New York

09 September 2015

UN Secretary-General's remarks at General Assembly High-Level Forum on Culture of Peace

Today’s meeting is about the very hard truths in our world – where people are suffering and dying from violence and atrocity crimes.

Syria is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis today. I have condemned the parties – especially the Government – for reported grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In Syria, Iraq and beyond, we are doing everything possible to save lives.

We need political will and we need funds. All those with influence must rise above their narrow interests and work for the greater good of the region and our world.

The United Nations is also striving to protect the cultural heritage that is threatened by violent extremism. Cultural heritage lives in vibrant societies that enjoy peace, security and development – and in the artefacts of our past. It is tragic to see ancient monuments of our shared heritage now falling to destructive criminals in Syria and elsewhere.  I support the #Unite4Heritage campaign launched by UNESCO earlier this year.

Across too many war-torn regions, we see brutal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Even in mostly peaceful, democratic societies, minorities are attacked for their race, sexual orientation or some other difference – when they should be embraced for our common humanity.

In this globalized world, we cannot turn our eyes away from the suffering. We cannot close our hearts.

Our responsibility is collective and imperative. We have to protect civilians. The failure to end the suffering in Syria is seen in camps and homes in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – and in the heartbreaking refugee crisis in Europe.

I have been speaking regularly to leaders across Europe. I understand the challenges. Most of the people arriving in Europe have been forced to flee their homes. Just a few years ago, they worked as professionals. Their children were in school. They didn’t want to leave – they were driven out by terrifying violence. I am urging a common and humane response.

This is a global issue. That is why, during this year’s high-level week, I will bring leaders together for a special meeting to promote a systematic approach to migrant and refugee flows.

We have seen inspiring responses. I pay tribute to all those countries, communities and people who have shown compassion.

I also echo the voices speaking out against xenophobia and discrimination.

We cannot build a culture of peace without an active campaign against division and injustice.

To be more than just soothing words, the culture of peace demands courageous practice.

Our road map is the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.

For more than ten years, we have been striving to carry out this action by promoting education, defending human rights and advancing solidarity.

Our world is moving fast – and so are the forces of division and hate.

I am especially appalled by those who carry out violent attacks in the name of the world’s great religions. They claim glory but they only bring shame.

I am grateful to all faith leaders who have denounced these criminals.

And I look especially to the world’s youth to help build a culture of peace.

The vast majority of the world’s 1.8 billion young people yearn for peace, security and development.

That is why I am calling for giving young people a seat at the negotiating table. It is time to invest in young people as peacebuilders. They can make massive contributions to lasting stability.  

I applaud UNESCO for having organized a conference on “Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Violent Extremism” in June.

I support the call made there by Director General Irina Bokova of UNESCO to mobilize the full power of the Internet for peace.

I thank my Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi, for taking up that call to action.

In just a few weeks, the United Nations will adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, our new vision for building a world of dignity for all.

The sustainable development goals offer a holistic approach to economic, social and environmental advancement. This is also central to preventing conflicts and nurturing a culture of peace.

We are now marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations founding.

This organization was born into a shattered world. Multilateralism was urgently needed – but no one could say for sure whether this new United Nations would be up to the job.

Since then, the United Nations has proven its strength and endurance, saving countless lives and upholding our shared values.

The United Nations still works on the frontlines of human misery, caring for more refugees than since our founding and deploying more peacekeepers than ever before.

While we rush to emergencies, we are also working to prevent conflicts and promote reconciliation. We need to act on all fronts.

We owe this to future generations.

I began this year with a trip to India, where I visited the Sabarmati Ashram established by Mahatma Gandhi. I thank his grandson here for joining us today.

It was a privilege to tour the ashram.

After, I recalled Gandhi’s stern warning that, “There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own.” 

Mahatma Gandhi proved that the culture of peace can change the course of history.

Let us carry on this legacy until we end the terrible suffering in our world and establish lasting peace.

Thank you.