Gyeongju, Republic of Korea

30 May 2016

Secretary-General's remarks at the opening of the 66th UN DPI/NGO conference

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is a great pleasure for me to attend this UN DPI/NGO Conference – the first time it is held in Asia, here in Gyeongju, Korea. The first time in Asia.

This city of Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla dynasty, which lasted for a thousand years. Still today, monuments here show that era’s remarkable cultural, historical achievements.

I wish to pay tribute to the citizens and government of Gyeongju for their warm hospitality and support for this DPI/NGO Conference.

I am especially grateful to Honourable Governor Kim Kwan-yong and Honourable Mayor Choi Yang-sik and Co-chairman Dr. Chang Soon Heung of the Handong Global University. Without their generous support and excellent arrangements, this Conference would not have been possible. I thank you for all your support. Thank you.

This is a powerful gathering of representatives of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.

You have such a positive impact – to my mind, N-G-Os really stands for Networks of Global Opportunities!

NGOs are on the vanguard of international action.

Throughout history, when governments reach a stalemate, NGOs work to break it.

Your tireless advocacy helped the world adopt international bans on landmines and cluster munitions.

Your relentless drive has promoted gender equality, climate [action] and human rights.

One of the important lessons I have learned over the past 10 years as Secretary-General of the United Nations is the value of partnerships.

We need governments, the private sector and civil society. Without the participation of non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, no initiative, however visionary, is not possible, can be fully achieved. That’s a very valuable lesson I have learned.

I am such a strong believer in NGOs, I constantly call on governments to expand space, some political, economic, social space for NGOs to work freely, without any hindrance.

Four days ago, at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, I denounced the shrinking democratic space, and I urged freedom for civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders.

Unfortunately, that freedom is under threat, including at the last place this should happen: at the United Nations.

I am deeply disappointed that the Member States on [the] ECOSOC NGO Committee recently denied the Committee to Protect Journalists consultative status.

I was also opposed to the exclusion of LGBT organizations from the upcoming High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS. These NGOs are close to communities affected by the epidemic and they must be part of the response.

I call on Member States to stop constricting NGO engagement. The United Nations should have a big tent under which everybody can have [inaudible] and freedom of movement. This is the approach we used to help forge the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
And NGOs are crucial to their success.

When I was proposing Sustainable Development Goals to Member States, before that, we reached out. At least 8 million [people] and asked: just tell us what kind of a world do you want. We received a lot of responses. Then we compiled all the responses. That’s what we have [in] the Sustainable Development Goals with 17 Goals.

Your theme, “Education for Global Citizenship” could also be the motto of my life.

My earliest memories as a young boy of education are tied to global solidarity.

During the Korean War, I had to study in the open, because all the schools were destroyed. [There were] no classrooms, no schools, no chairs, no textbooks.

We used textbooks donated only through very generous support from the United Nations: UNESCO, UNICEF and there was, you may not remember, UNKRA, United Nations Korean commission for international engagement agency. They taught us reading and math – and they proved that the world was caring for Korea. Now that very poor boy is now standing as the Secretary-General of the United Nations before you.

Education helped the Republic of Korea transform from being one of the world’s poorest countries to one of the best-off.

Last week, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, where Excellency Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn also participated and committed very generous support for humanitarian aid, all world leaders addressed the plight of more than 75 million children who are out of school. They need desperately need educational support.

The Summit launched Education Cannot Wait – a fund that aims to restore hope to millions of children shattered by crisis.

That is their human rights and human dignity – and our collective moral, political responsibility.

We must do everything we can to put and keep children in school.

And we must end inequalities in education. 

All children should be free to learn and thrive regardless of any difference.

I am especially concerned about bullying. We must promote a sense of belonging in schools. No matter what a person’s religion, race, ethnic group, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, they are all members of our human family. They all deserve full respect and human rights.

Education is critical to nurture global citizens who can rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

As Secretary-General, I have always encouraged young people everywhere to be global citizens.

It is wrong to see young people as a threat. With the right investments in education, youth can be a major force for positive change.

I recognize the difficulties. Millions of young people struggle to find a job, a purpose and a sense of belonging. Some may be vulnerable to violent extremists. We have to do something urgently. Why these so many thousands of young people join foreign terrorist fighters? Because they are just being driven out of their communities and they didn’t have any chance.

But we should never forget that the vast majority of young people – they want to build peace and a better future. They deserve material support and political influence.

The Security Council has finally recognized the value of young peacebuilders in its historic and legendary Resolution 2250 which was adopted December last year.

I am pleased to see that young people make up one quarter of all delegates here.

This morning, I had a very inspiring and exciting meeting with the youth. I called on them: raise your voice. Of course they should have a dream. They have passion. At the same time, they should have compassion. Passion should be accompanied by compassion to care about other people.

All youth should raise their voices on climate change, human rights and all other major issues of our day. Youth must assume greater responsibility in creating a better world for all.

Since this is my home country, let me say a word to Korean youth. You are part of a new generation. Please be global citizens who can look beyond this country. This is a well-to-do, prosperous, peaceful country. Look beyond the national boundary of Korea. Look beyond at where and how other young people are living.

In that regard, I highly commend President Park, who is now visiting Africa. She has been making great contributions to agricultural development and social and economic development of Africans who really need our experience and technologies. Countries like Korea I think should do much more. This will enrich your own life and benefit society as a whole.

I call again on all NGOs to engage with youth and press governments to empower them.

There is another connection between education and the SDGs.

That is education about the SDGs.

We have to raise awareness around the world about the bold 2030 Agenda.

I count on you to help people understand that this vision is for them.

It is for the women who struggle for the equality they deserve.

It is for the families that suffer discrimination.

It is for the communities hit by disasters.

It is for a life of dignity for all.

I call on all of you to help people understand their stake in our bold vision for a sustainable future.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have visited hundreds of schools and universities around the world.

I have been in prestigious institutions like in Korea and also in the most remote countryside schoolhouses. I have met students in graduation robes and in refugee camps.

They have different circumstances. But their potential, their dreams, are the same.

Intelligence, curiosity and innovation transcend all national boundaries and economic classes.

One college student asked me: How can universities help resolve global issues?

One high school student wanted to know how youth could engage on climate change.

One twelve-year old primary school student said: How can I get my voice heard?

I told him raise your voice loud and clear so that leaders of our society will hear your dreams and your challenges. I have been speaking to world leaders [telling them] please listen carefully and sincerely what your people’s challenges are.

These are the questions of global citizens. They represent the views of millions of people who want to make a difference.

We owe them answers.

Let us work together to foster education for global citizenship – education that empowers people to contribute to our common future.

We are living in an era of challenges and peril. There are many crises happening. At the same time, world leaders have presented two very important visions and commitments. One is [the 2030 Agenda for] Sustainable Development, including quality education, and the Paris Agreement on climate change. When we implement these two, I am sure that by the end of this century we will be able to live, regardless of where we may live, in a much better, healthier and more prosperous world.

Let’s work together to make this world better for all. I count on your strong engagement, particularly NGOs, and leadership.

I thank you very much.