In the first visit to Lithuania by a United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon on Sunday hailed the country for rising above struggles such as invasion, war and the horrors of the Holocaust and for upholding universal values such as tolerance and mutual understanding.
“The world can see a Lithuania that is building on the best of its history and placing human rights and the rule of law at the centre of its priorities,” Mr. Ban said in an address at Vytautas Magnus University in the city of Kaunas.
Lithuania is the final stop on a trip to the Baltic States that also took the Secretary-General to Latvia and Estonia, and it comes on the eve of his visit tomorrow to the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where he will pay tribute to its victims.
“I believe it is absolutely essential to see the concentration camps, to stand with survivors, and to proclaim our commitment to remembrance of the past and prevention for the future. I will also sound the alarm about intolerance that still plagues us,” he stated.
“We see this poison in the increasingly sectarian dimensions of the conflict in Syria. We see it in the Central African Republic, where a collapse of law and order has led to horrendous attacks and reprisals between communities that have long lived in peace.
“We see it here in Europe, which is still trying to banish age-old anti-Semitism while wrestling with new waves of discrimination against migrants, Muslims and other minorities.”
Young people, Mr. Ban stressed, must take the lead in building a culture of peace and tolerance. “Young people are the leading edge of our new world,” he said, noting that half the world's population is under 25 years of age – the largest generation of young people in history.
“With new information technologies at your fingertips, you can find new ways to link up with like-minded people and support UN causes. The world faces tremendous pressures. But this is also a moment of opportunity. With so much at stake – and even more that we can achieve – we need peoples and nations to come together, with each other and through the United Nations.
“I ask you above all to be global citizens.”
Mr. Ban added that his visit to Lithuania has given him “a window into your country's dynamic engagement on many critical issues facing our world today.”