Passing an honour guard and welcomed with applause from staff, former Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon took over formally as United Nations Secretary-General today with a call for collective action to address a host of international crises from Sudan’s Darfur conflict to the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea.
Mr. Ban, who succeeded Kofi Annan to become the eighth UN Secretary-General as the New Year came in on 1 January, smiled broadly as he entered the towering landmark building housing UN Headquarters on New York’s East River, where he paid tribute at the memorial for UN personnel who have fallen in the line of duty.
“I am very much overwhelmed by all this warm welcome,” he told a crowd of reporters. “Your presence this morning is a vivid proof that the United Nations is much alive in the front line addressing all the challenges and issues and trying to give hope to all the people around the world,” he said.
“I start my day as Secretary-General of the United Nations with much expectations and hope and promise and I need your strong support. I start my duty at a daunting time in international affairs starting from Darfur to Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, many other crises that trouble our world,” he added, stressing that these issues need to be addressed collectively.
Answering questions, Mr. Ban said he would immediately turn his attention to the issue of Darfur more than three years of fighting between Sudanese Government forces, allied militias and rebel groups seeking greater autonomy have left more than 200,000 people dead and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes.
Asked about North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, he said that in his former position he had been deeply involved personally and as Secretary-General he will first try to facilitate the smooth progress of the six-party talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States seeking a solution.
Asked about the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ban said the issue of the death penalty was a question for each country to decide.
“Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against the Iraqi people,” he noted. “We should never forget the victims of his crimes. The issue of capital punishment is for each and every Member State to decide.
“As a Secretary-General, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that the members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws. During my entire tenure, I will try my best to help Member States, the international community, to strengthen the rule of law.”