“The gains of 2012 position us for further advances in the years ahead. We have seized some opportunities, but failed on many others. Too much of our progress is lost to conflict or remains fragile for want of investment and commitment. There is too little emphasis on prevention, people and global citizenship. Far too often, short-term thinking trumps long-term vision.”
These were among the observations made today by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the start of his end-of-year news conference, during which he highlighted progress and challenges encountered by the world body and international community throughout the past 12 months.
“A tumultuous year is coming to a close. 2012 saw tension from Syria to the Sahel, and from Eastern Congo to the Korean Peninsula,” he told journalists at UN Headquarters in New York. “Turmoil tested us, once again, on our founding obligation: to stop conflict and build peace.”
“At the same time, the United Nations helped to lay foundations for progress on the top challenge of the 21st century: sustainable development,” he added.
On the issue of Syria – where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 21 months ago – Mr. Ban expressed his deep concern over the increasing militarization of the conflict and the potential for atrocities being committed along sectarian lines.
The conflict in the Middle Eastern country has displaced more than 500,000 people, with many of those seeking refuge in neighbouring countries – the number is expected to grow as fighting continues and as winter takes a hold in the region. In addition, according to UN estimates, there are an estimated four million people inside Syria who need urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated two million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“Neighbouring countries face a huge financial burden in sheltering and caring for them… I call on the international community to respond generously and urgently to the humanitarian appeal launched today in Geneva,” he said, referring to the launch of a $1.5 billion appeal by the UN and its humanitarian partners to assist civilians affected by the conflict over the next six months, including those inside the country as well as those taking refuge beyond its borders.
The UN chief noted that he is considering convening an international donor conference, in close coordination with key partners, early next year.
He also urged the international community to unite firmly behind the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been engaged in mediation efforts to find a “peaceful, political solution that brings democratic change while preserving the fabric of Syrian society and the peaceful coexistence of its communities.”
Turning to the Africa’s Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, the Secretary-General noted that some 20 million people across nine countries are in crisis, “their lives upended by a volatile mix of drought, hunger, poor governance, drug trafficking, terrorism and extremism.”
He made particular mention of the situation in Mali, which he described as “urgent.”
The West African nation has been dealing with a range of security, political and humanitarian problems since the start of the year. Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country’s north in January, following which radical Islamists seized control of the area. The renewed clashes in the north, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March have also uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Just last week, the Secretary-General and the Security Council called for an end to military interference in politics there, following the arrest of a Prime Minister by members of the country’s armed forces, which subsequently led to his resignation and the dismissal of the Government.
“We must do all we can to help Malians restore their democracy, recover their territory, address the humanitarian crisis and end the shocking human rights violations,” he said. “Dialogue and negotiations should be pursued seriously even as military options are carefully prepared.”
The UN chief welcomed the appointment of a new Prime Minister, Django Sissoko – succeeding Cheick Modibo Diarra – as an opportunity to bring new momentum to Mali’s political process.
The Secretary-General noted that the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains the scene of instability, including sexual violence committed by combatants on all sides. The region has been beset with renewed violence involving armed groups – notably the 23 March Movement (M23) – which in turn has led to greater humanitarian pressures in a region already experiencing dire humanitarian problems.
“The time has come for the international community to rethink its approach to the DRC and the Great Lakes region – the underlying causes of the conflict in the region must be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” he said.
Referring to a recent “provocative” rocket launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General observed that the act had raised regional concerns and defied the international community – and that he looks forward to the outcome of Security Council consultations on an appropriate response.
He added, “In Northeast Asia, at a time when many countries are undergoing leadership transitions, I hope high priority will be given by the new leaders to building a more prosperous future based on stability and the peaceful resolution of disputes.”
Mr. Ban said the recent killings of health workers in Pakistan were cruel, senseless and inexcusable acts, which he condemned in the strongest terms, in addition to calling on all concerned to do their utmost to create a secure environment to provide life-saving health services to Pakistan’s children.
The Middle East peace process, the Secretary-General stated, is in a “deep freeze,” with the two sides – Israelis and Palestinians – seemingly more polarized than ever, and a two-State solution farther away than at any time since the Oslo process on the matter began in 1993.
“I am deeply concerned by heightened settlement activity in the West Bank, in particular around Jerusalem. This gravely threatens efforts to establish a viable Palestinian state,” Mr. Ban said. “I call on Israel to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path, which will undermine the prospects a resumption of dialogue and a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike – let us get the peace process back on track before it is too late.”
The Secretary-General made note of the political transitions taking hold in Libya, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen, as well as the successful holding of elections in Sierra Leone last month and the impending end of the UN peacekeeping mandate in Timor-Leste at the close of 2012. He described the closure of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) as a measure of the south-east Asian nation’s progress on the path from fragility to stability.
In that vein, he noted that Egypt’s own political transition is at another critical moment – the North African nation has experienced violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi, as the country considers a new constitution in the wake of the fall from power of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“I have spoken with President Morsi in recent days and expressed my hope that the transition will be able to move forward in a peaceful, consensual manner,” Mr. Ban said.
“My hope is for compromise on all sides so that Egypt can focus on its pressing socio-economic needs and build a ‘pyramid of democracy’ in the heart of the Arab world,” he added. “This is an Egyptian led process. It will take time. It is crucial for Egyptians to resolve their differences through dialogue and build a new Egypt that respects and protects the rights of all.”
Referring to these international concerns as a whole, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations has mobilized to face these and many other tests, stating that “all our tools are at work: from peacekeeping and good offices to human rights monitoring, humanitarian relief and development assistance.”
Turning to broader international themes, the UN chief said that the global economy continues to leave too many people behind, with continuing weak economic growth meaning that it will take a long time to ease the global jobs crisis. “Our response must protect – and invest in – the world’s poorest people and nations,” he stated.
Mr. Ban said that over 2012, the United Nations also took major steps to advance economic and social progress and to build solid foundations for long-term peace. He cited the adoption by UN Member States in September of a landmark declaration on the rule of law and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) as examples of this.
Held in Brazil in June, Rio+20 saw world leaders acknowledge the importance of an inclusive, transparent, strengthened and effective multilateral system to better address the urgent global challenges of sustainable development. One of its main outcomes was the agreement by member States to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals, which will build upon the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – set in 2000 for achievement by 2015 or earlier – and converge with the post-2015 development agenda.
“We aim to build on the progress we have made towards the Millennium Development Goals – and press harder as the deadline approaches,” Mr. Ban said.
On the issue of climate change, the Secretary-General said the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, had provided what is needed to keep the international community on track for a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on the issue by 2015.
“That is what governments have pledged to do, and it is what they must achieve,” he said. “As a spur to what we know will be very difficult negotiations, I intend to bring world leaders together in 2014.”
The two-week meeting of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, wrapped up today in the Qatari capital, with delegates reportedly agreeing to extend the Protocol, whose first commitment period expires at the end of this year, until 2020. Under the Protocol, 37 States – consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy – have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.
Mr. Ban said he would have more to say about his forward-looking agenda in the New Year.