‘The Charter is Our Compass’, Secretary-General says at UN 70th Anniversary Event
6 June 2015
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at a ceremony commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of the United Nations, in San Francisco today:
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the founding of the United Nations — the indispensable organization I am proud to serve. Let me thank our host country, the United States of America, for its formative role. UN values and US values are one and the same — equality, freedom, dignity and peace.
I also want to express my special gratitude to Governor [Jerry] Brown of California and Mayor [Edwin] Lee of San Francisco, this centre of diversity and innovation. San Francisco is not just the birthplace of the United Nations; it was also where my passion to be a global citizen was born.
More than half a century ago, I came to the United States as part of a group of international students sponsored by the Red Cross. I was 18 years old. Our trip began right here in the Bay Area. I was hosted by the Pattersons, a wonderful family in Novato. Mrs. Patterson — my Red Cross mother — is here today. Mrs. Patterson, welcome.
The drafting of the Charter was a glorious gamble. Delegates from dozens of countries bet on humanity. So much faith was lost in the trenches and gas chambers of two world wars in the space of one generation. But, they dared to believe in something bigger than person or country.
For two months, they turned San Francisco’s War Memorial into a peace palace. More than three thousand women and men took part. One of them was Ellen Magnin Newman, a high school senior at the time. She was a Spanish interpreter — and helped everyone speak the universal language of peace. I am pleased that Ms. Newman is here with us today. Please join me in saying thank you.
The delegates worked against the backdrop of monumental news: Hitler’s suicide, the liberation of Dachau, the victory in Europe. But, victory in San Francisco was never assured. Today, we take the idea of the United Nations for granted, but bringing it to life required huge leaps of statecraft to bridge differences. Through intense negotiations, the delegates realized their dream.
They knew you do not just rebuild broken societies with bricks and mortar, but with ideas and values. With the adoption of the Charter, a world in rubble found a path to renewal.
I was born just months before the United Nations. But, it did not take long for it to change my world for good. When the Korean War ravaged my country, I lost my home, my school, all I knew. Help came bearing the United Nations flag — sacks of grain from UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund], textbooks from UNESCO [UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and many young soldiers from 21 nations, including the United States. The United Nations showed us we were not alone.
Today, when I travel to refugee camps and conflict areas around the world, I tell young people: you are not alone. I made it. You can, too. The United Nations will stand with you.
That is our mission.
Every day, the United Nations feeds the hungry, shelters refugees and vaccinates children against deadly disease. Every day, we defend human rights for all, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.
In that regard, I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that paves the way for gay and lesbian Americans to have their relationship legally recognised, no matter which part of the United States they are living in. This is a great step forward for human rights in the United States, and I join the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual] community and its millions of allies in celebrating this historic decision.
The United Nations led the charge in dismantling colonialism, bringing freedom to millions. We mobilized the world to defeat apartheid. Our peacekeepers are on the frontlines of war; our mediators bring warriors to the table of peace.
Yet, tragedy has also been with us every step of the way. Genocide, war and a thousand daily indignities and abuse plague far too many people, especially women. Conflict has forced more people to flee their homes today than at any time since the Second World War. Forces of division are on the march, peddling the false promise of isolation in ever more interdependent world. And the planet itself is at risk.
Seventy years ago, Ellen Magnin Newman was a young student. Today, we are honoured to be joined by another, Malala Yousafzai. Malala, you are a daughter of the United Nations and a torchbearer for your generation. Thank you for reminding us that anniversaries are about the future.
We have big work ahead. In September, world leaders will adopt an inspiring new development agenda to end global poverty. In December, the international community has committed to reach a bold climate change agreement to place the world on more sustainable footing. These are once-in-a-generation opportunities. This is our San Francisco moment.
In signing the Charter, the founders achieved what many thought impossible. It falls to us to heed the Charter’s call to “unite our strength” and to use their creation — the United Nations — for the common good.
The United Nations is the hope and home of all humankind. The Charter is our compass. Let us never relent on the journey to a better world for “we the peoples”.