United Nations Can Tip Balance in World of Peril, Promise, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Academic Council

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the annual meeting of the Academic Council of the United Nations System, in New York today:

Thank you very much for your warm welcome.

It is wonderful to be here at Fordham Law School.  A few alumni from Fordham work in my office and they asked me to say two words to all of you:  Go Rams.

I appreciate the chance to be among academics.  Of the many different jobs I’ve held, none was as rewarding as when I was a professor.  It is profoundly inspiring to engage with students, pass on knowledge and hear their ideas.

All of you are directly responsible for raising a new generation of scholars who are passionate about the United Nations.  Today I will speak about why this Organization is more essential than ever to the common future of humanity.

We live at a time of extraordinary peril — and also outstanding promise.

Ruthless fighters are committing terrible atrocities around the world.  Unscrupulous smugglers are trading on the hopes and fears of innocent people.  More than 60 million individuals are displaced — a record high since the United Nations was founded.

Instability is stretching in an arc across the globe — from parts of the Sahel, across the Maghreb and into the heart of the Middle East.

Even in stable democracies — including here, in New York City — people struggle to survive.

Our world now has the largest generation of youth in history.  These young people are brimming with potential — but they are graduating into a rough jobs market where opportunities are scarce and exploitation is rampant.

At this time of global crises, we need global responses.  The United Nations is paramount.

Member States are asking us to do more than ever before — and we are getting stretched to the breaking point.  Global humanitarian needs have reached $20 billion.  Of that, 80 per cent stems from violent conflicts.  In other words, we spend most of our time and energy dealing with preventable tragedies.

Prevention is always better than cure in terms of cost.  And it is also a moral imperative.

I have seen the tragedies of conflicts up close.

I remember meeting a young Syrian living in a refugee camp.  He had lost his mother and father.  Now he has to care for his entire family.  The war robbed him of his parents and his childhood.  The sadness in his eyes was profound.  I could only tell him that in my more than 70 years of life, I have seen a great deal of positive change.  I tried to encourage him to hang on for a better future.

We are pressing for a diplomatic solution, and we are arguing for a shift in perspective — especially on youth.

Young people should not be seen as a threat.  It is our collective responsibility to empower them to make peace.

The Security Council has recognized this in its landmark resolution 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security.  For too long, young people were considered good enough to send to the front lines of wars but not to have a seat at the peace talks.  We are working to change that by giving young people the voice they deserve.

This is especially important in today’s era of complex and intractable conflicts.  The effects are reverberating around the world.  Violence and division are destroying lives and stability.  Entire regions are breeding grounds for radicalization and violent extremism.

Syria and Yemen are two searing reminders of the international community’s failure to prevent and resolve violent conflicts.  They show the catastrophic consequences of international division.

And we know the converse is true — when the international community unites, the results can be hugely advantageous to all.  The United Nations has proven the immense power of collective action.

Last year, world leaders adopted the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This is our far-reaching vision for ending poverty, protecting the planet and giving all people the dignity they deserve.

The 2030 Agenda has 17 bold Sustainable Development Goals.  They give expression to one of my strongest convictions:  that peace and security, development and human rights are inextricably linked.  This truth was acknowledged by the General Assembly when I was its President in 2005, and now it is at the heart of our global plan to transform the world.

Three months after the September Summit on Sustainable Development, world leaders again took a monumental step forward for the planet by adopting the Paris Agreement on climate change.

We convened the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last month to help keep our promise to help the furthest behind first.  The Summit made major advances in how we reduce needs and improve responses to emergencies around the world.  These towering achievements point the world in a promising new direction:  unity over division, common ground over clashing wills, and shared efforts to everyone’s benefit.

The United Nations can tip the balance in this world of peril and promise.  We understand the gravity of our mission.  And we are taking a hard look at how to better address threats and leverage opportunities.

We conducted three major reviews of our peace and security work.

One covered our peace operations.  The second dealt with peacebuilding.  And the third review addressed women, peace and security — embodied in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).

All three reviews called for more effective conflict prevention, stronger partnerships, more predictable financing, and greater participation of women and youth.  They also highlight the uniquely important role of the Secretary-General’s good offices in a divided world.  And they underscore the value of preventive diplomacy.

In addition to these reviews, we are carrying out our Human Rights Up Front initiative to prioritize human rights across the United Nations.

Our challenge is to identify potential crises early and support Member States in a quick and effective response.

This vision of conflict prevention at all stages is gaining more and more support.  In April, both the General Assembly and the Security Council adopted ambitious new resolutions on sustaining peace.  The resolutions are an important start.  Now we need more political and financial backing to turn promises into results.

The Secretary-General and I are deeply committed to preventing, containing and ending violent conflicts.  We are mobilizing international action for this life-saving mission.

In decades past, the United Nations mostly worked with foreign ministries and political leaders.  Today we live in a world where information, communications and to some extent power are more decentralized.

The United Nations was founded in the name of “We the Peoples”.  And today, we are making good on these opening words of our Charter by speaking directly to the world’s people — and especially by listening to them.

Millions of individuals filled out our MY World survey.  Their views contributed to the negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals.  Every day, we connect millions of people to our work over social media.  UN messages are not just for conference rooms filled with experts — they are disseminated to anyone with a smartphone in their pocket.

The United Nations is riding the global communications wave — and we need partners to help us navigate the tides.

That is why it is so crucial to have academics on our side.  You are the thinkers, researchers, innovators and teachers.  You have a direct link to valuable analysis and emerging leaders.  You can see the horizon and help steer the ship.  We are deeply grateful for your contributions, and we ask that you challenge the United Nations to do even more to live up to its noble values.

I hope you don’t mind if I close with a story from my years as a student.

My first trip overseas was to the United States.  I was part of a wonderful student exchange programme with a group of international students.

One day, we were all on a bus when two young women started arguing.  They were from different countries that were having a political dispute.  Those countries still have their differences so I am going to be diplomatic and not reveal the names.

I listened from my seat behind them and then I finally interrupted and said, “I think I have a solution for you.”  Honestly, I don’t exactly remember what I proposed.  But I will never forget the response of one of the young women.  “You know what, Jan?” she said, “You should go work at the United Nations.”

Well here I am so many years later.  The difference now is that your students do not have to go into diplomacy to engage with the United Nations.  They can be academics, or attorneys, or even actresses.  Today’s United Nations partners with all people who are interested in realizing our vision for a better world.

I thank you for your immense contributions, and for inspiring so many others to join us on this difficult but rewarding journey.

Source:  United Nations