Following are the remarks of UN Secretary-General António Guterres on receiving the International Four Freedoms Award, today:
On behalf of the women and men of the United Nations, thank you for this high honour. This International Four Freedoms Award is especially meaningful given its deep connection to both President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Every day from my office at United Nations Headquarters in New York, I see a beautiful site. It’s called Four Freedoms Park — and it stands on the edge of Roosevelt Island on the East River. To my eye, it is a lighthouse. It is a daily guide and reminder that even through the darkest storms, we have a shared destination.
As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it so well: “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.” “The highest aspiration” — in other words, achieving those fundamental freedoms is both a goal that is paramount and a struggle that is never-ending.
The mission of the United Nations is a constant work in progress, for progress. For more than 75 years — around the world and around the clock — United Nations personnel have strived to make those rights real in the lives of people. We know that cause belongs to every one of us. It takes us all. Especially now.
Today, we are facing the biggest international tests since the idea of the United Nations was little more than a dream in the eyes of Franklin Roosevelt and others. The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed new storms. A global health crisis. Economic catastrophe — with a disproportionate impact on the world’s women. A human rights emergency. New waves of hate, disinformation and outright lies.
At the same time, we are also confronting a planetary emergency. Accelerating climate change. Growing pollution. Collapsing biodiversity. All of this threatens the environment on which everyone’s future depends.
But through all of these storms, the lighthouse still points the way home. We can get there with conviction, commitment and cooperation. To the cynics who dismissed such goals as too lofty, FDR had a ready reply. It is true, he said, that “great teachings are not perfectly lived up to today. But I would rather be a builder than a wrecker.”
As Prime Minister Rutte so eloquently put it, this Award is indeed an incentive for us to keep building. It will inspire all of us to keep pushing. To keep striving. And to keep working for a better world — together.