21 October 2011
"The United Nations is our day-to-day"
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
“The United Nations in our day-to-day”
– Opening Ceremony
Palais des Nations, Room XII
Friday, 21 October 2011, at 15:00
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). First, I would like to thank Mr. Vetterli and Ms. Lahmann for the organization of this substantive and relevant event. We have enjoyed close cooperation with GIMUN over the years and are delighted that for the past four years we have been commemorating United Nations Day together. I am always pleased to promote collaboration between NGOs and the United Nations, as NGO contributions are invaluable. I would also like to thank Ms. Schneider 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 – a document which has only grown more relevant in the 66 years since its adoption. Peace and security, the respect and promotion of human rights, development, social progress and equality are all arguably even more important in today’s fast-paced, interconnected and rapidly changing world. Preventing conflicts before they occur is a particular priority of the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. It stems directly from the Article I of the Charter, which states that to maintain international peace and security, it is necessary to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. By taking action at an early stage, the United Nations and its partners can prevent disputes and crises from escalating into larger and costlier tragedies for nations, peoples, regions and the world.
I am pleased that the topic of your programme today is “The United Nations in our day-to-day”, because at times, these ideals and principles may seem distant in the everyday lives of many of the world’s citizens. But indeed, these standards that form the backbone of our work do translate into concrete action. Let me share some facts with you:
Every year the United Nations mobilizes about $7 billion in humanitarian aid to help people affected by emergencies. Every year we assist over 34 million refugees and others fleeing war, famine and persecution. Every year we help promote democracy by supporting elections in some 40 countries. We vaccinate 40 per cent of the world’s children, saving 2 million lives a year. This year we will provide food to around 90 million people in 73 countries. Around 120,000 peacekeepers from 115 countries are deployed in 15 peacekeeping operations on 4 continents.
That was the big picture. Turning to the issues that will be addressed today, we can see the role that the United Nations has played in very specific situations – in the “day to day”. Let me briefly touch upon those, which you will debate in further detail in your panels.
The events surrounding the “Arab Spring” have embodied a number of principles promoted by the United Nations, including democracy, freedom of expression and human rights. Democracy is key; and the United Nations does more than any other single organization to strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world. Experience has taught us, time and again, that democracy is vital to achieving our fundamental goals of peace, human rights and development. That being said, it is important to note that the Organization does not seek to export or promote any particular model of democracy. It works on the understanding that the democratic ideal is rooted in philosophies and traditions from all parts of the world; that effective democratic governance improves the quality of life for people everywhere; and that human development is more likely to take hold if people can participate in their own governance, and are given the opportunity to share in the benefits of progress and growth. Yesterday marked the end of the 42-year reign of the Qadhafi regime. The Secretary-General has expressed the importance of this historic moment and has emphasized the continued commitment of the United Nations to assist Libya as it starts new chapter based on national reconciliation, justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
With regard to the famine crisis in Somalia, the situation is a stark illustration of the outcome of a lack in human security, another core principle of the work of the United Nations. The head of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, has noted that “while droughts may not be preventable, famines are”. The droughts have affected Somalia disproportionately due to ongoing conflict and insecurity. In Somalia, the United Nations faces major challenges due to widespread insecurity and restricted access. Yet despite these challenges, approximately half – 2 million out of the 4 million in crisis - have been reached with food and other assistance. Last month, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos chaired a mini-Summit on the crisis in the Horn of Africa to raise awareness of the scale and urgency of the humanitarian situation in the region. Leaders from more than 60 countries came together to pledge more in humanitarian aid, and commit to a united, coordinated and effective response. They also, quite importantly, pledged to increase their focus on building resilience to make communities better able to withstand future crises.
Also linked to human security is the theme of your third panel – the role of the United Nations in the fight against international terrorism. Last month we marked the 10th
anniversary of 9/11 – a day when a new sense of insecurity entered our world. Terrorism poses a grave threat to international peace and security. Sadly, it has also directly impacted the United Nations, which has been victim to a number of attacks, most recently in Abuja, Nigeria. However, through concerted international cooperation, we can tackle the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism by: preventing and combating terrorism; building States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism; and ensuring respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism. This includes not just security measures, but also investing in socio-economic development, conflict-prevention, human rights and education. As the only truly global body, the United Nations is uniquely placed to address this threat.
The last theme of your discussions today relates to the integration of a new Member State in the United Nations. I believe this is a quite a good example of the impact the work of the United Nations can have on a country and on its citizens. The United Nations, as well as numerous other partners, had been working with what is now Sudan and South Sudan for some time to assist in its recovery from the long civil war and during a six-year peace process. The referendum this past July represented the outcome of this involvement. It also represented a recommitment to these core ideals - of democracy, peace, human rights and development. The United Nations will now continue to assist South Sudan, through its peacekeeping mission UNMISS, to consolidate peace and security and to help establish the conditions for development. It will help strengthen the Government’s capacity to govern effectively and democratically and establish good relations with its neighbours. Again, we see the ideals and principles translated into concrete action.
Earlier this week I was in Bern with the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and listened as he told members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union how people are losing faith in their Governments and institutions to do the right things. This crisis of trust is more troubling than the economic challenges that we are facing. And the only way to address this is through concerted, meaningful action. I hope that all of you will be part of this action. The Secretary-General also described in Bern what he had said to youth leaders in the Arab Spring movement that he had just met. He told them that we used to say: “We are the leaders of today and young generations are the leaders of tomorrow”. But now it has changed. They had become the leaders of today already. They had made this whole situation different. He told them that their future is in their hands.
I would like to say the same to you – your future is in your hands. And 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.