USG Cristina Gallach’s Statement to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address the Special Political and Decolonization Committee as it takes up the agenda item, “Questions relating to information”.  

Mr. Chairman, let me at the outset join the many delegations and Secretariat representatives who have congratulated you on your election to the leadership of this Committee. We look forward to an engaged and meaningful discussion related to the Department of Public Information (DPI) under your guidance.

This is my first time appearing before the Committee since my appointment as Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information. In the eight months that I have been in the post, I have been inspired and encouraged by the incredible dedication of DPI staff members around the world who work tirelessly to share information about the United Nations to a global audience.  I am also gladdened by the steadfast partnership and cooperation of Member States, without which we could not accomplish our goal of informing people around the world about what the United Nations does to meet global challenges every day.

The Report of the Secretary-General on Questions Relating to Information (A/70/220), now under your consideration, provides a broad overview of activities undertaken by the UN Department of Public Information during the past six months.  I would like to update you today on our most recent efforts, and I look forward to taking part in an interactive dialogue with you to respond to your questions and comments, and to provide additional information on specific areas.


Before we begin, I would like to underline that our efforts have been guided by the strong support we have received from Member States.  We are particularly proud of our relationship with members of the Committee on Information and its Bureau, led by Ambassador Kaha Imnadze, Chairperson of the Committee.  Members of the Committee on Information are dedicated to ensuring that DPI is equipped to reach as many people as possible and they have shown support and provided guidance for numerous DPI programmes and activities.  On behalf of the Department and our staff, I would like to thank the Committee on Information for its positive contribution and express our appreciation for its continued support.


Mr. Chairman,


The General Assembly has consistently stressed “that the primary mission of the Department of Public Information is to provide, through its outreach activities, accurate, impartial, comprehensive, balanced, timely, relevant and multilingual information to the public on the tasks and responsibilities of the United Nations in order to strengthen international support for the activities of the Organization with the greatest transparency.” Participation and a sense of ownership are vital to this support and to this transparency and I think I can say with confidence that these have been demonstrated on an unprecedented scale over the course of this year by Member States and the global public they represent.


This year the Department has worked actively to fulfil those goals and to have an impact by making the UN’s presence felt around the world. We did this by taking the lead from Member States and your priorities, planning and coordinating UN system communications, and working with myriad partners to amplify and multiply UN messages on key issues. Through these efforts, the Department ensured that the UN was seen and heard at the heart of global public debates, on topics ranging from sustainable development, to peace and security, to human rights and UN70.


Just a few weeks ago we saw the largest gathering of heads of State in UN history for the seventieth session of the annual general debate of the General Assembly.  This was an historic moment not only as it marked seven decades of the international convening of nations, but also for the unanimous adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was an opportunity seized by Member States to tackle the many pressing issues we must deal with to create a more equitable, prosperous and sustainable world.


The Department of Public Information took full advantage of the global attention focused on the UN at this time to highlight the priorities of the international community and the UN’s unique role in advancing solutions to our shared challenges.  We deployed the full array of media tools at our disposal – both new and traditional. We further energized and expanded our pool of outreach partners, helping us to successfully connect and engage audiences worldwide.


The Department redoubled efforts to increase the Organization’s reach to the global audience during the Sustainable Development Summit and the High Level week of the 70th session of the General Assembly, which included a Papal visit, with collaborations across languages, multimedia platforms and with agencies, funds, programmes and offices in the field resulting in unprecedented impact. In short, we broke records in visibility and engagement, from the number of journalists accredited – some 5,000 – to cover the meetings to a 71 per cent increase in overall website traffic during the high-level period.


On social media, records were also broken in regions where the traditional platforms do not always reach. All language units reported huge spikes in their statistics. For example, a specially created hashtag in Chinese for #Action2015 (#行动2015#) received 130 million views and more than 63,000 comments.


During the General Assembly and Sustainable Development Summit, social media was essential to telling the UN’s story. Using new live mobile video apps, the UN was able to broadcast live when visually stunning large-scale UN70 and Sustainable Development Goals projections were displayed on the façade of the UN Headquarters complex.  These projections were produced in cooperation with Project Everyone and other partners. All of these special social media projects, which featured comments from fans and followers, were on display on screens inside the building, bringing global voices into these very halls and raising awareness about the Goals.


We continue to adapt our strategies on all major social media platforms and to build on them going forward, including experimenting with a new Snapchat account, a new social media outlet for interacting with young people in particular. A partnership with Snapchat for the International Day of Peace, showcasing messages from around the world, was seen by at least 9 million people, a large portion of whom were under the age of 24.


Mr. Chairman,


As part of the lead-up to the high-level period, the Department spearheaded the 2015: Time for Global Action campaign to accelerate actions on sustainable development and climate change as a priority for the UN system.  During the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in July, and the Sustainable Development Summit in September, DPI deployed a full range of tools, and in multiple languages, to ensure that the events taking place reached as wide an audience as possible. The support included the drafting of press kits and press releases, the organizing of roundtables and press briefings, the facilitating of media accreditation, the creation of multimedia stories, and the posting of social media content and other digital products.


The Department continued its efforts to make better strategic use of Information Centres and organized live briefings on key UN issues via WebEx, a web-based video conferencing tool. This was done to strengthen day-to-day coordination with Headquarters, to boost cooperation among UNICs and to support stronger communication to media globally on a variety of priority issues. Ahead of the Sustainable Development Summit, senior UN officials and experts briefed approximately 270 participants from all regions in English, French, Russian and Spanish. These sessions prepared our colleagues to better promote the Summit and also strengthened their communication capacity and role with the UN Country Teams to be able to promote the implementation of the Goals.


Taking advantage of visits by UN high-ranking officials, UNICs reached out to regional partners to amplify key messages by organizing town hall meetings attended by civil society, the academic community and UN Country Team representatives. These town hall meetings focused on such issues as sustainable development and the rights of persons with disabilities, and included one held through UNIC Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago with Ms. Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, and participants from six countries in the region.


Yet our work on the Sustainable Development Goals is only just beginning.  Their universal adoption has placed on us a great responsibility over the next 15 years for raising awareness, and, through that, inspiring action. The more the agenda is known, the more governments and international organizations will be held accountable to advance on implementation.


Looking ahead, a new communications strategy is being developed that will highlight the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals at the close of this year, and the implementation of the SDGs in 2016 and beyond. The Department will continue to carry out its successful media outreach and public engagement, at Headquarters and also at local and regional levels, through rich content and collaborations with our 63 UNICs, as well as with regional commissions, peace operations and civil society partners such as non-governmental organizations. Universities are also a key partner. Many of the more than 1,000 member institutions of the UN Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative have already actively promoted Goals through panel discussions, conferences and other public events.


The Department will apply its strategic approach to its work on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties in Paris later this year. Our efforts will evolve across three key phases: the lead-up to Paris, the Conference itself, and the crucial work of explaining the Conference’s outcomes. The links between climate change and the sustainable development agenda will be an important focus throughout.


Mr. Chairman,


To celebrate the organization’s 70th anniversary, the United Nations, along with nearly 85 Member States, participated in “Turn the World UN Blue” – in which more than 350 monuments and landmarks were lit up UN blue this past Saturday, 24 October.  Without the commitment, support and participation of Member States, this truly global event would not have been possible. It provided a very local and visual reminder of the role that the United Nations plays in the lives of people all over the world. The multilingual social media campaign around the hashtag #UNBlue reached 290 million accounts on such platforms as Weibo, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Flickr. UN Blue was also widely covered by traditional media outlets worldwide, with many television broadcasters, newspapers and websites taking content from UNifeed and UN Photo.


The Department, including UN Information Centers as well as UN Regional Commissions and Offices, mobilized to raise public awareness of UN70 through numerous activities. They ranged from sports events to social media campaigns to exhibitions, open houses and street festivals in order to galvanize the public and partners on this milestone anniversary. These myriad events, created in close partnerships with Member States, served to highlight the Organization’s work on development, peace and security and human rights. They also highlight the current challenges that we face in building a better world.


Indeed, the 70th anniversary has provided a timely opportunity to advance communications activities and outreach in many other areas.  For example, to mark the anniversary, the Department created a new printed edition of the UN Charter in all six official languages and in six engaging colours. The Library has prepared an online exhibit entitled 70 Years, 70 Documents which is an exploration of 70 key documents that have shaped the United Nations and our world.


The latest issue of UN Chronicle celebrated the 70th anniversary, with eminent contributors, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his three immediate predecessors. They highlighted key moments and achievements, challenges and obstacles over the past 70 years.  The magazine was translated into all official UN languages for the first time since 1992.


For the annual UN Day Concert, held here last Friday, the Korean Broadcasting System Traditional Music Orchestra performed a global selection of music with special guests Lang Lang, Davichi, the Harlem Gospel Choir and Kim Hae-sook. We extend our sincere thanks to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea and to KBS for helping make this concert possible.


A UN70 airport banner campaign that greeted delegates as they arrived in New York for the high-level period is expected to reach more than three million airline passengers alone. Advertisements for UN70 and the SDGs, placed on New York-area ferries, taxis, hockey arenas and baseball stadiums, are also likely to reach 6.3 million people.


The Department also created original content for the 70th anniversary, engaging the public with visually arresting short films about the history and the daily work of the Organization. This includes Fanfare for All Peoples, which was shown for the first time to world leaders in the General Assembly Hall, and a series of videos called I am 70 in which people from around the world who are also 70 this year talk about the UN’s importance in their lives.


In this regard, I am pleased to invite you to visit a photo exhibition, The United Nations at 70: Moments and Milestones, which is on display in the Visitors Lobby through the end of November. The photos capture key moments and personalities in the history of the Organization and I hope, if you have not had the opportunity to do so already, that you find time to view them. A book of the exhibition has been published, and a special launch event will take place on the evening of 4 November.


I would like to take this opportunity to express my utmost gratitude to the Government of the Sultanate of Oman, which answered the call to support the Department in our efforts to digitize and preserve the United Nations audiovisual archives for future generations. Their generous contribution of $4.5 million should help us to reach this goal.


In ensuring that the historic work of the Organization is preserved for future generations, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, or DHL, together with the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) and the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), continue to make progress in digitizing important print documents prior to 1993. As of now, most Security Council documents have been digitized and work is continuing on General Assembly documents.  However, much more is needed and the Department has been working to raise the necessary funds to digitize its priceless collection and make it more accessible.


Mr. Chairman,


Our partnerships with Member States find expression in many forms. In the area of peace and security, the Department promoted the Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping held on 28 September. We have worked subsequently with many troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries and their media to raise awareness of the summit’s outcomes among their publics.


Earlier this month, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, DPI worked closely with UN Women and the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations to highlight to the media the Council’s open debate on the issue and the release of a global study on the implementation of the resolution. That promotion included the creation of a short film, shared with peacekeeping missions and UN Information Centres and posted on social media and the UN website. It illustrates both the progress made since the resolution was adopted in 2000 and the areas where gaps remain. DPI’s multi-pronged effort resulted in extensive global reporting on the issue of women as peacemakers and peacebuilders.


Working in close collaboration with Member States from the Caribbean Community and the African Union, the Department’s Remember Slavery Programme continues to illustrate the strong leadership role of women in the struggle for human rights and equality. For example, the panel discussion and screening last week of Queen Nanny, a documentary on a Jamaican national heroine, highlighted the importance of recognizing the contributions and potential of women.


Educational outreach on the Holocaust and genocide prevention continued and a new publication in the Programme’s Discussion Papers series is being finalized and will include papers from experts in seven countries.  Preparations are under way for an event marking Kristallnacht next month on the theme of “Faith, Identity and the Promotion of Peace in the Aftermath of Genocide.”


As part of the Department’s support, in concert with the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), for Africa Week earlier this month, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library made its services and content related to Africa available to Member States.


This is part of a broader effort by the Library to make continuous improvements to serve the needs of Member States and others.  Listening to what Delegates want and need, the Library has expanded and customized services for you.  Research facilities include up-to-the-minute political analysis, media sources and e-books – all online and free for delegations to use.  Professional information specialists are available to guide research. Service is fast – the new one-stop service desk will respond within an hour to any query.


The Department has also been active in UN-wide efforts to address the recent spike in violence and tensions in the Middle East conflict and to promote dialogue. In one example, DPI disseminated the Secretary-General’s video message to Israelis and Palestinians last week through multilingual news platforms and via outreach to targeted journalists. For more than 20 years, the Department has worked to develop Palestinian media capacity by organizing an annual training programme for young Palestinian journalists, with the latest group beginning their course at UN Headquarters next month. More than 160 such journalists have been trained so far and we are taking steps to help them create an alumni association, which could become a great networking resource for the UN as well as an effective partner for peace in the region. The Department intends to use online tools and platforms to host virtual meetings and online discussions among former trainees based in the West Bank, Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.


In an effort to address region-specific issues, the Department also brought together UNIC staff from the Middle East-North Africa region for a meeting and training session organized by UNIC Cairo in early September. The main purposes included exploring the rapidly expanding possibilities of engaging new – and primarily young – audiences on UN issues via social media. They included establishing a better network and increased cooperation among Arabic-speaking UNICs with a view to a faster and more comprehensive delivery of UN information in Arabic and to avoid duplication. They also included gradually cross-feeding information with the UN Country Teams in the region, with a particular focus on the Sustainable Development Goals.


The Department continues to seek ways to bring our information products to a wider, multilingual audience. This year, working in partnership with UNAI member Shanghai International Studies University, we were able to publish a Chinese-language edition of the UN handbook, Basic Facts about the United Nations. It is now available online at the UN website and will soon be printed and distributed, thanks to a contribution from the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations. As part of the ongoing UN70 campaign, the UN Information Centre in Moscow has created a Russian edition of Basic Facts, now available on the UNIC’s website, and our colleagues at the UNIC Islamabad are hard at work on the first-ever Urdu version.


Indeed, UNAI continues to strengthen the Organization’s engagement with and outreach to the academic and research communities and university students.  This coming Friday, for example, the 2nd annual J. Michael Adams Lecture and Conversation Series to promote global citizenship will be held here at UN Headquarters. In early 2016, DPI is planning a conference entitled Unlearning Intolerance: Inclusive Societies key to ending Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia and all forms of bigotry. It will also continue its series of conferences and presentations entitled START: Skills and Technology Advancing Rapid Transformation, which looks at how research and technology can contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.


The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, is continuing efforts to highlight the critical importance of addressing the development needs and rights of young people. His office, located in DPI, together with the Office of the President of the General Assembly and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, organized in May the High Level Event of the General Assembly to mark the 20th Anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth to highlight Youth Priorities in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Envoy also recently announced the Global Youth Partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals, which will launch a virtual ‘Youth Gateway’, an innovative online platform inviting young people worldwide to contribute to the achievement of the Goals by taking actions. This will serve as a centralized youth hub for awareness-raising and engagement on issues and themes around global development.


Over the past few months, greater attention has been given to working with young people in conflict-affected and post-conflict areas, and to amplifying and reinforcing the voices of youth as a way to tackle extremism and to promote a culture of mutual respect and tolerance. The Envoy’s office co-organized the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security which took place in August in Amman, Jordan. The Forum’s outcome is helping to contribute to a shift in the narrative on how young people are viewed. In the same spirit, the Youth Envoy undertook missions to Nairobi in July to discuss the development of a national youth policy for Somalia, and also to Palestine, the Philippines and Tunisia to meet with young people in conflict-affected areas.


We have also engaged with youth in other ways. On the International Day of Peace last month, a videoconference offered more than 700 young people a platform to present their ideas and projects on building a culture of peace. Support for Model United Nations programmes continued in different parts of the world and in November the Department will conduct a Model UN workshop for students and teachers.


And our efforts to engage people extend to UN staff as well. Ten years after its introduction, the UN Intranet, iSeek, increasingly serves as a powerful internal communication tool to keep staff informed and engaged.  After its migration to an up-to-date and robust platform, the new design answers the needs of staff that were identified through surveys and focus groups, including that the Intranet be accessed remotely and from mobile devices.  This is part of a continuous evolution of the Intranet as it integrates more departments and duty stations on to a single platform.


Mr. Chairman,


This continues to be a momentous year for the United Nations, with opportunities to celebrate 70 years of an organization dedicated to peace, security, development, equality and justice.  It provides a call to action for the UN to continue to evolve in its mission to be an organization of the people, for the people and by the people in whose name it was established.   To this end, the Department of Public of Information continues to use innovative means to reach as wide an audience as possible to engage, inform and galvanize global citizens to action.  We have many challenges ahead of us and the entire DPI team is committed to empowering people through information to make a stronger UN and a better world.  In this mission, we have a range of dedicated partners and, among them, no allies more secure than the governments you represent and whose national, as much as international, cause we seek to advance.


Thank you.