On Tuesday, 12 April, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travelled to New Haven, Connecticut, to give the keynote address at the opening session of the eighth Global Colloquium of University Presidents, which was hosted by Yale University. The Colloquium this year focused on the theme of “Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Strategies”.
The Colloquium is convened by the presidents of its six sponsoring institutions — Brown, Columbia, New York, Princeton and Yale universities and the University of Pennsylvania — on behalf of and with the support and participation of the Secretary-General.
After arriving in New Haven and meeting with Yale President Peter Salovey, the Secretary-General had a brief tour of the art museum at Yale and then delivered the keynote address at the Global Colloquium.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General put the preservation of culture into a geopolitical context to show why the United Nations believes it is essential to its mission of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. (See Press Release SG/SM/17664.)
He said that cultural diversity, like biodiversity, plays a quantifiable and crucial part in the health of the human species. An attack on cultural heritage in one part of the world is an attack on us all. But, cultural diversity is under grave threat around the globe, he noted, including through such recent outrageous acts as the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, the monuments of Palmyra and the mosques and cultural artefacts of northern Mali.
Such destruction, the Secretary-General said, is part of a ruthless wave of cultural and ethnic cleansing, inseparable from the persecution of the communities that created these cultural gems. In our response, we must be even more determined to safeguard and preserve culture than the extremists are to destroy it, he said. The Secretary-General discussed the efforts of the United Nations system, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to protect cultural heritage, including in Palmyra and Timbuktu.
His remarks were briefly interrupted by protesters who unfurled a banner asking for Yale to divest from companies that contribute to climate change. He told the protesters that he was aware of the progress that Yale has made on that issue, saying that the university was “leading by example”. He noted in his speech that he had been urging pension funds, insurance companies and others to start decarbonizing their portfolios and shifting towards greener investments. Yale, he added, has shown great leadership in this area.
In a question-and-answer session following his remarks, the Secretary-General expressed his appreciation of the activism espoused by the protesters, saying: “I appreciate some of the students who stood up with the banners.” He said that, in order to implement action against climate change and in support of sustainable development, “sometimes you need activism”.
The Secretary-General then met with Zhang Rong, President of China’s Shandong University, one of the university heads attending the Colloquium. Mr. Zhang informed the Secretary-General of the work being done at Shandong University, including in support of the values of the United Nations, and told him that, in October, the university would host the Shandong Forum, which would bring other educational institutions in the region to discuss East Asian issues. He invited the Secretary-General to come to Shandong University and the Secretary-General thanked him for that invitation.
On the following day, 13 April, the Secretary-General returned to New York.