Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly Solemn Meeting in Commemoration of all Victims of the Second World War, held today:
This year, we marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations with tributes to the Organization’s achievements and calls to strengthen multilateralism to meet long‑standing and new challenges.
But, our observance of this milestone would not be complete without recognition of the losses of the Second World War, which led to the formation of the United Nations itself: the millions who fell on the battlefield; the millions murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust; [and] the millions who were victims of genocide, mass starvation, disease, massacres and aerial bombardment. It is our collective duty to remember them and to bear witness to their lives and deaths as we vow: Never again.
This was the burning ambition that powered world leaders and their peoples to join together around the values of the United Nations Charter and its pledge “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. It was inconceivable for our founders that the world should allow such unspeakable suffering ever again.
The United Nations Charter dared to imagine a world in which we “practise tolerance and live together in peace”. Where we “unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” It placed prevention and the peaceful resolution of disputes at the heart of its vision.
The tools set out in Chapter VI of the Charter, from negotiation, enquiry and mediation to conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement, have been effective in preventing another catastrophic global war. For the first time in history, 75 years have passed without a military confrontation between major Powers.
United Nations peacemaking and peacekeeping have helped end conflicts and supported reconciliation in countries across the world. The global community has built on the Charter with treaties and conventions addressing disarmament, the laws of war, political, civil, cultural, economic and social rights, and more.
But, despite this progress, we continue to fall short in achieving the promise of the Charter. The climate crisis is creating dramatic new threats to peace and security. Inequalities are growing and democratic space is shrinking. Human rights are under assault. Digital technology, including the exponential spread of disinformation, is dividing us further.
From Lake Chad to the Sahel, to Afghanistan and Yemen, wars persist, causing immeasurable loss. Our capacities to manage crises and resolve conflicts are at breaking point. And this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the serious limitations of global preparedness, cooperation and solidarity.
The long-term effects of the pandemic are still unfolding, but it has already caused deep social and economic upheaval. Global poverty is increasing for the first time since 1998. The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the pandemic could push 130 million more people to the brink of starvation. Gender equality has been set back by decades. Women have been severely affected by the loss of jobs and livelihoods, and by additional unpaid care work. Lockdowns and quarantines have trapped millions of women at home with their abusers, contributing to skyrocketing reports of domestic violence.
COVID-19 is highlighting the fragilities and unsustainable inequalities of our world. Unless we act now, it could lead to even greater instability and division, undermining our ability to fight the disease itself, and reversing decades of progress towards peace and prosperity.
In March this year, I called for a global ceasefire to stop the violence, open space for diplomacy, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and enable a shared focus on battling the virus. I reiterated this call in my address to the General Assembly in September and urged greater efforts to reach a global ceasefire by the end of the year. I am encouraged by the support my call received from all quarters, including some 180 Member States and regional organizations, over 20 armed movements and other groups and more than 800 civil society organizations.
I also called for peace in the home and an end to violence against women and girls. Almost 150 countries expressed their support, but only a minority have followed through with policies and funding. As we mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, I appeal again for concrete commitments. All efforts towards peace require the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. There can be no sustainable peace when half the population is excluded.
Partnerships with regional organizations are an essential element of United Nations peacemaking and peacekeeping, together with the active engagement of all stakeholders, including civil society, religious authorities and the private sector. Millions of people around the world look to the United Nations to bring unity and coherence to global efforts for peace and human rights, and to deliver on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. We cannot let them down.
Nor can we forget those who died in the Second World War. We owe it to them to learn the lessons of history. All our efforts must be aimed at consigning such mindless bloodletting to the past. Now is the time for global leaders to meet the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and move forward with unity of purpose. We count on you to support the United Nations in our vital work to prevent and resolve conflict and build peaceful, resilient communities and societies. Thank you.
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