Skip to main content

In World Beset with Divisions, Crises, Secretary-General Stresses Need to Reaffirm Primacy of Peace, Justice, Cooperation, Upon Receiving Carlos V European Award

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remark to the Carlos V European Award, in Yuste Monastery in Spain, today:

I would like first of all to thank His Majesty King Felipe VI and the Spanish Government for their warm welcome.  I also want to give thanks to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister António Costa for their presence here, also to the High Representative Josep Borrell and to President Guillermo Fernández Vara for his words of welcome.  And I wish to congratulate the Orquesta de Extremadura string quartet and soprano Mar Morán for the superb performance we have just had the pleasure of hearing.

Your Majesty, with your permission, I’ll speak in “Portuñol”. “Portuñol” isn’t an Iberian language because it has no grammar, but I hope you’ll understand me.

I am deeply moved.  It is a great honour to stand before you today to receive the Carlos V European Award. Naturally, I am well aware that this award is not for me alone.  I am receiving it also on behalf of the entire United Nations, and for that reason I feel even prouder.

I must admit that the Yuste Monastery brings back precious memories for me.  This is not the first time I have had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful region and this very special place.  Almost three decades ago, when I was elected Prime Minister of my country, my wife and I stayed for a few days in the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe after an exhausting electoral campaign.  That is when I got to know about Yuste, the last resting place of Carlos V, and I was deeply moved by it.

Firstly, because this is the place to which one of the most powerful men of his time — if not the most powerful — retired with humility.  Someone who left his mark across continents and oceans.  His abdication, ending his life in such an austere monastery, is an admirable lesson for many politicians of our time who stay and stay even after their expiration date.

Secondly, because I discovered the love that Carlos V felt for his wife, Isabel of Portugal.  She had passed away almost 20 years before he retired to this peaceful place. But we know that he remained devoted to her until his last day.

I am still moved when I remember, when I saw it again yesterday, the portrait of Isabel, half hidden behind a black curtain in the apartments of Carlos V.  A magnificent painting of a queen who is looking at her husband from a distance with a mixture of pride, serenity and affection.

Carlos V was not only an emperor but also a man — a man of contrasts.  Someone who represented, as few people could, both the progress as well as the challenges and constraints of his era.

His reign contributed to the emergence of globalization, thanks in part to the first circumnavigation of the globe which, as you know, served to demonstrate that the Earth is a sphere.  That circumnavigation was initially led by a compatriot of mine, Ferdinand Magellan, but was completed by a Spaniard, Juan Sebastián Elcano.

We have just celebrated the 500th anniversary of that event.  And since commemoration means bringing the past into the present, taking stock and seeing how we are faring, what better occasion to reflect on how much our planet has changed since then.

Being in Yuste, one is tempted to imagine that sort of discussion with Carlos V, although it would be difficult to know where to begin. Five centuries later, how would one go about explaining how our world has changed?  No doubt he would be fascinated to see how Europe has changed, the union that has been achieved despite centuries of conflict.  To see that today, on this continent and beyond, former enemies are now partners in trade, leadership and progress.

But he would probably also be surprised to know that, today, those values are still being put to the test.  That war is not a thing of the past.  That divisions remain and are even growing.  That we are burning down our only home.  That families are being forced to flee — from war or extreme climate events — on a scale we have not seen in decades.  That hunger and poverty are still with us.  Yes, some things are difficult to explain — and even more difficult to excuse — to someone that lived more than 500 years ago.

As we consider the complex legacy of Carlos V and the global nature of his empire, we can find inspiration to rediscover the universal values, principles and ideas that unite us as a human family.  The values of human dignity and freedom so cherished by Francisco de Vitoria.  The values of equality promoted by Bartolomé de las Casas.  The principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Never since the creation of the United Nations and the European Union have these values been so threatened.  Therefore, we must raise our voices today and reaffirm those values.  And above all, we need peace.  The United Nations, as well as the European Union, were created in the name of peace, after the horror of two world wars.  Peace remains our North Star and our most precious goal.

Yet the struggle for peace may seem at times like a Sisyphean task.  We live in a world today in which peace is elusive and fragile.  Violence is rampant in too many corners of the globe.  The Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, which is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, is causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people and comes on top of the worldwide economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wars and humanitarian crises are spreading, sometimes before our very eyes, but often far from the spotlight.  They are more complex and interconnected, and their impact is growing by the day.  Entire regions such as the Middle East and the Sahel are being ravaged by protracted conflicts that seem to have no end in sight.  The situation often deteriorates dramatically overnight, the situation in the Sudan being the most recent sad example.

Peace must never be underestimated or taken for granted.  We must work to make peace and to keep it, every day, tirelessly.  In a world that is tearing itself apart, we must heal divisions, prevent escalation and listen to grievances.  Instead of bullets, we need diplomatic arsenals.

This is what is set out in the Charter of the United Nations: negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration — we must try everything to settle our disputes by peaceful means.  Of course, there will be lasting peace only if we achieve the full participation and leadership of women at the decision-making table.

Now is the time to reaffirm the primacy of peace.  Peace among people and peace with nature.  Because the war we are waging against our planet is putting humanity’s very survival in danger.  Climate chaos is unleashing fires, floods, drought, like here in Spain, and other extreme weather events on every continent.  Each year these events are uprooting millions of people who often have to seek refuge in countries and communities that are equally vulnerable.

We know that this exacerbates tensions and ignites conflicts. Taking action for our planet is taking action for peace.  And by the same token, reducing emissions, protecting our environment and helping affected communities is taking action for justice.

For peace to be sustainable, it must be based on respect for and protection of human rights as a whole.  Even as we celebrate this year the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people’s rights and freedoms — civil and political, cultural, economic and social — are also being eroded.  Democratic principles and the rule of law are too often being attacked and undermined.  Hate speech, the polarization, racism and xenophobia are spreading at the speed of a mouse click.

We must look back and learn from our past.  With new dangers looming on the horizon each day, the struggle for these rights is now more crucial than ever.  Now is the time to demand the rights to life, liberty, security and freedom of speech and the right to seek asylum, among others.  These rights are inherent to human life.  They must be at the centre of all that we do.

In the face of rising xenophobia, racism and extremism, we must defend our common humanity.  We must reject hate speech, which exploits differences and undermines social cohesion. We must protect and promote the Universal Declaration, stand united and move towards a new era of respect for the human rights of all people.

The time has also come to put equality at the centre of our work. Equality among communities.  Equality of citizens.  Gender equality.  The COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery from it have exposed the shocking divides that exist in our world.  Far from waning, many injustices are increasing.  The accumulation of wealth borders on the obscene.

Since 2020, nearly two thirds of the new wealth created worldwide has gone to 1 per cent of the population.  And 26 individuals have the same wealth as half the world’s population.  Meanwhile, many are being left behind.  The cost-of-living crisis is pushing millions of people into poverty.  Economic growth must serve to improve the general social welfare and build more egalitarian societies.

 We urgently need to build a new social contract based on social justice.  A social contract that enables young people to live with dignity; a social contract that ensures that women have the same prospects and opportunities as men; and a social contract that protects the destitute, the vulnerable and all minorities.

But this is not possible in many vulnerable countries.  The gap between developed and developing countries, between the North and the South, is widening at times, driven by a profoundly unjust and dysfunctional international financial system.  The poorest countries are drowning in debt, while the richest have been able to invest in a strong economic recovery post-COVID.

There is a risk that this economic and social divide will lead to political fractures.  This injustice is a threat to peace, both locally and globally.  Once again, there is an urgent need to rebuild trust, based on justice and solidarity.

These values are — in essence — universal values.  They are not the prerogative of any country or region. They are also inseparable:  there can be no sustainable peace without solidarity. There is no social cohesion without human rights; there is no justice without equality.

All of us, collectively, are guarantors of this.  Today more than ever, in our divided world, building bridges is the only option.  We must work together to build sustainable, inclusive societies and economies, based on human rights and dignity.  This is what continues to motivate the efforts of the United Nations, day in and day out, in each of the countries in which we work.  If we join forces, there is hope.

Hope embodied by those who are campaigning for peace around the world, sometimes risking their lives, calling for change and holding their leaders accountable.  Hope embodied by young people, who are working day in and day out for a better future. Hope embodied by civil society seeking to build communities and countries where justice and equality prevail. And hope embodied by the everyday heroes of humanitarian action, who are striving to deliver vital aid around the world.

I am therefore pleased to say that part of the Award I am being given today will go to a scholarship for students who are studying issues of migration, refugees and human rights.  We need more experts in all these areas.  I am also pleased to donate the remaining portion to España con ACNUR (Spain with UNHCR), an organization that has been working tirelessly for refugees for 30 years — I witnessed its dedication when I was High Commissioner.

If you will allow me a personal note, Spain is not the richest country in the world, but in raising funds for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Association that gave the longest contribution was Spain with ACNUR.  More than the United States, than Japan, than Germany, than France than England.  This demonstrates not only the solidarity of the Spanish people, but also the enormous efficiency and dedication of this Association, Spain with UNHCR, which is an example for all of us.

History teaches us that human beings are at their very best in the most difficult times.  The European Union and the United Nations were created during difficult times, with universal values at their core.  Both have lifted millions out of poverty and forged peace in troubled lands.  Now is the time when, once again, we must rise to the occasion.  We need a united and brave Europe.  We must reinvent multilateralism.

To that end, Europe must renew itself in order to remain at the forefront, but it must not give up its identity.  Only a united Europe can meet the enormous challenges of the present and the future.  The world needs a strong, outward-looking Europe, not a Europe that is closed in on itself.

We will not have a multipolar world, we will not have a working multilateralism, without a strong and united Europe.  Let us not forget that Europe is a border and not an island. We need therefore a Europe that relentlessly defends universal values and fundamental rights for all; that contributes fully to a multipolar world, with international relations based on justice, and provides aid to the most vulnerable.

For decades, the European Union has been a symbol of international solidarity and cooperation.  Today, it has a historic responsibility to reaffirm the significance of multilateralism and to work in solidarity with all those who aspire to pursue the same development and well-being and need its support to achieve it.

On this Europe Day, let us reaffirm the ideals of peace, justice and international cooperation.  And together, let us tirelessly defend human dignity and human rights, dialogue and mutual respect.  And let us build a more just, inclusive and dignified world that leaves no one behind.

There are no simple or binary solutions.  What we need are innovative, comprehensive and sustainable solutions.  A Herculean task, to be sure, but Europe and multilateralism have always been an idea in search of a reality.

I thank you once again for this great honour.

For information media. Not an official record.