08 January 2015

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement to the General Assembly

Let me start with a brief look back at the difficult year just past.

The year 2014 pushed our response capacities to the limit. More than 100 million people needed assistance.  An unprecedented number of United Nations personnel are deployed in highly volatile security environments.

Earlier today, we honoured the many peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and others who died last year while serving the United Nations.  The toll of sacrifice remains appallingly high, and we must do more to provide security for those on our frontlines.

The year 2014 also presented serious challenges to diplomacy and, indeed, our common humanity, as conflicts raged and extremism rose.  

The year also tested the world’s readiness in the face of deadly disease.  During a visit to West Africa last month, I saw the heroic work being done by Ebola responders. I thank all the governments, NGOs and others that have provided support to people in need.  

It was a year of turmoil.  But let us also recognize two important advances.

First you, the Member States, produced the foundations of an inspiring new development agenda, including a proposed set of sustainable development goals.  In my synthesis report, now delivered to you — “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet” — I am offering my support of this work and some further ideas on the road ahead.

I also welcome last month’s adoption of the “Lima Call for Climate Action” and the recent announcements by the European Union, United States and China aimed at reducing the risks of climate change.

As we look ahead, 2015 is a chance for major advances across the three inter-connected pillars of our work: development, peace and human rights. Let me take them each in turn.

First, sustainable development.

This year marks the culmination of the Millennium Development Goals.  

The signal moment of the year ahead will be the adoption of a new framework for development. 

The agenda we are working towards is to be universal. It places people, and the planet that nurtures us, at the centre.

The new agenda will reflect the urgency of finishing the work of the MDGs, reaching the marginalized and vulnerable, and investing in children and young people.

It will aim to build inclusive societies, strong institutions and shared prosperity.

And it is to be supported by a global partnership that delivers on its ODA commitments, disseminates technology and taps all sources of financing – public, private, domestic and international.

To help frame and reinforce this agenda, my synthesis report proposes a set of six essential elements which can help ensure that the vision expressed by Member States is communicated to the global public — and is achieved at the country level.

Women’s empowerment, participation, education and health — including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights — are central to all our activities and hopes.  An end to violence against women remains an imperative.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, and we must continue to push for its full implementation.  We can also make important progress through the reviews of the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

I welcome the President of the General Assembly’s decision to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth.  My Envoy on Youth continues his efforts to bring the voices of young people into our work.

The success of the new development agenda is inseparable from our efforts to address climate change. 

We must not be forced into a false choice between the economy and the environment.  Across the globe, countries, cities, citizens and CEOs are taking action on climate change because they recognize the benefits – including new market opportunities, cleaner air, improved public health, greater energy security and sustainable growth.  

I urge all Governments to come forward with ambitious national commitments as soon as possible.  I would like to remind all Member States that you have agreed in Lima to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, by the first quarter of this year.

I also urge developed countries to articulate a clear pathway for achieving the goal of $100 billion per year in climate financing, and to make good on their pledges to the Green Climate Fund.  

I also look to all of you for scaled-up action on the ground that builds on the good work and partnerships announced at last September’s Climate Summit.

The development roadmap in the year ahead has four crucial stops.

First, in March in Sendai, Japan, the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction can set a course to greater resilience.

Second, in July in Addis Ababa, we can agree on financing and investments that are crucial for growth and for the credibility of the new development path.

Third, in September here in New York, we can adopt a bold, new and integrated agenda for sustainable development.

And fourth, in December in Paris, we can ensure a meaningful, ambitious and universal climate change agreement. 

As we take these essential steps, we must keep ambition high to end poverty, tackle inequality and turn the climate challenge into opportunity.   

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has been a human tragedy and a setback for development in the hardest hit countries, and has highlighted the need for global vigilance and solidarity.

I thank the General Assembly for its unprecedentedly rapid action to establish UNMEER, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.  The affected countries are beginning to see some improvements, thanks to their own mobilization and global support.  Mali has made progress in controlling the virus, and we hope that Mali will be declared Ebola-free this month.

I have been especially moved by the deployment of health workers from many African countries and other parts of the world.  But, Excellencies, we are still short of people and resources.  As we strive to fill those gaps, we also need to address the wider impacts and to meet recovery needs.

We must also prepare for any possible new epidemic, wherever it may occur.  Strengthening national health systems is a priority.  International rapid response capacities must be improved.  In that regard, I support the efforts of the World Health Organization led by Dr. Margaret Chan, to begin work on the way forward.  

Let me now turn to peace and security.

The elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme was a major achievement in 2014.  I thank the Member States for their support, including key technical capacities.

But of course, the conflict in Syria continues to inflict immense suffering and will soon enter its fifth year.  We must continue to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of refugees and affected people in and outside the country.

We also face a long list of other hot-spots.

The South Sudan crisis has entered its second year.  Horrendous violence continues in parts of the Central African Republic, northern Mali and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Chaos in Libya is spreading, and violence in Yemen is growing.  I am concerned about an upsurge of fighting in Darfur and other parts of Sudan.  The transition in Afghanistan will require strong support.  Conflict in Ukraine has cost well over four thousand lives, endangered security and stability in Europe, and reanimated the ghosts of the Cold War.

In several countries, electoral processes and constitutional amendments seem designed to prolong incumbencies instead of strengthening democracy — and thus risk provoking violent conflict.

We must not resign ourselves to any further worsening of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  I urge both sides to ease the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and move away from confrontation and towards a negotiated settlement.

The presence of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and in Iraq has added a volatile dimension to those crises.  Groups responsible for atrocities have capitalized on a legacy of atrocious governance towards disenfranchised populations.

Terrorism remains a global threat.  In recent days alone, we have seen carnage in Yemen as well as a despicable attack against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.  

Our response to brutality and extremism cannot be limited to military action, important as it is. We must engage in wide-ranging efforts, including by addressing the conditions that give rise to such poison in the first place.  There is also a need for greater attention to the nexus of extremism and organized crime; this year’s Crime Congress in April in Qatar can help strengthen criminal justice systems for this work.

My heart aches at the thought of the suffering of the girls and boys kidnapped by the brutal extremist groups Boko Haram and Da-esh.  I would like to make a special appeal to the conscience of all those involved in senseless violence.  It is in your power to end these acts and to save lives.  As Secretary-General and as a father and grandfather, I appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of all abductees so that they can return to their families and resume their lives.

In the same vein, I also appeal to those conducting military actions against terrorists to fully observe human rights.  Failure to do so can be counter-productive, since we have seen time and again that this is a recruiting agent for terrorists.

Peace and security are not possible in a world flooded with easily available deadly weapons.

I congratulate the countries whose ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty has enabled that landmark instrument to come into force so quickly.  I urge others to follow suit, above all the world’s leading arms traders.
The nuclear powers continue squandering vast sums to modernize arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The NPT review conference that begins in April is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves not just to non-proliferation but to the disarmament agenda.

Let me turn now to the third pillar of our work, human rights and the rule of law.

In so many places, both Governments and non-state actors are exhibiting a callous disregard for the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian and human rights law.  In Peshawar, we saw the deliberate and diabolical slaughter of more than a hundred schoolchildren. The frequent targeting of hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities has had a devastating impact.  It is essential to strengthen protection and pursue accountability, including through international criminal justice.

This year marks ten years since you, the Member States, endorsed the Responsibility to Protect.  Our discussions have covered the full range of issues and concerns. Yet in too many crises the international community does not act on early warning signs, or fails to match rhetoric with responses.  My next report on Responsibility to Protect will explore what more we can do to operationalize the Responsibility to Protect and reclaim the people-centred focus that made the endorsement of the principle possible in the first place.

A year and a half ago, I launched the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to ensure the United Nations acts earlier, more effectively and “as one” to prevent atrocities.  As the Secretariat and wider UN system embrace this approach, I urge Member States to support this initiative and take similar steps to fulfil this core UN function, including by making better use of UN bodies.

I reiterate my deep concern at the resumption or continuing use of the death penalty in several countries.  Let us take inspiration from last month’s call by the General Assembly for a global moratorium on executions and move decisively towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Let me also make a special appeal to counter intolerance faced by migrants, refugees, minorities and other marginalized groups.  I am troubled by the rise of political parties that target vulnerable groups for discrimination and abuse.  I am horrified by the unscrupulous actions of smugglers who subject vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to abuse, and even abandoning them to die at sea. 

Let us strengthen our shared response to this growing challenge.  I also urge Member States to support the campaign to end statelessness and ensure that everyone enjoys the right to a nationality.  

This year marks the beginning of the International Decade for People of African Descent.  Over the years, the world has failed to fully recognize the legacy of colonialism and the slave trade, and the discrimination still faced by people of African descent.  An important part of this observance will be the unveiling here at UN Headquarters of the permanent memorial to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  I hope it will also spark efforts to end the forms of slavery and exploitation that affect millions of people today.

From development to peace to human rights, the United Nations must be ever more fit for purpose.

The UN development system – including the agencies, funds, programmes and regional commissions — is fully supporting efforts to shape and implement the new agenda.

The reviews of peace operations and peacebuilding will help us to better fulfil our challenging mandates.

I will also be appointing a high-level panel to explore how to fill the growing gap between humanitarian needs and available resources.  This effort will also help with preparations for next year’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

We continue to engage in efforts to modernize the Secretariat, including the launch next year of the new mobility framework.  I thank Member States for supporting the completion of the Capital Master Plan and our efforts to move towards the carbon neutrality of UN buildings around the world.

At the same time, as the Secretary-General, I must express my deep concern that the General Assembly was unable to agree on many important management issues in December.  I trust that you will resolve your differences and review your working methods when your discussions resume in March.  We need your support to meet the enormous challenges before us.

I would like to stress the importance of my proposal, which was made [three] years ago in 2012 for a new approach to partnerships.  This is a crucial enabler for the progress that you yourselves have said you want.  

Partnerships with the private sector and others have accelerated exponentially.  Many key actors are eager to work with us. 

A dedicated partnership facility would allow us to seize this great potential while providing the necessary coherence, oversight and accountability.  My senior advisers and I understand your concerns and have answered all your questions.  I again urge you to give the go-ahead in March so that we are ready to move when the Sustainable Development Goals are adopted in September.

Finally, a United Nations that is properly serving the world’s people is one that is always scanning the horizon for emerging challenges.

Cybersecurity is one such issue.  Cybercrime is a threat we ignore or postpone at our peril.  A future catastrophe involving the financial or health systems, key urban infrastructure or deadly weaponry is not hard to imagine.  As with so many other aspects of life in an interdependent world, we should not wait until a crisis is upon us to forge a response.

The United Nations system is addressing its own internal safeguards.  We are ready to support Member States as you do the same.  As we do so, we must uphold our commitment to foster an open, secure and trustworthy Internet.  As more of our lives move online, so too must our norms and principles.


If our work unfolds as it should, by the end of this year, our Organization will be enriched with a new vision for development, new ideas for the  maintenance of peace and security, a renewed embrace of human rights, and a stronger United Nations to help bring it all to life. 

This is what we must do.  This is our moral and political responsibility.  

If we must, we can.  And if we can, we must.

In this year that marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, we commemorate the Charter that has guided us from San Francisco to the present day.

We have a huge responsibility before us – but also a year of opportunity.

Your support and guidance are indispensable.  Global responsibility is indivisible.  Let us work together to make this year, 2015, a time for global action.

I count on your leadership.

Thank you very much. Merci.