Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Leadership Matters – Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the Contemporary World, in New York on 24 September:
It is a great pleasure and a great honour to be here to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the giants of the 20th century, a global icon of peace and an advocate for the most vulnerable. I thank Prime Minister Modi and the Indian mission for convening this meeting.
Gandhiji’s vision and philosophy are pillars of the work of the United Nations.
Part of his genius lay in his ability to see the inter-connectedness and the unity between all things. His political achievements included leading the movement that ended colonial rule in India, using peace, love and integrity to prevail. But his vision went far beyond politics to encompass human rights and sustainable development.
Gandhi promoted non-violence not just as a philosophy and a political strategy, but as a means to achieve justice and change. Indeed, many of his ideas foreshadow the holistic thinking behind the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
To take just one example: Gandhi understood the importance of advocacy and action around the issue of sanitation and led campaigns for clean drinking water and hygienic facilities when this issue was still deeply taboo.
Gandhi’s efforts on behalf of people of lower caste and those considered “untouchables”, whom he renamed “Harijan” or “Children of God”, should inspire us in our efforts to leave no one behind, and to help those farthest behind first.
Gandhi looked at the world from the point of view of the lowliest and the most humble – but is acknowledged as one of the greatest leaders of all time. His values truly transcend borders.
We have issued our own United Nations stamp to commemorate this occasion, but we are in the company of more than 100 countries that have issued or are planning to issue stamps to honour this global leader.
Gandhi’s enduring legacy is his continued relevance to our thinking and action on a broad sweep of issues, from protecting the environment to promoting justice, from education to inequality. His teaching remains fresh and thought-provoking, including his emphasis on the importance of facing up to the truth with courage.
Perhaps Gandhi’s most important legacy was in creating a culture of peace, in proving the effectiveness of non-violent non-cooperation, and drawing the world’s attention to the gap between what we do, and what we are capable of doing.
Gandhi’s ideas drive the work of the United Nations for equality, empowerment and global citizenship every day.
I know they also drive the thinking of many global leaders. I commend those who have decided to pay tribute to Gandhi’s legacy by marking this anniversary with a project connected to one of the Sustainable Development Goals – a fitting way to honour this most action-oriented leader.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of India for supporting the elimination of single-use plastic at the United Nations, and the installation of solar panels and a green roof on top of the Conference Building.
I wish you all a successful and inspiring meeting and the capacity to fully understand and make living in our hearts the thinking and teaching of Gandhi.