13 July 2012
The 50th Graduate Study Programme – ‘Opportunities and challenges in a world of 7 billion’
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Closing Ceremony of the 50th Graduate Study Programme – ‘Opportunities and challenges in a world of 7 billion’
Friday, 13 July 2012, 15:00
Palais des Nations, Room VII
Dear Ms. Momal-Vanian,
I am very pleased to meet you this afternoon and I appreciate this chance to personally offer you my thoughts on the opportunities and challenges facing today’s world. This has been the focus of your work here for the past two weeks, and I am sure that it has been both interesting and thought-provoking.
Your programme has been intense, I know, and has been wide-ranging. Since you have already met with officials from many United Nations agencies here, I am sure that you can appreciate the important role that Geneva plays in multilateral diplomacy.
This has long been the case. The Palais des Nations is a historic building that previously hosted the League of Nations. It is the largest duty station outside of United Nations Headquarters in New York. With close to 10,000 meetings annually and more than 100,000 visitors who come here to attend events and to learn more about the work of the United Nations, Geneva is a major international hub.
Whether debating global health issues, hosting the office of the Joint Special Envoy for Syria, or supporting the Human Rights Council and its Commission of Inquiry in Tripoli, the work conducted here at UNOG has a profound effect on millions of lives. So this is indeed a fitting place for the Graduate Study Programme to meet and to bring together all of you, as future leaders. The active engagement of young people in the many global challenges that the United Nations tackles, is extremely important, and I would even say critical.
The past year and a half have presented some remarkable challenges, as the world has sought to respond to calls for democracy and accountable government. In a massive display of personal empowerment, millions of people courageously demanded a greater say in their own fate.
There have been notable successes: the October elections in Tunisia have put that country on a solid democratic path. The elections in Libya this past Saturday were the first free elections most people in that country have ever seen. The United Nations has been providing support to these and other endeavours. Despite the uncertainty and difficulty, people in these countries can be proud of these first steps.
The continuing violence in Syria is a tragic reminder that more must be done. The United Nations has been working in close cooperation with the Arab League and others to move forward with a Syrian-led political transition that would meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. The Organization’s efforts are being led by Special Envoy Kofi Annan, who is operating here out of the Palais des Nations.
The deficit of democracy and lack of good governance were no doubt the primary influences leading to the Arab Spring revolts. But the dire economic situation was an important contributor, and remains a challenge to stability worldwide. UNCTAD has predicted that this year, world growth will slow to 2.6%, and to 0.7% for the European Union. Global unemployment remains high, at nearly 9%. And according to the International Labour Organization, unemployment in the Euro zone has reached 17.4 million. Of particular concern to us – and no doubt to you – is that young people are especially impacted by this: young people today are nearly three times as likely to be unemployed as adults are.
To help meet these challenges, the Secretary-General has laid out a set of priority proposals across interconnected areas. The United Nations is actively engaged in seizing, as Ban Ki-moon has said, five concrete generational opportunities. They are 1) Promoting sustainable development; 2) Preventing natural and man-made disasters; 3) Making the world safer and more secure; 4) Helping countries and peoples in transition; and 5) Encouraging youth and gender empowerment.
The first of these areas, sustainability, is often portrayed in terms of finding solutions to tomorrow’s problems, but the challenges clearly exist today. It is now clear that we must work for economic growth, for environmental protection, and for social equity in an integrated fashion. The Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development last month was aimed at precisely this: to mainstream development, integrating economic, social, and environmental aspects. Member States reached agreement on a range of issues including strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme, and on launching the process for establishing Sustainable Development Goals, to build upon progress made in the Millennium Development Goals. But as the Secretary-General said, “Rio+20 is not an end, but a beginning.” Our efforts must continue based on the progress made, and your engagement will be needed in the future.
The Secretary-General has also called for a genuine focus on prevention across the Organization’s work. This is relevant in terms of conflict, as well as human rights abuses and the impact of natural disasters. Preventive political mediation work can save countless lives – not to mention resources – as we have seen in Guinea, in Kenya, and in Kyrgyzstan. The United Nations has been actively working to strengthen its capacity in preventive diplomacy and mediation, both at headquarters level, but also through mechanisms such as the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, and the United Nations’ regional offices in West and Central Africa.
In the Sahel region, a severe food security and nutrition crisis is affecting over 18 million people; more than 1 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the region in 2012. Displacement and food insecurity are severe examples of the underlying factors that must be addressed as an integral part of prevention.
Geneva plays a crucial role in many of our efforts aimed at prevention. In particular, the Human Rights Council is one of the most important contributors to a culture of prevention, with its policy development framework and monitoring mechanisms.
The third major opportunity identified by the Secretary-General is building a safer and more secure world. This is the core work of the United Nations. With more than 1.6 trillion dollars spent by governments on arms last year, we will continue to work to revitalize the global disarmament agenda. This is a particular priority here in Geneva – the world’s disarmament capital and home to the Conference on Disarmament. This distinguished body is unfortunately no longer living up to expectations and now suffers from a serious credibility and legitimacy deficit. Increased political engagement is needed to advance the substantive agenda, together with concrete steps to improve the functioning of the Conference and to help build trust. The central role of the Conference in strengthening the rule of law in the field of disarmament, from my point of view as the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, must be restored.
Whether addressing terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking or other global challenges, our responses will be based on respect for the rule of law and human rights.
This week’s historic first ever sentencing by the International Criminal Court also sends a strong message to perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The criminal prosecution of individuals such as Thomas Lubanga, who was found guilty of the war crimes of conscripting and enlisting children for hostilities, is an important step towards achieving the safer world that we all seek.
Fourth, we must all take the opportunity to support countries in transition, ensuring that the best practices of peacebuilding, human rights, the rule of law, national reconciliation and democratic practices are put to use. The challenges of the past year and a half, as complex and difficult as they have been, have also opened up opportunities that must not be squandered. Our collaboration in this field must be broad-based, including with civil society, international financial institutions and other stakeholders, and it must aim to put ordinary people back on their feet, and back in control of their countries.
And fifth, if we are to make real long-term progress, we must increase efforts to work with and for women and young people. The past year has shown the power and potential of women and youth. Young people like you demanded a voice and a stake in shaping their societies. The frustration, alienation and exclusion felt by youth and women drove many of the dramatic developments in the Arab world. There is little doubt that it is the ability of leaders to meet their expectations and hopes that will determine the long-term stability of these societies.
To deepen our focus, the Secretary-General has called for the appointment of a Special Adviser for Youth and the creation of a youth volunteer programme under the umbrella of the United Nations Volunteers. The engagement of young people is important to all work undertaken by the United Nations, and so your personal interest and active contribution to our work is particularly appreciated.
I am pleased that through your participation in this programme, you are embracing not only challenges, but opportunities. You may not have found all the solutions to these very serious challenges in the past two weeks, but I firmly believe that your engagement on these issues is a part of the long-term solution that is absolutely needed.
I welcome you again to the Palais des Nations. It is very important for us to have young people engaged in the activities of the United Nations.