Secretary-General, at Korbel School Dinner, Stresses Critical Need for Action in Areas of Sustainable Development, Responsibility to Protect, Partnership

25 August 2011

Secretary-General, at Korbel School Dinner, Stresses Critical Need for Action in Areas of Sustainable Development, Responsibility to Protect, Partnership

25 August 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at Korbel School Dinner, Stresses Critical Need for Action


in Areas of Sustainable Development, Responsibility to Protect, Partnership


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Korbel School Annual Dinner, in Denver on 24 August:

Thank you for this warm welcome.  I am glad to be attending this dinner in support of the Korbel School.

Your namesake, Josef Korbel, is well known to us all.  You might even say he made history two times over.  After all, when it comes to the Korbel School, one thinks immediately of two great diplomats: first, Korbel’s daughter Madeleine, the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State; and second, Condoleezza Rice, one of his former students and the first African-American woman to serve in that same capacity.  I was privileged to work closely with both.  Secretary Rice was my direct counterpart for four consecutive years — when I was Foreign Minister and then as Secretary-General.

But of course, Josef Korbel made history in his own right, too.  We at the United Nations have high regard for his contributions to international affairs, as a teacher and practitioner.

I also want to thank my good friend, Chris Hill, an outstanding diplomat who has made a deep impact in my home region and around the world.  My service as Foreign Minister coincided with his time as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, and then as chief negotiator on the North Korean nuclear problem.  He was instrumental in producing the 2005 agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  As we all know, there remains a long way to go to achieve that shared goal.

In any case, when I learned of his appointment as your new Dean, I was determined to come at the first opportunity to help him get his tenure off to a good start.  The Korbel School and the Korbel legacy are in good hands.

You have done me a great honour with the University of Denver’s Global Advancement Award.  I accept it on behalf of all my colleagues at the United Nations and I thank you for your recognition and support for their work.  I want to congratulate all of the other award winners this evening.

As Secretary-General, I have made it a point to visit cities around the United States and it is a special privilege to be in the Mile High City.  This is my first major US trip outside of the East Coast since my reappointment as Secretary-General.

I was deeply honoured that the General Assembly supported my re-election.  The vote was unanimous — 100 per cent.  But then a Korean reporter asked my wife how she would rate my work as a husband and father.  She said, “Well, I’d give him 70 per cent.”  I lodged a protest — a strong protest.  I thought my daughter might support me.  But she said: “70 per cent sounds rather generous.”  So I have decided that my first priority for my second term is not foreign affairs — it is domestic policy!

Let me say that when it comes to support for global problem solving, the Korbel School and Denver University score 100 per cent.  Your students are shaping our world, making a difference throughout the ranks of the diplomatic corps in the United Nations, in non-governmental organizations, businesses and civil society across the country and around the world.  For all of that, I am here to say thank you.

Over the last few months, I have started a conversation with leaders in New York and around the world, a discussion with citizens on YouTube, a dialogue with organizations to seek their views on the priorities and agenda ahead.  Two key themes are emerging.  First, the understanding that in our interconnected world, the United Nations has never been more necessary; and second, now is the time to think big.

Around the world, we see economic upheaval that continues to rattle Governments, markets and countless families in countries both rich and poor; we see polarizing politics that profit on division and hatred; we see pressures on food, on land, on energy, on water, all heightening tensions; we see budget shortfalls that threaten to upend progress on development.  And yet, I am hopeful.

This hope is not borne from naivety or wishful thinking.  Just a few days ago, I visited my home village in Korea.  I grew up in a different time.  I am a child of war.  I saw my village destroyed before my eyes.  My school was in the open air.  There were no walls, only rubble.  There was little to eat.  The United Nations, led by the United States and other countries, helped feed and defend my people.  The United Nations helped rebuild my country.  The United Nations became a symbol of hope.

Now, when I travel the world and visit young people in some of the most difficult circumstances, do you know what I see?  I see my village.  I see my younger brother and sister.  What I first learned in my small village in Korea has been reaffirmed everywhere I go:  the tremendous potential that resides in every human being if rights are respected, if opportunities are extended, if peace is secured.  That is our job — yours and mine, together.

Tonight, let me touch on three areas for action.  The first is one in which the Denver community has been leading the way — meeting the challenge of sustainable development.  The sustainable development agenda is the agenda for the twenty-first century.

Both science and economics tell us that we need to change course — and soon.  We need to lift people out of poverty, create jobs and provide a dignified life for all while preserving the planet that sustains us.  Sustainable development is about growth in an era of limited resources, fast-growing populations and fast-approaching environmental tipping points.

These issues are relevant for every country, including this one.  As residents of Colorado, you are deeply aware of the connections between people and nature.  Earlier today, I visited the National Renewable Energy Lab — “NREL” — and met with some of your region’s leading thinkers and innovators on energy issues.

For most of the last century, we mined our way to growth and burned our way to prosperity.  Those days are over.  Climate change is showing that the old model is more than obsolete, it is dangerous.  We need a revolution in thinking and in action.  Making this happen will take major changes — in our lifestyles, our economic models and our social and political life.  Above all, we need to connect the dots between challenges such as climate change and water scarcity, energy shortages and food.  Generating multiplier effects — and virtuous cycles — will bring the best return on investment.

Tragically, today we see many examples where we failed to connect the dots early enough or fast enough.  We need look no further than the crisis in the Horn of Africa.  As you know, a deadly mix of conflict, high food prices and drought has left more than 12 million people in desperate need.  As we respond to this famine, we also need to deal with the underlying causes.  Today’s drought may be the worst in decades.  But with the effects of climate change being increasingly felt throughout the world, it surely will not be the last.

As we safeguard our environment, we must also expand our efforts to protect people.  Barbaric acts anywhere are stains on humanity everywhere.  And those wounds take generations to heal.  In 2005, world leaders agreed to step up global efforts against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, or their incitement.  We call it the responsibility to protect.

Over the past year, the responsibility to protect has become an operational reality.  Both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council have invoked the principle in recent months.  When the leader of Côte d’Ivoire refused to leave after he lost the presidential election, the United Nations stood firm for democracy.  The justly elected leader was finally inaugurated in May.

In Sudan, we acted decisively to keep the peace — first in Darfur, where we deployed peacekeepers early in my first term, and more recently in helping North and South Sudan to amicably separate.  In the new capital of Juba last month, I was proud to witness the new country of South Sudan peacefully mark its first day of independence.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutions of the “Arab Spring” took their course without direct international intervention.  Libya and Syria, however, have proven to be sterner tests.  We do not yet know how the international effort in Libya will end.  Certainly, we recognize the potential dangers and enormous challenges ahead.  But we do know — and we have all seen — that the people of Libya have shown tremendous courage and determination to seek a free and democratic future.  Our responsibility, as an international community, is to help them realize those aspirations.

That is why, for the past several months, the United Nations has been working intensively to ensure that we can do our part for post-conflict assistance.  We stand ready to provide assistance in all key areas, including economic recovery, elections, human rights, transitional justice and the drafting of a new Constitution.

For my part, I have been in touch over the past few days with the leader of the National Transitional Council.  He assured me that extreme care would be taken to protect people and maintain law and order.  I have also talked to other main actors, including the League of Arab States, the African Union and the European Union.  The goal is clear: no further bloodshed, no retribution, and an orderly transition — one that responds to the Libyan people’s long-held hopes for freedom and opportunity.

The same yearnings are on display throughout Syria.  I have repeatedly urged President Bashar al-Assad to end the excessive and lethal use of force by his security forces against the Syrian people, and to engage in meaningful reforms.  Yet, while he pledged to do so, he has not upheld that commitment.  The violent repression against civilians, including mass arrests, continues.

At my urging, a United Nations team is on the ground as we speak, with the aim of better appreciating the needs of the population most affected by the violence.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has filed a deeply disturbing report on the widespread and systematic violations of human rights since March, and has recommended that the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  The international community must respond to the legitimate aspirations of the people for change.  We must do our part to protect people threatened with extreme violence for exercising basic rights.

In crisis after crisis, our chances of success have multiplied when we have worked together.  By working with the United Nations, no country needs to tackle big challenges alone.  And no country is alone in footing the bill.  The record shows — whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan or Haiti — an investment in the United Nations yields an outsized return.  The United States Government Accounting Office found that having the United Nations run the mission in Haiti was eight times less expensive than the United States running it alone.

The United Nations does what no country can do alone.  But there is always room for improvement.  I have been working hard to make the United Nations more flexible, more accountable, more transparent.  I am proud to have increased the appointment of women at the highest levels in the United Nations by 40 per cent.  I have more top women advisers than any other Secretary-General in history.  I am appointing women to my Cabinet, to lead peacekeeping forces, to head our most important United Nations agencies.  Our top lawyer, our top doctor and even our top cop are all women.

We now live in a world where no country, no matter how powerful, can solve problems on its own.  No global challenge, no matter how pressing, can be addressed in isolation.  And no institution, no matter how vital, can act without the involvement of others.  Issues are connected.  People are connected.  We are all in this together.

The essence of leadership — and our collective challenge — is to step up and work together.  Not to defer decisions.  Not to accept solutions we know are inadequate.  But to grasp the opportunity.  To think big — and to act together.  And the key is to reach out and recognize the power of partnership.

This mobile phone in our pocket can connect and mobilize in ways we could not have imagined even since I took office less than five years ago.  Technology will continue to shape and transform our lives.  But let us not mistake being connected with being united.  Being more connected depends on technology.  Being more united depends on us — on leaders, on institutions, on the choices we make.  Each and every one of us.

Help us make the United Nations and our world all that it can be, all that it should be, all that it must be in the twenty-first century.

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