26 June 2020

United Nations Charter Remains ‘Our Touchstone’ amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Rise in Nationalism, Climate Change, Secretary-General Says in Anniversary Message

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations, in New York today:

Mr. President of the General Assembly,

I send my warmest greetings to “We the Peoples”.  Those first three words of our founding Charter, adopted 75 years ago today, give the United Nations its vision and its mission.  We exist to serve people and we work as one for the benefit of all.

The Charter was adopted as the Second World War was in its final months and winding down.  We mark the anniversary of that milestone as global pressures are spiralling up.  The Charter brought rules and hope to a world in ruins.  It remains our touchstone for a world mired in a pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war.

Agreement on the Charter closed one era and opened another.  Gone were the genocidal Nazi regime and their allies; in came the prospect of human rights.  Out went the rampant nationalism and precarious balance of power that produced two catastrophic world wars; in came the promise of collective security and the peaceful resolution of disputes.  And where an earlier attempt at international organization dissolved, the new United Nations started life on firmer ground built on norms and the lessons of hard experience.

The post-war multilateral arrangements have compiled a solid record of service, saving millions of lives, advancing the human condition and fulfilling its cardinal task of preventing world war three.

But, there have been painful setbacks.  And today’s realities are as forbidding as ever.  COVID-19 has touched everyone, everywhere, precisely the kind of global challenge for which the United Nations was founded.

At the same time, people continue to lose trust in political establishments.  Today’s marches against racism were preceded by widespread protests against inequality, discrimination, corruption and lack of opportunities all over the world — grievances that still need to be addressed, including with a renewed social contract.

Meanwhile, other fundamental fragilities have only grown:  the climate crisis, environmental degradation, cyberattacks, nuclear proliferation, a pushback on human rights and the risk of another pandemic.  It is not difficult to imagine a new virus transmitted as easily as COVID-19, but as deadly as Ebola.

The delegates in San Francisco in 1945, having themselves lived through a global pandemic, depression and war, seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new.  Today, we must do the same.

To achieve that watershed moment, we need to reimagine multilateralism, give it teeth to function as the founders intended and ensure that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed.  We must also bring others to the table in an inclusive and networked multilateralism, since Governments are only part of today’s political realities.  Civil society, cities, the private sector and young people are essential voices in shaping the world we want.

Like those who drafted the Charter, we must look without illusion at today’s injustices, their roots and the suffering they engender.  Yet, there is also much to encourage us and drive us onward:

The heroism and solidarity of the pandemic response; the global embrace of the Sustainable Development Goals; the millions of young activists and global citizens pushing to advance equality, climate action, a green economy and to take control of their destiny.

I am inspired by so much that has been built and achieved across 75 years.  I pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers, staff and others who, across the world and across the years, gave their lives while advancing the causes and values of the United Nations.

The Charter’s vision stands the test of time and its values will continue to carry us forward.  Now is the time to persevere, press ahead, pursue our goals, show responsibility for our world, and take care of each other.  It is up to us to rise to the test of this pivotal moment for our future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.