New York

16 May 2012

Secretary-General's remarks at an event hosted by the Consulate-General of the Republic of Korea [as prepared for delivery]

Ladies and Gentlemen,


What a wonderful gathering.


Ambassador Kim has brought us all together to raise awareness about the United Nations.


But I know I am far from the only attraction.  Like all of you, I am looking forward to tonight’s performances.


Wonderful violinists -- and an American Idol!  That is a rare treat.


I thank the musicians and all of you for being here.  You are good friends of the Republic of Korea and good friends of the United Nations.


Tonight, I would like to speak to you about putting people first – putting a human face on our work … recognizing the primacy of individuals – real people – in all the work that we do.


Let me begin with the film we have just seen, “Every Woman Every Child.”


I want you to understand why we screened this tonight … and why the issue of women’s and children’s health is so central to the work of the United Nations.


Our long years of experience have proved that women are at the core of economic growth and sustainable development.  We have also found that by driving at the connections among the issues -- health, education, energy, environment -- we can multiply our efforts and make out-sized gains across the board.


And yet … while we have made remarkable progress on some of the Millennium Development Goals, we have lagged behind on those related to women’s health.


It does not need to be that way.  Just today, a new UN report indicates that maternal deaths have been reduced almost by half over the past 20 years. 


Progress is clearly possible.  Our challenge is to accelerate its pace. 


We are not waiting for a scientific breakthrough; we have medicines and interventions and knowledge that can prevent millions of deaths today, this very minute.


That is why we launched Every Woman Every Child.  This is a concrete strategy to promote opportunity and advance economic growth and the social well-being of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. 


Because … to invest in health is to invest in people. And because investing in people — particularly women and children — is the best and fastest way to create the future we want.


Tonight, I want to report that this initiative is making a big difference, very quickly.  Many governments, businesses and NGOs are involved -- working together.


Like I do, they see Every Woman and Every Child as key to realizing the Millennium Development Goals.


And why? Because they put people first. They focus on advancing the well-being of individuals — and that makes all the difference.


In many ways, the story of the Millennium Development Goals — as well as Every Woman, Every Child — is a story of my own country and what can happen when people work together in common cause.


With education and elbow grease, Korea transformed itself.  Once all but destroyed by war … once almost totally dependent on outside aid … Korea today is a proud donor.


Korea is a case study in how countries can re-write their own history — by investing in people.


Ladies and gentlemen,


Next month, we have another large opportunity to write history … also by investing in people.


Well over a hundred world leaders … an estimated 70,000 people … will soon gather in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.


Forty years ago, in Stockholm, the UN took the initiative to raise global awareness about the perilous state of the environment.


Twenty years at the first Rio Earth Summit, we made a conceptual breakthrough by putting sustainable development on the map.


Next month we have a chance to finally deliver … to steer humankind on a better course.


Dynamic, fair, environmentally friendly: that is the development model we want.


Uneven, unequal, unsustainable: that is the model we have.


But a good outcome is not assured. I continue to press world leaders to meet this challenge, maintain a high level of ambition and confront the hard issues now instead of deferring them to future generations.


New negotiating days have been added to the calendar.  That is most welcome and I am urging leaders to use this time to the maximum.


With determined and far-sighted leadership, I believe that we can make Rio+20 one of the most important conferences in UN history. 


We must seize this generational opportunity; we may not get another.


Ladies and gentlemen,


Tonight’s snapshot of the work of the United Nations would not be complete without a few words on the Arab Spring.


Developments across the Arab world over the past year and a half have been as historic as any in recent history – as decisive as the 1989 revolutions that swept Europe, brought down the Berlin Wall and ended Cold War.


Circumstances have varied from country to country, but here too I have seen a unifying thread: people demanding their dignity and rights … people demanding that their voices be heard.


From the start, the United Nations called on leaders to listen – to listen to the aspirations of their people … to take bold steps toward democracy, justice and freedom.


Some have done so; others obviously not.


In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, we are working for solutions that focus on people — building democratic institutions, helping to promote human rights, creating jobs and economic opportunity, especially for women and young people.


We continue to watch the situation in Syria with great concern.  We cannot predict how this will end. But we do know there can be no compromise on fundamental principles of justice and human rights, in Syria or elsewhere. No amount of force can squash people’s aspirations to live in dignity and decency.


Ladies and gentlemen,


The world is in the midst of what I call a great transition.


New powers are rising.  The old order is breaking down, and we do not yet know the shape of the new.  There is unease about insecurity, injustice and inequality -- and about whether institutions are up to the task.


This may be an era of uncertainty.  But it is also one of profound opportunity for individuals to make a difference. For this is an era when we must deliver for people.


Let us work together to build the future we want – a global community in which every woman, every child and every person has the health and the safety and the freedoms they dream of and deserve.


Thank you very much.  Kamsa-ha