Secretary-General, in Address at Foreign Ministry, Says Argentina Positioned to Find Consensus among Diverse Groups of Countries on Crucial Topics

14 June 2011

Secretary-General, in Address at Foreign Ministry, Says Argentina Positioned to Find Consensus among Diverse Groups of Countries on Crucial Topics

14 June 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, in Address at Foreign Ministry, Says Argentina Positioned

to Find Consensus among Diverse Groups of Countries on Crucial Topics


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address at the Argentine Ministry for Foreign Affairs, “ Argentina and the World”, in Buenos Aires on 13 June:

Just before coming here to this Ministry, I had an encounter I will never forget:  an encounter with Argentina’s past, but also its future.

I visited the International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights, the former Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, where so many Argentines were detained, tortured and killed, just disappeared, without being able to leave messages, at the hands of the former dictatorship.

I met with some of the Abuelas and Madres of the Plaza de Mayo.  I heard their stories:  their pain, their losses and their long search for answers.  Today that was one of the most saddening and most troubling, deeply moving experiences for me.

I have visited several places in the past as Secretary-General, first, the detention and torture camp of Cambodia, and the memorial of the Rwanda genocide.  I cried there.  It was almost the same experience I had this evening before I came here.

This is the darkest era of Argentina.  At the same time, let us send a strong message of hope to many people around the world whose human rights are still being abused and oppressed and let us learn the lessons from here.  I really appreciate and highly commend the leadership and visions and commitment of former President [Néstor] Kirchner, as well as current President Cristina Fernández for such strong commitment.

Learning from the past for a better future.  The images from that era are engraved on the world’s collective memory:  the photographs those mothers and grandmothers brought to the Plaza; the pictures of those who disappeared, family members and friends, never to return.  Those protests changed Argentina.  They resonated around the world.

We see this again, today, in the public squares of North Africa and the Middle East:  Tahrir in Cairo, Pearl in Bahrain, in Tunisia and in Yemen, in Syria.  Everywhere that people fight against repression; anywhere people seek dignity and democratic rights.

In Syria, the situation is very worrisome.  This struggle has spread beyond any single square, any village or town.  It has spread all throughout the country.  People are shouting and sending out their voices for change.

The Government has responded with horrific attacks.  But you, Argentina, have taught us that bullets cannot kill the spirit of human beings.  Violence cannot destroy the impulse in every human heart for dignity, respect and justice.

I once again urge President [Bashar al-] Assad of Syria to allow humanitarian access to affected areas, and to allow the Human Rights Council-mandated assessment mission.  On two occasions I have urged him to accept those missions.

Let us send a clear message to all the leaders — protect your people.  Listen more attentively to the voices of your people, the people’s aspirations and challenges.  What challenges do they have?  This is the responsibility of the leaders and they should take bold action before is too late.

What we have seen during the last several months in the Arab world is that the leaders are coming with too little and too late.  They simply do not understand what people really want to have.

You here in Argentina have shown how to make a historic transition by building a robust democracy and advancing justice, accountability and rule of law.  You are prosecuting those responsible for gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, including senior officers in the military regime.  Along the way, you are helping to lead the world from an era of impunity to an age of accountability.  This is very important.  We are going through an era of accountability.

Throughout this struggle, your weapons have been truth, law and historical memory.  Successive Argentine leaders have led this cause.  Bad laws have been struck from the books.  New laws guarantee a wide range of rights, protection and reparation.

We recognize and applaud your achievements and urge you to carry on and continue your investigations, notwithstanding the power or former position of those accused.  Witnesses must be protected and they must come out without any fear.  Judges, prosecutors and national security officers must be able to carry out their duties, free from threats.  The National Human Rights Plan introduced late last year is a major step.  And I again applaud President Fernández for her leadership.

Every democratic transition involves far more than deposing a dictator.  We also know that elections, in themselves, are not enough.  Sometimes you have seen that elections, while they should work as a rallying point, have been acting as a divisive point in many countries.  You have seen those cases in Africa, most recently in Côte d’Ivoire.

For democracy to fully triumph, change needs to be systemic.  It requires reform of the judiciary, the security forces and other institutions of the State.  And the process must be inclusive.  No democracy can thrive without the full contribution of civil society, a free and active civil society that acts as a watchdog for good governance.

It is quite important at this time in the twenty-first century that we have learned a very important thing:  it is not only the Government.  Governments cannot carry out any policies, however good they may be, without the full participation of civil society.  That is what I learned as Secretary-General.  Nothing can be done without the full understanding and support of civil society.

The dictatorship’s dark legacy is a permanent part of your history.  But so is their day of judgement.  That is how it should be.  Not to remain hostage to the past, but to be vigilant in the present, to defend human rights wherever they are at stake, in Argentina and far beyond.

Nunca mas.  That call to action rings as loudly today as it did 25 years ago.  That is the message I will carry with me through all my stops on this great continent, and around the world.  Success depends on real respect for dialogue.  Countries which have experienced periods of fast growth often face challenges of inequality, rule of law, human rights of disadvantaged and marginalized groups.  Such challenges are best addressed through a political culture grounded in inclusion and mutual respect.

Let me say a few words about Argentina’s growing and dynamic role on the world stage.  At the United Nations, without any doubt, you are among our strongest partners.  You contribute to peacekeeping worldwide.  In Haiti, Argentine medical personnel were on the ground immediately after the earthquake, and your troops remain a vital part of our presence.

You champion the rights and interests of the poor and most vulnerable.  You bring their voice into the debate on how to make global economic governance more representative.  Argentina is now uniquely positioned in your role as Chairman of G-77 [“Group of 77” developing countries] and China, and also as a member of the G-20 Summit meeting.  You are now playing a bridging role.

This means that Argentina is in a position to find consensus between diverse groups of countries on topics so crucial to our twenty-first century:  the Millennium Development Goals; global economic governance; multilateral trade negotiations; climate change; and sustainable development.  In that regard, again, I highly commend the leadership of President Fernández, Foreign Minister [Hector] Timerman and your distinguished Ambassador Jorge Argüello at the United Nations.

Most recently, your leadership was demonstrated in Istanbul during the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.  And you are working very hard in promoting the negotiation progress on climate change and development.  And your role will be very important between the G-20 and the developing world, the G-77.

In another aspect, you stand tall for fundamental United Nations principles:  freedom; dignity; justice; and human rights.  As a member of the Human Rights Council, Argentina sponsored the recent resolution protecting civilians in Libya.  You are also helping to lead the way on South-South cooperation.

As you work to deepen these efforts, new opportunities are emerging in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, where the United Nations took firm positions to protect human lives, civilian populations, to protect the fundamental principle of democracy.  When people choose their leaders with their freely expressed will, then that person should take the leadership role.  Any person who just clings to power as the incumbent, that is not possible.  That is exactly what we have seen.  And I am very glad that the United Nations has played a very important, instrumental role in restoring the rule of law and the fundamental principle of democracy.

Looking ahead, this is an area where troop-contributing countries like Argentina can have a pivotal role through South-South cooperation.  Your commitment to engaged multilateralism is especially important during our new era of global change and transformation.  New economic Powers have arisen.  New challenges have emerged that underscore our mutual interdependence:  climate change; pandemic disease; and food and energy shortages.

All these global challenges cannot be resolved by any one country, however powerful one may be, or any group of countries.  These challenges, unless addressed collectively, unless pooling resources and wisdom together, cannot be addressed.  This is a very important lesson which we have learned.

Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall transformed Eastern Europe, so is revolution now sweeping the Arab world.  These are once-in-a-generation opportunities.  We have to help those whose human rights have been just oppressed, in the name of tradition, in the name of religion.  However, we should also remember that risk and opportunity walk side by side.  We have to help them.

The people in Egypt and Tunisia have been successful.  They were successful in the first stage of their revolution.  But unless they are properly supported in socio-economic terms, political terms — I think they are enjoying full political support from the international community — but simply without giving them any tools so that they can build upon this success, I’m afraid that their dreams might take them back to square one.

Therefore, we need to ask big questions about how we want our world to look, not just in the year or two ahead, but decades from now.  This world is faced with many complex challenges, which I often call the 50-50-50 challenge.  By the year 2050, the population of the world will grow by 50 per cent, compared with a decade ago, and will reach 9 billion.  And by the year 2050, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent.

By the year 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s people will be urban.  Most of that growth will come in the already crowded and overburdened cities and slums of the developing world.  My last visit to Argentina, three-and-a-half years ago, came on my way to the Antarctic; I wanted to see for myself the changes being caused by a warming Earth.  I have seen melting glaciers in the Andes.  I have flown over the once-vast Lake Chad; it has shrunk to one tenth of its size in only three decades.

I have flown over the Aral Sea.  This was a vast sea, but now you see only sand where it used to be the sea.  And what is shocking is that it has become a cemetery for ships in the sands of the fast-vanishing Aral Sea.  There are many other examples I can cite.  I have visited countries like Myanmar and Pakistan, during their worst flood situations, and natural disasters will increase in number and severity as our climate grows warmer.

For most of the last century, the world has mined its way to growth and burned its way to prosperity — without thinking about the consequences.  Today, we see energy and food crisis, water scarcity and commodity prices rising.  Meanwhile, social inequalities between the rich and poor grow wider and wider in many countries.  For the world’s poor, it often seems as if they are being left to fall further and further behind.

These trends suggest much about the shape of the world in 2050.  But that history is not written in stone, not yet.  Decisions we make today can write a different chapter.  That is why we need leadership and commitment.  I believe that leadership priorities can make everything different.  After all, we are living in an era of austerity.  Not a single country in the world will claim “we are happy, we have everything”.  There is no such country.  Even in 100 years, every country will always suffer from lack of resources.

But even with a lack of resources, depending on where the priority — political, policy priority — is given, we can make a difference.  That is why I am asking for more leadership; it is important.  We need to find a more balanced path of growth.  If we do, our future can be bright with possibility.  If we do not, our future will be darkened by chaos and conflict.

Again, here, human rights lie at the core of what we do.  This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary since the proclamation of the right to development.  That right built on the Universal Declaration.  It is part of the underpinning for our work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs].  Yet we are reminded, daily, of how far we have to go, the poverty we see in our cities, the stark inequalities of income and development, the way marginalized groups, including indigenous peoples, continue to suffer disproportionately.

Here in Argentina, there has been steady improvement on most of the MDGs.  And I congratulate you for several areas you have already achieved MDG goals.  Overall, I believe that you will be able to achieve all these Goals by 2015.  The country has a robust and comprehensive system of social protection.

And yet, we know that you can and must do more.  Let us use this anniversary to focus on practical steps to advance the right to development.  We can do so by working for success at next year’s “ Rio+20” Conference on sustainable development.

We must connect the dots among several challenges which I have mentioned.  The first entry point would be climate change, and energy, water scarcity, food crisis, global health issues.  We must invest more in women’s and children’s health.  And we must put women’s empowerment at the centre of our agenda for progress.

Argentina has already shown clearly the best example, where a woman is now leading this great country, and this kind of message and practice should spread around the world.  I commend Argentina for its important gains in women’s participation in the legislature and elective office.  Please help us to do more, elsewhere, for gender equality.  Let us work together to free women from violence and open new windows of opportunities.

Thank you for your kind attention.  Thank you for your robust support of our common cause:  a more just, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable world for all.  The global common good, that is our aspiration.

The man for whom this auditorium is named, Manuel Belgrano, fought for Argentina’s liberty.  Yet he looked well beyond his new nation’s borders towards the well-being of all of Latin America.  That spirit is alive in Argentina today.

In the years to come, I look forward to working with you in richer and deeper partnership.  Together, let us make the most of this historic multilateral moment for the benefit of Argentina and the people of the world.  And let us make this world better for all.

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