24 October 2012
"Decade - The Swiss-UN Jubilee"
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“Decade – The Swiss-UN Jubilee”
Delivered by Mr. Joshua Lincoln, Chef de Cabinet,
Office of the Director-General
Palais des Nations, Room XIX
Wednesday, 24 October 2011, at 10:30 a.m.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to welcome you all to this meeting, co-hosted by the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Geneva International Model United Nations (GIMUN). We enjoy close cooperation with GIMUN and are delighted to commemorate United Nations Day together every year. We are always pleased to promote collaboration between NGOs and the United Nations, as NGO contributions are invaluable. I would also like to thank Ms. Spoljaric for being here today. Your presence shows our Host Country’s commitment to engaging future leaders in the work of the United Nations. We are grateful for this support.
United Nations Day is always a good opportunity to reflect on the ideals and principles of the United Nations Charter. Some may argue that this document is outdated. Or that the United Nations itself is a vestige of the past. I would argue that the Charter and our Organization has only grown more relevant in the past 67 years. Peace and security, the respect and promotion of human rights, development, social progress and equality are all even more important in today’s interconnected and rapidly changing world.
UN Day is also a good opportunity to highlight the critical role our Member States play in our Organization. As you know, it is the Member States that specify our mandates, give us our budget and determine our priorities. It is for this reason that it is fitting that you have chosen to focus on the role of the Member State – a special one in particular – for your conference. I have many positive things to say about Switzerland, and it is not just because it is our Host Country!
The United Nations and Switzerland have shared a long and beneficial relationship, ever since Geneva welcomed the League of Nations, the UN’s predecessor, in 1919. Since becoming a member 10 years ago, Switzerland has built on this historical legacy and has played an important role across the United Nations agenda. Its many contributions in human rights, peacebuilding, mediation and sustainability have been significant and have had true impact on the lives of many people around the world. Some of you may have heard of Geneva referred to as the human rights and humanitarian capital of the world. This is no accident. The many organizations based here call Switzerland their home precisely because of the country’s strong and historic support for these two areas.
In terms of human rights, Switzerland has played a major role in the creation of the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review, ensuring the systematic evaluation of human rights situations around the world. The Human Rights Council takes action and responds when human rights are threatened, as we have seen with Libya and Syria. In fact, as the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out in his speech to the Human Rights Council in September, it was able to act on Syria when other UN bodies, such as the Security Council, were not.
In the humanitarian realm, Switzerland continues to be a strong supporter of humanitarian action, both through direct action and through its support to international organizations. It is significant that Switzerland’s historic role in international humanitarian law, evident in the Geneva Conventions, is coupled with its present day action.
Switzerland has also been a strong voice and dynamic contributor to UN reform efforts, mobilizing support for women’s empowerment and more recently, for reform of the Security Council. It is also quite important to note its commitment to development. At a time when many countries are cutting back on aid, Switzerland is increasing assistance, investing in people and leading by example.
You may wonder “what does this all mean for me”? How do these priorities – the priorities of Switzerland, of the United Nations – make a difference for individuals and for young people in particular? First and foremost, there are a number of global issues that touch young people directly. The alarming level of youth unemployment is one. According to the International Labour Organization, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Rising global temperatures are another. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change anticipates that if warming trends continue at the current rate, three quarters of the surface glacier currently present in Switzerland could disappear by 2050. We also see rising levels of inequality in many parts of the world and rising intolerance. You may have already been affected directly by these issues or certainly know someone who has.
The second point is that building a better, safer and more sustainable world cannot happen without your involvement. It may be somewhat of a cliché, but it is true. This is the reason that in a number of areas, such as the action plan of the Secretary-General for the next five years, and in the Millennium Development Goals, the UN has focused on achieving specific objectives when it comes to youth. The good news is that we have made progress with a number of the Millennium Development Goals. The world has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys, for example. But there is still more work to be done, and 38 months to do it before 2015!
Going forward, we want to give more support to programmes that have a direct impact on young people, including those related to job creation, political participation, education, reproductive health.
I truly welcome your presence at the United Nations today, as it shows your commitment to the future of the United Nations. Although this Organization has experienced considerable change since its inception, the basic values and principles of the Charter remain valid and relevant in today’s world. There is always room for improvement in delivery, and we want to get better. Your continued involvement – through discussion, advocacy and mobilization – is critical to this continuous development.
I hope you enjoy your exchanges here. We look forward to seeing you back here again.
Thank you very much.