I am delighted to send my warmest greetings to this launch of the U Thant Institute. As the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant was ahead of his time in many ways that we may not realize today. He led the Organization in an age of exceptional challenges, and made courageous efforts to ease tensions during the Cuban missile crisis and to bring an end to the Vietnam War. Yet U Thant's most enduring legacy was his focus on the sanctity of the human being, and the emphasis he placed on the value and welfare of the individual as the true measure of the United Nations' mission.
Today, more than three decades after the end of U Thant's term, that focus sums up the essence of the United Nations' work in the post-Cold War era. And to this day, U Thant's contributions for development, poverty alleviation, education, environmental protection and health provide the enduring groundwork for many of our efforts.
It was U Thant who launched the first Earth Summit, which led to the founding of UN Environment Programme and the convening of the landmark Rio two decades later.
It was U Thant who established the United Nations Population Fund, which went on to become one of UN's greatest success stories in ensuring the health and well-being of women and families around the world.
It was U Thant who laid the foundations of the United Nations University and helped inspire the creation of the International Peace Academy, because he knew that if we want to build a better world, we must first learn to understand fully the one we live in.
It was U Thant who more than anyone before him opened up the United Nations to the media, because he understood that for the Organization to earn the support of the world's people, they must be kept fully informed and aware of its work.
Today, we know that if there is one guiding motto the United Nations must work under in the 21st century, it is to put people at the centre of everything we do. That is the motto underlying the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by all the world's countries as a blueprint for building better lives for human beings everywhere.
As we work to translate those goals into reality, we would do well to draw inspiration from the words of U Thant, who wrote in his last report on the work of the Organization [and I quote]:
“I feel more strongly than ever the worth of the individual human being is the most unique and precious of all our assets and must be the beginning and the end of all our efforts. Governments, systems, ideologies and institutions come and go, but humanity remains. The nature and value of this most precious asset is increasingly appreciated as we see how empty organized life becomes when we remove or suppress the infinite variety and vitality of the individual.”
I commend Aye Aye Thant for drawing on the legacy of this quiet pioneer. I am heartened that the work of the U Thant Institute will be informed and inspired by his wisdom, values and ideals, and wish it every success in its endeavours.