Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today delivered a wide-ranging report on his recent tour of the world’s crisis points, calling on the United States, China, India and the European Union to show “global leadership of the highest order” in tackling climate change.
“We have no time to lose,” he told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York, noting that crucial climate change negotiations are scheduled for December in Copenhagen to draw up a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “The United States, China, India and the European Union – all must show the way. We must provide for those least able to adapt.”
Giving a point by point account of each of the stops on his itinerary, Mr. Ban voiced encouragement at recent developments in Somalia, expressed pride at the UN’s role in recent largely peaceful provincial elections in Iraq, called for greater regional cooperation in Afghanistan and urged Israel to open all crossings into Gaza.
Devoting a significant part of his introductory remarks to economic matters, he called on the international community not to forget the food crisis stemming from soaring prices and insufficient production, noting that his two weeks of travel began with his attendance at the high-level meeting on Food Security for All in Madrid.
“I call it our forgotten crisis – because it has not gone away,” he said. “Kenya recently warned of a state of food emergency, affecting one quarter of its population – some 25 million people. Kenya is not alone. That is why, with Spanish Prime Minister [Jose Luis] Rodriguez Zapatero, I called on the international community to keep its priorities straight. We called, loudly, for a sharp increase in agricultural assistance to the most vulnerable nations.”
Mr. Ban called for a unified approach to the current economic meltdown, warning against protectionism. “We face a global financial crisis. We therefore need a well-coordinated, synchronized global stimulus package that protects the world’s poor as well as the rich. Piecemeal, nationalist, protectionist policies will only hurt us all,” he said.
Referring to the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, he reiterated his insistence that wealthy nations must not forget their pledges to helping developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the ambitious targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 to slash poverty, hunger, infant and maternal mortality, lack of access to health care and education and a host of other social ills, all by 2015.
“Despite the hard times, we must not waver in our commitment to the world’s poor,” he declared.
Turning to Africa, he said he was encouraged by developments in war-torn Somalia where a new President has been elected as “a direct result of my representative’s efforts.” At the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, he urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to cooperate fully with the UN missions in his country, especially in Darfur where nearly six years of fighting between Government forces and rebels have resulted in at least 300,000 deaths and uprooted 2.7 million people, he added.
He said he had pressed both the Government and rebel forces around the city of Muhajeria to withdraw and to safeguard civilians and both sides have largely complied. “I told everyone I spoke to, bluntly and categorically, that the UN would stand its ground,” he stressed.
He noted a dramatic improvement in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where recent fighting between the Government and various militia groups has uprooted 250,000 people in addition to some 800,000 displaced by previous violence, but said a current ceasefire there was fragile and the UN peacekeeping mission there must be reinforced to consolidate progress.
On Zimbabwe, which has been torn by political discord, Mr. Ban said he stressed to President Robert Mugabe that the Government must protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of all Zimbabweans. “I urged him to release all those arrested or secretly detained in recent months. I remain especially concerned about the humanitarian situation,” he added, noting that an estimated 3,400 people have died of cholera and more than 69,000 have been infected.
On Afghanistan and his talks with President Hamid Karzai Mr. Ban underscored that, with elections due, this is the critical year for addressing the security challenges and strengthening its democratic institutions. “It is impossible to come away from Kabul without a strong feeling that we need a stronger, more concerted, more strategic approach in Afghanistan, if our work over the past seven years is to succeed. Regional cooperation is essential,” he said.
At his final stop, the Secretary-General met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad. “I wanted to show solidarity with Iraq’s people. I wanted to congratulate them on such a resoundingly successful election, conducted democratically and without violence. I am very proud of the UN’s role. For the people of Iraq, it is an immense step forward toward participatory democracy,” he said.
“Visiting Baghdad, I found a new sense of confidence and optimism. If current trends continue, I can foresee a much greater role for UN agencies throughout Iraq during the coming months.” The UN presence on the ground was greatly reduced after the deadly terrorist bombing of its Baghdad headquarters in 2003.
Turning to two other crises which were not on his direct itinerary, Mr. Ban voiced grave concern at the plight of the tens of thousands of people caught by fighting in Sri Lanka, noting that he had phoned President Mahinda Rajapaksa who assured him that he would take all measures to safeguard the civilian population.
On Gaza, which he visited last month, he noted that all but one border crossing remains closed more than three weeks after Israel ended the devastating military offensive it launched with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks against it. “I saw, with my own eyes, how difficult life has become for ordinary people. These difficulties have not diminished since my visit,” he said.
“Nearly 1 million refugees depend on daily UN aid. Yet we are getting in supplies for only 30,000. Meanwhile, Hamas militants on two occasions seized UN aid. The materiel has since been returned but I have demanded that it not happen again. Who pays the price? It is ordinary people – people without homes, without food or medicine,” he added.
While saying there should be some measures to prevent illicit import of weapons and ammunition into Gaza while, he stressed the need for Israel to open the crossings for humanitarian and reconstruction needs. “It is absolutely necessary that they open the crossings. I will continue to urge that,” he declared.
He announced that he had initiated steps to establish a UN Board of Inquiry into incidents involving death and damage at UN premises in Gaza during Israel’s offensive, to be headed by Ian Martin of the United Kingdom and to report back to him within a month.
He also highlighted the importance of reviving the two-State peace process envisaging Israel and Palestine living side by side in security and welcomed the speed with which the new Obama administration has engaged on this issue, particularly with the appointment of George Mitchell as Special US Envoy to the Middle East.
“As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will devote every effort to helping push the peace process forward,” he declared.
Answering questions, he welcomed US President Barack Obama’s commitment to multilateralism. “I'm very optimistic about his engagement; he is very proactively engaging policies on major issues – a very swift and decisive choice of Special Envoys on Middle East on Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was also a very good and commendable measure he has taken at a very early stage of his administration,” he said.