Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for action to address underlying threats in world hotspots, promote development and to protect the planet, in his first address of the year to the entire United Nations membership, in which he also expressed grave concern at the ‘immoral and irresponsible actions’ of some global leaders.
“I will urge world leaders to rise above national interests for our collective future,” Mr. Ban said in his address to the 193-member General Assembly. “We are capable of this spirit of global citizenship.”
The Secretary-General stressed that while he is determined to make the UN Secretariat “truly global, modern and effective,” Member States must also do their part to “empower the United Nations itself.”
“This global Organization should not have to plead with Governments for troops, police, assets or resources while the victims of war and poverty suffer and die,” he said urging action that would make this year “one of extraordinary progress.”
Briefing on the UN challenges for 2014, Mr. Ban decried the continued violence in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), among others.
He noted that those conflicts are “devastating countries endowed with natural wealth, productive citizens, proud histories and every chance at peace and prosperity.”
“Leaders there must now act on their historical duty to reach this potential,” Mr. Ban said, adding that he remains “gravely concerned at the immoral and irresponsible actions of too many individuals with influence and responsibility.”
Noting that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, whose “senseless cataclysm” led to the establishment of the League of Nations and then the UN, Mr. Ban said the Organization is a “unique platform that helps us all rise above human failings.”
Just back from a trip to the Middle East, where he chaired a humanitarian donors’ conference for Syria in Kuwait, which generated some $2.4 billion in pledges, and where he visited a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq, Mr. Ban highlighted the humanitarian impact of the conflict.
“Humanitarian aid can feed a hungry child, which is important enough. But it can also indirectly stop a bomb by reducing social tensions,” the UN chief said.
He also stressed the importance of the work underway by the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN on meeting a tight deadline to rid Syria of chemical weapons.
Also, Mr. Ban and the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, are intensifying efforts to bring the anti- and pro-Government parties together next week in Switzerland for their first official talks.
Elsewhere, two situations in particular “require the heightened and focused attention of the international community” due to grave violations of human rights and where there is the danger of mass atrocities, Mr. Ban said – South Sudan and the CAR.
In South Sudan, where the crisis has reached “tragic proportions,” Mr. Ban reiterated his call on the parties to end the violence through political dialogue and reasserted his support for mediation efforts led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union.
Turning to CAR, Mr. Ban urged the international community to redouble efforts to help the people restore peace and stability “as soon as possible.”
He called for generous contributions at a pledging conference hosted on Monday by the European Union in Brussels.
“In the CAR and wherever such atrocities occur, the perpetrators must be held to account,” Mr. Ban underscored.
In the Middle East, the coming year will be “critical” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. “I strongly support the current negotiations and urge the parties to make the courageous commitment needed to end the occupation and achieve a two-State solution.”
Given the gravity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, he also called on authorities there, as well as those in Israel and Egypt, to do everything possible to ameliorate the dire humanitarian situation.
Turning to other regions, Mr. Ban highlighted that the UN mission in Sierra Leone is due to complete its work and withdraw this year, demonstrating “how far the country has come – and the value of sustained efforts to keep, consolidate and build peace.”
The international community must also focus greater attention on the inter-related threats of organized crime, terrorism, piracy, extremism, and trafficking in drugs, people and arms, he said. This includes continuing to strive towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world, which could be furthered this year at the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague.
The international community also continues its focus on human rights and the rule of law, particularly given the positive response to the Rights Up Front initiative, designed to promote early action to prevent atrocities and other grave violations.
Among other events hosted by the UN this year, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples “will promote their inclusion and recognition of their valuable knowledge,” Mr. Ban noted.
With 714 days left until the deadline for the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he urged efforts to speed up progress towards the 2015 deadline and to agree on a roadmap that will define the post-2015 development agenda.
“We must seize this momentum,” he said. “Political leaders are deeply engaged in the global discussion on development, key constituencies are mobilized and we increasingly know what works.”
At least one fifth of the world’s population – and about half the poor and half of all schoolchildren – live in countries experiencing violence, political conflict, insecurity and fragility.
“These are the very countries where the post-2015 agenda must have the most impact,” Mr. Ban said, highlighting the importance of institutions, governance and the rule of law. He also emphasized the UN’s strong commitment to African development.
“I urge traditional and new donors to provide the necessary financing, capacity-building and technology transfer, in keeping with their long-standing commitments,” Mr. Ban noted.
He warned Member States, however, against succumbing to the myth that development is incompatible with robust climate action.
“Evidence shows that the goals of eradicating poverty, promoting inclusive growth, and holding global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius are mutually reinforcing,” Mr. Ban noted.
He is due to host a climate summit on 23 September that will bring together political leaders as well as leaders from business, the finance community and civil society.
The summit will help lay the groundwork for a legally-binding treaty to be adopted in 2015, and enter force by 2020, which would cut climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.