New York

18 December 2018

Secretary-General's message to the event marking Arabic Language Day

[Delivered by Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management]

As-salam-aleykum!  It is a pleasure to greet this commemoration of Arabic Language Day, which marks the date in 1973 on which the General Assembly decided to make Arabic the sixth official UN language.  This Day also celebrates the Arabic language beyond its use at the United Nations and other international organizations – and recognizes its beauty, its lyricism and the way it expresses the Arab identity.
I have meaningful personal and professional connections to the Arabic language.  Owing to the shared history of the Arab world and the Iberian peninsula, the Arabic influence is present in Portugal in many ways.  Portuguese has its own version of “inshallah” -- “oxala” -- that sounds much like the Arabic.  Even something as quintessentially Portuguese as Fado music bears similarities to the strains of Arabic songs.
And during my years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I came to appreciate the beautiful Arabic of the Koran, in particular the Surah Al-Tawbah: “And if anyone of the disbelievers seeks your protection then grant him protection so that he may hear the word of God, and then escort him to where he will be secure”.  I see in this an extraordinarily beautiful sentence on refugee protection, centuries and centuries before  the 1951 Refugee Convention.
 Across the decades since the establishment of this Day, the work of the United Nations has been enriched by the use of Arabic in our meetings, reports and day-to-day interactions.  I offer you my very best wishes as you celebrate the richness of the Arabic language and the diversity of the human family.  Shokran.