Prague, Czech Republic

04 April 2014

Secretary-General's lecture at Charles University - "The Czech Republic and the UN: Peace, Development and Human Rights in a Changing World" [as prepared for delivery]

I am deeply honoured to be here.  Thank you for this distinguished recognition.

I have run with the Olympic Torch during the 2012 summer games in London and the 2014 winter games in Sochi. 

But I must confess.  I never dreamed of receiving a gold medal! 

I accept this high honour on behalf of all those serving the United Nations around the world. 

They are the real champions – the true gold medal winners -- working every day and risking their lives for peace, development and human rights around the world. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Charles University has a long and proud history, including close cooperation with the United Nations.  Your academics have co-authored United Nations reports. The United Nations Human Rights Office has cited your human rights education as an example for others. And many of your graduates have worked directly with the United Nations on issues related to health, the environment and diplomacy.

I am honoured to follow many distinguished speakers who have come here, including United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

The Czech Republic is a dynamic United Nations Member State, active on the Human Rights Council, contributing to the peaceful settlement of disputes, and helping other countries to achieve a democratic transition.

The beautiful, historic centre of Prague was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site – in part because this very esteemed university where I stand has been a renowned seat of learning from the 14th century until today.

Last year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic’s membership in the United Nations. 

Your country entered the UN when many of you entered the world. 

Now you – and all of us – are moving into a world of even greater  transition and upheaval – with looming threats and promising opportunities.

The Czech Republic has been buffeted by the winds of global change many times in its history. You have direct experience of rivalries between the great powers.

Today other key players are emerging.  Asia will soon surpass Europe and North America in terms of economic strength, population and technological investment.

Africa’s growth is rising.  Six of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa. 

Change is visible well beyond the metrics of markets.

Demographics show the emergence of a new world.

The world’s population is shifting. We have the largest population of young people today.  But by 2050, there will be more people over 60 than under 15.

Rapid urbanization means that today’s cities will become tomorrow’s mega-cities. People are also on the move as never before, and migration is expected to double.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are many stress points on today’s world map.

Many people in this region and across the world share my concern about the crisis related to Ukraine.

The stakes are high. That is why I travelled to Moscow and Kyiv last month.

I spoke to Russian President Putin about the volatile dynamics. I underscored the need to de-escalate tensions and to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

In both Moscow and Kyiv, I urged leaders to avoid hasty moves and immediately start a meaningful dialogue.

The problems over Ukraine are reverberating far beyond this region. They are causing divisions in the international community at a time when we need countries to unite to tackle global problems.

I will continue to do my utmost to promote a peaceful, diplomatic solution in keeping with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we confront crises from Ukraine to Syria, we are also focused on conflicts that are no less worrisome but often far less visible on the world’s front pages: terrible unrest in South Sudan.  Horrific brutality in the Central African Republic.

At the same time, I strongly believe we must keep our eyes fixed on what may seem less immediate but more destructive long-term threats.

We face a crossroads moment.  There are three issues on the global agenda for the coming year that will shape people’s lives for generations to come.  2015 will be a year of global choices. 

First, we must accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals, the world’s blueprint for tackling poverty, hunger and disease and expanding education, opportunity and cleaner greener future.

These goals were established in the year 2000.  The deadline is 2015, one year away. 

Important progress has been made.  Global poverty has been cut in half.  More children are in school.

But there is a long way to go. 

Grinding poverty still affects more than one in every seven people on earth.

Hunger plagues nearly a billion people.

Diseases we know how to prevent still kill tens of thousands of children each day.

Women are not yet adequately represented in governments and parliaments across the world.  

And the warming global climate is undermining our planet’s future. 

I am urging the international community to spare no effort in speeding up our progress to meet the MDGs by next year. 

At the time, we must usher in a sustainable future while adapting to the changing global landscape.

That is the second challenge. We are learning lessons from the MDG experience as we work to craft a long-term agenda that will shape development efforts for the next generation. 

We have opened the global discussion to the widest possible range of participants.

Our goal is to formulate a bold and concrete practical strategy tuned to the challenges of today. We will advance development in a three-dimensional way -- economically, socially, environmentally.

Our goals will aim for prosperity and sustainability – so you might think of them as a “GPS” that shows the path to a better world and a life of dignity for all.

That leads me to the third challenge – tackling the climate change challenge. 

I have been spotlighting the problem with visits around the world. Just last month, I was in Greenland, where the ice is melting fast.

Later today, I will visit the Prague flood protection system to see first-hand how your city is adapting to the climate change challenge.

Around the world, climate change is an existential threat – but if we harness the opportunities inherent in addressing climate change, we can reap enormous economic benefits.

I am convening a summit in New York this September to pave the way for a legal agreement by 2015 – and to focus on climate solutions.

I am inviting leaders of governments – as well as business executives, activist groups and others interested in addressing this problem in a constructive, forward-looking manner.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are big challenges and we cannot tackle them alone. 

That is why I am also so focused on activating real drivers of change in today’s world. 

That starts with ensuring equality for women and empowerment of young people.

I have been speaking loudly and consistently around the world about ending human rights abuses against women and allowing them to play their rightful, assertive role in society.

Within the UN itself, I have appointed a record number of women to high-level positions. I did not fill jobs with women just for the sake of it – I looked for the best possible candidate and I found that if you strip away discrimination, the best possible candidate is often a woman.

I will give you just one example. Peacekeeping was traditionally dominated by men. When I began as Secretary-General, there had barely been any female heads of UN peacekeeping missions.

Today, fully one-third of our missions – including some of the toughest, in South Sudan and Haiti – are led by women. A woman is overseeing the joint team getting rid of Syria’s chemical weapons.

I have appointed the first-ever woman as my Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. 

And across the United Nations system, women are demonstrating to countries around the world that equality brings results.

Young people also have the power to transform our world.

You are part of the largest generation of youth in history.

You have an unprecedented ability to network.

You have access to information at lightning speed.

But it takes more than connectivity to change the world – it takes conviction.

The late Vaclav Havel spoke about this when he addressed the United Nations in the year 2000.

He said, “The most important thing that we should seek to advance in the era of globalization is a sense of global responsibility.”

Your family, your community and your country are all extremely important – but their security alone is not enough. You have to rise above your personal and national interests.

You can do this in many ways – as a doctor, an artist, a politician or a philanthropist.

No matter what profession you choose, and even before you start your career, you can be an activist.  Just by using technology in the palm of your hands, you can monitor human rights, spread your views, and press for action.

That is my call to you now.  Be a global citizen.

Stand up for peace, justice, human rights and human dignity.

Stand with the United Nations.

And stand tall, in your own fields, as champions of our common values.

Thank you.