San Jose, Costa Rica

30 July 2014

Secretary-General's lecture at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: "Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century"

Es un honor para mi dirigerme en esta eminente Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.

Esta Corte es una parte del sistema solido del derechos humanos que promueve estabilidad y paz en Latino America.

It is a great honour for me to begin this opportunity to speak about our common aspiration of protecting the human rights of all the people around the world.

And it is also very timely and meaningful to me to start my official visit to Costa Rica by addressing this illustrious institution for protecting and promoting human rights.

            I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica because I have the highest esteem and admiration for what the Costa Rican government and people are doing.

It is a beautiful country, but I am not talking about landscape. There are many places as beautiful as Costa Rica. The people are beautiful, the values you are upholding is beautiful; that is what I personally have been cherishing when it comes to Costa Rica.

I was pleasantly surprised when such a small country was fighting in the World Cup in such an excellent way. I had no expectation, frankly speaking, Costa Rica would do so well. That was something since I’m coming from Korea when the Korean team was humiliated from the beginning. So I really admire you; this “Sele” team was excellent.

I have been travelling and dealing with many difficult tasks and tough tasks meeting all different types of people coming from different professions and I have been addressing until now a thousand, thousand times. But until now, one of the most difficult audience which I have found is to speak before somebody who knows much, much more than I do.

This is a group of honourable judges dealing with international laws and who are also working with the UN to keep promoting human rights. They know much, much more professionally than I do and they do much more in fact than I do as Secretary-General. I am the custodian of UN Charter. In the United Nations Charter one of the important pillars is human rights so legally and officially I am one of the guardians of this human rights, but practicing to promote and protect human rights are all these distinguished judges I have my deepest admiration for what you are doing.

I am particularly honoured to be joined by His Excellency President of this great Republic. President Solís, I am grateful for your strong commitment and leadership.

This Court is a model for the world.

It was born from the American Convention on Human Rights, known as the Pact of San José.

For decades, the Court has advanced justice by ensuring accountability, fighting impunity and protecting human rights defenders. The United Nations will continue strengthening our valuable cooperation.

I appeal to all Latin American countries to preserve this house of justice and to support this house of justice.

Today I will speak about how we can build on Costa Rica’s strong record, solidify our partnership and transform our world.

We have three interlinked imperatives:

First, justice and human rights.

Second, disarmament and peace.

And third, sustainable development.

These are three pillars of the UN Charter, interlinked. You cannot take one out of this as the most import on but they are tightly interlinked, so we have to address all these three pillars comprehensively.

On the first point, Costa Rica has a long commitment to human rights.

When military dictatorships were common in Latin America, Costa Rica chose the path to democracy.

Today, Costa Rica serves on the UN Human Rights Council. It has ratified numerous human rights treaties.

            This country has an independent justice system and a free press.

Costa Rica has advanced the rights of vulnerable groups. It is promoting women’s equality and taking steps to recognize the equality of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

            There remain important gaps. Costa Rica is among many countries still struggling to eradicate poverty, overcome inequalities and fight discrimination. The United Nations will continue supporting efforts to foster a truly inclusive society here.
I welcome Costa Rica’s openness to the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues.

All countries must ensure that indigenous peoples are consulted on the use of natural resources and infrastructure projects on their territories. Indigenous peoples must exercise their right to free, prior and informed consent.

             They must also be involved in decisions on development, climate change and other global priorities.

Beyond Costa Rica, I praised the efforts of States in this region to address violence and insecurity threatening human rights. At the same time, I am concerned about delegating security to private companies or armed forces without control and accountability mechanisms. This can have serious human rights consequences.

More people are demanding their legitimate rights. I am troubled by States that react with excessive force or repression. I strongly denounce any harassment of human rights defenders or journalists. They deserve full protection and support.

Human trafficking also threatens human rights.

Costa Rica has received migrants. Outward migration mostly affects other Central American countries.

On this first World Day against Trafficking in Persons, I express my grave concern about Central American migrants travelling to the United States. They are vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation, slave labour and other abuses. 

The arrival of more than 52,000 unaccompanied migrant children to the United States in less than one year sounded an alarm. All affected countries should join forces against human trafficking and migrant smuggling – and fully protect the rights of migrants, particularly unaccompanied children.

            The second focus of our shared agenda is peace and security.

Insecurity is rooted in inequality, poverty, weak institutions, impunity and corruption. Organized crime demands a regional response based on full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

            I am especially concerned about violence in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

            I count on Costa Rica to remain engaged in improving regional security.

            Costa Rica has led the way for decades. In 1948, this country boldly abolished its army.

I often say the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.

            Here, money is not squandered on destructive weapons – it is invested in people.

As the saying goes, “Happy are Costa Rican mothers who know their sons will never be soldiers."

Costa Rica has consistently topped regional rankings of social progress and happiness levels.

It proves that there is safety without soldiers.

Costa Rica shows global leadership on peace and disarmament. This country helped drive the Central American peace processes in the 1980s and 1990s. And Costa Rica led on the proposed Code of Conduct for Arms Transfers. That initiative is now embodied in the Arms Trade Treaty which was adopted last year by the General Assembly of the United Nations. That was a major advance in stopping destabilizing weapons flows to conflict regions.

Costa Rica also supports a nuclear weapons convention. And it continues to advocate against other deadly arms. I am grateful to the Government for hosting the States party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions this September.

The third area of our valuable cooperation is sustainable development.

Costa Rica knows that treasuring the environment increases national wealth.

One quarter of this rich territory is protected parkland – and more than half is covered in forests. This represents dramatic progress from just a few years ago.

Your forests capture carbon and produce fresh water that drives agriculture.

Your scenic beauty captivates tourists.

Your green economy attracts businesses.

I applaud Costa Rica’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021. There is no better way to celebrate 200 years of independence.

I rely on a very dynamic Costa Rican, Christiana Figueres, as my top advisor on climate change.

We cannot have sustainable development without a stable climate. I am convening a climate change summit meeting on September 23rd in New York to generate bold and ambitious ideas. Latin America will host a very important meeting in Lima Peru this December. We need leaders to back a meaningful legal agreement by 2015 in Paris, France next year. I count on this region’s leaders to make it a success.

I am very encouraged and thankful to President Solís who has committed and confirmed his attendance to the climate change summit meeting. I hope that he will declare to the world that this country will be carbon neutral by 2021.

The leaders in this region must also help us to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and adopt a new vision for sustainable development beyond 2015.

            Costa Rica shows the value of basing security on human rights, democracy, disarmament and respect for the environment.

This approach is essential to surmounting the enormous challenges facing our world.

Last week, I made an urgent and emergency mission across the Middle East.

I called on the parties to end the fighting, start talking and tackle the root causes of the crisis.

I have repeatedly called for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.
            I will continue to work with the leaders in the region and in the world to deliver the peace that the Israeli and Palestinian people so desperately need and so fully deserve.

            I also held talks on the devastating conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

And I am working to end the fighting in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Ukraine. Too many innocent civilians are suffering because their leaders chose violence over dialogue.

            That is why I would like to really emphasize with a message to the young people here today and this country.

You are not just leaders of the future. We have to work for the young people and young people can lead now.

            I urge you to build on Costa Rica’s proud history and raise your voices as global citizens.

I have been speaking a lot about how beautiful country Costa Rica is, how Costa Rica is leading these principles and fundamental pillars of the United Nations Charter and leading by example.

I would like to emphasize once again the importance of human rights which this very distinguished, illustrious institution, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, is upholding and practicing.

I have explained that among these three pillars – peace, development and human rights – they should be addressed comprehensively. But in reality, it is the human rights and human dignity of people, particularly vulnerable groups of people – women and girls and poor people – whose human rights are brutally abused. That is what we are seeing now in the Middle East. That is what we are seeing in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria and Iraq and elsewhere. Then we have to do much, much more to protect human rights. Of course when there is peace and stability you cannot ensue that human rights can be protected. When there is absolute despair about your future, when there is no hope, when there is no livelihood, when there is nothing to eat, then you cannot always claim for human rights.

That is our sad history, sad reality. And many thousands of years human rights have been abused in that way.

In this twenty-first century, I think we must uphold human rights as number one value. When there is no human rights, no human dignity, then how can we claim that we are living as human beings? For that, world leaders must do much more to have good governance, inclusive dialogue, by doing that establish political stability.

When there is no inclusiveness, there are grievances, discontent among people, then it is expressed as a way that people are coming to the streets. Then it is involved with the instability of politics and the people cannot engage in development and normal work. Farmers cannot do their work, fishermen, all this economic situation may just be affected.

Therefore it is very important that political leaders – they should listen very carefully to the aspirations  and concerns of their own people so that this kind of political instability and grievances cannot happen. Only then, on the basis of that, we can ensure that human rights can be protected. Then we have to make this world where nobody will be left behind because of their insecurity, because of their abuse of human rights.

            I would like to really quote one famous great, great Costa Rican poet. Jorge Debravo once wrote:

       I don’t want a knife in the hands of the homeland,
Not a knife or a rifle for anyone:
The land is for all,
like the air.

These words capture the vision of the United Nations.

As you say in Costa Rica, “pura vida”.

Let us work together to make this world better for all, where everyone can live with dignity for all. That is my moral and political responsibility and also [that of] President [Humberto Antonio Sierra Porto of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights] and all other presidents of the world – their moral and political responsibility to work together with the United Nations, to uphold human rights and to make this world better for all.

Thank you.