UN Day Reception 2020 in Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations

Remarks by Kamal Malhotra United Nations Resident Coordinator, Viet Nam

[As delivered on]

• Excellency, Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Member of the Politburo, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Ambassador Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;

• Excellency, Prof. Dr. Nguyen Xuan Thang, Secretary of the Party Central Committee, Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council, President of Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics;

• Excellency, Senior Lieutenant General Le Huy Vinh, Member of the Party Central Committee, Deputy Chief of Staff of Viet Nam People’s Army, Deputy Chair of the Steering Committee on UN Peace Keeping Operations;

• Excellency, Mme. Nguyen Thuy Anh, Member of the Party Central Committee, Chairwoman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Social Affairs;

• Excellency, Mr. Le Hoai Trung, Member of the Party Central Committee, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs;

• Vice Ministers and leaders of Party Committees and Government Agencies;

• Former Vietnamese Permanent Representatives to the United Nations;

• Excellencies, Ambassadors;

• Distinguished colleagues from the Government, the private sector and civil society partners;

• Members of the United Nations Country Team and the United Nations family;

• Friends;

• Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of both the United Nations Country Team and the broader United Nations family in Viet Nam, allow me to start by welcoming you to this year’s UN Day which also commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations. I wish to especially thank our guest of honour, His Excellency Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and Ambassador Mme. Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for their presence.

Excellency, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, please accept the UN’s sincerest condolences on the tragic loss of lives including those of soldiers rescuing people affected by the torrential downpours, floods and landslides resulting from tropical storms in the Central Provinces of Viet Nam. We also remain very concerned about those still missing. Please rest assured that the UN in Viet Nam which has been part of the joint assessment team which returned today will provide our full support in a swift and well coordinated One UN modality.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I wish to congratulate Viet Nam on two major accomplishments, one which we share: our common 75th Anniversary. Indeed, it is a happy coincidence that the UN turned 75 in the same year that Viet Nam is celebrating its 75th anniversary of independence. I would also like to congratulate both the Government and people of Viet Nam on containing the health-related aspects of COVID-19 through their early, effective, robust, transparent, whole-of-society and low-cost measures which have allowed us all to be here, face-to-face, today. Viet Nam is not out of the woods on COVID-19, however, since we must both guard against another wave and address many of the socio-economic challenges resulting from COVID-19, some of which are global and regional in nature.      

The UN in Viet Nam has recently, just a few weeks ago, published a ‘UN Assessment of the Social and Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Viet Nam’. Copies of this and our earlier April publication on the economic impact of COVID-19 in Viet Nam are available just outside this ballroom. 

I would be remiss on such an occasion if I did not briefly recount some of the UN’s major accomplishments in its first 75 years, measured against its three key pillars: peace and security, development and human rights.

The UN was established, first and foremost, to prevent a third world war. Despite the numerous challenges of the long Cold War and multiple tensions and conflicts in the three decades since it ended, the United Nations has, indeed, been successful in preventing a third world war.

A second task was decolonization. When the UN was founded in 1945, around 750 million people, equaling nearly one third of the world’s population at that time, lived in territories that were not self-governing. As a result, only 50 States were represented in San Francisco at the signing of the UN Charter in June 1945. The UN now has 193 Member States, and it is a clear sign of the UN’s success that its Trusteeship Council has now been dormant for many years.

On its contribution to development, let the data speak for itself. While many Governments and other development partners must share the credit, none of the huge improvement in people’s lives which has taken place since the end of the Second World War would have been possible without the work of numerous UN Agencies over the last many decades. While, globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty is now less than 10%, this figure was nearly 75% of the world’s population in 1945. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 by the WHO, while as a result of the work of UNICEF and others, essential vaccine coverage is more than 80% today compared to less than 20% in 1980. The mortality rate of children under five years of age has dropped by 59% since just 1990, while primary school completion rates reached 84% in 2018 compared to 70% in 2000, primarily as a result of the UN led Millennium Development Goals. And until COVID-19 struck in 2020, Human Development, as measured by the Human Development Index, had increased every year from 1990 when the Human Development Report was first published by UNDP. As the UN Secretary-General has repeatedly stated after COVID-19 struck, achievement of the UN led Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is the world’s best chance of building- forward- better after COVID-19.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark document unprecedented in world history, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, laying out a universal, common standard for all peoples and nations. Many key aspects of both the Universal Declaration and the UN’s nine core human rights Conventions have now been incorporated into the domestic legislation of most, if not all, UN Member States around the world, something unthinkable 75 years ago.

These are only a few of many notable examples which should remind us of the essential roles that the United Nations has played for the past 75 years and continues to play in these challenging times. The UN continues to make a difference, especially for the most vulnerable, seeking to leave no one behind and giving voice to those deprived of it.

At the UN, we are grateful that the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year. It was the 12th Nobel Peace Prize awarded either to the UN as a whole or to one of its Agencies or bodies, or to a UN Secretary-General or staff member. Five of these have been awarded in the last 20 years since the 21st Century began, a remarkable 25% of the total of such awards during this period. I believe that all these twelve awards, including the most recent one in our 75th Anniversary year, recognize and reaffirm the continuing relevance and centrality of multilateralism and the UN, both of which are essential for good global governance. Indeed, in a tragic way, COVID-19 has vividly illustrated more clearly than any other episode since the 2nd World War why multilateralism, international cooperation and international solidarity, anchored in the UN system remain essential, not an option or luxury.

However, the UN, like any other organization, needs to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. This is why our current Secretary-General embarked on wide-ranging reforms soon after he took office in 2017. Viet Nam has been at the global forefront of UN Reform at the country level for over a decade now and I am confident that it will remain so in the current ongoing phase of UN Reform. However, no global UN reform will be successful without UN Member States more seriously committing themselves to multilateralism and international cooperation and viewing these as being in their national self-interest—as Viet Nam clearly has done—in addition to reforming themselves simultaneously. To achieve this, many UN Member States will need to rise above the narrow nationalisms and populisms which are on display today. On this UN Day, I also challenge each one of you to reflect on your individual roles, capacities, and influence and on how you can use these to achieve the future you want for the world, your children and grandchildren.

This year, Secretary-General Guterres embarked on the UN75 campaign, which is the biggest global listening exercise in world history. The UN, in 2020, has listened to millions of people in all walks of life in far corners of the world, to understand their needs and hopes, conveyed in words but also in photographs and other visual forms. The photographs exhibited in the passage outside this ballroom represent the most outstanding of the 1,000 or so entries we received in the UN75 Photo Contest titled, “The Future I Want.” Please take a moment to view and enjoy them.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are living in extremely challenging times. Let us remind ourselves that the decisions we make today will significantly impact the future we want. The UN and its Member States must make the right decisions for succeeding generations. Let me conclude by quoting from the Secretary-General’s UN Day statement this week commemorating our 75th Anniversary: “The United Nations not only stands with you, but it belongs to you and is you. Together, let us uphold the enduring values of the United Nations Charter.”

I thank you for listening. Xin Cam on.

Speech by
Kamal Malhotra
UN Resident Coordinator
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