10 September 2012

UN Secretary-General's Remarks at Public Lecture Organized by the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Geneva, 10 September 2012

It is a great honour for me to participate in this very historical, distinguished university of Genève which has more than 450 years of history.  Just the sheer history of this great and distinguished university makes me feel honoured and inspired.  Let us be all inspired this afternoon and in the future by the great teachings the Professors and this university have made to the development and peace of the great country of Switzerland. 

It is a great honour for me to participate in the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Switzerland joining the United Nations.  There cannot be any better and more honourable occasion for me to participate in this celebration together with the people of Switzerland on this important occasion. 

I thank you very much for your kind invitation for me to be here with you and thank you for your warm welcome.  Merci pour votre accueil très chaleureux, je suis très ému.

Ten years ago today, Switzerland raised its flag for the first time at the United Nations.  As a Korean diplomat I used to always sit next to Switzerland’s observer delegations.  Korea joined ten years before Switzerland joined.  I was working as a Chef du Cabinet du Président de l'Assemblée Générale, but just a few days before you were admitted to the United Nations I had to leave because I finished my term and I was not able to witness that important ceremony. 

At that time, the Swiss President, Mr. Kaspar Villiger, I was told, spoke movingly about that moment and its meaning.  He said “Flags were originally used as battle standards”, but “military campaigns had been replaced by a peaceful forum - the United Nations.”  And he stressed that Switzerland would contribute actively to that forum.

Switzerland has kept that pledge.

Of course, the country’s deep engagement long precedes its formal membership.

You may have been an observer, but you did not sit on the sidelines.

Geneva, once home to the League of Nations, is today our indispensable European hub.

Switzerland gave the world the Geneva Conventions, part of the underpinning for the humanitarian action we continue to pursue today.

In less than ten years, Dr. Joseph Deiss provided a very important leadership role as President of the General Assembly.  And it has been one of my great honours and pleasure to work with him, me as a Secretary-General and he as the President of the General Assembly. 

Yet even beyond these contributions, there is something less tangible but no less powerful:  what we might call the Swiss way.

You are open, diverse, multilingual.  Your society runs on consensus, dialogue and peaceful coexistence.

That is also our mindset at the United Nations.  We are a good fit, Switzerland and the world Organization.

And that is a good thing, at this time of challenge and change – the focus of my remarks to you today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world is in the midst of a great transition.

This transition is economic, as new powers emerge, largely in the global South. 

This transition is also environmental, as we seek a more sustainable path to secure our long-term well-being.

And it is also political, as people rightly demand a greater say in the decision-making process and in their lives.

Today we look out upon a global landscape full of uncertainty.

We see rising unemployment, rising temperatures and, in too many places, a rising tide of intolerance.

The United Nations itself must rise to this moment. 

That means strengthening our core mission – peace, security, development, human rights – to which Switzerland is very much committed.

But it also means identifying today’s most urgent needs – what people care about during the day; what keeps them up at night.

And it means making a difference now, in real time.

This was the rationale behind the action agenda I announced in January this year, at the outset of my second term as the Secretary-General. 

Sustainable development.  Prevention.  Helping countries in transition.  Building a more secure world.  Empowering the world’s women and youth.

Five imperatives, five opportunities for all of us to make this world better for all.

Switzerland is making a difference in each of these areas.  I want to work even more closely with you to build on this record.

Let me just explain those five imperatives in more detail.

First, sustainable development.

You are all aware of the perilous path we are on – towards climate change and destabilizing inequalities.  On a previous visit to Switzerland I was given a special flight over the majestic Alpine mountains. 

But while they were majestic and beautiful I was threatened and alarmed by the melting glaciers on the Alps.  That was a clear warning signal of serious problems to come.

Planet earth is at a tipping point.  Depending upon how we address climate change we may fall into disaster or move ahead into prosperity. 

The challenge is to change course while there is still time.

But let us not succumb to doom and gloom.  There is an understandable movement for change.

We saw this at the Rio+20 summit meeting which was held in June in Rio de Janeiro.  The mobilization of civil society, not only government leaders, and mobilization of a strong partnership by many private countries and philanthropists.  They were all united to work together to make this world better for all, and to shape the future we want. 

And we can see this in the seriousness with which the world is now embarking on the crucial task of establishing Sustainable Development Goals and defining the post-2015 development agenda.

But let me also be clear:  even as we look beyond 2015, there should be no let-up in our work for the Millennium Development Goals.  Much work lies ahead to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, provide decent work for all, and pass on a healthier planet to our children and grandchildren. 

I am very grateful for such a strong commitment and leadership from Switzerland’s government to eradicate this poverty by investing in people.  It is a great encouragement to all of us. 

I commend Switzerland for its commitment to development.  At a time when countries are cutting back on aid, Switzerland is stepping up.  Switzerland is increasing assistance, investing in people and leading by example.

I have established a high-level panel of eminent persons who will come with a vision; goals and a practical vision for the development agenda post 2015.  Member States will soon engage in negotiating what kind of goals we will have in the name of sustainable development goals which will be a successor to the Millennium Development Goals. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today solidarity has a new frontier.  The Federal Chancellor mentioned responsibility, solidarity.  Those were key goals.

We have to help those countries in transition.  We have seen dramatic transformations in countries where people were shouting, were demanding their legitimate rights, their legitimate human dignities.  We have to listen to their voices.  I have repeatedly been urging world leaders ‘before it is too late you must listen carefully to their legitimate aspirations’. 

This is a second opportunity highlighted in my action plan. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Think of the hopeful reforms we have seen in the recent months alone.  A free Aung San Suu Kyi who came first to Geneva to thank the international community for its support. 

A democratically-elected President, they say the first election in 5,000 years, in Egypt.  I met President Morsi in Egypt, their first democratically-elected President.  The consolidation of reforms in Tunisia and Libya are all encouraging even though there are some forms of instability still.  But we can help them. 

These efforts, which emanated from within, need international support.  That is why my action agenda focuses on helping countries in transition.

Switzerland has been out front in providing just this kind of assistance.  In Tunisia, you have placed a special emphasis on developing the country’s civil society.

The challenges across this arc of change are vast – from institution-building to electoral support; from economic recovery to the empowerment of women and protections for minorities.

We need Switzerland’s continued engagement. 

We also need your help in the diplomacy and humanitarian response on Syria.

The situation in Syria has worsened considerably.  There have been appalling human rights violations and aerial bombardment of civilian areas by the Government.  Sectarian relations are severely strained, threatening the cohesion of a very diverse society.

I continue to call on all the parties to convince the parties that a military solution is wrong.  It must stop.  Both sides must stop right now.  Those who are providing arms to either side are only fuelling more mayhem and misery to the Syrian people.  The only way out of this conflict is through a credible political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

That is what Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan worked so hard to set in motion.  And it is now what the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi will do as he prepares for his first visit to Damascus soon.

Elsewhere in the region, the situation of the Palestinians and the impasse in the peace process with Israel remain a major concern.  Resolving the conflict and ending the occupation are long overdue.

The United Nations will continue to spare no efforts to assist the parties in resuming meaningful negotiations to realize the two-State solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security.  I am deeply convinced that this is in the best interest of both sides.

We will also continue to support the institution building efforts of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, and to encourage Palestinian reconciliation.

All parties should avoid provocations, reject violence and lower tensions at this time.  The regional context adds even more urgency to breaking this stalemate.

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Le troisième axe de mon plan d’action est la prévention.

La prévention renvoie à toutes sortes de choses.
La prévention des conflits bien sûr – par la médiation, l’arbitrage, l’alerte précoce et l’intervention rapide, pour éviter que les tensions s’empirent.

Mais aussi la prévention par le biais de la réduction des risques de catastrophe et le renforcement de la faculté d’adaptation face aux chocs économiques et sociaux qui ne cessent de s’abattre sur le monde depuis quelques années.

Et toutes ces activités ont pour point de départ la Suisse.

Tout comme le programme pour le désarmement – qui joue un rôle crucial dans la construction d’un monde plus sûr – le quatrième pilier de mon programme d’action.

Nous avons obtenu de bons résultats, comme l’accord remarquable interdisant complètement les armes à sous-munitions, la Déclaration de Genève sur la violence armée et le développement, et les résultats prometteurs de la conférence d'examen du Programme d'action des Nations Unies sur les armes légères la semaine dernière.

Je remercie la Suisse pour avoir été à la pointe de ces entreprises.  Votre pays a contribué de manière significative à rendre le désarmement pertinent pour les personnes vivant dans le dénuement et la peur.

En revanche, je ne peux que déplorer une fois encore l’impasse dans laquelle demeure plongée la Conférence du désarmement.  Toutes les initiatives récentes en matière de désarmement ont été prises hors du cadre de la Conférence.

En outre, les négociations consacrées au traité sur le commerce des armes qui ont pris fin en juillet ont donné des résultats décevants.  Et, pendant ce temps, les dépenses consacrées aux armes de mort ne cessent d’augmenter alors que tant d’autres secteurs manquent cruellement d’argent.

Mobilisons nous pour donner un nouvel élan à la campagne pour le désarmement mais aussi pour retrouver le sens des priorités et donner la première place aux populations.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

My fifth imperative is an empowerment challenge – to realize the rights of women, and to unleash the energies of youth, the largest generation the world has ever known.

Unemployment rates for young people are at record levels – two, three, sometimes even six times the rate for adults.  In many areas of the world, there is a significant mismatch between young people’s skills and available jobs for them.  

But let us recognize that while young people want jobs, they also yearn for something more: a seat at the table, a voice in shaping their future. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a broad and ambitious agenda.

To succeed, we need to harness the power of partnerships.  Without partnerships all of these ambitious agendas cannot be achieved.

We want to work even more closely with civil society.

We want to build on the great strides we have made with the private sector, including through the Global Compact, our corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative.

Ties with the philanthropic community are also deepening on health challenges and much else.  Just before coming here today, we joined together to open an exhibition at the League of Nations Museum at the United Nations Office in Geneva.  I thank the donors involved for their commitment to this important piece of the world’s common heritage.

Geneva’s many world-renowned research and educational institutions also have a place in this constellation of actors.  Please join our United Nations Academic Impact initiative.  The University of Geneva is a member.  I invite the Graduate Institute to join as well.

Progress also demands an effective United Nations.

We continue to strengthen and modernize the United Nations.  My commitment is to make this organization more efficient, more effective, more transparent and more mobile so that we can meet the expectations of the world’s community and so that we can deliver all of the assistance to those people who are in need of our support. 

Switzerland’s membership has advanced the reform effort too.  And I appreciate their strong commitment and support towards this organization reforms. 

In this interdependent era, in this time of uncertainty and unease, we need Governments and people to recognize that on so many issues, the global interest is the national interest.

We need every country to put its best self forward, and work with others for solutions.

Ten years ago, in just that spirit, Switzerland came into the big global tent that is the United Nations.  Today I wish to assure all of you: that tent is a far better place for having Switzerland fully in it.  And we all stand a better chance of achieving the common progress we seek and so urgently need.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us work together, all of us, governments, civil society, economic enterprises, philanthropists, men and women, young and old, to make this world better for all.  To shape this future.  The future we want.  That is our common collective responsibility.  And I thank you for your commitment and leadership. 

Thank you very much.  Merci.