Civilian Protection Entails Treating Migrant Workers, All Minorities Fairly, Secretary-General Says in Address to Hungarian Academy of Sciences

18 April 2011

Civilian Protection Entails Treating Migrant Workers, All Minorities Fairly, Secretary-General Says in Address to Hungarian Academy of Sciences

18 April 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Civilian Protection Entails Treating Migrant Workers, All Minorities Fairly,

Secretary-General Says in Address to Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Association of Hungary, in Budapest today, 18 April:

Professor Jozsef Palinkas [President, Hungarian Academy of Sciences], Professor Mihaly Simai [President, United Nations Association of Hungary] and Dr. Ervin Gombos [Secretary-General of the United Nations Association of Hungary], thank you for organizing this event and thank you for your very warm welcome.

What a pleasure to be with you this evening in Budapest.  And what an honour it is, as well, to address you at this distinguished institution of learning, surrounded by so much beauty, history and sense of august legacy.

Count Szechenyi, who founded this Academy more than a century ago, would be proud of his Hungarian sons and daughters.  All told, graduates and faculty of this institute have won 14 Nobel prizes.  There could be no better testament to Hungary’s lofty place in the world’s intellectual firmament.

Budapest is a city of many stories, and one of them is mine.  It begins in 1956 when I was a young boy, 12 years old.  On behalf of my elementary school, I had been chosen to read out a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

“Dear Secretary-General Hammarskjöld”, it began.  It was a call for help — a plea for the world to come to the side of a people far away, fighting for their freedom.  I was too young to know much about that country, Hungary.  But I knew the cause was just.

My own country, Korea, waged its own war against communism.  We, too, fought for liberty and our way of life.  The United Nations came to our rescue.  Yet I remember feeling, very strongly, how sad it was that it could not come to yours.

But the story did not end there.  A little more than four years ago, your Ambassador in Seoul awarded me a medal for striking my modest blow.  I carry it proudly, and here it is.  I am, officially, a Hungarian Hero of Freedom.

[Pulls medal from pocket and holds it up.]

I told this story in my acceptance speech shortly after I was elected United Nations Secretary-General in late 2006.  As Secretary-General, I pledged to do everything I could — everything — so that I would never have to receive a letter from a young person such as the one I read out so many years ago.

As for Hungary:  in the end, you won your victory.  Twenty years ago, you opened the gates to freedom, not only for yourselves but for others.  The great events of 1989 would not have happened without this second Hungarian revolution.  In so many ways, you are heroes of modern Europe.

And that is why I brought this medal tonight — a token of recognition for Hungary’s exceptional contribution to the cause of freedom and human rights.  You have travelled a long and historic road.  You have had your ups and downs, but you have built Hungary as a democratic and prosperous society — a proud member of a free and unified Europe.  And today, for the first time, Hungary occupies the presidency of the European Union.

Once again dramatic change is sweeping the world.  Once again people are fighting to be free.  This time, they are not alone.

You have all been following events in Côte d’Ivoire.  Late last year, the incumbent president was defeated in fair elections then refused to step down.  He defied repeated calls from the international community — the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, the United Nations Security Council.  He exploited ethnic tensions to retain power, imported mercenaries and used heavy weapons on civilians.  One million people have been displaced, a thriving economy brought to a standstill.

Throughout, the international community stood firm.  Last week, the man who broke this democratic trust was finally ousted.  A duly-elected new President has taken office, determined to bring peace, restore public trust and rebuild his country.  And we, the international community, must continue to help.

We have seen even more dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East.  As you may know, I am just back from Cairo, where regional organizations gathered last week to chart a way ahead on the crisis in Libya.  The European Union must exercise strong leadership with a special emphasis on mobilizing humanitarian support and post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction.

Yesterday, my Special Envoy to Libya visited Tripoli with our United Nations Emergency Humanitarian Coordinator.  I am happy to report that the United Nations has signed an agreement on a humanitarian presence in Tripoli.  This represents progress, albeit modest.  Meanwhile, our talks on the political situation continue.

Last month, I also visited Egypt and Tunisia.  I do not mean to sound poetic, but it was hard not to be swept up in the euphoric mood of fresh possibility.  “Welcome to a new Egypt,” I was told in Cairo.  In Tunis it was, “Welcome to a free Tunisia.”  Everywhere, everyone spoke a new language of democracy, openness and human rights.

Hungarians remember well the excitement and potential of such times.  Twenty years later, you also understand how hard the road ahead will be.  The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt represent one of the greatest opportunities to advance democracy, justice and human rights in a generation.  Properly handled, they can become a model for similar transformations across the Arab world and beyond.  Let me say clearly, however:  success cannot be assumed.  It requires the strong backing of the entire international community — the European Union and all its members, including Hungary.

I firmly believe everyone has a role to play.  That is why I ask people — wherever I go — to do more than watch and read about these great events.  Instead, let us think about how to be a part of them.  Given your own experiences, you should know what I mean.

As the people of North Africa look for experience, you have much to offer.  They appreciate and need your engagement.  You know well the difficulties of transforming political and economic systems, of building democracy, retooling State-owned industries, dismantling a police State.  You also know the mistakes, the setbacks that disappoint expectations and cause people to doubt democracy and its benefits.

Your experiences offer important lessons for everyone.  Hungary, too, needs to be continuously listening and learning from what is happening around us.  Your new laws restricting the media, many believe, are at variance with the European mainstream and Hungary’s own human rights obligations.  They need to be consistent with the legacy of your own fight for freedom and in tune with concerns in your neighbourhood and around the world.  Freedom of expression and the media are essential foundations for any healthy democracy.

It would seem that there are similar concerns about certain provisions of your new Constitution, particularly some of those with transnational effects.  Leading intellectuals and human rights activists have raised their voices, including [former] Presidents Arpad Goncz [of Hungary] and Vaclav Havel [of the Czech Republic], among others.

We have spoken of the most immediate challenges facing the United Nations.  Let me now touch on two other important challenges of our new era and suggest how Hungary can contribute.

First, the protection of civilians:  what we are seeing in Libya and elsewhere is more than a conflict rooted in the aspirations of a long-repressed people seeking a better future.  We are also seeing the international community acting quickly, with resolve, to protect people facing violence at the hands of their own Government.  This is the evolving doctrine of the responsibility to protect, a sign that the international community continues to move away from an era of impunity and towards an age of sovereignty as responsibility, where grave crimes and violations of human rights cannot go unaccounted for.

More generally, the Security Council has increasingly placed civilian protection at the centre of the United Nations peace and security agenda.  Peacekeepers have been entrusted with growing responsibilities, not only to keep armies at bay, but to protect civilians who are prey to militias and other combatants.  Hungary has been there with us for nearly a quarter century.  Many hundreds of your personnel serve United Nations missions in Cyprus, Lebanon and Western Sahara, to mention only a few.

Protection of civilians is also part of a wider agenda of human rights culture that encompasses fair treatment of migrant workers and human rights for all minorities.  The Roma, here in Hungary and elsewhere, are among the continent’s most marginalized people.  Extremists march through their communities.  They are threatened.  They continue to be treated as pariahs in their own countries.  This is not right.  This is not just.  We must do more to free them from stigma, discrimination and poverty.

Human protection means balanced economic growth and social justice, as well, which brings me to a second major challenge for our times:  sustainable development and the fight against climate change.

For most of the last century, the world mined its way to growth and 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.  Climate change shows that the old model is not just obsolete but dangerous.

Hungary has been through its own economic transformation.  During the 1990s, you lost more than 1 million jobs as you consolidated or closed communist-era State industries.  More recently, Hungary has been badly hit by the global economic crisis.  Yet you have persevered.  The Danube Strategy, for example, has been a priority of your European presidency.  It recognizes the value of working across borders, in integrated fashion, for common progress on energy, the environment and much else.

I urge you to work with us in the same way to advance the United Nations climate agenda and make the most of next year’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.  Twenty years after the Earth Summit, and a quarter century after the historic Brundtland Commission report, the cause of sustainable development needs new impetus.

That is why, last year, I set up the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability.  I asked the members to think big, to be bold yet practical, and to connect the dots among climate, water, energy and other key challenges of the twenty-first century.

Speaking here in this building, I must recall the contributions of a former Secretary-General of this Academy, Dr. István Láng, a member of the Brundtland Commission and, therefore, one of the authors of a conceptual breakthrough on which so much still depends today.

Let me close with another story, also one of partnership and common cause — Hungary and the United Nations.

Hungarians serve with distinction in United Nations missions around the world, and recently I had the privilege of meeting one of them.  His name is István Papp, a United Nations peacekeeper in Darfur.  His specialty was working with child soldiers and trying to help these traumatized young people find new lives.

One day, in a remote area of the country, he was kidnapped and held by Sudanese rebels for 100 days.  We worked closely with your Government and the authorities in Khartoum to secure his release and safe return home.  Now, others might have chosen to stay here, safe in beautiful Budapest.  Not István Papp; he immediately asked to return to Darfur.  “I still have work to do,” he said.

Today he is in Haiti, helping that country at a crucial juncture.  That is the United Nations spirit.  That is the Hungarian spirit.  That is why, working together, we must rise to meet the challenges ahead and build a better world for all.

Because, ladies and gentlemen, we have much work to do.

* *** *

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