Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral’s Mes­sage on the 70th An­niver­sary of the United Na­tions

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Long be­fore I be­came Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, the United Na­tions oc­cu­pied a spe­cial place in my life. I was six years old when the Korean War broke out. I have vivid mem­o­ries sought refuge in nearby moun­tains. But an­other im­age is even more last­ing: thou­sands work­ing un­der it to re­spond to our plight. We were saved from hunger by UN food re­lief oper­a­tions. We re­ceived text­books from the UN so that my class­mates and I could con­tinue our ed­u­ca­tion even though our school had been re­duced to rub­ble. And when we felt scared and alone, and won­dered whether the out­side world cared about our suf­fer­ing, the troops of many their lives to re­store se­cu­rity and peace. In th­ese ways, the great value of the United Na­tions was im­printed on me— early, deeply, and, as it has turned out, for­ever.

To­day, mil­lions of peo­ple around the world con­tinue to look to the United Na­tions to en­sure their safety, pro­tect their chil­dren and help them se­cure their fu­ture. Their needs and as­pi­ra­tions are my driv­ing force. I know from my child­hood, and from decades of pub­lic ser­vice, the im­mense dif­fer­ence the United Na­tions can make.

As we mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the United Na­tions, we can see a world that has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the Char­ter’s drafters gath­ered in San Francisco in 1945. Mem­ber­ship in the Or­ga­ni­za­tion has grown, and new pow­ers have emerged. Glob­al­iza­tion, ur­ban­iza­tion, mi­gra­tion, de­mo­graphic shifts, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, cli­mate change and other seis­mic devel­op­ments con­tinue to re­make our so­ci­eties and trans­form in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

We can also look back on a proud record of achieve­ment. The United Na­tions was founded to pre­vent an­other world war, and it has suc­ceeded in that. In most parts of the world, peo­ple are liv­ing longer, health­ier lives. Our ef­forts have also helped to em­power women, ad­vance in­ter­na­tional law and safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment.

Yet we are keenly aware that there have been many set­backs along the way, and that to­day’s land­scape is scarred and de­spair. In truth, the pas­sage to es­tab­lish­ing a world of dig­nity and peace for “we the peo­ples” is a nev­erend­ing jour­ney.

mul­ti­ple crises on the UN agenda, I be­lieve that all who work for and with the United Na­tions are for­tu­nate to be serv­ing at this time. The 70th an­niver­sary falls in a year of po­ten­tially mo­men­tous de­ci­sions on our com­mon fu­ture—in­clud­ing the adop­tion of a trans­for­ma­tive new sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda and an am­bi­tious agree­ment on cli­mate change. Progress may take years to achieve. But my hope is that one day, we will look back on our work and proudly say, “We were part of that; we did this to­gether; this is what the United Na­tions helped to set in mo­tion”.

Achiev­ing this shared legacy will con­tinue to de­mand much from us to­day. As we do that work, I will think of­ten of the ad­vice given to me when I was in mid­dle school. “Keep your head above the clouds”, said our prin­ci­pal, ground—then move step by step.”

Keep­ing your head above the clouds means stay­ing true to your prin­ci­ples. Keep­ing your feet on the ground means stay­ing con­nected to the re­al­ity of peo­ple’s lives. And mov­ing for­ward step by step means tak­ing prac­ti­cal ac­tion to re­al­ize our goals.

I have tried to take this ap­proach as Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, armed with the prin­ci­ples of the Char­ter, the tes­ti­mony of the peo­ple we serve, and above all the ded­i­cated UN staff who, of­ten at their own per­sonal risk, ad­vance our goals. I am keenly aware of the enor­mous re­spon­si­bil­i­ties en­trusted to me—and equally con­scious that suc­cess at the United Na­tions is the prod­uct of the per­son­nel mod­el­ling the in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion we ad­vo­cate.

On this an­niver­sary and on ev­ery sin­gle day, we must use our power and is nec­es­sary to up­hold the Char­ter. While we can­not pre­vent earthquakes and tsunamis, we can do much to ad­dress the dis­as­ters that arise from hu­man folly and short-sight­ed­ness. This is a time of test but far more one of tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity. As the dis­tinc­tions be­tween the na­tional and the in­ter­na­tional con­tinue to fall away, we can and must use the lessons of 70 years to come to­gether as a sin­gle hu­man fam­ily and chart a course to­wards a safer and more sus­tain­able fu­ture for all.

*Ban Ki-Moon be­longs from the Repub­lic of Korea and the Eighth Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral of the United Na­tions, brings to his post 37 years of ser­vice both in Gov­ern­ment and on the global stage.

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