It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations. This is a wonderful annual tradition, and I am glad to be part of it this year.
I bring you warm greetings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He and I attach great importance to your work.
United Nations Associations across the world are among our best supporters and allies. You inform people about what we do and why it matters. You explain how our agenda is the people’s agenda. Even if you are not uncritical friends of the UN, you defend the Organization when it is maligned or misunderstood.
And given the large role of the United States at the United Nations, your particular UNA has a special role to play for the American public to understand and support our efforts.
I would therefore like to express my gratitude in three time dimensions:
Thank you for what you have done.
Thank you for what you are doing.
And most of all: thank you for what you will do at this time of turmoil and test of international cooperation, multilateralism and the UN.
Two weeks ago, the Secretary-General made his annual presentation to the Member States, looking ahead to this year and beyond.
He noted that this is a time of transition for the world.
We see this economically, as new powers emerge.
We see it environmentally, as we strive to find a more sustainable path. There may be Plan B but there is no Planet B. We see it demographically, as some societies age while others grow younger.
And we see it politically, as people demand their democratic rights and an end to tyranny, corruption and misrule.
Such moments in history bring great fear and uncertainty. But they represent also opportunities.
Our challenge is to find the path of shared progress. International cooperation should be seen as being in the national interest.
Our duty is to respond to crises today while building solid foundations for tomorrow.
That is what the United Nations does each and every day. As Deputy Secretary-General, I am involved in each of the three pillars of the United Nations’ work: peace and security, development and human rights. These are inextricably linked: we will not fully enjoy one without the others.
There is no peace without development, there is no development without peace and no peace or development without respect of human rights. This is fundamental to how we work.
On the peace and security front, the two issues that are occupying most of my time at the moment are of course, Syria and Mali.
In Syria, the crisis shows no signs of abating. Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the Arab League, said last week that Syria is falling apart before our eyes. He is working very hard to get the parties to agree to a negotiated transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. But Syrians are divided, the region is divided, and, very seriously, the Security Council is divided. And inside Syria, the fighting continues.
We are very worried about the humanitarian situation. Almost four million people are at risk. More than 700,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries. There is also a risk that the hostilities could take on more serious ethnic and sectarian dimensions, with revenge and reprisal killings, even after an end to this phase of the conflict. Last week in Kuwait, the Secretary-General convened a humanitarian conference that resulted in more than $1.5 billion in pledges. This will ease some of the suffering. But what is really needed is an end to the violence and a political solution.
The crisis in Mali shows what can develop through a dangerous combination of poverty, drought, weak institutions, terrorism and organized crime. Many millions of people across the wider Sahel region are being affected.
I visited Bamako only a couple of months ago. I met, among others, with women’s organizations. I got a very depressing picture of the appalling human rights violations in northern Mali, including sexual violence and the desecration of cultural and religious sites.
The French-led intervention, at the request of the Government of Mali, has improved the situation considerably even if it is still fragile and uncertain. Our main aim is to enable the Malian people to restore constitutional order and the territorial integrity of their country.
Syria and Mali, with their regional and global implications, will continue to be front and centre of our attention throughout 2013 as I see it.
Moving to the development area, our main focus is on accelerating our work towards the Millennium Development Goals as the 2015 deadline approaches.
No doubt, there has been progress. The MDGs have proved to be a successful framework for international development. They have rallied governments, civil society and the private sector around a common agenda. Global poverty has been reduced by half. We have improved the lives of 200 million slum dwellers. Children learn to read and write as never before.
But we have not reached all the Goals. Progress is uneven among and within countries. Inequalities have increased. The most vulnerable populations and countries are being left behind.
We are not taking enough steps forward on maternal health. There are still too many women dying while giving birth. There are still too many women who do not have access to midwives. Family planning has still not achieved universal acceptance.
The goal which has seen the least progress is sanitation. Clean drinking water remains a dream for 783 million people. And 2.5 billion people do not have adequate sanitation, i.e. toilets, which is the main reason why more than 3,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea, dysentery, dehydration and cholera. I have seen them die in front of my own eyes – in Sudan, Somalia and other places.
The core MDG issues will remain priorities. But the agenda after 2015 will also deal with sustainable development challenges like climate, energy and urbanization.
Our objective must be to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime, promote equitable economic opportunity for all and protect the environment.
For this to happen, we must be reminded of the role of respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Last September, the General Assembly held its first-ever high-level meeting on the rule of law. A far-reaching declaration was adopted which gives us a new tool at both the national and international levels to achieve both peace an security, development and the rule of law.
The United Nations provides very active rule of law assistance and efforts across the world. We work with police, judges and corrections officers to develop a functioning criminal justice chain. We focus on land and property rights, which are often the root causes of conflicts. We seek to promote birth registration and reduce statelessness.
Other human rights issues that will get sustained attention from us in the year ahead are violence against women and our broader work to promote mutual respect, tolerance and understanding in a time of polarization and ethnic and religious tensions around the world.
As you can see, 2013 is shaping up as a very busy and even decisive year for the United Nations.
Your Members Day has brought you here to the halls of diplomacy and international negotiations. But you, too, are ambassadors in your own right. You are special envoys of the United Nations, representing us in your communities, helping to advance our values and objectives.
Today is the centennial of the birth of Rosa Parks – a great American who was a champion for civil rights. That cause is close to our heart at the United Nations. Ralph Bunche, our Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning international civil servant, was among those who marched with Martin Luther King.
In this spirit, let us all stand up and show a greater sense of collective responsibility. No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Thank you again for your dedication. All of us at the United Nations look forward to many more decades of fruitful cooperation with you, across this country and across the world, to advance the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.