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United Nations Secretary-General's remarks upon receiving the Tipperary International Peace Award

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United Nations Secretary-General's remarks upon receiving the Tipperary International Peace Award

26 May 2015

Your Excellency Mr. Charles Flanagan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade,                                                                                             
Mr. Martin Quinn, Honorary Secretary of the Tipperary Peace Convention,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dia dhaoibh [Hello]                                                   

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo anocht [I am delighted to be here tonight]                                                                                       

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your warm welcome.

So many people know the Tipperary of song.  I am now privileged to know the place itself.  So now my heart is right here too!

It is an honour to be given the Tipperary International Peace Award.  I know I join a list of distinguished women and men who have received this recognition.  I know as well that you are paying tribute not just to me but to the work of the United Nations -- and especially the brave and dedicated staff who bring our Charter to life every day, including many sons and daughters of Ireland.  Thank you.

It occurs to me that perhaps it is I who should be giving some kind of tribute to the people of Ireland – an award for global citizenship.

Ireland is a steadfast friend of the United Nations, and makes important contributions across our agenda.

Ireland is a strong supporter of United Nations peacekeeping.  This service has not come without cost. I would like to pay tribute to the 90 members of the Irish Defence Forces who have given their lives in the cause of world peace.

Ireland is also a leader in advancing the cause of disarmament, as the originator of the process that led to the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Ireland’s ability to end decades of conflict through the Good Friday Agreement has been an inspiration to other countries and peoples caught in their own seemingly intractable cycles of violence.  At the United Nations, you have become champions of conflict prevention and mediation.

Ireland is also a leader on development.  Its tragic experience with famine more than a century-and-a-half ago resonates today in the country’s support for anti-hunger efforts.  Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador David Donoghue, has been serving as the very able co-facilitator of the negotiations for a new sustainable development agenda -- an undertaking of surpassing importance for the human family.

As a dynamic member of the Human Rights Council, Ireland is also a strong proponent of human rights.  We saw this commitment yet again with Friday’s referendum.  This is a truly historic moment: Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum. The result sends an important message to the world: All people are entitled to enjoy their human rights no matter who they are or whom they love.

Ireland is also an important actor in the response to the challenge of migration and refugee protection, which is growing in scope and urgency.  Ireland has sent a naval vessel to provide vital help with search and rescue in the Mediterranean.  You have resettled refugees and displaced people from many countries; I will meet some of them tomorrow.  And Ireland’s Peter Sutherland, my Special Representative for International Migration, continues to do outstanding work in focusing international attention on the need to save lives, protect human rights and live up to our values.

For these reasons and more, in this year in which the United Nations marks its 70th anniversary, I would like to congratulate Ireland on its 60 years of membership in the world Organization.

Here today, in receiving a prize for peace at a time when the world faces multiple crises, I want to talk to you about what the United Nations has been doing to promote stability and security around the world.

And because the Tipperary Peace Convention is such a valued member of civil society, I also want to use this occasion to call for the defence of civil society against those who are trying to keep it from playing its crucial role in advancing peace, democracy, development and human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

From Syria to Yemen to South Sudan and elsewhere, conflicts are worsening and human suffering is deepening.  In these and other places, poor governance, weak rule of law, poverty and brutal violence have produced a flood of refugees and displaced persons -- more than 50 million, higher than at any time since the end of the Second World War.  The ranks of violent extremists are swelling, and their attacks are inflaming sectarian tensions.  And from Nigeria to Iraq and elsewhere, parties to conflict are committing horrific acts of sexual violence.  Many countries are experiencing repeated cycles of turmoil.

In response to this chaos and multiple challenges, the United Nations now fields 16 peacekeeping operations and a further 11 political and peacebuilding missions, with well over 120,000 troops, police and other personnel.  We have appealed for $16 billion in humanitarian assistance for this year – nearly five times what we needed a decade ago – and are reaching millions of people with emergency food, medicine and shelter.

I myself have been actively pursuing peaceful, diplomatic solutions and progress wherever possible.

When conflict erupted in South Sudan, we took a landmark step in upholding our duty to protect civilians by opening the gates of our peacekeeping bases to people fleeing the violence.  This action saved tens of thousands of lives, although the situation remains highly fragile.

On Yemen, the conflict has been causing horrendous humanitarian impact and is exacerbating regional tensions. My hope is that we can restore momentum towards a Yemeni-led political transition – and ease the plight of civilians caught in the violence.

As we address these and other emergencies, we also need to look at the deeper, more fundamental causes and factors of war and instability.

Today’s conflicts are increasingly complex.  The lines between terrorists, transnational criminals and extremists are blurring.  We are being asked to do more to protect civilians.  Civil wars have impacts well beyond their borders.  Yet there remains an enormous gap between demands and our capacities.  I have appointed a High-Level Panel to assess the state of peace operations today and recommend ways to better address today’s conflicts.  But we already know that the success of our operations will demand stronger partnerships based on trust and burden-sharing.

We also understand the critical need to strengthen our collective actions to prevent serious human rights violations. That is why I launched the Human Rights up Front Initiative, which seeks a much more consistent integration of a human rights perspective in UN peace and security, humanitarian and other work both at Headquarters and country levels.

We are also committed to building a culture of prevention.  What we need even more than early warning is early action to defuse tensions, urge restraint, and create space for dialogue before positions become even more polarized.  With help from Ireland, we are strengthening our capacity for mediation, so that experts can engage at the earliest signs of trouble.

You may not find these efforts on the front pages.  It is said that “no news is good news”.  In many cases the opposite is true – good news is no news.  Rare is the day when one opens the newspaper to find the headline: “War Averted” or “Famine Avoided”.   But we do not seek headlines; we seek to lower the heat before problems boil over.

Prevention is linked closely to our pursuit of economic and social development.  In today’s world, poverty and conflict are converging.  Inequality is growing everywhere – and, so, too is the combustible mix of low growth and high unemployment.  The new sustainable development agenda being shaped by the Member States has a strong preventive dimension, with a focus on building effective institutions of governance.  Adopting a bold agenda and taking action against climate change can set us on course towards an end of poverty and the beginning of stability for millions.  I continue urging Member States to keep ambition high.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

No country, no matter how powerful or resourceful, can do this work alone.  The United Nations cannot do this work alone.  All actors need to join hands as never before – Governments, business, civil society.

Yet in too many places around the world, civil society is under immense pressure.  An alarming number of Governments have enacted laws limiting the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate, receive funding from outside, or both.  Some Governments have twisted the term “civil society” to make it code for foreign conspiracies and subversion.

Whatever the perceptions, the pressure is all too real.  We see military crackdowns on demonstrations, arbitrary arrests and harsh prison sentences for exercising basic freedoms.  Human rights defenders – especially women – face violent attacks, smear campaigns and crippling fines.  All too often, sweeping definitions of terrorism are used to criminalize otherwise legitimate activities, disproportionately targeting minorities, opposition groups or civil society organizations.  We have also seen acts of reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders who cooperate with or seek to air their concerns at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In accepting the Tipperary International Peace Award, I want to sound a call to protect the space needed by civil society.  Confident nations are those that see civil society as an indispensable partner in working for the betterment of society.  In places where support from individual Governments may be difficult, the United Nations – including the United Nations Democracy Fund – stands ready as an objective source of funding without the baggage of politics and history.

I know that Ireland shares this concern and does its part to support civil society at home and around the world.

Local participation has proven crucial in building sustainable peace following the Good Friday Agreement. Former President Mary McAleese, the first person from Northern Ireland to hold that office, clearly recognized this in making “building bridges” the theme of her presidency.

Former President Mary Robinson, currently my Special Envoy for Climate Change, devoted considerable attention during her work in the Great Lakes region of Africa to promoting the participation of civil society – especially women’s groups – in implementing a landmark peace agreement.  And of course, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson helped strengthen the role of the High Commissioner and the UN’s Office for Human Rights into the robust entity it is today.

Ireland is also leading an effort within the Human Rights Council to protect and preserve civil society space not only in the Council, but everywhere.  One of the key figures in this effort is Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Patricia O’Brien – who also served with distinction as my Legal Counsel.

Civil society organizations were also central in the referendum on marital rights.  Civil society must remain a key partner – in implementing the new development goals, building democracy, countering extremism and pointing the way towards a world of dignity for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is a time of test.  The past 70 years would surely have been far bloodier without the United Nations.  Yet conflicts continue to exact an unacceptable toll.   It is time for an era of stronger cooperation and action to respond to the millions of people around the world who look to the global body to uphold its obligation to maintain international peace and security.

Ireland’s culture of commitment gives me hope.

Ireland’s people have made their mark not only at home but in the many places to which they have migrated.  That history is memorialized in a wonderful piece of art that sits on the grounds of United Nations Headquarters in New York.  Called “Arrival”, it was a gift of the Irish Government and people.  It takes the form of a ship, and depicts a multitude of Irish migrants coming ashore to build a better future.

That journey continues for Ireland and the entire human family.  Like Ireland’s Nobel Literature Laureate Seamus Heaney, I believe “a further shore is reachable from here”.

I look forward to working with the people of Tipperary – and people across Ireland – to arrive at that more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world we know can be ours.

Go raibh maith agaibh.  [Thank you]

Thank you.