Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks at the University of Maryland

The Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks to the University of Maryland School of Public Policy 2017 Commencement 

College Park, Maryland

Distinguished Faculty of the University of Maryland,
Distinguished Graduating Class of 2017,

I am inspired to be with you today to share in your celebration. I love the vibrancy in this hall. Our world needs your energy and your commitment to doing good which is the right thing.

I know that after you graduate, half of you will seek jobs in federal, state, and local government, while the rest will look to work in the world of non-profits, business or academia.

Some may even join us at the United Nations. I certainly hope so!

Deputy Secretary-General at the University of Maryland

Deputy Secretary-General at the University of Maryland

Wherever you end up, the world will depend on you using your expertise to do good and make a difference. This has been the driving reason for me for most of my professional life, ever since I worked for architects and engineers designing schools and hospitals in Nigeria. I saw the need for governments and institutions to be organized to deliver for the people they are supposed to serve, especially the poor and most vulnerable members of society. It is the reason I became an activist for quality education and it is why I was offered and accepted a role in government to promote sustainable development that delivers for people. And it is why I recently accepted the privilege and honour to become Deputy Secretary-General – to help make a difference in a world of 7 billion people.

On that note, I would like to pay tribute to your Dean, Professor Robert Orr, for his initiative to promote the concept of the Do-Good Generation. I worked very closely with Bob, as I know him, for quite some time when we both worked for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Bob was integral to the Secretary-General’s climate change strategy and he and Mr. Ban deserve much of the credit for the successful conclusion of the Paris climate talks in 2015.
Over the same period, I was working very closely with Member States to finalize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, this is a pledge by the governments of the world – including your government – to work together in partnership for a world of peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.

That is the world you should inherit and it is the world that you are already starting to shape – as consumers, as voters, and as leaders in your own communities. You are part of the largest population of young people our world has ever seen. Some 1.8 billion people are between the ages of 10 and 24 – and each one has his or her own unique, hopes and dreams.

You are the do-good generation, and we need you to make that impact felt in the entire world, beginning at home in your own families and communities, but always thinking globally. That is what I have always tried to do.

Today, I have four daughters and two sons and I am about to become a grandmother. But I still remember what I was like at your age. I was impatient. I didn’t want to wait for a better world. I was always being told “take it easy, your time will come.” I was thinking “My time is now”. That’s what you should be thinking. It is still what I think.

Today, I have a fancy job title – Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. But my job description is simple. It’s about a world that I want to build, where every girl and every boy has the tools, the structures and the support to make their dreams a reality. My dreams were realised with the support of a basic education in Nigeria in a place today that birthed Boko Haram. A place were girls are kidnapped, raped, turned into suicide bombers and if they return, they are broken and often shunned by their communities. BUT you and I know terrorists are not born; they are man made. We must address those root causes and make the links between policies and practice from global to local that ensure our results are inclusive of everyone.

We have no time to wait or to waste. We live in a world that it seriously out of balance, where eight people have as much wealth as half of humanity – and all of them are men, by the way.

Amina Mohammed at the University of Maryland

May 22, 2017 - UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed delivered the commencement address to the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy Class of 2017.

Joblessness, particularly for young people, is on the rise. In many parts of the world it is completely off the charts. Mistrust and insecurity are growing. When we see jobless numbers we see statistics. But we must always remember that each statistic is a person – a mother or a son, a father or a daughter, struggling to have a better life. We must always give statistics a human face. We must never lose sight of these human stories and the right we all have to a life of dignity.

The promise of the 2030 Agenda is to leave no one behind. So it is important to have a good idea of who these “no ones” are. They are the people without a voice, living on the margins of society. The poor, the hungry, the powerless.
They could be indigenous peoples, or abused women, or the homeless person you see on the way home or the educated person excluded from the economy. We have to care about them, because they are US. If you forget one person, you forget the rest.

One person in eight lives in extreme poverty. One in ten suffers from hunger or malnutrition. Two people in five lack access to adequate sanitation.

Rates of maternal, new-born and child mortality are unacceptably high. Millions of children and adolescents are out of school. Millions more in education need a quality outcome, not one where they pass through school but education doesn’t pass through them.

Women and girls are still deprived of equal rights and opportunities. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are an imperative. If we believe, as I do, that our greatest assets are our human resources then surely it makes no economic sense if we only invest in half of them.

So too must we invest in affordable and clean energy for all people and a transformation to a low-carbon economy. This applies to the home in Baltimore that cannot pay for power as much as those in a rural African village. Climate change is real and gathering pace. The capacity of the planet to sustain us hangs in the balance. We have a roadmap in the Paris Agreement, so it is left for us to implement it now not tomorrow. We know climate change is man made (I underscore man because if women were in charge we would not be in this dilemma) therefore we have the resources, knowledge, skills and collective responsibility to act now. We in the developed world have as much right as all others to a life of peace and prosperity but we have no right to contribute to Islands going under where people may survive but will lose their homes, country, identity and right to thrive.

This added to prospects for peace and justice that are being undermined by widening inequalities within and between countries, unplanned urbanisation and a lack of resilience to economic and environmental shocks.

These are just some of the challenges of sustainable development. This is the world you are entering as graduates, and it is the world you need to change.
Young people have already begun the change and demonstrated that technology is empowering people across continents and touching sectors like health, education, migration and financial inclusion.

How can you do more? The challenges are so huge. What can one person do against such massive odds?

The answer is: do SOMETHING. Because if we each do something, no matter how small, it adds up to a lot. And I really do mean DO something. Talk is easy. Retweeting and liking on Facebook is easy. All are important because communication is key to breaking the silos and barriers to sustaining peace but we need to do more, we need to connect the talk to the walk and in some cases run! In Nigeria, we typically say – Na grammar we go chop! Which means – are we going to eat words or books?!
It may seem like whatever we do is just a drop in the ocean, but what is the ocean after all but a collection of raindrops? I am reminded of a sign I saw at the recent women’s march on Washington. People of compassion and integrity who care about the environment and human rights and peace have been sneeringly referred to as “Snowflakes”. Well, this sign said, “Watch out: enough snowflakes make an avalanche!”

My recent experience as the Minister of Environment in Nigeria gave me deep insights into many challenges but also opportunities.

And that is what we need from you. An avalanche of good leadership informed by great thoughts, good deeds, good habits and good living that can make our world a better place for all. As you begin your careers you will work from 9-5 making it count but remember to make the results count for when you go home and become one of the 7billion in the world that needs to be a better place for all.

I have enjoyed this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you. I believe sharing our stories is one of the most important things we can do for each other – to help us be comfortable in our skin, to help us have empathy and compassion for others, to help us have the courage of our convictions and to walk the path that we must walk for humanity. Today at 56, I am a proud mother of 6, the 2nd highest civil servant in the world, a woman of colour from the south and a faithful Muslim with a grandfather who was a Presbyterian Minister of the Church. I am a survivor not victim of single parenthood, gender violence and discrimination that continues even today.

My story continues in the belief that things don’t have to be the way they are for those left behind. I can and will do something about it but I know also that I will go further if everyone is onboard. Partnering will be essential.
And so, knowing that every one of us here today, has a journey to make and the path you choose is what you make of it (even when we never really know where our path is going to lead) and so what I ask of you today is to make every step and milestone count for you but much more for the others that just happened to born into a different circumstance remembering, it could have been you.

Thank you, and congratulations Class of 2017.

UN Human Rights Office announces landmark partnership with Microsoft

Technology for human rights: UN Human Rights Office announces landmark partnership with Microsoft

As communities around the world face continuing human rights challenges, the agreement demonstrates the potential to use technology to help tackle issues, and highlights the opportunity for greater private-sector support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office.

GENEVA and REDMOND, Wash. — May 16, 2017 — The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday announced a landmark five-year partnership with Microsoft Corp. As part of the agreement, Microsoft will provide a grant of $5 million (USD) to support the work of the UN Human Rights Office. This represents an unprecedented level of support from a private-sector organization.

A particular area of focus for the partnership will be the development and use of advanced technology designed to better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations, which currently appear not only to be proliferating in many parts of the world — including areas previously viewed as stable — but also growing in complexity.

The new partnership builds on a longstanding relationship between the UN Human Rights Office and Microsoft that is based on two shared ideas. The first is a commitment to ensuring technology plays a positive role in helping to promote and protect human rights. The second is a recognition of the need for the private sector to play a bigger part in helping to advance the cause of human rights globally.

“As a global company that sees the problems of the world, we believe that we have a responsibility to help solve them,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “We have an untapped opportunity to use the power of technology to collect data, analyze that data and equip the United Nations to advance human rights around the world.”

Technology for human rights

While in some cases technology may contribute to human rights challenges, it also has an important role to play in tackling abuses. The grant from Microsoft will help establish technology that has a positive impact, for example by developing and deploying new technology solutions specifically designed to advance the mission of the UN Human Rights Office and protect human rights.

One example is Rights View, an information “dashboard” that will allow UN human rights staff to aggregate large quantities of internal and external data on specific countries and types of rights violations in real time. It will help facilitate analysis, ensure early warning of emerging critical issues and provide data to guide responses. This tool, powered by cloud computing and big data analysis, is just one example of the potential for technology to be a force for good.

Business and human rights

Microsoft will also work with the UN Human Rights Office to raise awareness of the role that companies can and should play in driving respect for human rights and to promote more responsible business conduct across the world. Microsoft will work closely with the Office to help promote broader adoption and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UN Guiding Principles provide a global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity.

Microsoft will also provide support for human rights advocacy and outreach campaigns through concrete support for the work of the UN Human Rights Office in key areas like freedom of expression, data protection and privacy, and inclusion. This includes direct support for the development and promotion of corporate principles for tackling LGBTI discrimination in the workplace in line with international human rights standards.

“This could be a truly groundbreaking agreement,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “We live in a rapidly evolving age, where technology can either be used to solve human rights problems or misused to erode human rights. Similarly, companies can infringe people’s rights, or they can be a major progressive force.”

“The private sector has an essential role to play in advancing human rights, and this partnership with Microsoft demonstrates how we can join forces in a constructive way,” Zeid said. “I hope this is just the beginning of something much bigger: that it helps stimulate a broad movement by the private sector to stand up for human rights. Increased support from major companies in the technology sector and other fields can clearly make a critical difference.”

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777,

rrt@we-worldwide.com

Rupert Colville, OHCHR, +41 79 506 1088, rcolville@ohchr.org

Ravina Shamdasani, OHCHR, +41 22 917 9169, rshamdasani@ohchr.org

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

Access our online press kit:

https://news.microsoft.com/HumanRightsUN

Read more about Microsoft’s approach to human rights:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/about/corporate-responsibility/human-rights

Read more about Microsoft’s Technology and Human Rights Center:

https://www.microsoft.com/about/csr/human-rights/humanrightscenter.aspx

South Sudan: UN, partners seek $1.4 billion for ‘world’s fastest growing refugee crisis’

South Sudan: UN, partners seek $1.4 billion for ‘world’s fastest growing refugee crisis’

The United Nations refugees and food relief agencies today urged donors to step up support for people fleeing crisis-hit South Sudan as the $1.4 billion response plan remains 86 per cent unfunded.

“Bitter conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in South Sudan are driving people from their homes in record numbers,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in a news release jointly issued by his office (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The situation in South Sudan continues to worsen, with a combination of conflict, drought and famine leading to further displacement and a rapid exodus of people fleeing one of the world’s most severe crises.

South Sudan has now become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis with more than 1.8 million refugees, including one million children, having sought safety in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, the news release said.

“The suffering of the South Sudanese people is just unimaginable,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “Aid workers often cannot reach the most vulnerable hungry people. Many are dying from hunger and disease, many more have fled their homeland for safety abroad.”

Humanitarian agencies are seeking $1.4 billion to provide life-saving aid to South Sudanese refugees in the six neighbouring countries until the end of 2017, according to an updated response plan presented in Geneva today. But the plan so far remains only 14 per cent funded.

The current rate of people fleeing South Sudan exceeds the humanitarian community’s already pessimistic estimates. For example, the number of people fleeing to Sudan in March surpassed the expected figure for the entire year. Uganda is also seeing higher than expected arrivals and at this rate is likely to soon host over one million South Sudanese refugees.

“Our funding situation forced us to cut food rations for many refugees in Uganda,” Mr. Beasley said.

With acute underfunding, humanitarian agencies are struggling to provide food, water, nutrition support, shelter and health services to refugees.

Communities hosting refugees are among the world’s poorest and are under immense pressure.

“Helping refugees is not just about providing emergency aid,” said UNHCR’s Grandi. “It also means supporting governments and communities in neighbouring countries to shore up services and economies in the areas receiving them.”

Secretary-General Guterres spotlights UN reform initiatives to rescue multilateralism

Secretary-General Guterres spotlights UN reform initiatives to rescue multilateralism

In a public lecture in London, Secretary-General António Guterres today stressed the need for reforming the United Nations to tackle main challenges the world is facing, including the changing nature of conflict.

“I would probably more properly concentrated on what I consider to be three main challenges we are facing in the world today,” he told a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, NGO members, academics, and the general public and others, at a lecture hosted by the UN Association for the United Kingdom.

The Secretary-General is to attend a major international conference on Somalia hosted by the UK to accelerate progress on security sector reform, build on the international response to the ongoing drought and humanitarian crisis, and agree the new international partnership needed to keep the Horn of African country on course for increased peace and prosperity by 2020.

Mr. Guterres said that the nature of conflict has changed, with many conflicts occurring within countries, not between countries. These internal conflicts have regionalized, and even globalized, with those increasingly “interlinked to what it is now a new global threat of terrorism that is impacting the whole world and that cannot be neglected by anyone anywhere.”

 

Secondly, he said that the fragility of political, economic and ecological environments in many parts of the world, including difficulties between communities, cultures and religions, has been the cause for many conflicts to erupt.

Thirdly, globalization and technological advances have contributed to wealth and economic growth on one hand, but to increased inequality on the other. This has created mistrust in multilateralism.

To rescue multilateralism, he said, there is a need to strongly commit to reform multilateral organizations.

Mr. Guterres said greater collaboration is need across the pillars of the UN work – peace and security, development and human rights so that resources can be reoriented to capacity to prevent crises.

In this regard, he said he launched reform initiatives, including a change in the peace and security architecture and a realignment of UN development system to better assist Member States, and management reform.

Turning to climate change, he reiterated that “green business is good business,” and highlighted the necessity for the UN to make this case and continue to mobilize the whole international community.

Finally, the Secretary-General stressed the need to combat a trend that the human rights agenda is losing ground to the national sovereignty agenda.