Copyright UNA-UK/Ed Thompson
London's Central Hall Westminster was filled to its 2,000 seat capacity on last Friday, 5 February, to welcome Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. Mr. Ban will retire from the office he has occupied since 2007 at the end of this year. The first Secretary-General of the UN, Trygve Lie, a former Norwegian foreign minister, was elected in that very place 70 years ago when the first General Assembly was held.
Over time, the General Assembly's role in selecting a Secretary-General has been marginalized in view of the increased power and influence of the Security Council in making the selection, seeing that decision being made increasingly behind closed doors. However, the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, which the UNA-UK co-founded in 2013, has made substantial progress in calling for re-dressing the balance of power in the selection process, and is now asking "states, parliaments and civil society to put forward high-calibre candidates for the post." Ban Ki-moon himself has said, "After 70 years there should be more transparency. I also think it is high time to have a woman of integrity and experience." He referred in his speech to his dedication to 'empowering women', which was met with much applause. This idea of considering a woman for the position was referenced too by Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the UNA-UK, in her introductory remarks.
But it was more than what was heard at this event, introduced by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Chairman of the UNA-UK, which impressed. It was the audience. Comprised of at least 60% young people under the age of 30, and a rich diversity of people of all backgrounds, ages and nationalities, they first queued in the rain for some time before filling the room with a real buzz of enthusiasm. If you want to feel hope for the future, this was the place. The respect shown for the matter at hand, i.e. support for and preservation of the United Nations, the visible interest, the obvious desire to ask questions and seek solutions for seemingly insurmountable national and international problems, made this an impressive gathering. The young participants today who discuss global issues are focused, well-educated (many in International Relations), hopeful, well-informed, articulate, vocal, concerned and very much involved.
Hence the significance of the question posed to Ban Ki-moon at the end of the seminar. It came from a 14 year old whose question was selected to "represent youth". Her question was, "How can I make my voice heard and how can you help me ?" She spoke for much more than just the youth present, in view of the worldwide trend now that we the people want to be heard. Mr. Ban's response was significant:
"So raise your voice! You have no restrictions". He then went on to speak of the political restraints inevitably placed upon any person in office, and especially in his position. He has previously spoken of the unlimited number of actors on the world stage which he has to work hard to have harmonious relations with. "The need to harmonize and balance is extremely difficult", he said, "and 'SG' can easily refer to 'Scapegoat' rather than Secretary General. You cannot be a scapegoat", he told her. "You have unlimited capacity ! So raise your voice, and I will protect you. You may speak or challenge your President, your Prime Minister, your professor and senator: 'Look, senator, this is going to be my world'...." He continued: "You have a bright future! Make sure this world is where everyone can play in a fair and equal way... I meet many young people who volunteer their time. I teach them: Be a global citizen! It's more important than mathematics... Whatever you learn today, may be outdated tomorrow... But what is unchanging is your mindset, your vision, for global harmony...."
It was an inspiring, life-affirming message with which to conclude. In 1945 the seeds were planted for a world plan which could eventuate in peace, security and right human relations on this planet. The gathering in Central Hall Westminster, in support of the United Nations, suggested that in spite of all, there is ever the will to see those seeds flourish.
Let's not underestimate the power of We the Peoples just yet.