Speech given by Her Excellency Dr. Rima Salah, Member of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Peace Operaitons and Former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. Delivered at the University of Bridgeport on October 30, 2015.
Dr. Stephen Healey, Provosts of the University of Bridgeport; Dr. Thomas Ward, Dean of the College of Public and International Affairs and Vice President of Internalization at University of Bridgeport; Ms. Brinet Rutherford, President of the Senior Class; Professors, Students, and Guests:
It gives me great pleasure and honor to be with you today on this very auspicious occasion, the rededication of the University of Bridgeport, United Nations Tree, and the unveiling of the new plaque.
What we saw an hour ago is defying and is a testimony of your commitment to the ideals and the charter of the United Nations. Indeed the partnership that you have forged with the United Nations is quite remarkable and unique.
This is the occasion to pay tribute to your pioneers, the students, who sixty years ago, driven by the promise of the United Nations to advance humanity, took the initiative to dedicate a tree and a stone to the work of the organization, starting a historic partnership. On this occasion, I want to also thank the University of Bridgeport, the College of Public and International Affairs, and in particular it’s Dean Dr. Thomas Ward for inviting me and for your dedication to preparing the next generation of global leaders with your mission anchored in the principles of knowledge, intercultural communication, understanding, and respect. These principles are important to understand the issues that drive our global community and help to build bridges and restore trust among people all over the world.
What a privilege it is to commemorate with you the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and to celebrate with you: “We the Peoples of the United Nations who pledged to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights…and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.”
The 70th anniversary is a moment to recognize the tireless dedication of hundreds of thousands of women and men who serve the organization in all parts of the world, and often in remote and inaccessible locations. It is the moment to honor the many that made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.
This anniversary of the United Nations and the values it stands for is also special for me. It is an organization that I served with pride for more than 28 years and in many regions around the world. Those regions were marked by poverty, lack of development, instability, and war. There I witnessed the mission of the United Nations was a beacon of hope and peace for millions of people and as a result they could claim a different future living lives of dignity and opportunity.
Yes 70 years after its’ founding, the United Nations remains a beacon for all humanity.
- As it provides food for 90 million people in 80 countries.
- As it vaccinates 50% of the world’s children, saving 3 million lives a year.
- As it assists over 38.7 million refugees and people fleeing from war, famine, and oppression.
- As it works with 193 countries to combat climate change and make development sustainable.
- As it fights poverty, lifting millions of people out of poverty.
As it protects and promotes human rights.
- As it mobilizes 22 million dollars in humanitarian aid to help emergencies in countries affected by war and conflict.
- As it uses diplomacy to prevent conflict.
- As it keeps peace with more than 128,000 women and men that serve under the blue flag in almost 40 missions across 4 continents, working to prevent conflict, help mediate peace processes, protect civilians, and sustain fragile peace processes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As the United Nations continues its journey to further advance the ideals of the United Nations and fulfill the goals of its charter…The Leaders of the world last month resolved to realize the founders’ dream, pledging to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and to heal and secure our planet. “They said we are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world on to a sustainable and resilient path as we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.”
In a historic and memorable meeting at the General Assembly, on the 25th of September 2015, one hundred ninety-three Royalty, Presidents, Prime Ministers adopted the transformative 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. They were hailed from the balcony by hundreds of civil society organizations and particularly youth.
It is the agenda of the people by the people and for the people. Its 17 goals from ending poverty in all of its forms everywhere, to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, to reducing inequities with and among countries, to taking action to combat climate change, and to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development were not written in the chambers of the United Nations, but are the results of over 2 years of consultation and engagement with civil society, youth, academia, and the private sector. The consultations took place in all capitals of the world, in regional meetings, in universities, and in web platforms, where young people have a platform to share their views and express hope for the world they want. Most importantly, the voices of the poorest and the most marginalized communities in the world were heard. Yes, they had their say in shaping an agenda that aims high, as it puts people at the center of development, aiming to foster human well-being, prosperity, peace, and justice. It speaks to all the people in all countries and calls for action for everyone…everywhere. As the leaders of the world said “we the peoples who are embarking today on the road to 2030 we will involve governments, as well as parliamentarians, the UN system, and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous people, civil society, the scientific and academic community, and all the people.”
However, the ideals of the agenda to promote dignity, justice, and sustainability to all people stand in stark contrast to the realities of today’s world. Despite enormous progress even today, 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Millions of people are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, or geographic location. Targeted efforts will be needed to reach the most vulnerable people.
This is a time of unprecedented displacement of more than 60 million people, the worst since World War II, according to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Although the worst humanitarian disaster is in Syria, that forced millions to flee their homes and take refugee in neighboring countries and Europe…images of children’s bodies washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean continue to haunt us.
In other parts of the world, in Africa, Asia, and Europe, millions of families find themselves trapped in situations of war and violent conflict that disrupt the fabric of their society and compromise the very foundation of their institutions and families, when their communities and homes are no more safe havens and when their schools and streets become battle fields and their health centers destroyed…I saw this in Congo, in Central African Republic, in Gaza, in Mali, and in South Sudan.
In addition to indiscriminate killings, appalling abuses are perpetrated against civilians in the midst of today’s violent conflict. Sexual violence remains a pervasive tactic of modern war. Women and girls are subject to mass abduction, rape, sexual slavery, trafficking, and forced prostitution, where also boys are forcibly recruited to fight, instead of holding a pen.
The increase of the number of wars and conflict around the world is compounded by the rise of violent extremism that is causing pain to many communities globally.
Compelled by this very dangerous and devastating situation, member states, UN organizations, and civil society are exerting all efforts to alleviate the pain of millions of people by providing relief, trying to reduce the list of conflict, changing the tide of violence, addressing its root causes, improving governance, social cohesion, and national reconciliation.
The Secretary General in his resolve to build a United Nations fit for purpose and Peace Operations that are credible, relevant, and can respond effectively to the expectations of people, experiencing great hardship, appointed in October of 2014, a High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. This is to undertake a thorough review of the operations today and the emerging needs of the future. The Sixteen Member Panel held intensive consultations across 4 continents, met with governments, civil society, regional partners, and the military. What we heard in our consultation was sobering, many people were disillusioned with the United Nations and its capacity to respond to their needs in times of conflicts and war.
In our report, “Uniting our Strengths for Peace, Politics, Partnership, and People” that we presented to the Secretary General in June, we recommended 4 essential shifts to make UN Peace Operations more responsive, more inclusive, more effective, and more relevant to the needs of member states and more responsive to the millions of people suffering in conflict areas.
From the Global South to the Global North, we witnessed the rise of civil society and the growing voices of men, women, and young people, and their resolve to work for the service of Peace. In April of 2015, religious leaders, women’s groups, and youth raised their voices in the General Assembly and Security Council to assume their responsibility and invest their huge potential in countering violence and in countering violent extremism.
The leaders of the world echoed their voices in September at the General Assembly when President Obama chaired a Leaders’ Summit in countering violent extremism and terrorism. The President emphasized in his opening speech that violent extremism cannot be defeated in the battlefield, as ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated with better ideas…a more attractive and compelling vision. The UN Secretary General attending the same meeting said “We have a major challenges before us, ones that will not disappear over night, but ones that we can address concretely by forging societies of inclusion, ensuring lives of dignity, and pursing this essential endeavor inspired at all times by the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Also, this August the Global Forum on Youth, Peace, and Security, held in Amman, Jordan brought together 11,000 young people from more than 100 countries, adopting the Amman Youth Declaration, in which they committed to join the international community to counter violent extremism and build a world of peace and security.
Let us all join their voices, let us join forces, as we have every opportunity to make the transformative shift and elevate “We the Peoples” on the Global and Peace Agenda.
As the Secretary General says National flags are marks of pride and patriotism in every country around the world, but there is only one flag that belongs to us all, let us rally around the Blue Flag, let us be one, let us be one United Human Family.