “multilateral moment”, help shape our world for the better.  Muchas gracias, cuento con ustedes.

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