Secretary-General’s remarks at event on the Olympic Truce and Sport for Social change

By | 30 July 2012

Pretoria – SG: Thank you, Foreign Secretary Hague for your leadership and vision for the Olympic Truce through which we promote world peace and security.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Lord (Michael) Bates, it’s a pleasure to see you. Thank you Secretary, again.

I am delighted to be here for the opening of the London Games.

Over the past 10 days, I have had something of an Olympic tour.

Ten days ago I was in Beijing, site of the 2008 Summer Games.

Yesterday, I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the 1984 Winter Games took place.

I did not plan this itinerary with the Olympics in mind. But I must confess: it has certainly put me in the mood for London Olympic Games 2012!

I had the honour yesterday to be one of the thousands of torch runners. It was an unforgettable experience, and an extraordinary honour for me and the United Nations.

I felt the Olympic spirit – from the torch right down to my running shoes.

I saw how the citizens of London have embraced the Games. It was full of life and full of excitement, and I was very much pleased to see such an atmosphere.

The Government of the United Kingdom has done a remarkable job.

I welcome in particular the Government’s strong support for the Olympic Truce. I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Secretary, for this extraordinary first world record that every one, 193 Member States of the United Nations sponsored this resolution. Of course it was adopted by unanimous decision. This is already a gold medal, and congratulations on that.

The Truce may sound like something from the distant past that has no place in our times.

It may seem naive to think that hardened fighters and their patrons will listen.

But relevant it is, and try we must.

Above all, we should galvanise our efforts to end the violence in Syria.

Like the Foreign Secretary, I am seriously concerned by the escalating violence in Aleppo, Syria. I urge the Syrian Government to halt their offensive. The violence from both sides must stop for the sake of the suffering civilians of Syria.

Let me also touch on another important issue which is related to the Truce, the ongoing negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty. The negotiation is due to end to end today in New York. I once again appeal to all delegations to bridge their differences. The world is looking to them to yield a robust and legally binding treaty. This is a noble initiative that is long overdue. It would be a disgrace if the international community does not grab this opportunity to have a real impact on the lives of millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed violence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Olympic Truce is our collective call for a cease-fire during the Games, according to the ideals of the Olympiad in ancient Greece.

Since 1993, the Truce has been promoted through an annual United Nations General Assembly Resolution.

Since 2006, we have extended the idea to include the Paralympic Games.

This year’s resolution set the first world record, as I said, the first time that all the Member States co-sponsored.

The Olympics themselves have been targeted by the very violence we oppose.

Forty years ago in Munich, a terrorist attack killed 11 Israeli Olympic athletes, and brought sorrow to the Games.

Let us remember the victims and honour their memory by speaking out against terrorism and armed conflict anywhere, of any kind.

If people and nations can set aside their differences…

If they can place harmony over hostility…

If they can do it for one day, or for one event, they can do it forever.

That is the message of the Olympic Truce. That is the dream on which the United Nations is built, and the goal of our daily work.

The United Kingdom has taken up the baton and given life to the Truce with social and development projects at home and abroad that have benefitted thousands of children and young people.

The exceptional International Inspiration programme has showcased how sport-based interventions can help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I am proud that UNICEF is one of the programme’s main implementing partners.

Earlier this year at an Inspiration facility in Zambia, IOC President Jacques Rogge and I saw homeless and orphaned children receiving shelter to meet their immediate needs — and training to build their futures.

I hope that future Olympic hosts will take up the challenge and match the excellent initiatives started by the United Kingdom. The United Nations is ready to work together with the full range of partners in furthering development and peace through sport.

We all admire the athletes and achievements on display during the Olympic Games. We are all spellbound by close competition — come from behind victories — world records falling one after another.

But there is another side to the power of sport. When you see the magic that a ball can create among children in a shantytown or refugee camp, you see potential that we must harness.

We often take sport, play and leisure for granted. Yet millions of people around the world do not have access to sports, or are actively denied their right to participate.

I call on all Governments and sport organizations to provide opportunities for sport, physical activity and play. This is not a luxury. It is an investment in better health, education and skills for coming generations – critical for building inclusive societies grounded in mutual tolerance and respect.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the Government of the United Kingdom and the London 2012 Organizing Committee for their leadership in this effort.

I express my gratitude to the International Olympic Committee. I attach great importance to the partnership between our two organizations.

Sportsmanship and fair play.

A world without conflict — and with dignity for all.

These are Olympic ideals. They are UN ideals.

Let our two families work peacefully together during the 2012 London Olympic Games and beyond to build the future we want.

Thank you very much.

Q: [Inaudible question on Syria]

SG: First of all, this Olympic Truce should be applied to all the countries, particularly I am concerned about how this will be implemented in Syria. Olympic sport begins from today, and from today until the end of these Games, everybody, all the warring parties must lay down their weapons to be faithful in implementing this Olympic Truce. Syria participated – 193 includes Syria, so they have to support and implement without failure. That’s one of my messages.

This morning I had a very good meeting with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan here in London. That was part of our continuing contact and discussions to assess the situation and discuss about the way forward. Both I and Kofi Annan were deeply concerned about what is going on, about the inability of this six-point plan [to be] implemented, because of the lack of cooperation by both sides. But primary responsibility rests on the Syrian authorities – that is the Government who started first this crisis. Therefore, at this time, I again, together with Secretary Hague, urge them to immediately stop without any further conditions this violence. They must begin the political dialogue to have a political resolution of this issue reflecting the genuine aspirations of not only the Syrian people but all peace-loving people around the world. That’s my earnest appeal.

I was very much surprised and alarmed when our UNSMIS armoured vehicles, two vehicles, had been again attacked in Aleppo, while patrolling in Aleppo. Fortunately, nobody was injured. But I am deeply concerned.

Because of that threat and danger we have temporarily suspended our monitoring duties. But it has not been the case that we have always been staying inside. Very often our team has been going to the scene on a targeted mission, even though it has been limited. It again happened while they were patrolling.

I hope that all this kind of violence must stop. I just came here from Sarajevo and I visited Srebrenica and it was most saddening and humbling moment for me. I think you cannot find any other place in the world more difficult, more painful, for a Secretary-General of the United Nations to visit. I met relatives of the victims. I couldn’t express my feelings, my sorrow. It was beyond description. I thought, at that time, that one of my successors in the future should never go to Syria again after 20 years or 10 years to apologise for what the United Nations or international community had failed on what they could do now, to prevent the civilian population [suffering].

How long do you, do we have to endure this kind of situation? How long must the people of Syria bear this kind of intolerable situation? Well, at this time, I am deeply concerned about all these reports about the possible use of chemical weapons. One of the senior officials of the Syrian Government said they will not use chemical weapons unless they are attacked by foreign forces. I demand, again I reiterate my demand that the Syrian authorities categorically state that they will not use chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction under any circumstances. That is my strong demand. Thank you.

Q: What scope is there for narrowing the positions of the West and Russia and China to pressure both the Syrian Government and rebels to enter serious talks on political transition?

SG: I’m not in a position to say anything about what they are taking [as their] position. Unfortunately the Security Council was not […] united […]. I have been urging that we should show a sense of unity, solidarity, in the name of humanity.

Permanent Members of the Security Council, they have the primary responsibility for international peace and security, therefore they should exercise their leadership and be united. There was a good meeting among P5 and other key stakeholders on this issue in Geneva last month and there was a good agreement, a joint statement was announced in the name of all those participating, including P5s. I sincerely hope that again for humanity to prevent further bloodshed, the leaders of the P5 should exercise their strong united leadership.

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