28 October 2015

Accepting Medal of Honour at Carlos III University of Madrid, Secretary-General Urges Students to Join Forces with United Nations, Create ‘New Solutions’

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, as prepared for delivery, on receiving the Medal of Honour from Carlos III University of Madrid, in Madrid today:

I am privileged to receive this Medal of Honour from Carlos III University of Madrid.  This is a symbol of your esteem for the United Nations.  I accept on behalf of past and present United Nations staff members around the world.  They are our Organization’s driving force and its greatest pride.  This meaningful Medal of Honour is for them.

It is wonderful to be back in Spain.  This is my eleventh visit as Secretary-General.  I will never forget two years ago when I had the chance to make the ceremonial opening football kick at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.  My jersey number was 1,000 to publicize a thousand days until the end of the Millennium Development Goals, our global antipoverty campaign.

I understand that football is a very sensitive subject in Spain.  My job as Secretary-General is to keep peace, so I don’t have a favourite team.  In fact, I cheer for all Spanish teams since so many support the United Nations.

Raúl Gonzáles promotes our work to end hunger.  Iker Casillas shines his spotlight on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  Eusebio Sacristan stands for children’s rights through UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], and so does the basketball great Pau Gasol.  I deeply appreciate these superstars and others from Spain who stand with the United Nations.

And I look to the students of Carlos III University and youth across Spain to help usher in a new future for this country and our world.  When I was young, my middle school principal told us:  “Keep your head above the clouds and your feet firmly planted on the ground — then move step by step.”   In other words, set your sights on high ideals, but advance in the real world.

Today, I will speak about the problems we face and how to respond based on our ideals.  I will address three major themes:   First, economic uncertainty and opportunity.  Second, Spain’s role on the international stage.  And third, your potential as global citizens.

This is a difficult moment for Spain, Europe and the world.  You may feel very frustrated and concerned about your prospects.  Spain, like many countries, is facing a difficult jobs challenge.  Young people are hit the hardest.  Many understandably look for opportunities abroad.  You may be wondering what will happen after you graduate.

I understand the problems, but I see reasons to hope.  There are many start-up companies in Spain.  With the right momentum, they can generate new jobs.  If Spain unlocks the potential of medium-sized enterprises, it will boost prosperity.

Tomorrow evening, I will meet with leading Spanish business executives.  I will urge them to realize the potential of the green economy.  More countries and companies realize that the challenge of climate change is also an opportunity for sustainable prosperity.

The Climate Change Conference in Paris in December should be a global turning point.  We count on individuals and businesses to help usher in a low-carbon future.  The climate challenge is just one area where we can create new markets and carve new paths to prosperity.

Last month at the United Nations, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  It is a blueprint to end poverty and create peaceful societies and a life of dignity for all on a healthy planet.  The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) apply to all countries, including Spain.  Right now, the SDGs are a promise.  We have to pressure leaders to keep their promise and deliver results.

I constantly ask political leaders and others:  why is there enough money to buy weapons, but not enough to invest in people?  I have been calling on States to provide more funds for women’s equality, health, education and opportunities for youth to contribute to peace.  When we put people first, our priorities will be straight.  And that will secure our common future.

Tomorrow, we will mark the sixtieth anniversary of Spain’s membership — and leadership — in the United Nations.  Spain is a champion on peacekeeping, the rule of law, the fight against poverty and the battle for human rights.  During its current term on the Security Council, Spain has stood strong for women’s empowerment and action to address terrorism and violent extremism.

I am especially grateful to Prime Minister [Mariano] Rajoy [Brey] for using Spain’s presidency on the Security Council to focus on the humanitarian crises unfolding in Syria and Yemen.  And Spain has also engaged on the Middle East peace process.  We are all very concerned about the rising tensions.  Just last week, I was in Israel and Palestine to urge the parties to avoid any action that could fuel the violence.

Globally, there are more than 60 million displaced people — a historic record.  I stand with all those who have been forced to flee their homes.  And I call on all countries to share the burden of their plight.  The United Nations is rushing relief aid to suffering people.  And we are confronting the root causes and working for lasting solutions.

In this effort, we count on Spain.  I am especially grateful for the Government’s focus on mediation.  The United Nations would much rather invest in preventing a conflict before it starts than addressing the devastation while it rages.  This country has a rich history of bringing together different cultures and faiths.  Spain understands that leaders who build walls and divide communities are doomed to fail in the twentieth century.  Leaders who forge understanding and strengthen bonds will endure.

Sixty years ago, when Spain joined the United Nations, the Organization was centred on Governments.  The United Nations is still the premier organization of Governments, but we are working more closely than ever with other partners.  That is why I meet with activists and business leaders.  That is why we have close ties with non-governmental organizations.  That is why all of you can do your part.

Six decades ago, the United Nations was largely run by men.  I am proud to say that we are no longer mostly a “boy’s club”.  I have appointed more women to top jobs than ever before in history.  Women now serve the United Nations far beyond so-called “traditional” fields.  They command our troops, head our peacekeeping missions and lead tough negotiations in crisis hotspots.  To the female students here I say:  follow these sisters, join their ranks and prove the power of women to change our world.

When I was your age, we chose our career path early and we followed it for life.  The world has changed dramatically since then.  Globalization has transformed the landscape.  Advances in technology have democratized information.  International policy is still set by Governments, but it is driven by people.

We live at a time that can bring either fear or fortune.  I hope you seize this moment.  Take up the challenge.  Create new solutions.  Join forces with the United Nations.  Be a global citizen.  Help lead humanity to a new future.

The Founder of this University, Gregorio Peces-Barba, was also a father of the Spanish Constitution and a champion of human rights.  He firmly believed in the power of human beings to improve our world.  As you go out into the world, stay true to the values you have learned here and help create a better future for all people.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.