With a raft of ills plaguing the Arab world – from the “shameful” conflict in Syria to the “tinderbox” that is Gaza and the steadily unraveling situation in Yemen – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called upon leaders gathered in Egypt to work with each other and the United Nations to “strengthen our bonds for the people of this region and the security of our world.”
“Today, war and violence in the region, reprehensible acts of terrorism and the seemingly endless Israeli occupation of Palestine, are causing enormous suffering,” said Mr. Ban in remarks to the League of Arab States Summit, taking place in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, stressing that the impact of all these threats transcends the Arab world and poses “a direct challenge to international peace and security.”
“To counter these trends, we must address the root causes that fuel extremism and violence. Even when security measures are needed, reliance on military approaches alone will not solve these problems,” the UN chief declared, adding that security responses must respect human rights.
Indeed, fighting extremism while committing abuses is not only wrong, it is counter-productive, he continued, noting that whenever this has been tried, the appeal for extremism actually increases. Without good governance, the rule of law, respect for women's rights and all human rights, long-term political stability will remain a mirage.
Nowhere are the problems of governance and radicalism more pressing than in Syria. The Syrian people have now entered the fifth year of a war that has ripped their country to shreds, said Mr. Ban.
“Speaking today to the distinguished leadership of the Arab world, I confess to you my anger and my shame. Anger at observing the Syrian Government, extremist and terrorist groups and terrorists relentlessly destroy their country,” the Secretary-General said, and that he felt shame at sharing in the collective failure of international and regional communities to decisively act to “stop the carnage that has afflicted the Arab brothers and sisters of Syria.”
“The crisis risks spreading as fast as our credibility risks shrinking. The Syrian people are being betrayed and this cannot continue,” he said, telling the Summit that he is instructing his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to intensify UN-backed political efforts and to consult widely with Security Council members as well as throughout the region, including with the Syrian parties themselves. Specifically, he and his team will work to operationalize and flesh out elements in the Geneva communiqué.
Following this Summit, Mr. Ban said that will head to the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria and he thanked the Amir of Kuwait for convening that vital gathering. “I also thank you for your generous contributions. I urge you to do even more to respond to the suffering and misery resulting from the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.”
He went on to note that Lebanon remains unique in the face of the continuing impact of the Syrian conflict, including the growing threat by Da'esh (the Arab acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) and others, as it stands as an example of co-existence. “I urge Lebanese political leaders to overcome their political differences and elect a President to fill the leadership vacuum which has stretched for over a year.”
Turning next to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said seven months after the end of yet another war with Israel, Gaza remains a tinderbox – and the situation is getting worse by the day. “Neither blockade nor military action has made either side safer. I call on donors to make good on the pledges they made in Cairo last October. Help bring Gaza back to life.”
The Arab-Israeli peace process is further threatened by calls to discard or undermine the two-state solution endorsed by the international community and outlined in the visionary Arab Peace Initiative adopted at the Arab League's 2002 Summit.
“Once again, I urge Israel to end what is now nearly half a century of occupation. I urge the Palestinians to overcome their divisions. And I call upon the friends and supporters of both to push for a just and lasting solution based on international law,” the Secretary-General said.
As for the “unraveling” situation in Yemen and the tremendous toll it is taking on an already suffering population, the UN chief said that earlier in the programme he had listened very carefully to the statements by King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Hadi of Yemen.
“I share those deep concerns. I have repeatedly condemned the attempts by the Houthis and former President Saleh to undermine political agreements by military force. I take note that military action has been undertaken at the request of Yemen's sovereign and legitimate leader, President Hadi” the Secretary-General said, also recalling the recent Presidential Statement adopted by the Security Council that encourages Yemenis to return as quickly as possible to an inclusive political process, conducted in good faith.
Negotiations facilitated by UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar, as endorsed by the Security Council, remain the only chance to prevent a long drawn out conflict. “It is my fervent hope that at this League of Arab States summit, Arab leaders will lay-down clear guidelines to peacefully resolve the crisis in Yemen,” he added.
Looking further to the west, Mr. Ban said it is crucial that the international community continue to encourage dialogue among the Libyan people. UN-facilitated talks between Libyan actors are continuing along multiple tracks, facilitated by UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon. The preservation of Libya's unity and territorial integrity is essential.
“In Iraq, I encourage leaders to continue and deepen national reconciliation efforts. I appreciate the League's support to the people and Government of Iraq in their fight against Daesh. This support also benefits regional stability.”
As for Somalia, the UN chief urged all partners to fully support the political progress in the country, while stepping up efforts to stabilize the areas recovered from Al-Shabaab control. On Sudan, he said that national dialogue is also critical and he urged that the process take place in a credible and conducive environment. “The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur provides a good framework to address the root causes of the conflict. Implementation efforts must continue.”
In closing, The Secretary-General said he is pleased by the ever-strengthening cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States.
“This must be a year of global action for sustainable development and dignity for all. We will reach the target date of the Millennium Development Goals and have the chance to adopt a new generation of sustainable development goals in September and a meaningful, global climate agreement in December in Paris.”
He also noted that next month, he and the President of the UN General Assembly would bring together leaders from different faith communities to a special event at the United Nations to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Further, the UN Counter-Terrorism Center will submit to the General Assembly in September a comprehensive plan to address extremism and terrorism, and M.r Ban thanked King Salman of Saudi Arabia for his generous support for this initiative.
“As we advance on the post-2015 development agenda, and work for peaceful resolutions to conflict,” said the Secretary-General.