8 September 2009
80th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the Palais des Nations
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a particular privilege and pleasure to welcome you to the Palais des Nations for this remarkable exhibition about the Palais des Nations to mark the 80th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone.
Allow me, first of all, to thank the University of Geneva for lending us the scale models. I should also like to express my deep appreciation to our staff at the UNOG Library who have organized this tribute to the Palais des Nations. This display testifies not only to the treasures that are in our archives, but also to the expertise of our staff in putting our material to the best use.
For the 53 Members of the League that were present at the ceremony in September 1929, it signified the laying of the foundation of a new multilateralism. The grandeur of this building reflects the high hopes that were invested in the League of Nations and in multilateral action. The Palais des Nations was built as a recognition that no country in isolation can effectively confront the challenges before us.
Our world may have developed almost beyond recognition over the past 80 years.
But, the principles and values enshrined in this building – non-use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, disarmament, collective security, rule of law and mutual respect – became the basis for the development of the multilateral system after World War II. And the need for multilateral cooperation continues to grow.
Last week, we also marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. This was the war that the League of Nations was created to prevent – and it failed. The United Nations was born out of the ashes of that war, building on the lessons learned from the League. These two anniversaries, so close together, are a poignant reminder both of the unique potential of multilateralism and of the need to nurture it to enable to fulfil this potential.
The Member States and the architects that conceived the Palais des Nations were building for peace. And they were building for posterity. The Palais des Nations remains one of the busiest multilateral conference centres with close to 9,000 meetings every year. With care and devotion from our maintenance experts, the Palais and its grounds have been kept well, with limited resources, and we thank them for these efforts. But, with age and very active use, the building is slowly, but surely, losing its functionality. In the longer-term, the collective heritage that this building represents for the entire international community is at stake.
This is why we are working with all Member States for the implementation of a Strategic Heritage Plan for the renovation and refurbishment of the Palais des Nations.
We are grateful for the commitment expressed through the Group of Friends of the Palais des Nations, which is open to all Member States. This building belongs to the whole membership.
Geneva was chosen as the League of Nations headquarters as a reflection of the city’s tradition of international diplomacy. Today is also an opportunity to thank our Host Country representatives – at all levels – for their active contributions to the United Nations and to multilateralism. We greatly appreciate your commitment to safeguarding this building, which was most recently demonstrated by the generous donation towards the first phase of the Strategic Heritage Plan. It is very appropriate that our Host Country, which made this building possible through the donation of Ariana Park, also set us on the path towards its long-term protection.
The Palais des Nations embodies the origins and mission of the United Nations as the world’s indispensable global platform for action. This building is testimony to the enduring value of multilateralism as the most effective and legitimate way of tackling today’s complex challenges. The Palais des Nations ties together the lessons of history, the efforts of today and our vision for a better tomorrow. It is our shared heritage, and it is our collective responsibility to preserve it.
Thank you very much.