Secretary-General, in Lecture at Oxford, Says Rising International Solidarity on Principles Provides Better Human Protection Tools

from UN Secretary-General
Published on 02 Feb 2011 View Original

Following is the 2011 Cyril Foster Lecture, on "Human Protection and the Twenty-First Century United Nations", delivered by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's at Oxford University on 2 February:

Thank you, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, for your very kind introduction and for this invitation. I am honoured to have this opportunity after my distinguished predecessors, as the fourth United Nations Secretary-General to speak before you in this very esteemed and one of the oldest universities. It is an honour to be part of the Oxford community, if only for a day.

Few universities have produced so much scholarship on the United Nations or so many dedicated international civil servants. Among those have been the late Marrack Goulding, the legendary Brian Urquhart, Kieran Prendergast and John Holmes, with whom I have worked when he served as United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; our Special Envoys, Prime Minister Tony Blair and former United States President Bill Clinton.

My talk tonight has long been advertised as one devoted to the subject of human protection. And indeed, I will speak to you at length on that very important challenge. But of course, our attention continues to be riveted on the events unfolding in Egypt. So let me say in just a few words how I assess the situation in Egypt. In fact, this afternoon I had a very good discussion in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and again we discussed at length this situation.

I have been closely following the reports from Egypt. The protests reflect the great frustration of the Egyptian people about the lack of change over the past few decades. This discontent calls for bold reforms, not repression. The United Nations has been warning about the democracy deficit and other challenges in the Arab world through successive Human Development Reports dating back to 2002. I am concerned at the growing violence in Egypt. I once again urge all sides to exercise restraint. I condemn any attack against peaceful protest. Such acts are unacceptable.

It is important at this important juncture to ensure an orderly and peaceful transition. I urge all parties to engage in such a process without delay, with full respect for human rights, in particular the freedoms of expression, association and information. We should not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East. The United Nations stands ready to support reform efforts aimed at meeting the people's aspirations.

The Cyril Foster Lecture has become a rite of passage at the United Nations. Three of my distinguished predecessors have made the pilgrimage - Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan. Secretaries-General are often better advised to listen than to lecture. Yet there are times when we should use our "bully pulpit" to address the people's concerns, particularly when it comes to this important pillar of the United Nations: human rights.

That is why I would like to talk to you tonight about human protection and the United Nations. In addressing this very broad topic, let me begin with a few distinctions. Human protection is a subset of the more encompassing concept of human security. The latter reminds us that the security of "we the peoples" matters every bit as much as the security of States. Human protection addresses more immediate threats to the survival of individuals and groups.

Even with these distinctions, I will have to be selective in citing examples of our human protection endeavours. I do so without diminishing what the broad United Nations family achieves on a daily basis in protecting people. Indeed almost all our major initiatives, from climate change to food security, from the activities of the World Health Organization to UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund], are concerned with human security in the fullest sense.

As I will argue, the founders of the United Nations understood that sovereignty confers responsibility, a responsibility to ensure protection of human beings from want, from war and from repression. When that responsibility is not discharged, the international community is morally obliged to consider its duty to act in the service of human protection. This evening, I will concentrate on those issues related to human protection that have been developed under my watch.

Cyril Foster was a simple man - an ordinary man, by his own modest account. Yet he possessed an extraordinary faith in humanity's capacity to promote peace, prevent war and better the human condition. The United Nations was born of just such an aspiration. Sixty-five years after the Member States first assembled in Westminster, we are still striving "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

I was born during the last part of the Second World War. As a child, I witnessed the ravages of the Korean War and the promise of peace. I learned about hunger, poverty and displacement in the ultimate classroom - personal experience. While everybody was studying in a classroom, I had to study outside, under a tree. When it rained we had to wait until it [turned] sunny to resume class under the tree.

Against all odds, the United Nations came to our rescue. It fed my family and my people; it helped rebuild our country. And it has given us hope. It continues to offer hope to our troubled peninsula. That quest, like many others, remains unfulfilled. Korea is still divided. But I often wonder how many children, in similar straits, ask the same questions today that I did more than 60 years ago: Is the world listening? Will help arrive in time? Who will be there for me and my family?

This is exactly the experience I am having these days as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I am just back from Africa. At least in the past five times when I travelled to Africa or many other developing countries, I met many young people and children and helpless people, who are very poor and very sick, who try get help, and hope, from me and from the United Nations. So the United Nations is still a beacon of hope for millions of children. So I feel very much humbled whenever I meet them. I wonder, what can I do, how can I bring a sense of hope to them?

The task of human protection is neither simple nor easy. We don't always succeed. But we must keep trying to make a difference. That is our individual and collective responsibility. People like myself as Secretary-General, and the leaders of the world, have a moral and political responsibility to protect populations. Indeed, the struggle to fulfil the Charter's promise of protection demands the best that this and other world-class universities have to offer.

The world and its conflicts have changed significantly since the founding of the United Nations. And as the world has changed, so too must its institutions. The most enduring bend without breaking. They adjust to changing circumstances and opportunities, trimming their sails in shifting winds, knowing that the quickest route to their destination is rarely a straight line. Their pace varies but never their guiding principles.

The challenges facing us have changed but our core responsibility to maintain international peace and security has not. Slowly but surely, sometimes by trial and error, we have learned to use the instruments available under the Charter in new ways, adapting to evolving circumstances. Through this evolution, the need to operationalize a concept of human protection has emerged.

Gaining momentum, it is reshaping our work. It is entrenched in our operational practice. It is finding expression in the development of doctrine and in new international legal institutions. It is reflected in bolder Security Council resolutions and progressively broader mandates - and in the General Assembly's continuing consideration of the concept of "Responsibility to Protect".

This evening, I will focus on three areas. First, I will address human protection in the context of conflict and complex emergencies where the United Nations serves as a fire-fighter. We are now trying to change this by trying to prevent the fire in the first place. This encompasses our initiatives in peacekeeping and emergency interventions in the context of disaster relief. I will also deal here with peacebuilding and peace consolidation. Second, I will deal with prevention, so that fires do not happen in the first place; and third, human protection and the development of legal institutions promoting accountability.