Ban Ki-moon became the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations to give the annual Oxford University Cyril Foster lecture when he spoke at Examination schools last Wednesday.
He spoke for an hour on the topic of “Human Protection and the 21st Century United Nations” and then answered questions, having flown in to Britain from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa earlier that morning.
He conceded that often “our words are ahead of our deeds” when it came to human protection, but claimed that “momentum is on our side”.
There was a huge demand for seats for the event. By 5pm, and hour before the talk was due to start, a queue already stretched up the High Street past University College. There was an overflow room with a video link, yet even so, by around 5.30pm University officials had to begin turning people away.
Morgan Norris-Grey, a first year PPE student, was one of those who couldn’t get in. “It’s disappointing but understandable,” he said.
Norris-Grey added that he wasn’t surprised that the Examination Schools weren’t large enough to hold everyone. “He’s a fairly important figure so I suppose people came from quite a distance to see him.”
Professor Anne Deighton, the Chair of the Cyril Foster Committee, expressed her sorrow that some were disappointed, saying it was “a great shame that we could not accommodate everyone.”
Towards the end of the lecture, chants from outside could be heard within the chamber. The protestors were acting out of solidarity with the people of Egypt. They denied that they were opposing Ban’s visit, and stated that they in fact wanted to speak to him.
Roland Singer-Kingsmith, a fourth year Pembroke student protestor, said, “Although an audience with or a statement from him might have been ambitious, I’m glad that we were heard in the exam schools at the end of the talk.
“It is important that our leaders continue to hear our demands.”
Inside the Examination Schools, Ban in fact made explicit reference to the rebellion in Egypt, and said that violence against peaceful protestors were “unacceptable”, as he urged “restraint on all sides”.
This echoed what he had said earlier on in the day when he met the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who condemned the violence in Egypt as “despicable”.
Professor Deighton also added “These protests were not about the UN itself, but were urging our leaders to effective responses.”
Ban also talked about the UN’s newest agency, UN Women, speaking of its important role in “the empowerment of women as a crucial protection tool”.
This comes ahead of a day of lobbying planned for Wednesday 16th February at Westminster, in order to ensure proper funding from the UK government.