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Impactful Quotes From 10 Notable U.N. Speeches

The United Nations has become culturally synonymous with peacemaking and problem-solving. Indeed, the global intergovernmental organization was founded to promote international collaboration, and to maintain peace and security in the aftermath of World War II. Initially proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United Nations formally came into existence on October 24, 1945.

One of the most notable aspects of the U.N.'s work is the wide array of speeches delivered at its conferences by world leaders, diplomats, and notable public figures. These speeches are often used as a platform for addressing critical social and political issues, advocating for international cooperation, and shaping global policy.

While many U.N. speeches have been made outside of the limelight, some have become forever ingrained in the public consciousness — John F. Kennedy's call for disarmament during the Cold War, Nelson Mandela's address on the end of apartheid, and Malala Yousafzai's impassioned plea for girls' education among them.

These quotes from memorable U.N. speeches highlight the organization’s commitment to working toward a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world by providing a platform for discourse and action on the global stage.

I’m only a child, and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize: neither do you … You can’t bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki

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In 1992, 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki — daughter of famed Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki — became “the girl who silenced the world for five minutes.”

In her U.N. speech at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, she made a heartfelt plea for world leaders to address pressing environmental issues, particularly climate change and deforestation. It remains a powerful reminder of the importance of young voices in global discussions about the environment.

If we discriminate on the basis of race or tribe or ethnicity, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray. The world is too small, we are too packed together, for us to be able to resort to those old ways of thinking.
Barack Obama

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In his final speech as President to the United Nations General Assembly in 2016, Barack Obama emphasized the United States' role as a leader in addressing complex global problems such as extremism, the refugee crisis, and climate change.

He highlighted the need for diplomacy and multilateral efforts to achieve peace and stability, emphasizing that no one nation can solve these issues alone.

It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. May we empower each other to carry out such vision, because it isn’t enough to simply talk about equality: One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to simply believe in it: One must work at it.
Meghan Markle

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Before beginning her life as a royal, Meghan Markle served as a U.N. Women advocate. In a speech given on International Women's Day in 2015, she powerfully spoke on the importance of gender equality.

Markle shared a story of campaigning for women’s equality at just 11 years old, when she wrote a letter to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton denouncing sexism in advertising.

We are all moved by the fact that freedom is indivisible, convinced that the denial of the rights of one diminishes the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela

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In his historic 1990 address to the U.N., Nelson Mandela expressed gratitude for the international community’s support in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.

His speech outlined his commitment to reconciliation and forgiveness, emphasizing the need for unity among South Africans. It also underlined his dedication to peace, justice, and equality. Four years later, Mandela became the President of South Africa.

Mankind must put an end to war — or war will put an end to mankind.
John F. Kennedy

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John F. Kennedy's 1961 U.N. speech called for peace at the height of the Cold War. The President proposed a plan for the global disarmament of nuclear weapons to reduce the threat of nuclear war, a central focus of his time in office.

Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.
Malala Yousafzai

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On her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai delivered a U.N. speech advocating for girls' education and emphasizing the importance of providing equal educational opportunities to all children, regardless of gender.

The 2013 speech established Yousafzai as a prominent voice for children's rights and education and as a leading activist for worldwide gender equality and access to schooling.

We, the leaders, must deliver for we, the peoples.
António Guterres

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U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres made a powerful statement when, at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, he reminded world leaders of their role and responsibilities to the general population — as well as how and why they had been given their positions in the first place.

Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.
Greta Thunberg

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In 2019, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg became a household name after delivering a passionate call to action at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

Just 16 years old at the time, Thunberg chastised world leaders for their inaction regarding the climate crisis and urged them to take immediate and drastic measures to combat it. Her speech captured global attention and helped mobilize youth-led climate activism worldwide, cementing her as a prominent figure in the climate movement.

Let us reassert the freedom of people from every faith and culture to meet, and mingle, and to exchange ideas and knowledge, in mutual respect and tolerance — to their mutual benefit and the benefit of all mankind.
Kofi Annan

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Kofi Annan served as the U.N. secretary-general from 1997 to 2006. In a speech following the 9/11 attacks against the U.S., he addressed the global response to terrorism and the need for a collective effort to combat it.

Annan called for a comprehensive approach that would address the root causes of terrorist actions while promoting human rights and equality. The speech itself reflected Annan's dedication to international peace and security.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals.
Emma Watson

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In 2014, actress Emma Watson helped launch the U.N.’s HeForShe campaign for gender equality. In her speech, she emphasized the importance of engaging men and boys as allies in the movement’s efforts to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

Watson’s role as a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador has demonstrated the actress’s commitment to using her platform to advocate for important social causes.

Featured image credit: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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