Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Secretary General message to seminar marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Charter organized by the University of London

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Delivered by Dame Margaret Anstee, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Angola

It is a pleasure to convey greetings to the distinguished scholars, policy-makers, former UN officials and others who have gathered at Lancaster House to mark the 70th anniversary of the “Declaration by United Nations”. I commend this important meeting and welcome your efforts to delve more deeply into the wartime origins of the United Nations. That pre-history was a period in which states and peoples responded to grave threats with remarkable vision and resolve. The contemporary echoes are clear.

Today the world is living through another pivotal moment. We have witnessed shifts in economic power as parts of Asia and Latin America have emerged as new engines of global growth. We have seen revolution and the birth of grass-roots-led democratic movements in North Africa and across the Middle East, with far-reaching implications in and beyond the region. Climate change and the loss of biodiversity have placed humankind on a collision course with the planet. We are experiencing a rising incidence of mega-disasters, and the widening impact of global food, fuel and economic shocks. And we have seen the increasing salience of a set of global phenomena -- the spread of disease, terrorism, organized crime -- that easily transcend borders. There is growing inequality, widespread uncertainty, distrust in institutions, and a general sense that the playing field is tilted in favour of entrenched interests and elites.

Future generations may well describe this period as an inflection point, when the contours of a new world began to take shape. Amid the unfolding trends and events, the United Nations has sought to uphold the values and ideals enshrined in its Charter. We have strived to highlight the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, in particular by pressing for greater investment in the Millennium Development Goals. We have strengthened peacekeeping, peacebuilding and mediation, and helped Member States with sensitive elections and difficult political transitions. And we have fought impunity for genocide and other serious violations of human rights by supporting the International Criminal Court and taking practical steps to operationalize the responsibility to protect.

We have made important progress since the Second World War, but I am keenly aware of the distance still to travel and the catastrophes -- economic, environmental, human -- that lurk if we fall short. This past September, I identified five imperatives for collective action: sustainable development, prevention, building a more secure world, supporting countries in transition and empowering the world’s women and young people. Many of these issues will also be front-and-centre at the Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June. I am determined to bring all relevant partners together, and strengthen the UN itself, to advance this agenda.

Seventy years ago, President Roosevelt coined a term that found resonance with 26 states. Today, 193 states are carrying forward the idea and the machinery. In a world of 7 billion – and with global population expected to increase by another 500 million in just the next five years – we must all do more as a global society. What began as a necessity to defend liberty and human rights is today a vital instrument of common progress across a broad agenda of aspiration and need. Let us learn what more there is to know as we commemorate the UN’s origins on the road to the 70th Anniversary of the Charter; and let us all work together today to realize the UN’s full potential in building the future we want.

Organized by the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

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