Leiden, The Netherlands

28 August 2013

Secretary-General's Freedom Lecture at Leiden University [as prepared for delivery]

Thank you for your warm welcome.  It is a privilege and honour to be invited to address this prestigious academic institution.  I would also like to thank the other co-hosts, the City of Leiden and the Leiden University Medical Center.

Leiden University is an internationally renowned hub of learning and research with a history that stretches back many centuries.

Indeed, one of the pioneers of international law and the principles that guide the United Nations began his studies here more than 400 years ago, the legendary jurist Hugo Grotius. 

Many distinguished scholars have followed.  Today, each of you is carrying forward that proud tradition. 

I thank you for your commitment and want to single out for special praise your University’s global focus and approach to education. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are here to talk about freedom.  I can think of no better time or place.

Leiden is synonymous with freedom. 

Leiden University’s credo is “Bastion of Liberty”, and the city itself carries the motto “for the sake of freedom”. 

This is also a very special day.  Earlier today, I took part in events marking the 100th anniversary of the Peace Palace in The Hague.  And on this date fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his monumental “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Dr. King spoke of the “riches of freedom and the security of justice”.  He reminded the world that the rights of any minority should be the cause of all. 

As he said, “their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom”.

In other words, we share a common future with shared responsibilities. 

That understanding is even truer today.

Our freedom … our possibilities …. our perils … are linked like never before.

The United Nations Charter speaks to our shared fate – and highlights the need “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. 

The word “freedom” suffuses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our work to deepen the meaning of freedom is built on three pillars:  development -- or freedom from want; peace and security -- or freedom from fear; and human rights -- or simply the freedom to enjoy and exercise the full body of human rights.

These pillars are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. 

There can be no peace without development … no development without peace …and  neither can be achieved without full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Today I would like to address those three dimensions of freedom.

Let me begin with freedom from want. 

At the dawn of this new millennium, the international community set out on an unprecedented journey to tackle freedom from want around the world. 

The Millennium Development Goals are our touchstone for this effort.  The eight goals and associated targets make up our blueprint to fight poverty and hunger, expand education and health, empower women and girls, and ensure environmental sustainability.

Thanks to combined efforts from governments to the grassroots, we have made important progress. 

The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved.  Fewer children are losing their lives to malaria and tuberculosis. And more than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water – a challenge on which the Netherlands and King Willem-Alexander have been global leaders. 

But there is much unfinished business. 

Nineteen thousand children under age five still die each day, most from preventable diseases.

Two and a half billion people still lack access to sanitation.

Disparities between different social groups are widening.

Environmental sustainability is under severe threat. 

Our planet is strained and stretched. 

We must intensify our efforts in two crucial ways. 

First, with less than 1,000 days before the deadline to achieve the MDGs, we must accelerate progress. 

Second, we must shape a global agenda beyond 2015 with poverty eradication and sustainable development at its core. 

These twin challenges will be front and centre at the United Nations next month as world leaders gather for the opening of the General Assembly.

We have already begun the vital discussion on crafting a post-2015 agenda that is ambitious, inspiring and universal – relevant to all people and all societies.

I will continue to stress the importance of empowering women and girls.

Societies cannot be free if half their citizens cannot pursue their full potential. 
At the United Nations, I am striving to lead by example.
I have nearly doubled the number of women in the most senior UN positions.  Our top officials for humanitarian affairs, human rights, health, development and disarmament are women.  So, too, is my chief of staff.
I am proud that for the first time in history, five UN peacekeeping operations involving tens of thousands of troops are led by women. 
The empowerment of women is part of a wider effort to make sure that all people are able to exercise their right to participate in the development process.

When people are engaged and take ownership, they can become a strong force to promote local governance -- advance the rule of law -- deepen democracy, development and peace – and spread freedom.

But they need our support.

I know this is a time of austerity.  Budgets are tight everywhere, including here in the Netherlands.  But we cannot short-change investments that are needed to lift the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. 

At the same time, I have stressed accountability to ensure that governments everywhere do the most with whatever they have.  Budget priorities around the world must reflect people’s priorities. 

And yet still every year, more than a trillion dollars is drained on weapons of war.  The time has come to spend less on arsenals that destroy and more on tools that build. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Development and peace are two sides of the same coin.  Freedom from want goes hand in hand with freedom from fear – building sustainable peace and security. This is the second pillar. 

Earlier this year, I travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank. 

It was the first-ever such joint visit.  We went to support a framework for peace and security to end fighting in one of the most battle-scarred places on earth. 

The UN has tried to keep and build peace there for more than 50 years.  But we are modernizing our approach – engaging regional partners and civil society and putting an even greater focus on improving the lives of people on the ground. 

A peace deal must deliver a peace dividend. 

People need to see the fruits of peace in their own lives – through schools, jobs, basic services, the opportunities to live in freedom. 

Around the world, we are reinvigorating the United Nations’ use of preventive diplomacy
and mediation, peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding to tackle 21st century challenges. 

That is the way to build societies founded on hope instead of fuelled by fear.   

That leads me to the third pillar of freedom –the freedom to enjoy and exercise human rights. 

All States have committed to ensuring their people freedom of opinion and expression … freedom of religion or belief … freedom of assembly and association … and freedom of movement.

Yet in far too many places, we see opposition and obstacles to those freedoms. 

It could come in the form of costly law enforcement machinery to sanction or spy on those who speak out.

It could be shutting down internet and media outlets, or detaining dissidents, journalists or human rights defenders.

Think of the reporter imprisoned for having revealed corruption.

The woman not allowed to wear her headscarf or another who is not allowed to show her hair.

The human rights NGO prohibited from receiving funding.
The person with disabilities not allowed to vote.

The students forbidden from peacefully demonstrating against misrule.

Fear is often the driver for restrictions of freedom.

Fear of the new.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of what is different.  Fear of allowing others a say in the decisions affecting their lives.  Or sometimes, simply, fear of the truth.

We see this in rising examples of national legislation that restrict human rights defenders and civil society.

There are a growing number of laws being wrongly used to impede their work, including anti-terrorism and national security legislation; laws relating to public morals, defamation or blasphemy; cumbersome laws on the registration, functioning and funding of associations; official-secrets legislation; and legislation regulating Internet access.

We see it in dozens of countries that still criminalize consensual, same-sex relationships.

We see it in bans on minarets and other restrictions that drive wedges in society by targeting minorities and migrant communities.

We see it in arbitrary bans on peaceful assemblies.

And we see it in surveillance programmes that have grown ever more aggressive.

Let me be clear.  Concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance. 

But surveillance without safeguards to protect the right to privacy hampers fundamental freedoms.

People should feel secure in the knowledge that their private communications are not being unduly or unjustly scrutinised by the State.

Those disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights need to be protected.

Although some in power might claim they need to curtail freedoms to preserve order, this in fact could have the opposite effect.

Yes, protecting freedom is not free. It requires investments.  But curtailing freedom also carries a heavy price.

When people do not have a means to channel their grievances - when they are not allowed to speak out, protest peacefully or exercise their democratic rights, stability will suffer.

Look no further than the Middle East and North Africa, where decades of oppression brought about uprisings which have now led to death and devastation. This morning, I spoke about my deep concerns regarding Syria at the Peace Palace ceremony,   I am also closely watching the situation in Egypt.I have offered one word of advice to leaders around the world:   


Listen to the concerns, demands and hopes of your people. 

If you do not listen to your people, you will hear from them – in the streets, in the squares, or most tragically on the battlefield.

Is there a way out? Yes.

The answer is more participation.  More democracy.  More understanding.  More freedom.

I once again appeal to leaders across the world to promote dialogue, reconciliation and support for inclusive political transitions. 

This is the way to build stable, democratic, free and united societies.

Here in Europe, which has served as such a remarkable engine of integration, I make a special plea for tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity and the rights of migrants and refugees. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have many challenges before us.  But there are also many reasons to be hopeful. 

Again and again, we have seen that when people are engaged on a local or global level, change can happen.  Restrictions on freedoms can be lifted.

For example, over the past two decades, thanks to human rights activism across the globe, nearly 40 countries have decriminalized same-sex relations. The Netherlands has been a pioneer – and I have sought to lead the way at the United Nations as a proud defender of LGBT equality.

But the real credit belongs to the voices and the activism of ordinary people who stand up and speak out.

We saw such extraordinary activism twenty years ago at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.  An inspiring assembly of governments and thousands of people from all over the world joined forces - mothers of the disappeared, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants.

They came together to say human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

We are all “born free and equal in dignity and rights”. We all have a right to live in freedom and equality.

As Grotius said more than 400 years ago, States’ rights come from all of us as individuals; the power of the state is the result of collective agreement.

With such sovereignty comes responsibility.

A responsibility to make sure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is left behind, denied universal human rights or basic economic opportunities.

A responsibility towards freedom of the individual, for development and peace to flourish.

We have examples that guide us … leaders that inspire us … and international standards that bind us.

Let us draw on them to widen the circle of freedom for one and all. 

Thank you.