Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the world to support the efforts of people in the Middle East and North Africa to attain greater democracy, human dignity and social justice, saying they had expressed their frustration over inequality, corruption and repression.
“They have showed their eagerness to bring about positive change,” Mr. Ban said in a message to the opening of the two-day 27th Ministerial Session of the UN Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which began today in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
“Our challenge is to optimize the constructive energy of mobilized citizens while taking the difficult decisions needed to answer their legitimate calls for greater rights and freedoms,” Mr. Ban said in his message, delivered on his behalf by the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly.
He stressed the need to counter “those forces seeking to prevent necessary changes by dividing or discriminating based on religion, ethnicity or political beliefs.”
The Secretary-General also commended ESCWA for its decision to dedicate the session to discussing the correlation between social justice and sustainable development as a contribution to preparations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month.
“Rio+20 is a generational opportunity to take bold action to address the interrelated problems of poverty, environmental degradation, scarcity of natural resources and related threats. We need comprehensive solutions that cut across these linked challenges,” Mr. Ban said, adding that he welcomed ESCWA’s consideration of requests by Tunisia, Libya and Morocco to join the Commission.
In her remarks to the Ministerial Session, the Executive Secretary of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, said that some countries in the region are building genuinely democratic institutions and recalibrating economic and policies for greater social equality, while others are launching ambitious reform programmes aimed at promoting popular participation in decision-making.
“In many of our countries, both the poor and the better off, we see a serious rethinking of development, as if a consensus has arisen that the old approaches to development no longer respond to today’s needs,” Ms. Khalaf said.
“Let the first step be recognizing that outside influences and challenges have power over us only to the extent that we allow them to, and that the surest way of confronting those influence and challenges is to counteract weaknesses lurking in the Arab system by working for comprehensive human development rooted in right, justice and the primacy of knowledge in our economies and societies,” she added.
Founded in 1973, ESCWA aims to raise the level of economic activity in member countries and strengthen cooperation among them, as well as promote the development efforts in the region.