At World Economic Forum, Ban urges unified action on crises in Syria and Mali

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

At World Economic Forum, Ban urges unified action on crises in Syria and Mali

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a call of action to the international community to solve the crises in Syria and Mali, stressing that the world must come together to end the ongoing violence in the two countries and ensure assistance is available to those in need.

“People and policies are connected like never before. We must pull together because we are tied together. From Syria and Mali today, to the foundations for peace and prosperity tomorrow, that is my call to action to you and to the world at this time,” Mr. Ban said in his special address to the Forum. “Let not our inaction today lead to harsh judgement tomorrow.”

Mr. Ban stressed that military confrontation is having an unprecedented toll for people in Syria, where more than 60,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in early 2011.

Recent months have witnessed an escalation in the conflict, which is now in its 23rd month and has left more than 4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“However difficult this situation is, we must push for a political solution,” Mr. Ban said. “Seemingly intractable divides have been bridged in other conflicts and contexts. As long as there is a possibility to end this crisis through talks, that is what we must keep doing.”

Mr. Ban reiterated his full support for the diplomatic efforts of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi to establish a political process, while underscoring that it will be essential for the Security Council “to overcome the deadlock, and find unity that will make meaningful action possible.”

Mr. Ban added that inaction would be a resignation to Syria's destruction and would be too costly -- and unacceptable. “That would be an abdication of our collective responsibility to protect. The world, and above all the Security Council, must uphold its responsibilities.”

Despite restricted access due to insecurity and limitation imposed by the Syrian Government, humanitarian agencies are feeding 1.5 million people and providing relief supplies to some 400,000. However, Mr. Ban stressed that this is not enough, and added that the humanitarian community needs $1.5 billion to continue carrying out its work over the next six months, representing the largest ever short-term appeal.

Regarding Mali, Mr. Ban warned that the crisis is deepening, with increasing reports of sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and reprisals against civilian Tuareg and Arab populations.

“The country is under grave threat from extremist armed insurgents,” Mr. Ban said. “A toxic mix of poverty, extreme climatic conditions, weak institutions, drug smuggling, and the easy availability of deadly weapons is causing profound misery and dangerous insecurity in and beyond Mali.”

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the northern part of the country last January, after 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 uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians over the course of 2012.

Mr. Ban reaffirmed the UN's commitment to support the West African country in security efforts as well as humanitarian and political assistance. Last week, a UN team arrived in the capital, Bamako, to assist in building a process that would address both military and political concerns.

However, Mr. Ban underlined that the events in Mali are affecting the entire Sahel region, where some 18 million people have been affected by food shortages and the threat of insecurity, and called on the international community to support all governments there.

“We cannot expect to address the issues in Mali unless we confront the challenges affecting the broader region,” he said. “The governments and people of the Sahel need our full support […] I urge all leaders to do their part in the collective response to Mali's plight, and I reiterate the UN's strong commitment to do ours.”

While in Davos, Mr. Ban also met with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, with whom he exchanged views on the crisis in Syria. He also met with the Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, with whom he discussed preparations for the country's general election later this year, and the President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina.