New York

11 March 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at meeting with the McDonnell International Scholars Academy [as prepared for delivery]

It is a pleasure to join you. I am glad to know that the McDonnell programme continues to have such a keen interest in the United Nations. I also congratulate your university for building close contacts with universities around the world, including in my own country, Korea.

The last time I spoke with some of your predecessors four years ago, it was in our temporary offices.  Now we have a re-furbished and modernized headquarters building fit for purpose, just as we must always have an organization ready to meet the global challenges of our time.

When I look around this room, I see some of the global leaders of tomorrow. That fills me with hope and optimism.

Each generation produces new leaders and I have been fortunate to meet two modern-day shining examples recently.

One is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager targeted by the Taliban for speaking up for girls’ right to education. She is a student who is also a teacher to the world. We celebrated Malala Day at the UN on her 16th birthday last year.  We continue to show our support for what she is doing through the UN’s own Global Education First Initiative. 

I met another inspiring young woman last week: a British seventeen-year old named Fahma Mohamed. She started a remarkable campaign to end female genital mutilation, and to try and educate parents. Her inspirational campaign has gained added traction due to the imaginative use of social media and excellent campaigning skills. I was truly impressed by this dynamic young woman.

I pledged the full support of the United Nations to helping her end this harmful traditional practice.

Women such as Malala, Fahma and all of you here with fresh ideas for improving the healing properties of the United Nations, give tremendous inspiration and hope to me.

Last year I attended the funeral of one of the great leaders of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. As I witnessed the grief and admiration from the country that became known as the rainbow nation, I reflected on his inspiring example. The world needs fresh leadership. It wants people who are motivated solely by wanting to do their best for those they serve.

I was fortunate to meet a great leader when I was younger. I was in the United States as part of a tour organized by the Red Cross for a group of young people from around the world.

Imagine my thrill – a teenager from a dusty village in Korea – at meeting President Kennedy.  I even got his autograph.  But my friends grabbed at the White House Bulletin and passed it around with such eagerness that by the time it returned to me no trace of President Kennedy’s signature remained.

Still, nothing could remove the impact the American President made on my life. Meeting him was a turning point. His words that day on the South Lawn of the White House sparked my decision to become a diplomat and dedicate myself to public service. “Be a global citizen”, he said, “and love your country by serving the world”.

I never expected to be a public servant, at home or abroad.  When I was a boy in Korea during and after the war, we were focused on re-building.  My village had been destroyed.  We had no schools. We could barely find enough food.  But with the help of the United Nations and other international partners, my country recovered and rebuilt and re-made itself into one of the world’s strongest economies and a functioning democracy. Today, as Secretary-General, I am determined to help other countries achieve similar transformations.

Just last week I was in Sierra Leone to mark the successful completion of our UN Mission.

Sierra Leone used to be synonymous with brutality. The savage, decade-long war there was marked by appalling atrocities against civilians, including widespread amputations of the limbs of children and even babies.

Shocked into action, the world responded by backing a series of United Nations peacekeeping, peacebuilding and political operations.  With sustained engagement and the full UN toolkit, the country’s people turned their backs on conflict.

The United Nations was also proud to help set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone – making it the first country in Africa to establish, with UN participation, a tribunal on its own territory to address the most serious of international crimes.

The UN assisted more than half a million Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced persons when they voluntarily returned home and supported training for thousands of local police. The UN helped the Government to combat illicit diamond mining that fuelled the conflict, and to establish control over the affected areas. With the UN’s help, Sierra Leone’s citizens voted in successive free and fair elections for the first time in their history.

Now we are giving way to a UN country team, to focus on economic and social development. 

Of course, profound suffering continues elsewhere.  We are still struggling to end the conflict Syria, which this month enters its fourth year.  We are mobilizing the international community to do more to stem the fighting in the Central African Republic.  We are promoting dialogue, calm and a political solution in Ukraine.

This is also a key period for development.  Next year is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.   It is the time when we must adopt a bold agenda for the period beyond 2015.  Next year is also when Member States have promised to reach a new agreement on climate change.  For all this to happen in 2015, the year ahead must be one of heavy lifting. 

Thank you again for coming to New York and most of all for your engagement on these important issues.

I have fond memories of the time I spent in St. Louis five years ago – although perhaps I should not admit that I spoke at St. Louis University instead of yours!

Still, I was glad to be in the land of Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – characters I met in the books I read as a schoolboy.  The land of Truman, who had such a formative influence on the founding of the Organization I am now proud to serve.

I believe in strong ties between the United States and the United Nations and look forward to the contributions you will make to building a better future for all.

Thank you. 

Now I would be happy to answer a few questions.