September 27, 2021

Secretary-General, Receiving Honorary Degree in Singapore, Spotlights Power of Harnessing Human Potential to Build Better World for All

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks, as prepared for delivery, upon receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from the National University of Singapore, in Singapore today:

Thank you for the honour you have just bestowed on me. I know that you are paying tribute not only to me, but to all those who bring our founding Charter to life: the relief workers vaccinating children and delivering life-saving aid, the peacekeepers far from home trying to keep people safe, the economists and statisticians preparing authoritative reports on global issues, the translators preparing for the new General Assembly session that starts in two weeks from today.

On behalf of these and thousands of other dedicated women and men who work around the world to ease suffering and build a better world, I thank you for this recognition of our global work for peace, development and human rights. It is a pleasure to be here at the beautiful Istana. Your Excellency Mr. President, thank you for your hospitality in hosting this ceremony.

Here in your official residence, I must take a moment to pay my respects to a former occupant of this historic building: the late S.R. Nathan, who was honoured with a state funeral this past Friday. I offer my condolences to the people of Singapore on his passing. President Nathan was not only a much admired people's president, but also a good friend of the United Nations. He was also one of many illustrious graduates of the National University. I visited the campus earlier today, and had a very lively discussion with a group of bright students. I am still sweating from the tough questions they asked me.

Today's tour was not my first exposure to your esteemed and influential school. I have worked closely with some of your distinguished alumni. Dr. Noeleen Heyzer has been a leading proponent of women's empowerment, within and beyond the United Nations. As Secretary-General, I had the great pleasure of appointing her to be the first woman to lead the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Professor Mahbubani and I crossed paths on many issues 15 years ago when he was Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and I was chief of staff of the South Korean Presidency of the General Assembly.

The National University of Singapore continues to nurture future-ready graduates and I look forward to the impact they will make on Singapore, Asia and the world. We need those contributions at this difficult time.

The world is being tested. People worry about the next extreme storm, the next financial shock or the next outbreak of deadly disease. No country is immune from the threat of violent extremism. Singapore itself, stable and prosperous, has had to take steps recently to heighten its defences.

The conflict in Syria rages on, with appalling suffering. Yemen is in flames. In South Sudan, self-interested leaders have taken a country from independence to ruin. Israelis and Palestinians remain polarized.

One hundred thirty million people need humanitarian assistance - more than the United Nations has ever handled. Sixty-five million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes - more than at any time since the Second World War.

Inequality and youth unemployment are on the rise. These numbers are unsustainable. The human costs are intolerable. Our systems - for governance, finance and food security, not to mention the carbon cycle - are under immense stress.

It can be hard to find hope. Still, there is progress. Last year's adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development brought the world together - Governments, citizens, businesses and others - behind the boldest development plan in our history. The Paris Agreement on climate change is similarly ambitious - a potential peace pact with the planet.

I draw hope from the growing empowerment of the world's women. They hold the key to progress. But, we must do far to ensure they hold an equal share of the reins of power and decision-making. I also take inspiration from the engagement of young people, linked together as never before through social media.

Our challenge is to realize the transformative potential of these agreements and these agents of change. We have a remarkable opportunity to find solutions to long-standing challenges and to steer the world onto a safer, more just and sustainable path.

At this crossroads moment, our ability to harness the full range of human potential is critical. Our leaders, public institutions, the private sector and citizens must relate to each other in a spirit of mutual accountability. Accountability means standing up against bigotry and resettling more refugees. It means closing the gap between humanitarian needs and the funding available to meet them. And it means never, ever, allowing violent conflicts to escalate and persist year after year.

Accountability today must also mean greater emphasis on avoiding new problems tomorrow. Across the United Nations, we are placing greater emphasis on preventing conflict, addressing the underlying drivers of radicalization and responding early to violations of human rights before countries have reached the point of no return.

Everyone recognizes the virtue of prevention. But, there remains much work to do to translate the rhetoric into action. For the past decade as Secretary-General, I have sought to promote not only an effective and responsive United Nations, but also a greater spirit of collective purpose.

We need greater compassion among people. We still see far too much discrimination against the "other", and too much neglect of the vulnerable and poor. And we need stronger solidarity among nations. We are still too national in an international world.

Global solidarity saved my life and my country. During the Korean War, my family and others survived on food and medicine from UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund]. We studied with textbooks provided by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]. And of course, the troops of many nations secured our freedom.

The United Nations flag was our beacon. I have sought to keep that light shining so that others may find their way out of despair and so that all people can enjoy a brighter future.

I will look to Singapore and this great National University to be even bigger parts of this essential work. I thank NUS [National University of Singapore] for its commitment to education and research. I am aware that you are ranked as Asia's top university and that you have produced work that has generated important benefits for society. I look forward to your contribution to the sustainable development solutions we urgently need today.

We face enormous challenges. But, our capacity to solve them is even greater. If we work together, we can build a better world for all, where nobody is left behind. Thank you again for this very moving and meaningful honorary degree.

Source: United Nations