ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

Inscription of the League of Nations archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register

28 April 2010
Inscription of the League of Nations archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register

Opening remarks by Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Inscription of the League of Nations archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register
and
Opening of a new exhibition at
the League of Nations Museum
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Wednesday, 28 April 2010



Assistant Director-General Khan of UNESCO
Professor Fleury
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is indeed a great privilege and a pleasure to welcome you to the Palais des Nations to celebrate the inscription of the League of Nations archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and the inauguration of the new exhibition at our League of Nations Museum here.

The inclusion of some 15 million documents of the League of Nations in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register is an important recognition of their value as the institutional memory of the entire international community. As we this year mark the 90th anniversary of the first meetings of the League of Nations here in Geneva, before the Palais des Nations was built, this inscription in the Register highlights how the League of Nations – in both positive and negative ways – forms part of our common heritage. I should like to thank UNESCO for the support for the inclusion of the archival material in the Register and Assistant Director-General Khan for being here to mark this moment with us. UNESCO itself can trace its origins to early efforts by the League of Nations, and is an example of how the broad outline of today’s entire United Nations family was already visible during the time of the League.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is very appropriate that we come together today here in the Council Chamber. This room – maybe more than any other at the Palais des Nations – epitomizes the high hopes invested in the League of Nations and its eventual failure to live up to those hopes. This is where world leaders should have avoided the calamity of the Second World War – and were unable to do so.

But, to me, this room also symbolizes the resilience of multilateralism. There is no doubt that the League did not manage to discharge its core responsibility: to prevent war. Yet, the leaders of the day did not discard the concept and approach of multilateralism. The lesson from the League was not that multilateralism did not work. The lesson was instead that multilateralism needed to be strengthened and refined. It needed to be inclusive and flexible, as the only lasting basis on which to build a more secure and more prosperous world for all. That is the foundation of our United Nations today.

Every day, we build on those lessons. Key principles and values of our Organization, such as the peaceful settlement of disputes and the primacy of the rule of law, found their early expression in the League of Nations. Important documents such as the Briand-Kellogg Pact, which was the first attempt at prohibiting war, were drawn up in the framework of the League.

The political activities of the League were complemented by economic and social development work, efforts to protect fundamental rights and technical cooperation across a variety of subjects, such as health, labour, intellectual and cultural exchange, and humanitarian action. The need for comprehensive approaches, covering security, development and human rights, was beginning to be recognized at the time of the League. Today, they form the three main pillars of the United Nations’ efforts.

The expanded and re-developed League of Nations Museum – which we will see later – outlines this work and highlights the valuable lessons we may draw as the human family. I should like to take this opportunity to thank our expert staff for their dedication in bringing together such a comprehensive and informative exhibition, which showcases the truly unique richness of our archival material.

Geneva was chosen as the seat of the League as a recognition of the City’s particular tradition in international diplomacy, negotiation and humanitarian action. This “Spirit of Geneva” continues to inspire the United Nations family and the broader international community here.

In my view, a key lesson from the League of Nations is the need to pursue multilateral disarmament. Article eight of the League’s covenant gave the League the task of reducing “armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations”. A significant amount of the League’s time was devoted to the problems of disarmament, despite disagreements among the members. The World Disarmament Conference, convened here in Geneva in 1932, and the work of the Disarmament Commission were important acknowledgements of the need for multilateral disarmament and arms control for stability and confidence among States. Indeed, the period also witnessed the conclusion of a number of documents that today would be characterized as arms control agreements.

As we will see when we go to the League of Nations Museum, the Second World War was the most frightening illustration of the consequences of a failure to disarm. Today, the Conference on Disarmament – the world’s single multilateral negotiating body – meets here in the Council Chamber. While the scale of the task and relations among States have evolved since the time of the League, the fundamental challenges in advancing multilateral disarmament remain unchanged. I believe that the Conference on Disarmament should draw lessons from the League of Nations to guide it in its critical work for international peace and security.

As the world now prepares for the forthcoming 2010 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, these lessons are particularly instructive and I hope that they may inspire the negotiators there.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
The League of Nations archives are an integral part of the Palais des Nations. The League continues to serve the causes of peace and development through the documentation and publications left behind. Through the conservation of this building and preservation of the archival material, we enable the past to serve the present and the future. The inscription of the archives in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register is therefore also a powerful reminder of the need to safeguard the irreplaceable heritage that the Palais des Nations itself represents for the international community.

As one of the busiest multilateral centres in the world, the Palais des Nations – in a very practical way – carries forward the lessons of the League of Nations every day. But, with age and its active use, the iconic building is slowly, but surely losing its functionality. In the longer term, the heritage that it embodies could be at risk. The United Nations Office at Geneva continues to work with Member States towards a renovation and refurbishment of this magnificent building, which we hold in trust on behalf of the international community.

As a first attempt at building a multilateral organization, the League of Nations has helped to shape our mission and sharpen our focus. Its most important legacy is our enduring commitment to the principles and values of multilateralism. This is exactly what is encapsulated in the United Nations of today and practiced in our daily work.

Thank you very much.