Secretary-General, in Uruguay Parliament, Hails Country’s Growing International Engagement, Calling Its Republican Values ‘an Example for the World’

16 June 2011

Secretary-General, in Uruguay Parliament, Hails Country’s Growing International Engagement, Calling Its Republican Values ‘an Example for the World’

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

Secretary-General, in Uruguay Parliament, Hails Country’s Growing International

Engagement, Calling Its Republican Values ‘an Example for the World’


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Parliament of Uruguay in Montevideo on 15 June:

This is an extraordinary honour for me to address this august chamber of Parliament.  I have been looking forward to this visit for a long time.

I know that there is no official religion in Uruguay.  But I have been told that there are two distinct sects:  Peñarol and Nacional.  I take no sides.  I am neutral.  Mr. President of the Assembly, I know you have a favourite.  For the others, good luck in tonight’s game against Santos.

But as last year’s World Cup in South Africa made clear:  when it comes to Uruguayan football, all the world is a believer.  There were two things about that World Cup; first, on the way to the semi-finals, Uruguay eliminated the Republic of Korea team, my home team.  Let me assure you:  all is forgiven — at least as far as I am concerned.  Second, when it comes to team colours, the United Nations and Uruguay share the same banner — La Celeste.

How fitting.  Because whether it is on the football field or the field of international relations, the people of Uruguay are making a difference through a single act:  Poniendose la celeste.  We do it, together, again and again:

As Uruguay’s brave sons and daughters help the United Nations keep peace in some of the world’s hardest places; as Uruguay serves as a model for United Nations reform in the field of development through “Delivering as One”; as Uruguay raises its voice for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Let there be no doubt:   Uruguay may be small on the map, but it is large in influence around the world.  Today, I want to talk about that special brand of Uruguayan leadership and your global example.  There is no better place for me to do that than before you, the elected representatives of the people of Uruguay, because you represent the wills of your people, so you are the true representatives reflecting the wills and aspirations of the Uruguayan people.

You, as parliamentarians, approve the budgets.  You debate the legislation.  You ask the difficult questions.  You bring the change.  You are giving modern life to the moving words of your nation’s great founder, Jose Gervasio Artigas.  Mi autoridad emana de vosotros, y ella cesa ante vuestra presencia soberana.

The Uruguayan republican values are an example to the world.  So, in truth, my message today comes down to just three words:  Muchas gracias, Uruguay.

We meet in this magnificent house of democracy, rich in history and tradition.  But this building is home to one of the oldest democracies in Latin America.  Your political parties are some of the longest-standing, not only in the region but throughout the world.

I know you have lived through a dark period of dictatorship and human rights abuses.  You transformed your pain into progress, tolerance and solidarity.  The United Nations stands with you on the side of human rights and democracy.

You are a founding Member of the United Nations.  You have a deep commitment to dialogue.  You are leaders in multilateralism and international cooperation.  In just a few days, Uruguay will assume the Presidency of the Human Rights Council, and [there will be] the first female President of this Human Rights Council, Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre.

I have come to South America with a message of broader engagement and deeper partnership.  Across this continent, your economies are growing, your democracies are deepening, and your global influence is rising.  I have come to recognize that progress.  To salute your economic, social and human rights achievements, and to highlight your role as a bridge between South and North, even as you advance toward closer South-South cooperation.

Uruguay scored highest in equality in the region and lowest in poverty.  You are a middle-income country, but I know you have development challenges.  I am also here to encourage your efforts to fight poverty and inequality, to tackle the legacy of past human rights violations, to advance the rule of law and social inclusion.  But I know you would be the first to say more must be done.

I am convinced that the United Nations can play a greater role in this region, just as the region can play an ever more important role in the United Nations.  And these are momentous times, a time of big changes and bigger hopes.  Transformations that we might not have imagined in our lifetime are happening in the blink of an eye.

In the Middle East and North Africa, people are raising their voices in a once-in-a-generation moment for freedom and democracy and greater liberty and participatory democracy.

I remain deeply concerned about the situation in Syria.  Once again, I urge President [Bashar al-] Assad of Syria and his authorities:  Protect your people, respect their rights, listen to their voices; what are their aspirations, what are their challenges? Create the conditions for refugees to return.  Implement meaningful reform now, before it is too late.

Closer to home, your dynamism and diversity, your growing empowerment of women and your commitment to regional integration are ushering in what some call the Latin American Decade.  These forward-looking changes are rooted in our deepest-held values — dignity and opportunity, equality and justice.

In a larger sense, we have entered an age of integration and interconnection.  The great tests of our era - climate change, sustainable development, pandemic disease, international financial turbulence — these are global challenges requiring global solutions.  Not a single country or group of countries can resolve these issues.  We need a collective wisdom and we have to use all the resources possible among the international community.  Next year’s “ Rio + 20” conference will highlight those interconnections.  For a country whose economy and well-being is so closely tied to its land and natural resources, this is particularly important for Uruguay.

This age of integration reveals two twenty-first century truths.  First, on the one hand, this must be solved through all the countries in the world putting their resources and wisdom together.  And second, every country, every individual, small or big, can make a lasting difference.  This, too, is what Uruguay is showing the world.

Let us begin with peacekeeping.  For more than 60 years, United Nations peacekeepers have sacrificed and served to monitor ceasefires, provide security, support communities and protect the most vulnerable.  They have maintained peace and security in some of the most dangerous places.  For millions of people, United Nations peacekeepers are their last, best chance.

Uruguay has taken part in this life-saving work since 1951.  Over the years, more than 25,000 Uruguayans have served in 21 different peacekeeping missions.  Right now, more than 2,400 Uruguayans serve under the blue flag of the United Nations.  Uruguay, a country with a small population, contributes more troops per capita than any other Member State in the world.  You are first in the world.  I thank you very much for that commitment.

Thousands of miles to the north, Uruguayan soldiers are deployed in the proud but long suffering nation of Haiti.  Thousands of miles to the east, they serve in another troubled place — the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Your constituents might ask you, why [do] our sons and daughters have to be there?  Seemingly, you don’t have any such natural interest.

The answer I would give is very simple:  again and again, Uruguayan troops have made a difference, often the difference between success and failure.  You made the difference by defending innocent civilians in the besieged city of Goma.  In Haiti and elsewhere, you protect people and communities wiped out by natural disaster.

Your soldiers are highly trained.  They know how to operate in difficult and hostile terrain.  They provide the helicopters, a rare and precious resource for us, and rush the injured to medical care and rescue the innocent from harm’s way.  They provide the conditions for civilians to return to daily life and support the transition from conflict to development; the security for children to play freely; for women to safely carry water; for men and women to take up productive activities to support their families.

I was deeply moved by the account of a little girl, an 11-year-old girl, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who told a Uruguayan peacekeeper, she said, “Thank you.  Because of you, I can now walk to school without the constant fear of being raped.”

Uruguayans have made great sacrifices in the name of the global good.  They have shed their own blood in the name of global peace.  Twenty-seven of your finest young people have paid the highest price for the cause of peace, security and human rights.  Uruguay’s peacekeepers are your brave sons and daughters, but they are also the world’s best and brightest.

I want you to know how proud I am, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, of them.  I want you to know how grateful I am to all of you, personally, and how much we value your extraordinary contribution.  And I want you to know that I am committed to solving the payments issue.  We are working hard — very hard — to find a solution.  I will not relent.

Uruguay is also leading the way in building a more coherent, more effective, and more efficient United Nations for the twenty-first century.  The United Nations has launched a revolution in the way we work, on the ground, every day.  A revolution that we believe will allow us to operate more effectively and more efficiently, that will help us listen more closely to Government and civil society, and address real needs that will help us mobilize expertise across the United Nations system.

We call it Delivering as One - Unidos en Accion.  We chose a handful of places to test this innovation.  When it came to selecting one middle-income country in the world, Uruguay stepped up.  For the last half decade, Uruguay has been a global testing ground for a renewed United Nations approach in middle-income countries, one that shifts from project-based assistance to policy engagement on issues that are as relevant to high- and middle-income countries as they are to low-income ones.

Middle-income countries are still home to many poor people, often due to regional, gender, and ethnic inequalities.  But you also have a wealth of experience to share with others, particularly on the decent work challenge.  Here in Uruguay, you have not only achieved the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs], you are aiming higher with a MDG-plus agenda, and I thank you very much for that.

Our common programme in Uruguay is designed to continue reducing inequalities and social exclusion, especially among women and children, to strengthen institutions, promote sustainable development, protect human rights.  I saw an important example today relating to prison reform.  Once again, the United Nations family is bringing our collective experience to advance solutions to complex national problems.  Thank you for your confidence in us.

Later this year, the world will come together to share experiences on delivering as one.  They will meet here in Montevideo.  I thank Uruguay for hosting this conference.  And I thank you for leading the way.

Let me conclude with yet another instance of global leadership:  your persistent work to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.  I am especially grateful for Uruguay’s support for my five-point nuclear disarmament proposal.  Your country’s commitment is rock-solid at every level, from your membership in the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty] to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, [CTBT] to the Tlatelolco Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Uruguay has also stood up against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and for the negotiation of an arms trade treaty.  Your timely action in ratifying the Convention on Cluster Munitions helped it to enter into force last August.  I salute again your leadership.  Let us strengthen our partnership in this great common cause.

Let me close with a personal story.  When I was a young boy, I was told by my teachers that if you dug down to the Earth, you will reach a special place, a place called Uruguay.  Uruguay and Korea now, we realize that we are anti-poles.  From an early age, Uruguay was planted in my mind as a place of fascination and curiosity.  I wanted to go there.

Now, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, rather than fascination and curiosity, I’m here more to strengthen our partnership for world peace and security, development and human rights.  It has taken 60 years, but I made it.  Even though I did not drill the hole, but because of the volcanic ash, I came by air, by road and by sea.

Perhaps digging would have been quicker to reach Uruguay.  But I want you to know something that I have come to learn in my many years of international service.  When it comes to helping to lead on the big issues of the day, you are a beacon — a beacon of tolerance, inclusion, solidarity.

Many years ago when Korea was attacked by North Koreans in the 1950s and thereafter, the United Nations was a beacon to all the Koreans.  And these days, I’m meeting many people around the world, young people, who look to the United Nations as their beacon.  In that regard, Uruguay, every day you show us that it is not the size of a country that counts, but its spirit.

I feel that spirit here, now.  I have seen the difference Uruguay has made around the world.  Perhaps on the map, you and I come from different parts of the world.  Pero tenemos algo en comun.  Somos todos orientales, incluido yo.

Que les vaya bien a todos y todas, y arriba nuestro color – la celeste!

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