United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon opened the 2012 Global Colloquium of University Presidents on Wednesday, speaking under the Rotunda of Low Library. Ban Ki-moon addressed the presidents of over 20 leading universities – including Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger, who moderated the event – as well as other members of the Columbia community. His address focused on the topic of this year’s Global Colloquium: the youth population surge throughout the world. Ban Ki-moon, who recently called for the appointment of a Special Advisor on Youth to the United Nations, spoke of three E’s to consider when addressing the needs of youth: education, employment, and empowerment. He said that the potential for large economic growth exists when there are three billion people under the age of 25 on earth, but also acknowledged the possibility of political instability.
The former foreign minister and native of South Korea first stressed education, saying that his home country experienced such rapid economic development during the twentieth century because of the access to education found there. Speaking to the worries of current university students, he added that now “access to higher education is not a guarantee of work” and moved on to his second point about working as an international community to fight youth unemployment. Throughout his discussion of the three E’s, Ban Ki-moon talked also of working with youth themselves as a way of empowering them to become global citizens.
At the end of his speech, Ban said the spirit of youth is necessary in the mission to stop violence throughout the world against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Repeating that “youth is a state of mind,” he added that “It is a challenge. Youth are idealistic and brave.” He said this idealism and a devotion to human rights are necessary when there is opposition to guaranteeing rights for all sexual orientations, such as the fifty U.N. delegates that walked out of Ban Ki-moon’s speech in early march about violence against LGBT people.
The secretary general later readdressed the issue of how the United Nations works with national leaders that do not believe in guaranteeing rights for people of all sexual orientations. He recounted one positive instance of the pressure of the international community, when he visited the president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, in 2010 and successfully asked for the release of two men in prison for homosexuality.
At the beginning of the question-and-answer period, Bollinger – who has overseen the proliferation of Columbia’s Global Centers – was especially interested in how Ban personally developed his global consciousness and worked toward becoming a global citizen. Ban Ki-moon said that his job as a diplomat naturally lent itself to engaging with different kinds of people and attempting to understand their problems.
In the remaining questions, Ban Ki-moon confirmed the United Nation’s commitment to working with national and civil leaders to build solutions to the world’s problems, as well as its commitment to sustainability. Moon responded to the final question –in his words a “very political” question about the Argentinean-British dispute over the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas, – by stating that he hopes both sides can come to agreement through an arbiter, though it is difficult because the British has not agreed to sit down to talks with Argentina about the issue.