During his visit to the campus on Nov. 13, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the United States to strengthen its partnership with the United Nations in addressing international issues such as hunger, human rights, climate change, education, and violence, and urged his Yale audience to engage in those same concerns as global citizens.
Ban, the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations, delivered the George Herbert Walker Jr. Lecture in International Studies before an overflow crowd in Luce Auditorium. Those unable to be seated in the auditorium were invited to watch a live video stream of his address in two MacMillan Center classrooms, which also were filled to capacity.
In his talk, titled “Shaping Solutions for a World in Transition,” Ban outlined three actions that he believes must be achieved in order to ensure “a more secure and prosperous world.” First, he said, “Leaders need to listen to their people.” Second, nations must join forces in confronting challenges such as climate change, the availability of food and water, and education, among others. Finally, he contended, new international partnerships and alliances must be formed among both U.N. member countries and others to foster world peace, democracy, economic development, and education, and to share the responsibility of protecting the environment of the planet.
Calling the present moment in world history a “time of turmoil, vulnerability and change” as well as of great “insecurity and injustice,” Ban specifically cited the crises in Syria and Mali, as well as the plight of Palestinians, as urgent challenges of international concern.
“Syria is a stark reminder of how much is at stake and of the cost … if leaders do not listen to their people,” said the secretary-general, who also decried the human rights abuses in that country, the violation of the cease fire during the “most important Muslim holiday,” and the displacement of 2.5 million Syrians — who have fled to neighboring countries — putting the region at risk for a “huge humanitarian crisis.”
“Syria needs a clean break from the past,” he continued, adding that the United Nations, other Arab nations, and the entire international community must prevent the instability there from “spiraling out of control.”
Ban said the situation in Mali, where Islamist militias have imposed harsh Sharia laws in parts of the country, will require the mobilization of celebrities, doctors, students, professors, and others in the United States and elsewhere to stop the abuse of women, the slaughter of citizens, and other human rights violations in the country.
The shooting of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai, the U.N. secretary-general said, stirred him to use social media to share an image of himself reading a book with his granddaughter — as a sign of solidarity and support for girls’ education.
“Terrorists don’t fear governments’ guns, but they do fear education,” he said. “They fear girls with a textbook. When people are educated, there remains no place for terrorists to stand.”
One area where he said the partnership between the United States and the United Nations must be “stronger and more effective” is in “getting the Middle East peace process back on track,” particularly with regards to Palestinians, for whom statehood “is long overdue,” he said.
“The Middle East peace process is on life support,” Ban stated. “Do not pull the plug.”
Among the global initiatives he has championed, he noted in his talk, are the “Every Woman, Every Child” movement to improve the health of women and children around the world; the “Zero Hunger” campaign, which aims to ensure that no children go to bed hungry; and the “Education First” initiative to ensure that all children are able to go to school. Currently, he noted, some 61 million children of primary-school age around the world are not attending school.
Ban said he is happy to hear that President Obama intends to make the issue of climate change one of his priorities in his second term, and told the faculty members in his audience that they have a moral and political responsibility to teach their students about humans’ role in climate change and about finding solutions for environmental degradation.
The secretary-general concluded his talk by calling upon audience members to be global citizens, and said that those who are privileged to study at an institution such as Yale should never take that privilege for granted.
“It should be shared with so many people around the world,” Ban said, reiterating his call for audience members to “think big and globally.”