New York

15 November 2010

Remarks at Roosevelt House Ribbon Cutting Ceremony [as prepared for delivery]

Ban Ki-moon

Ms. Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College,
Congresswoman [Carolyn] Maloney,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here … in the city that hosts the United Nations … in the house where the architecture of modern multilateralism was drawn … where our values and goals were mapped out.

FDR’s friend and contemporary, Winston Churchill, once said: “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

If that is true, then surely 49 East 65th street is one of the most important houses of the modern era.

These brick and limestone walls witnessed the birth of two legacies that have shaped our world:

… a new era of multilateral cooperation for international peace, security and social welfare ...

… and an explicit commitment by all nations to recognize fundamental freedoms and universal human rights, including equal rights for men and women.

These are the values that it is my privilege to promote and defend.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Whatever you work for, you must be sure you believe in it. Put into any work you do everything you have to give. Never give half of yourself.”

I try to live every day according to these principles.

I believe in the United Nations. I have seen what it has done for my country.

I grew up in poverty in a country destroyed by war. It is now a major economy … host of last week’s G-20 Summit.

We Koreans owe this to the United Nations whose roots lie in this house.

I am moved to stand where Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor and their children lived … where FDR began his political career … recuperated from polio and regained his physical independence.

It is here that he foresaw a world characterized by “the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society”.

It is here that he developed his plan for an international organization to help preserve world peace and security.

Sadly, FDR never saw the fruits of his efforts. He died just two weeks before the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.

Yet his vision lives on … in the UN Charter’s collective commitment to peace and security … economic and social welfare … tolerance and fundamental human rights – FDR’s four freedoms.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This legacy of multilateral cooperation guides our work today.

As I speak, United Nations peacekeepers are risking their lives for peace, stability and development in 16 missions around the world … in Afghanistan … Sudan … the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United Nations feeds more than 90 million people in 73 countries.

We are helping to rebuild Haiti.

We are working to save mothers and empower women … help children to grow up healthy and educated … support the world’s farmers to feed themselves and others.

We are the voice of the voiceless … the defenders of the defenceless.

Two months ago, world leaders came to New York to reassert their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.

I call these Goals “weapons of mass construction.”

They are the international community’s promise to build a safer, more prosperous, more equitable world by 2015.

An important part of my job is to mobilize the international community to deliver on their promises to the world’s most vulnerable people, as I was doing last week in Seoul at the G-20 Summit.

I reminded G-20 leaders that development is the single greatest engine for prosperity

Economic uncertainty should not be an excuse to do less. It is a reason to do more.

FDR understood this when he rolled out the New Deal in his first 100 days in office.

If he were alive today, you can be sure, too, that he would be working hand-in-hand with the UN to forge a new global deal on climate change.

He would be urging governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support investment in green technologies and green jobs.

And he would call on all of us to help the poor and the hungry.

These are all essential for the peaceful, secure world FDR was working to create.

Along with peace, FDR was committed to human rights. He shared this passion with his wife, Eleanor.

Eleanor Roosevelt was her husband’s counsellor and conscience.

While FDR convalesced in this house, Eleanor was bringing key civil rights and human rights activists to meet him and raising awareness.

After her husband’s death, Eleanor secured her own United Nations legacy.

She helped draft one of our core founding documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It guides our work and informs our thinking to the present.

Of all the things Eleanor did, perhaps the one that resonates most with me is her deep personal commitment to equal rights for women and men.

In 1946, during the inaugural meetings of the UN General Assembly, Eleanor addressed an open letter to the women of the world.

She called on women everywhere to take a more active part in national and international affairs … to share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in war and resistance.

That call reverberates down the decades.

We hear its echo in Security Council resolution 1325 – ten years old this year – which condemns violence against women in conflict, and calls for them to be at the centre of all peace processes.

We hear it in the growing chorus of women lawmakers -- women who are making their voices heard from Burundi to Bangladesh.

And we hear it in this year’s General Assembly decision to create UN Women – the new UN agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

We have found an excellent leader for this new agency – Michelle Bachelet, the dynamic former President of Chile.

She joins the growing ranks of senior UN officials that I have been privileged to appoint, who are taking the spirit and example of Eleanor Roosevelt forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As Secretary-General, I take inspiration from the legacies that Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt left to the United Nations.

I am honoured to participate in the official opening of this home … home to two remarkable individuals.

Let us hope it will inspire a new generation to devote themselves to international public service … to the work of the United Nations.

And to the young people of Hunter College – this diverse mini-United Nations of students – let me offer an invitation.

Come visit the United Nations.

Join the million visitors who pass through our doors each year.

Breathe the legacy of these two great people we honour today.

If you take a tour, you will hear Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice, as alive and relevant today as ever.

You will hear her ask, and I quote:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?”

Her answer is: “…In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world, yet they are the world of the individual person.”

And she tells us that: “…Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Ladies and gentleman,

The world Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt dreamed starts with you … and with me … one thought, one act at a time.

Thank you.